Professional Practice

Applying Ecological Design: Gardens and Permaculture

productive plants page detail
Permaculture / Image credit: Irene Kightley on Flickr CC via Landscape Architects Network

The United Nations estimates that by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will be live in cities. In urban and suburban areas, residents can grow their own food on their property or in community plots for themselves or local consumption in order to boost nutrition, save money, and build community connections. Edible gardens enable homeowners to grow food in the ground, raised beds, pots, or trellises and produce fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

However, fertilizers used in home gardens can pollute local watersheds through runoff. To avoid contaminating watersheds and damaging local ecosystems, homeowners growing productive landscapes should practice ecological gardening by using productive plants native to their environment and limit the use of chemicals.

By employing concepts of permaculture, or agriculture ecosystems that use patterns in nature to develop sustainable environments, homeowners can ensure food production and garden systems are integrated with the natural environment. Landscape architects can help site agricultural practices to minimize ecological impact and enhance the community benefits of local food sources by increasing connectivity to shared productive landscapes.

Local governments work with communities to expand the growth of urban and residential farming schemes, community vegetable gardens, and home-based garden plots through policy, tax incentives, and including urban agriculture in the planning process. In 2013, Boston adopted a zoning policy that allows for traditional and rooftop gardening, community gardens, hydro and aquaponics, beekeeping, chicken raising, and farmers' markets.

Many municipal and local governments offer grants and other forms of support to community groups starting productive gardens in residential areas. For example, California’s Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, which went into effect in 2014, allows county board supervisors to designate “urban agriculture incentive zones,” for privately owned, vacant land where the landowner can commit their land to agriculture in exchange for a property tax reduction.

Sources: “Urbanization and its implications for food and farming,” David Satterthwaite, Gordon McGranahan, Cecila Tacoli, The Royal Society Publishing, 2010; Promoting Urban Agriculture Through Zoning, Sustainable Cities Initiative


American Community Gardening Association

Edible Schoolyard

Resource Centers on Urban Agriculture and Food Security

Urban Farming

Urban Harvest

Berkeley Food Institute


How to Start a Community Garden,

Los Angeles Finally Allows Parkway Farming, The Dirt, American Society of Landscape Architects

An Urban Farm in Detroit Aims for Profit, The Dirt, American Society of Landscape Architects

Interview with Steven Nygren on Serenbe, a Farm to Table Community, The Dirt, American Society of Landscape Architects

Interview with Fritz Haeg, Author of "Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn", The Dirt, American Society of Landscape Architects

Permaculture = Permanent Agriculture, The Dirt, American Society of Landscape Architects

City Bountiful: The Rise of Urban Agriculture, The Dirt, American Society of Landscape Architects

Vegetable Gardening, Backyard Gardener

Brownfields and Community Supported Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency

Urban Agriculture Toolkit, United States Department of Agriculture


Practical Permaculture for Home Landscapes, Your Community, and the Whole Earth,” Jessi Bloom, Dave Boehnlein, Timber Press, 2015

Farming the Woods: An Integrated Permaculture Approach to Growing Food and Medicinals in Temperate Forests,” Ken Mudge, Steve Gabriel, John F. Munsell, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014

"Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn, 2nd Revised Edition: A Project by Fritz Haeg," Will Allen, Diana Balmori, Rosalind Creasy, Fritz Haeg, Michael Pollan, Eric Sanderson, Lesley Stern, Metropolis Books, 2010

The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach,” Ben Falk, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013

The Edible Front Yard: The Mow-less, Grow-More Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden,” Ivette Soler, Timber Press, 2011

Western Garden Book of Edibles: The Complete A-Z Guide to Growing Your Own Vegetables, Herbs, and Fruits,”  Editors of Sunset Magazine, Oxmoor House, 2010

Edible Landscaping,” Rosalind Creasy, Counterpoint, 2010

Designing Urban Agriculture: A Complete Guide to the Planning, Design, Construction, Maintenance and Management of Edible Landscapes,” April Phillips, Wiley, 2013

Government Resources

Urban Agriculture Property Incentive Tax, California

Sustainable Food Center, Austin, Texas

Article 89, Urban Agriculture, Boston, Massachusetts

Urban Agriculture FAQ, Chicago, Illinois

Homegrown Minneapolis, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Urban Food Zoning Code Update, Portland, Oregon

P-Patch Community Gardening, Seattle, Washington

Urban Agriculture in Rust Belt Cities, Cleveland, Ohio

Community Garden Organization Capacity Building Grant Program, Department of Agriculture and Markets, State of New York

Community Garden Program, Arlington, Virginia

GreenThumbNYC, Department of Parks & Recreation, New York City

Los Angeles Community Garden Council

Urban Agriculture and Community Gardening, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture


City House in a Garden, Chicago, Illinois
McKay Landscape Architects

Carnegie Hill House, New York City
Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects

Maple Hill Residence, Westwood Massachusetts
Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects

Curran House, San Francisco, California
Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture

Edible Estate Regional Prototype Garden #3, Maplewood, New Jersey
Edible Estate, Southwark, London, England

Edible Estate Regional Prototype Garden #4, London (UK)

Edible Estates Garden #8 - Lenape Edible Estate, Manhattan, New York





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