Foodscape Your Landscape

A design drawing of an edible landscape

In many people’s minds, gardens and gardening can be broken down into two distinct categories: ornamental gardens and vegetable/herb/fruit gardens, i.e., edible gardens.

By Jennifer Schamber

[This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener March 2018.]

A design drawing of an edible landscape
Design drawing of an edible orchard landscape created by Matt Lebon for Principia School in West St. Louis County

Ed. Note: In many people’s minds, gardens and gardening can be broken down into two distinct categories: ornamental gardens and vegetable/herb/fruit gardens, i.e., edible gardens. Matt Lebon is one of a new wave of garden designers who doesn’t see the point of such compartmentalization. Matt, who was farm manager at EarthDance Farms organic farming school for several years, recently started his own landscape design business, Custom Foodscaping, which specializes in blending plants that produce edible crops into the ornamental garden landscape, or perhaps more accurately, creating an edible landscape that is also ornamental. Jennifer Schamber recently sat down with Matt to discuss the concept and his new business.

What is it that Custom Foodscaping does?  

At Custom Foodscaping our motto is “Have Your Landscape and Eat it Too”.  Our mission is to is to help people and institutions create food-producing landscapes in the everyday places we work, learn and play.  We work with clients to provide consultation and design services for edible landscapes, gardens and farms.  Further, we offer installation services for perennial landscapes as well as coaching services to ensure clients are finding success and enjoyment.  

How is Custom Foodscaping different than a traditional landscape or design company?

At Custom Foodscaping we specialize in the use of edible plants for our design and installation.  This includes fruit and nut trees, herbs and vegetables.  Basically, we want to work with clients who want to create an edible oasis that looks beautiful, provides boat loads of food and encourages those magical moments of connecting with our food source.  Additionally, as opposed to maintenance, we seek clients who want to be a part of the growing process.  That’s where coaching comes in.  As a long time educator, I want to empower people to be a part of the growing process.

An image of an edible landscape.
An overhead view of Matt Lebons own Tower Grove home landscape, where edibles create an ornamental landscape.

Why is “foodscaping” something we could benefit from learning about?

I see two main reasons for people to shift our focus to foodscaping.  There are so many fabulous plants out there that are easy to care for, beautiful, and provide the wonderful benefit of food, medicine or tea.  If we’re going to put time, energy and resources into growing plants, wouldn’t it be wonderful to get a return on that investment? Also, my design focus with foodscaping utilizes mostly perennial plants—think fruit trees, asparagus, mint and blackberries.  I love perennials because once you plant them, they give you yields for years to come! I find the work of digging up a garden and constantly replanting to be a back-breaking task.  Just look around at nature—our wild areas are almost entirely perennial.  Let’s design the landscapes around us to mimic nature as much as possible!

What are some of your favorite plants to grow?

I’m so glad you asked! Planting and growing unique plants is a huge perk of working with Custom Foodscaping.  Since we specialize in plants that thrive using organic methods, we utilize a lot of uncommon plants.  When suitable, I like to start with natives.  I am super excited about hybrid persimmons right now—bigger fruit and smaller trees than the native persimmon.  Serviceberries are rock stars for me.  They are commonly used in landscapes but few people know the fruit is delightful! As for non-natives, I’m a huge fan of herbaceous perennials like sorrel and bronze fennel.  Bush cherries, jujube trees, and goumis are easy to grow fruits that are perfect for small spaces.  There are even little-known perennial vegetables like sea kale and welch onions that are starting to gain popularity.

4.  What experience has led you to this point?

My journey got started 10 years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay. During my training I went to an innovative small farm that blew my mind! Ever since, I’ve been working on farms, teaching and deepening my understanding of nature.   For the last 5 years I’ve been working at the EarthDance Organic Farm School, helping to manage their farm, garden and edible landscape.  My time at EarthDance was a tremendous growth experience for me.  I was able to hone my skills growing several acres of vegetables and establishing a fruit tree orchard while incorporating water management strategies and native flower plantings.  

5. Where do you see Custom Foodscaping going as it grows?

The long-term goal of Custom Foodscaping is to work with institutions to bring food-producing landscapes to public spaces.  We work with schools to move beyond square gardening boxes and create edible schoolyards.  We work with restaurants to create one-of-a-kind chef’s gardens.  We see universities with productive farms that supply their cafeteria and food forests that dot the campus.  We see places like public parks and skilled nursing facilities with orchards that rain down fruit for the residents.  We want to help people reimagine where we’re growing food.

A picture of Matt Lebon
Matt Lebon

Jennifer Schamber is the general manager of Greenscape Gardens in west St. Louis County, Missouri. She is a past president of the Landscape & Nursery Association of Greater St. Louis and past vice president of the Horticulture Co-op of Metro St. Louis. Greenscape Gardens is the national 2015 winner of Today’s Garden Center Magazine’s Revolutionary 100 Award.