Documents: Special Interest: What we grow to eat:

Easy Edible Landscaping
by Marion Owen
November 25, 1999

Many gardeners would like to grow their own fresh produce, but don't have the time or space for a separate food garden. The solution? Incorporate edible plants into your existing garden and landscape scheme, whether you've got huge garden plots or whiskey barrels arranged on the front porch. The result is what is called "edible landscaping." Edible landscapes do double duty‹they provide food and herbs and make your yard more attractive at the same time.

Now you might be thinking that edible landscaping means avacado trees, orange groves, and basil bushes‹all plants that would take a garden miracle to grow in northern climates. So, is this still possible in non-tropical regions? You bet!

Almost all food-producing plants have ornamental value. For example, rhubarb with its red stalks and crinkly green leaves can be showcased nicely; red Swiss chard and the purples of Russian red kale add a splashes of color in any grouping. Red currants boast soft, green leaves followed by brilliant red clusters of tasty berries. See what I mean?

MIXING HERBS AND VEGETABLES

There are many ways to incorporate edibles into your existing landscape. Start by including some edibles with your annual flowers. Remember too, that you don't have to plant vegetables in neat rows‹they'll do just fine interplanted among ornamentals and herbs. Try accenting a flower bed with deep green rosettes of Green Ice lettuce or New Zealand spinach.

Plant perennial herbs and vegetables in your existing ornamental borders‹make room by splitting-out, relocating or replacing plants. For example, chives and sage have a bushy, upright shape, while German chamomile and pink yarrow have delicate foliage topped with tiny flowers.

OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH EDIBLES

If you need to remove an existing tree or shrub that has died or outgrown its site, consider a fruit-bearing tree or shrub as a replacement. Highbush cranberries, blueberries, and some species of apple trees provide color, texture, and food.

Replace grass (you can't eat a lawn anyway) with edible groundcovers. Strawberries produce fruit most of the summer and tolerate marginal soil and light shade. Herbs such as thyme and oregano can also be planted as groundcovers.

HEDGES AND CONTAINERS

Make use of existing fences and walls. Try training gooseberries along a fence, or use the structure to support raspberries, trailing nasturtiums or sugar snap peas.

No fence? Plant a fruiting--and living--hedge. Shrub roses, such as rugosa roses, make a lovely and resistant barrier. Rugosa roses produce large red rose hips that contain 60 times the vitamin C of an orange. The hips can be used to make tea, jam, or jelly.

Tightly planted gooseberries and raspberries also remain compact as they grow and are easy to establish in the garden. A note about raspberries: though they produce yummy fruit and have a good "fence height," they tend to creep (invade) into other spaces as an uninvited guest.

Add containers and tubs to your landscape. Not only do containers such as half-barrels, stacked tires or even buckets "round out" the square-ness of buildings and lots, they can be rotated and moved to different locations. Experiment with different combinations. For example, plant fava (broad) beans in the center and arrange calendulas or pansies around the base. Train snap peas on a trellis and plant lettuce, oriental greens and Johnny jump-ups around the bottom.

COLORFUL AND TASTY, TOO

  • Curly parsley and yellow pansies (Viola spp.)
  • Red leaf lettuce with yellow and orange calendulas
  • Dwarf curly kale with dusty miller and pink nemesia
  • Curly parsley with trailing blue lobelia
  • Oregano with red chard and trailing white lobelia

PLANT A COLORFUL LAWN WITH CROCUS BULBS

Crocuses (crocus spp) may not be edible fare, but they're easy to grow in most locations and they come in many colors‹from variegated purple and white, to yellow, cream, and gold. In England and in many parts of North America, crocuses are planted right through the turf to brighten the spring greenery.

Easy to plant, crocuses naturalize (spread naturally) and adapt well to harsh weather conditions and iffy soil. To establish splashes of color in your lawn, spring and early fall are the best times to plant bulbs. While you may not get color the first season, the bulbs will have an opportunity to establish strong root systems before winter sets in. And next spring, you (and your neighbors) will be greeted with a wonderful surprise.

For a fast and effective way to plant bulbs through an existing lawn, stab a trowel into the soil like a dagger and pull toward you to make a hand-length hole for the bulb. Drop in a bulb, and step on the spot to close the slot. If you're inclined, sprinkle in a little bone meal before dropping in the bulb. It's that simple. After the bulbs have finished blooming, just mow as you normally would.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

"The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping" by Rosalind Creasy "Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally" by Robert Kourik

Want to have fun gardening with kids? Make a hairy Mr. (or Mrs.) Potato Head! Cut one end off a potato and place it upright on a plate. With a spoon or paring knife, carve out an indentation on the other end and fill it with potting soil. Sprinkle the soil with grass seed and keep it moist. Put it in the window and soon you'll have long, green hair you can trim, tie with a bow or braid! Decorate Mr. Potato Head with slices of carrot, radish or turnip, or with costume jewelry and buttons.

Master gardener and teacher Marion Stirrup of Kodiak, Alaska provides gardening tidbits, recipes, giggles and more in her newsletter, The PlantPress. Marion is also President of Plantamins, Inc., happy makers of PlanTea, the organic fertilizer in convenient tea bags. Visit her web site at www.plantea.com or e-mail: marion@ptialaska.net

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