Landscapes of the Future

A vibrant patch of rainbow chard has been flourishing in front of the local health food co-op for several weeks now, and, admittedly, it looked a little out of place to me at first. After all, around here, landscape beds abutting sidewalks usually contain the most uninspired combinations of Japanese barberry, juniper bushes, and vinca -- and all of them are nearly buried in mile-high cypress mulch. But this landscape bed looks fresh and pretty, and, hey, it can feed people. The spot's made me wonder: Will there be a time when we can no longer afford to grow plants which are merely ornamental? And then, will beds of Swiss chard, lettuce, and, maybe, peas replace traditional favorites like privet and those needy, non-native roses?

Well, I think yes. I imagine especially greedy plants -- those which require lots of water and nutrients -- will fall out of favor, and more easy-going plants like Swiss chard will be a big part of our future landscapes. With any luck, edible landscapes -- filled with black raspberries, sumac, and other low-impact choices which can feed people and wildlife -- will be the rule rather than the exception in our business districts. And, in residential areas, traditional lawns -- and the lawn mowers that come with them -- will be the stuff of museum exhibits. Yards with very steep grades, as a matter of course, will be terraced and planted with sundry natives.

Also, provided we come to our senses sometime, we'll eventually have fewer impervious surfaces such as driveways and parking lots. As a result, we'll have a little more room for waste-water remediation via wetlands and rain gardens. (Sure, we'll still need some spots to park our cars, but there are plenty of areas around here in which pervious concrete or gravel would do just as well as the impenetrable, old-school asphalt.) And, while we're at it, instead of those concrete parking lot "wheel stops," maybe parking spaces of the future will be delineated with raised bed planters brimming with rugged herbs like mint or catnip. Who knows, maybe by 2027 or so, green roofs will come standard on our parking garages, strip malls, office buildings, and even our homes a la Chicago's Millennium Park. Think of all that chard!

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Hi Susan - Thanks for this post. I agree that it would be great if more of what was planted, on public as well as private property, was edible. You may know that there's a burgeoning interest in edible landscaping (see, e.g., "Food Not Lawns" (, "Edible Estates" (, "Edible Forest Gardens" ( and so on. I myself have planted over forty fruit trees on public property (primarily on median strips) in several communities within a ten mile radius of where I live. It's "first come, first served" when the fruit is ripe. BTW, these fruit trees have very attractive blossoms in the spring, with the added visual (as well as comestible) value of the ripe fruit later on. Let me close by making a plug for an organization that does this in the Boston area called EarthWorks Projects (

Hi Susan!I
found great trees that are perfect for someone who is looking to save money and save energy. The website also has excellent gift ideas for holidays. Check out this great website I found:"

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