In our modern world there is one thing that is critical to our existence: multitasking. Whether at home, work or while driving (actually, no, put down your phones, people!), our lives are so busy we are forced to do two or more things at once. While this is certainly not my strong suit, I have seen a brilliant example of this feat accomplished by plants – through edible landscaping. This concept is all the rage in the world of horticulture right now, but is also coming from individuals on a personal level. It seems almost everyone has shifted towards trying at least one edible plant in their garden, whether it’s a tomato in a hanging basket, a small potted herb garden or an apple tree, folks are turning to fruits and vegetables to enhance their landscapes and their diets.
Exactly what started this phenomenon is unknown, but to be sure, there could be no smarter or more effective strategy for beautifying your yard, feeding yourself (and sometimes wildlife) and spending time with friends and family. Take the serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.) for example:
- its spring flowers are beautiful and its graceful multi-stemmed form breathtaking
- the flowers give way to a small berry, blue in color, which is sweet and juicy and great straight off the tree, or in pies, muffins or preserves (if the birds don’t get to them first!)
- after the fruit has been enjoyed by you or your winged friends, the leaves turn a subtle but gorgeous peachy, golden and deep orangey-red color in autumn.
Wow – I could take a lesson from this tree! That’s merely one example of a plant that offers both beauty and bounty within the landscape:
- Blueberry shrubs (Vaccinium sp.) have some of the most beautiful reddish burgundy fall foliage I’ve seen.
- Paw paws (Asimina triloba) make an ideal understory tree, but put them out in the open and they take on a wonderful pyramidal form and produce even more fruit.
- Swiss chard and kale offer foliage with a beautiful color palette, as well as textural contrast in a perennial or annual bed – so go ahead and mix them in with your existing garden!
The possibilities are endless, and delicious. Anywhere you can put a plant in your landscape, it can provide food for you and your friends and family. That vine growing up the arbor – make it a grape vine or hops, or how about training your cucumbers up high? Two years ago I planted 5 strawberry plants in my front yard. My daughter loves to eat the fruits, and I thought it would be a nice treat for neighbors to help themselves to as they passed by. Today the strawberries have formed a ground cover about 2 feet wide and eight feet long, and as we speak, they are nearly evergreen. In just a couple of months, they will offer up perfectly petaled white flowers, which will give way to sweet, juicy berries – now who out there can multitask better than that?
The Civic Garden Center’s is offering several classes on edible landscaping and vegetable gardening topics through the months of March and April, including Plan a Vegetable Garden, Fruit Tree Selection and Maintenance, Fruits for an Edible Landscape and Organic Vegetable Gardening. To see the full list and to register, visit www.civicgardencenter.org. Also, be sure to visit THE Plant Sale at the Civic Garden Center on May 3, 4 or 5 for a huge selection of fruit trees, bushes and vegetables that are sure to thrive in our region!
-Cara Hague, Horticulturist