Edible Gardens

By Michael Russell, recent Arizona State University Nutrition Communications Student

I’ve written a previous blog post about backyard farming and staying within that theme I wanted to write about some tips on creating an edible garden.  I understand that some of us may not want to go all out and start raising livestock in our backyards but the idea of fresh produce from your backyard is intriguing.


As much as you want a garden that will supply delicious vegetables or earthy herbs, you will also want a garden that is attractive to look at, so I will point out certain herbs and plant life that will give you an attractive garden.  Let’s get started:


The “Wow” Factor:


As I mentioned above, we want an attractive garden as much as we want a productive garden, so here a few herbs and plants that will give you both, great visuals and fresh produce:


  • Basil: It is an annual plant that comes in several types that can brighten up any garden. Outside of the traditional green basil plant, there are some that are purple, for instance, the Red-Rubin, which are extremely attractive and pair well with other edible garden plants.  It is also useful in many dishes to add flavor and bring in color.
  • Fennel: This perennial plant has wispy fronds that stand tall and add movement to your garden. The plant itself is a has a refreshing licorice flavor that is a great digestive after a heavy meal.
  • Artichoke: These beautiful and large plants sprouts visually stunning purple plants that make any garden burst alive with color. There softball size buds are wonderful to eat in several ways.  My personal favorite is to stuff the leaves with garlic, breadcrumbs and chunks of parmesan cheese and steam them for 2.5-3 hours.
  • Sage: This plant does extremely well in the desert so it is great for any edible garden in Arizona. Its low mounting profile makes it wonderful for the front row of your garden.  It’s velvety soft leaves give it a cozy and welcoming feel.  It pairs nicely with most poultry and can lift any egg dish to new heights.
  • Succulents: These plants are great for the gardens that people start in Arizona. Given the plant’s ability to survive in a desert environment, it will do well in the garden you create.  They span a wide range of color and size so fell free to pair them with the sage to give a contrast of both.
  • Thyme: Thyme is a bunch plant that will take up space but bring in a soft and warm feeling to your garden. Using purple basil, as mentioned above, to edge out the puffy thyme plant can be visually stunning.  Thyme is a great herb that can enhance the flavor of several dishes.
  • Peppers: Another plant that grows great in Arizona are peppers and given the variety at our fingertips the choice is yours. With several color options pepper plants bring life to the garden with their ability to dot color all throughout the garden.  As for its culinary use, you have just as many options as you do plant types.  You can make fresh salsa, create your own chutneys, pickle them, roast them, or just eat them raw.
  • Tomatoes: Just as versatile, in both variety and color, the tomato is another great plant for the desert environment. Growing tall, with support from a tomato cage, this plant adds color and height to your garden.  Used in just about any type of culinary dish, the tomato, will supply you with endless flavor and heartiness.
  • Mint: This low bunching plant is a great addition to your edible garden. It will take up space and provide you a bright and glossy leaf that is both beautiful and aromatic.  Great for desserts, mint, works well in hot and cold teas.  If you’re into a harder beverage fresh mint from your garden makes a mojito that much more enjoyable.
  • Leaf Lettuce: Leaf lettuce is a wonderful addition to and edible garden. Known for its ability to sprout into loose rosettes instead of a head this plant will give you fullness with color.  There are several different leaf lettuces that will add color and give you different flavor profiles.
  • Others to consider: There are several other edible plants that will make any garden look beautiful but also supply the grower with great produce, some to consider are:
    • Sweet Corn
    • Cucumber
    • Eggplant
    • Watermelon
    • Cilantro
    • Swiss Chard
    • Kale


Keys to success:


Now I understand that our desert environment may make it intimidating to start a garden so I would like to supply you with several tips to make a successful edible garden here in Arizona:


  • Be realistic: Gardening is hard work and you must be willing to see your crop grow and die. Not everything you plant will grow to full maturity and that is fine because you can take what you learned and apply it to the next set of crops you plant.  Understand that the most experienced gardeners deal with failure so you are not the reason plants might die.  Gardening is like gambling, you have to play the hand that you are dealt, sometimes it works out and other time you lose your shirt.
  • Hard work pays off: In the beginning, you will be putting in a lot of hours and some hard work but as your garden grows all that hard work will be worth it.  The hardest part is the first dig, but once your back and knees recover gardening becomes a rewarding endeavor.
  • Plan it out: A key to success with anything you do is to have a plan set in place and gardening is no different. Understanding what to grow, how long it will take to harvest, where to grow it and how much space you will need is paramount for success.
  • Full sun: When starting your garden, it is advised to start with an area that gets full sun. I know that seems crazy because, especially out here, things tend to die in the sun but plants want full sun.  Remember you can always shade your plants once they get rooted but if your plants do not have full sun in the beginning then they are more likely to die.
  • Keep your soil aerobic: Keep your soils full of oxygen-loving organisms. Great ways to promote the life of these organisms is to avoid under and over watering your plants and keep your soil fluffy.
  • Mulch it up: Out here, mulch is our friend.  Mulch is great for our gardens in Arizona because it keeps the sun off the soil which will cause it to dry out quicker and will also help to retain moisture.
  • Slow and deep irrigation: It is best to use an irrigating system for watering as we tend to under-water in the beginning and over watering thereafter. If the roots of the plant do not get sufficient water, at first, the roots become dry and brittle and will be less likely to take hold and form a strong base for plant growth.


If you liked this article:

– Gardening with your Family

– 10 Apps for Arizona Gardeners 



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http://www.berkeleyside.com/2012/03/29/gardening-book-booksource/. Accessed February 19, 2016.

  1. McKinely J. Keys for Successful Desert Gardening – Edible Baja Arizona Magazine. Edible Baja

Arizona Magazine. 2013 Available at: http://ediblebajaarizona.com/keys-for-successful-desert-gardening. Accessed February 19, 2016.

  1. 7 edible garden ideas. 2016. Available at: http://www.sunset.com/garden-basics/7-

edible-garden-ideas/basil-plus-thyme. Accessed February 19, 2016.

  1. 21 best crops for your edible garden. 2016. Available at:

http://www.sunset.com/garden/fruits-veggies/best-vegetables-fruit-herbs-to-plant/view-all. Accessed February 19, 2016.

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