Today I wanted to approach beauty in the garden from an different angle – bringing food crops into your traditional landscaping and flower gardens.
Many of you live in urban or suburban areas where space is very limited and putting a vegetable garden in your front yard would be frowned upon. Besides, we like our front yard flower garden. It’s PRETTY.
Growing your some of your own food can cut your grocery bill, and bring more nutrition to your dinner plate. But how do you do that when you have limited space and are locked into conventional landscaping? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Adding trees and shrubs that produce fruit is one of the simplest ways to add food to our traditional landscaping. I’m sure you’re all familiar with all the usual suspects in this area: citrus, apple, peach, apricot, plum and all the variations thereof. Most of the berry bushes are not attractive so I’m going to leave them out of this discussion, even though I love growing berries! But there are many trees and shrubs that might be considered as purely decorative, but that actually produce a usable food crop.
Natal plum is a very common landscaping plant that is often trimmed into a hedge. It has fragrant star shaped white flowers and spiny branches. The fragrance is reminiscent of gardenias and very attractive to pollinators. These plants are so common in traditional landscaping that I’ve even seen them planted in the parking lot at Home Depot! If allowed to grow without being sheared into a hedge, they produce a fruit that looks and tastes like a giant cranberry. They are high in vitamin C, calcium and potassium. Picked when ripe, the make a very good jelly.
Dogwood trees are a long time favorite in landscaping because of their beautiful springtime flowers.
Cornelian cherry or edible Dogwood provides the same beautiful flowers in spring, as well a bright red fruit mid to late summer. Fruit is usually ripe when it falls from the tree. Looking a lot like coffee berries, the fruit can be used to make jam, sauces or dried and used in trail mixes. In other countries it is used to make a variety of drinks from cold “soft” drink to a distilled alcoholic beverage like vodka.
Goji berry bushes are an attractive shrub with gray green foliage, pretty purple flowers and small red fruits. Goji berries. or Wolf berries are the latest in the
antioxidant craze. The berries are very sweet when ripe. Other than eating them out of hand, I haven’t done much with mine. I have seen them for sale in my local Henry’s Market (similar to Trader Joes’ or Whole Foods). A small 4 oz package was six dollars! My plant is still small but produces enough to cause the branches to bend to the ground. In doing the research for this, I found that the leaves as well as the berries are edible by people as well as animals. That could explain why mine seems to get smaller from time to time. It must be the cotton tail I’ve seen in the yard periodically. They are self fertile so you can have only one plant if you like
If you have fence or trellis, make use of the vertical space. Passion fruits are a welcome addition to the landscape and the the breakfast table. In a momentary impulse a number of years ago, I ended up in Nairobi, Kenya. The hotel where I stayed had a breakfast bar with muesli (like granola, but not toasted), fruit and big pitchers of passionfruit juice. It was the most wonderful juice in the world.
When I was a kid we had a passion fruit vine and I was fascinated by the unique flowers. But I grew up in Southern California and passion fruit is a tropical plant. What about those of you who live in the more temperate parts of the country? Well, God provides. There is an American passion fruit that grows natively in many parts of the country. It is called May Pop, because after the long, cold winter it “pops” up out of the ground in May.
The flower of the May Pop is a little different that the passion fruit flowers that I grew up with but still quite beautiful and can be grown in most parts of the
county. With the first frost the vine will die back. Mulching the roots in the fall will help guarantee its return come spring.
The most widely used objection I hear to growing fruit in a landscaped yard is that “fruit trees are messy.” If we harvest and use the fruit, they are no more messy than any other deciduous tree. Part of the problem is that we’ve forgotten that God is not a god of waste. His design puts all things to use. Everything that falls from the tree fits into that design and becomes either food for something else or decomposes to become food in the form of organic matter for the tree itself and other surrounding plants.
We can also incorporate regular vegetables into our landscape. Believe it or not many vegetables are beautiful, in the conventional sense.
Bakercreek seeds (www.rareseeds.com) have an unbelievable selection of beautiful and interesting vegetable
varieties. One of these is Japanese White Egg eggplant. This is an incredibly interesting plant. The leaves are a grayish green, light purple flowers and the eggplants look just like eggs hanging there. Yes, they are just about the same size as eggs.
Tomatoes and Peppers are the two most popular vegetables grown by home gardeners in the US. But are the appropriate for the typical suburban front
yard? Of course. Both tomatoes and peppers can be pruned to maintain a more tidy appearance than we generally think of for these plants.
Both produce colorful and delicious fruits, pleasing to the eye and the pallet. Peppers often change colors as they ripen adding variety in the landscape.
And don’t forget there are a huge variety of herbs, both annual and perennial that we can fit into our landscapes. Sage and rosemary are two that are commonly used. They produce beautiful flowers and usable foliage. Many sage plants blossom for long periods. Rosemary requires almost no work at all, is very drought tolerant, in fact, it doesn’t like to have it’s feet wet. As it becomes a large shrub, you can prune it into whatever shape you like. Turn it into a bonsai looking thing if that fits your landscape.
Lots of traditional landscape designs use ground covers to prevent erosion and add greenery. Perennials such as strawberries make wonderful ground covers along with providing you with yummy strawberry shortcake, jam or cordial. As I was researching this I ran across a plant that looked really interesting. Something called “Bears Garlic”. I’d never heard of this plant. To me it looked like any typical landscaping plant.
It’s an allium, the garlic, onion and leek family. Supposedly the foliage has a flavor like a mild cross between garlic and leek. It grows very densely in the spring and prefers a shady or semi shady environment. For those of you who live in Montana, Idaho and North Dakota, here you go. It is hardy to -30 degrees! It is used in soups, stew and chopped for use in salads. It also has medicinal properties producing an antibiotic compound called thiosulfinate. Not being an herbalist, I’m not sure how this would be put to use. I was only able to find one source of seed in a quick search on line http://www.horizonherbs.com/product.asp?specific=1708 The scientific name of this plant is allium ursinum, hence the name Bears garlic. I imagine if you check at your local nursery you might be able to find plants.
Well, I’ve gone really long today. This may have to be a three parter because I still have a lot I’d like to share on this subject.
If you’re enjoying this series, I’d love to hear from you. If not, I’d welcome constructive criticism as well. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or feel free to leave a comment on the blog. You can also comment on the face book page doing a search for Created in a Garden. I’d love to hear from you. Till then, have a great day and enjoy all that is created in a garden.