An edible forest garden is a mode of growing that mimicks the relationships between plants in a forest, while substituting food producing plants for humans. To achieve this, you have to examine what plants grow in forests near you. Here in San Diego County, we have chapparal communities, along with some pine and oak forests in the mountains. I cannot replicate a forest such as found in, say, Olympia, because we have completely different climates, soils, and plant interrelationships. Even for people who live in deserts, you can examine what once was there before the area was a desert, or what plants are in a nearby oasis if you have one. I’d substitute plants for more desirable ones, such as lemonade berry for its cousin poison oak. Plants should provide canopy, groundcover, mulch, nitrogen-fixing, and insect attracting. After these plant guilds mature they will provide fertilizer and moisture for themselves.
However, most of us are far away from this type of gardening, or just don’t want to go that far. Integrating your ornamentals with food plants, though, is not radical anymore and entirely practical. Any nook in your yard can be a place for food producing plants. Too many squash or tomatoes? Take them to a local food pantry.
Tomatoes are a vining plant which will use any upright structure on which to climb.
Is your produce sprouting in the house? Try planting it instead of composting. Onions make particularly pretty plants with flowers that attract pollinators and hummingbirds. You may collect the seed from them as well. If the produce doesn’t survive, its okay: you’ve just buried compost.
Sweet potatoes are perennial plants that produce swollen rhyzomes rather than swollen roots as other potatoes do. Plant them where you can dig up some of the roots but leave the main plant to thrive for years, depending on your climate. Their leaves are beautiful, and the plants are often sold as ornamentals.
Herbs in the shrubs, strawberries in the flowers, and melon and squash under the trees all make for a beautiful edible landscape that will provide food, compost, mulch and habitat while you study up for your edible forest garden.