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With the speed that lawns and ornamental landscaping plants grow in Florida, every week you either spend your time hacking back your yard or you spend your money hiring someone else to hack it for you.

At the end of that outdoor venture, all you have to show for your investment is a presentable-looking yard. But what if you could actually get something tangible back for the time and money you pour into your yard?

“Just as you would go out and mow your lawn, prune your shrubs and fertilize and mulch, you do the exact same thing for edible plants, except when you’re done, you get to harvest food,” said Erica Klopf, the owner of Estero-based Florida Edible Landscaping. “People pay hundreds of dollars each month to get their lawn mowed and bushes trimmed with absolutely no return except an aesthetic yard, whereas your return here will be food. It’s a comparable cost, so why not invest in something that lowers your grocery bill?”

That is the idea behind the concept of edible landscaping, where you get the tangible benefit of delicious, fresh, wholesome produce from your yard. Yet your yard won’t look like a farm or lack space for you to do other things you love to do outside if you choose to plant an edible landscape.

“I take the aesthetics very seriously,” said Klopf, who began as an art and design major before becoming interested in environmental sustainability issues upon attending Florida Gulf Coast University. “The process starts with an onsite consultation where I meet with the client at their home. We discuss their personal goals and needs, which starts by talking about foods they enjoy eating and what else they use the space for. Do they have kids, dogs, a grill, a bonfire pit? Then we walk the property together.

“By combining the client interview with the site survey, I create the design with a three-dimensional animation so they can see what it will look like, a scaled map and full budget with installation plan,” Klopf said. “The consultation is up to three hours long, so I really do spend a solid amount of time getting to know the client, their lifestyle and details about what the yard will be used for. It’s about how we incorporate edible landscaping into your lifestyle and not have it be something that takes over your yard.”

Dividends

With the help of people at a number of local businesses and organizations who are knowledgeable in edible landscaping design, your yard will still look quite attractive as it pays you dividends.

“My clients feel like they are getting a much larger value than what they are investing into it because they’re not just landscaping — they’re planting food,” Klopf said. “Whereas people who put in a traditional landscape still have to go to the store to buy food, my clients will have to do less of that, so they are getting a huge value because it’s not a one-time landscape thing — it’s a year after year they get more and more food from it.

“We are not limited to edible plants,” she said. “We specialize in native plants, and we’re versed in ornamental landscaping and tropical flowering plants, so we can work with what’s there and add those ornamental elements into an otherwise edible design. It’s bringing the expertise of edible plants to the table — literally.”

Homeowner T.J. Zynda said he decided he wanted to use edible plants to landscape his yard after eating some particularly delicious fresh fruit grown on a tree planted in a home landscape.

“My in-laws have a mango tree at their house in Golden Gate,” Zynda said. “It grew pretty quick over 10 years and produced a ton of fruit for them, so I loved that and the quality was so much better than what I could buy at the store anywhere, even like at Whole Foods. The varieties you can grow here are fantastic.”

Zynda said he became further inspired to utilize edible landscaping techniques at his own home in Golden Gate Estates after visiting the FGCU Food Forest, a sustainable edible landscaping project that Klopf helped to design and install while she was a student at the university.

He started reading books about edible landscaping and began to plant tropical fruit trees in his yard about three years ago.

Expertise

While the trees did grow, he realized he needed some help from someone with more expertise in the subject of edible landscaping, so he contacted Klopf. Through her business, Klopf offers many different levels of service, ranging from design and consulting work for homeowners, to instillation of the landscape designs, to weekly maintenance contracts that include harvesting the produce to bring up to the front door, if desired.

She also provides edible landscaping designs for Pulte Homes, for homeowners’ associations and for the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort.

Between budget limitations and Zynda’s personal interest in edible landscaping as a hobby, he opted to have Klopf provide a design that could be installed in phases and to have her provide consultation and advice. He installed the first phase of her design in January.

“I actually planted several trees at my house before getting Erica involved, but the methods she implemented are so much more successful and make more sense than just planting a tree in the ground and watering and fertilizing it,” Zynda said. “You would think it would be simple to just plant a tree, but I just needed her expertise to take it over the top. Even reading as many books as I could — her experience level is incredible.

“There were about 20 trees in this phase, and they have already caught up in growth (with the earlier plantings), just based on the compost and the pigeon peas that pump nitrogen into the soil and attracts more activity in the soil, and then having the thick layer of mulch,” he said. “It makes a huge difference as opposed to just putting fertilizer and some mulch around a tree.”

Edible landscaping attempts to mimic the way a highly efficient natural forest ecosystem works by making use of different layers of vegetation, with fruiting trees as an over story and other complementary food plants growing closer to the ground, with the plants providing mutual support within the plant community.

henever possible, the technique makes use of perennial plants, which are ones that don’t have to be replanted every year.

Cultivate

Beyond creating a design with the most suitable plants for Zynda’s needs and teaching him how to cultivate them more effectively, he said Klopf also referred him to places such as Fruit Scapes nursery on Pine Island and ECHO Global Farm & Research Center in North Fort Myers to obtain plants and seeds.

“Where I was going was a popular place but it wasn’t the best value for pricing and the trees were small, so she pointed me in the right direction,” he said. “I drove a van out to Fruit Scapes, and Steve there was fantastic. They have a good relationship, so he extended that to me, and he taught me some things, too.”

Klopf suggested that homeowners who wish to learn more about edible landscaping and receive some do-it-yourself advice could start by attending meetings of the Collier Fruit Growers Council or the Southwest Florida Permaculture Guild.

“Growing food in South Florida is not difficult,” Klopf said. “In fact, it’s easy, and we can do it 12 months out of the year, whereas up North you can only do it three to six months. You can live more sustainably by eating food that hasn’t been transported with fossil fuels. It’s important and accessible, and by doing so, you can increase your personal wellness by eating the freshest organic produce.”

Connect with this writer: @LauraTichySmith (Twitter)

To contact

Florida Edible Landscaping

Hours and location: By appointment

Info: 777-3814; floridaediblelandscaping.com

Fruit Scapes nursery

Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday

Where: 12870 Stringfellow Road, Bokeelia

Info: 462-2341; fruitscapesllc.com

ECHO Global Farm & Research Center

Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday- Saturday (closes one hour early on Saturdays)

Where: 17391 Durrance Road, North Fort Myers

Info: 543-3246; echonet.org (tours available)

Collier Fruit Growers Council

When: 7 p.m. third Monday monthly

Where: Golden Gate Community Center, 4701 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples

Info: collierfruit.org

Southwest Florida Permaculture Guild

When: 3 p.m.-5 p.m. fourth Saturday monthly

Where: FGCU Food Forest, 10501 FGCU Blvd. South, Fort Myers

Info: swflpermaculture.org

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