Reimagining Landscaping: Combining Form and Function

  • Written by  Christian G. Escudero and Regina Mae C. Ongkiko
  • Published in Features
Reimagining Landscaping: Combining Form and Function © OVCRE/Lawrence N. Garcia

Growing organic fruits and vegetables is a continuing trend as more and more people are becoming more health-conscious. Because of this, people have already started growing their own crops right in their own gardens! Why so? It is because growing your own food gives you the assurance that they are healthy and fresh.

Healthy living and the concept of edible landscaping has now become popular. Instead of just using ornamentals, you can also incorporate vegetables, herbs, medicinal plants, and fruit trees in crafting a beautiful garden.

Tracing its roots

Here in the Philippines, edible landscaping (EL) started in 1999 when Dr. Leonido R. Naranja of the Crop Science Cluster designed a small exhibit booth using vegetables instead of ornamentals.

Dr. Naranja probably did this since the garden show was a complementary event of a conference of the Society for the Advancement of the Vegetable Industry at the UPLB Seniors’ Social Garden. He also incorporated the concept of edible landscaping in teaching the Urban Horticulture course under the Crop Science Cluster (CSC).

After visiting Dr. Naranja’s exhibit, Mrs. Loreta A. Lina, wife of then Laguna Governor Jose D. Lina Jr., hired him as a consultant. Thus, edible landscaping, as an innovative food production approach, was born.

EL was then adopted by the Linas for their program called FAITH or “Food Always in the Home.” Under the FAITH project, Dr. Naranja conducted a series of lectures for elementary and high school teachers of Laguna.

In 2009, the Department of Agriculture—Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR) and High Value Commercial Crops Program (HVCCP) funded the edible landscaping project proposed by Dr. Naranja entitled “Technology Promotion and Commercialization of Edible Landscaping.” It started as a demo garden at the CA AgriPark in UPLB and an edible garden showcase at the DA-BAR grounds in Quezon City.

The Edible Landscaping Team

The EL team is composed of instructors, researchers, and extension workers from the CSC. When Dr. Naranja passed away in 2010, Dr. Fernando C. Sanchez Jr. took over the project with the help of Bryan V. Apacionado, Maria Charito E. Balladares, Ryan Rodrigo P. Tayobong, and Norma G. Medina. This team of dedicated agriculturists is committed to continue the legacy of Dr. Naranja, implementing the project even after the second phase ended in 2011.

The concepts behind Edible Landscaping

Since edible landscaping is also an art, it follows the elements and principles of design. It also incorporates conventional crop production with a twist as the guiding principle. Edible landscaping also encourages the practice of organic management systems in order to ensure safer produce and a healthier environment.In general, the ultimate goal of EL is to create an attractive environment with spaces allotted for safe and nutritious food for every Filipino family’s dining table.

EL also aims for the technology adopters to be able to customize and tailor-fit the landscape design according to their needs. EL also envisions every household to follow the “garden to table” principle to foster an enabling environment for health and wellness.

The process consists of three phases: design, implementation, and maintenance. The Design Phase includes evaluation of the space to be used as well as conceptualizing the design itself based on the site analysis.

During the Implementation Phase, the focus is on the production of seedlings and planting materials. This phase involves site clearing, layout, hardscape construction, and planting. Finally, the last phase includes landscape maintenance and applicable special practices in crop production. The difference of EL to traditional landscaping is that the edible crops are maintained carefully to provide aesthetic appeal from seedling to harvesting.

To aid in the fulfillment of EL’s goals, proper usage of components must be kept in mind. These components include softscapes, which are the plants used in landscaping such as trees, shrubs, and herbs. In choosing the softscapes, you must consider your food choices and attractive physical characteristics. Another component is the hardscapes, which refer to the non-living components such as rocks and trellises.

Edible Landscaping today

To increase awareness on what edible landscaping can do for us, the EL team continues to conduct seminars and training courses all over the Philippines. The team is also providing assistance and technical expertise to those who are interested to create their own edible garden. The Edible Landscaping Starter Kit was developed to help attract and guide the adopters in starting their own garden. It consists of information materials, sampler seeds, and sample designs for the garden theme.

A demo garden is located in the campus, and is already a popular venue for photoshoots. According to Eliza C. Aquino, a University Research Associate with the EL team, the garden used to be located at the CA AgriPark but was transferred to the Ornamental Crops Nursery so that it will be more accessible to everyone. Around 2,500 people visit the demo garden yearly. The garden helps visitors appreciate and visualize the concept of edible landscaping.

The team has also presented their work on EL in various local and international conferences and conventions in order to attract more potential adopters.

In 2013, the team was also able to publish a paper in the Journal of Developments in Sustainable Agriculture. Edible landscaping is currently making waves in the media scene as it has already been featured in local programs on both TV and radio.

Edible landscaping has indeed come a long way, from being a simple concept to being a solution for providing food for each Filipino household. Several communities, schools, and institutions have been inspired to adopt the technology to create their own beautiful local edible landscape gardens. Different public offices, especially the agriculture offices of the municipalities, are now starting to adopt EL to encourage the residents to grow their own food. Here in Los Baños alone, the Villaluz family has used different recyclable materials such as old tires and rubber shoes as their planting containers.

Even non-government organizations are now looking into incorporating edible landscaping in their current production systems. Schools are now including EL in their agriculture and gardening subjects.

The way forward

In 2015, Dr. Sanchez proposed a project titled “Establishment of Edible Landscaping Sites in Selected Communities of Los Baños” wherein one of its objectives is to capacitate technology takers through the conduct of EL trainings.

Capacity building of selected groups in Los Baños started in June 2016 at the Office of Senior Citizen Affairs in Los Baños, Laguna. Elderly members of cooperatives and barangay leaders attended the initial training conducted by Eliza C. Aquino and Jennica Amielle M. Mora, another University Research Associate of the team.

The training consisted of a series of lectures and talks on design planning for demo gardens. The participants were asked to choose the design that they will be using for the practicum the next day. “In edible landscaping, we plant what we eat and we eat what we plant,” Ms. Aquino said. She believes that those who are planning to start their own edible gardens should first ask themselves what they need and want to eat.

“We do not want the participants to just plant and end up not eating what they harvested,” she further added, since the goal of the training is for the participants to attain self-sufficiency at least at the household level.

Dr. Sanchez has encouraged the project staff to commit first to Los Baños since edible landscaping in the Philippines started here. He envisions citizens of Los Baños adopting the technology so that they can maintain their own gardens.

The team also believes that to ensure sustainability, the creation of a demo garden during the trainings should be included. This is so that the participants will get to see what EL will look like once they have fully committed to it.

With the support of Mayor Cesar P. Perez, the EL team was able to tie up with the Municipal Agricultural Office to further the adoption of edible landscaping. While Ms. Aquino acknowledges that increasing the number of edible landscaping gardens in the town is challenging, the team is positive that the adoption of the technology will eventually gain ground. The project continues to target members of cooperatives, overseas Filipino workers, barangay officials, and senior citizens as future adopters of the technology. The team continues to advocate the long-term goal of being self-sufficient. After the success of the first training, additional trainings have already been scheduled.

Embracing food security in an era of change

Considering that the Philippines is an agricultural country, it is ironic to see it struggling in the aspect of food security.

Unstable supply of staples such as rice and corn has led to spikes in market prices. As the new administration favors the prioritization of food security, edible landscaping is seen as a long-term solution to this pressing issue.

As the concept of edible landscaping continues to spread across the country, our food security situation is becoming less bleak. In this era of endless possibilities, UPLB and the Edible Landscaping Team are committed to help initiate positive change.