When I was young, the late great naturalist Euell Gibbons was often on the radio or television encouraging people to eat from nature.
The thought of an edible landscape instantly brings back memories of this great man and his unconventional eating habits.
However, once I started my own gardens, I realized that having an edible landscape can lead to exciting and beautiful combinations.
Growing vegetables and other edibles in flowers and shrubs is a great way to garden in small spaces as well as to add delightful textures and colors to your design.
Rhubarb is one of my favorites for northern gardens. Rhubarb is easy to care for, hardy, and can be an absolute beauty in the landscape.
Some varieties, like ‘Victoria’, have large panicles of white flowers that mature into reddish seed pods. This showy display is a breathtaking addition to small shrubs or the back border.
A smaller substitute for this colorful stemmed marvel is Swiss chard. Swiss chard comes in a variety of stalk colors and the plants remain a more modest size than rhubarb.
The tender leaves are great in the spring before other garden vegetables start production, and in the heat of summer, their stems can take on the brightest of yellows or deepest reds.
Put a little heat in your flowerbeds with peppers. Peppers come in a variety of colors and shapes and work well in the front to mid portion of the flower bed.
Choose a variety of pepper that ripens to a color complimentary to the surrounding flowers or foliage for best results.
This year I planted pots with chartreuse sweet potato vine and ‘Riot’ peppers and another pot of dark purple sweet potato vine with ‘Numex Twilight peppers. They worked together beautifully!
A great filler for any space is parsley. Not only is it a beautiful green addition to flower pots and beds, its uses in the kitchen are plentiful.
Many herbs work well mixed in with flowers. Basil comes in many varieties and can be tucked in as an accent in almost any sunny location.
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Dark Opal basil adds a wonderful dark purple and works well with yellow flowers or lime-green foliage. Sage adds a wonderful silver color and for this reason, is a great addition to night gardens.
For any family with children and a sunny spot, I recommend nasturtiums. The seeds are large and easy to plant. All parts of this great old favorite are edible.
The leaves add a peppery green to fresh salads; the buds are also great in salads or as capers. For children, the best thing about nasturtiums is the ability to whirl the perfectly round leaves by the petiole (leaf stalk) between the palms of your hands to make whirlybirds.
Nasturtiums come in a variety of sizes and shapes and fit well into any bright area. They tend to slow down or look shabby in the heat of summer, so filling in with a few parsley or other plants helps get them through the heat of mid-season.
Strawberries can make a delightful ground cover. Even when they are not producing fruit, their ability to send out runners and cover large areas makes them a desirable plant for the front of a deep flower bed.
There’s nothing better than picking your way to the mailbox and back!
New introductions by nurseries have added a whole host of dwarf fruit trees to our list of hardy fruit producers. Dwarf trees produce regular-sized fruit but the tree itself will stay small in size.
The trees are created by grafting a regular size fruit tree onto a smaller rootstock. This ‘dwarfs’ the tree and keeps it from reaching its full height and width.
This makes harvesting the apples, plums, or other fruit much easier and makes it possible for even the smallest gardens and yards to enjoy fruit trees.
Check with your local nursery for the availability of dwarf trees and be sure to plant them according to the nursery’s directions.
Fall is an excellent time to plant fruit-producing trees and shrubs. Choose plants that do not have any visible damage to their bark or stems.
Although at this time of year, the plants will be well rooted in pots, it is good practice to make sure they have not been root bound for a long period of time.
Do this by checking drainage holes at the bottom of the pot for protruding roots or gently tipping the plant out of the pot.
Masses of roots that circle the root ball forming the shape of the pot are not a good sign; look some more and choose a plant whose roots have had more spreading room.
Fall-planted trees and shrubs usually go directly into dormancy. Don’t be surprised if your beautiful apple tree suddenly loses its leaves shortly after planting.
As long as the soil is still fairly warm, the roots will continue to grow and set themselves. In the spring, the plant will begin to bud normally as if it had been planted there all along.
Although dwarf fruit trees can bear in fewer years than their full-size counterparts, be prepared to wait several years for your new orchard to produce a pie or tart. In the meantime, they may produce beautiful spring flowers and will add structure and form to your garden.
I spend a lot of time giving lectures and presentations around the region. I’m often approached by gardeners who tell me the vegetables are ‘his’ and the flowers are ‘hers’.
This division of labor might make for happiness for some couples, but why not give mixing it up a try? Instead of arguing about whose spot is neater, make it a team event.
Mixing the vegetables in with the flowers helps the diversity of the garden. Large infestations of aphids or other pests are less likely if there isn’t an overabundance of their favorite food.
Companion planting has been a popular term for years, and edible landscaping is taking companion planting to the next level. Diversity in the garden is good for the soil, the beneficial insects, and yes, even the gardener.
As we work to bring this year’s beds to a restful end, let’s dream of next year and how we’re going to mix it up with an edible landscape.