I love the food forest concept and I'm slowly converting patches of orchard into productive polyculture. However, I'd love to make it beautiful at the same time. So as a little bit of brainstorming I'm trying to come up with a list of interesting, useful and beautiful plants to including in a potential food forest. Here are some initial contenders...
Daffodils - lovely cut flowers and in a dense planting they can block the spread of grasses (apparently - not tested it!)
Saffron Crocus - dainty little flowers and possible harvest of saffron if you can bring yourself to harvest the fiddly little things
Sweet Pea - nitrogen fixing, decent amount of biomass for mulch and pretty flowers over a long period if you keep cutting them.
Roses - rose hip syrup for vitamin C in winter. I was riding once and the horse insisted on snaffling rose hips as we went along. Turned out the stable owner had planted them deliberately for the horses along the bridleway. It was tucking in to thorns and all! Flowers can be cut for indoors. Petals can be harvested and dried for confetti - we did this for our own wedding and it worked out great. You can buy rose petal confetti online so there is a potential market there.
Wysteria - one of my favourite plants of all, with fond memories of my grandparents house which had a huge wysteria climbing the steps to the front door. N fixing and produces copious growth each year so possibly a good mulch crop if you can find suitable support tree and keep it under control.
Lupins - another attractive n-fixer
Borage - excellent bee fodder and pretty small blue flowers for a long period of the year. Bees and other insects love it. Good chop and drop mulch plant.
Chives - annoyingly I can't eat these as I'm allergic to all alliums, but when a block of these flower they are quite spectacular pink/purple in colour. They are prolific self-seeders if you let the flowers bloom and fall and will easily provide you with more greens than you can hope to consume.
Moderator, Treatment Free Beekeepers group on Facebook.
I got a box of Siberian Squill on Amazon for cheap. They will eventually form a dense colony of blue flowers. They come out and do their thing before most trees get their leaves. So they can thrive on the forest floor.
For the drier spots, mostly bee magnets, oddly all purple:
Nepeta faassini (can be got in a sterile version)
For summer color (all edible flowers)
nasturtium (self-sowing annual climber)
calendula (self-sowing annual)
bachelor button (self-sowing annual)
I have seen culinary sage used as an effective ground cover. There are variegated foliage versions that could be interesting.
Lovage is one of my favorite herbs for drama
in zone 8 you could also grow a trailing rosemary
the passionfruit flower is quite lovely too.
Strawberries also make a pretty--and delicious!--ground cover. I also really like pansies/violets/Johnny Jump-Ups for the same reason. They are lovey, grow in the shade, and the flowers taste smooth and buttery.
Hi Michael. I'm not quite sure what you mean by beautiful, but I grow a lot of herbs here and they are slowly spreading into the food forest.
If you are after hardy low stress flowers, then I'd recommend:
- evening primrose which has prolific yellow flowers and is virtually indestructable;
- soap wort produces lots of flowers over summer too;
- yarrow produces flowers that remind me of carrot flowers;
- penny royal has a nice scent and produces purple-ish flowers;
- feverfew puts on a good show and again is indestructable;
- mints of all varieties produce masses of flowers;
I just remembered that a while back I wrote an article on this topic which has lots of photos with the plants named. Drop by and have a look, if you have any questions give me a yell!
Aconite, snowdrops, and a variety of crocus all add beauty in early spring, when we are most starved for it, and provide an early food source for bees and other pollinators. The other thing I like about them is that they take up essentially no space in the garden, since the leaves die back as the other plants grow.