By Jan Cashman
Why not make your landscape good to eat? If you are going to give your plants tender loving care, let them give you something in return besides beauty—fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Whether you are designing a new landscape or remodeling or adding to an existing one, the same design principles apply with edible plants and non-edibles. Of course, all the plants in your landscape don’t have to be edible. Mix in fruiting trees and shrubs and vegetables and herbs wherever they will fit and look good. Here are some ways to use edible plants in your landscape:
Although tiny crabapples attract birds, apple trees with full- sized apples can give your family fruit to eat. All apple trees are beautiful when in flower, but there are a few which are more floriferous and also have better fruit. The umbrella shape of the small hazen apple tree, is stunning in the spring, when it produces thousands of pinkish-white blossoms. Hazen’s tasty apples mature around Labor Day. Hardy chestnut crab apples, another favorite of mine, produce lots of pure white blossoms which mature into small apples with an interesting, delicious flavor. Plant semi-dwarf apple trees in small yards—they are easier to pick, whatever the size of your yard.
Apricot trees have an abundance of beautiful white blossoms early in the spring, before most other trees and shrubs are in bloom. If apricots blossom too early, the fruit may freeze, but if they don’t freeze, the apricots are delicious. Plums trees blossom a little later than apricots. Mount Royal is a small, self-fertile plum tree that produces prune-type fruit, ripening in late fall. Mount Royal plums are delicious for eating fresh, pies, drying, and jams.
Meteor pie cherry is an attractive dwarf tree that is self-fertile and quite hardy for our area. In the spring, it is filled with beautiful, pure white blossoms. Our 30-year-old cherry tree has produced unbelievable crops of tart cherries that make delicious pies and cobblers. Last year my husband and pie-baker, Jerry, made many cherry pies out of these bright red cherries.
Our large luscious pear tree has glossy deep green leaves and produces small, firm pears, good for desserts and canning. It is a beautiful tree in its own right, so the fruit is a welcome bonus.
Instead of sterile alpine currant shrubs, plant consort black and red lake currants, or pixwell gooseberries, which all have fruit which is good for jams, jellies, and pies. Nanking and Western sand cherries make attractive hedges and produce small cherries for preserves—Nanking cherries are sweet enough to eat fresh!
Two selections of Juneberry, or serviceberry, ‘Regent’ and ‘Smoky’, are attractive for their white flowers in the spring, dark purple fruit good for jelly, and reddish fall foliage. These two juneberries would also make a good hedge. Elderberries, big, fast-growing shrubs, produce a lot of blue-black fruit useful for pies, jam, and wine.
Don’t forget the delicious and easy-to-grow raspberry, which can be planted against a fence or wall for ornamentation and fruit.
If you want a vine to decorate the side of your house or to climb a fence, plant a grape. There are several hardy grape varieties, such as Valiant, that grow easily in our climate. Grapes need to be planted in a hot, sunny spot in order to get fully ripe.
Strawberry plants are a natural ground cover as their runners spread. Or plant mounding cullinary thyme instead of the other ornamental thyme ground covers, which aren’t so tasty.
The huge leaves of easy-to-grow rhubarb plants are a focal point planted amidst perennial flowers. Perennial herbs, like oregano, chives, sage, and tarragon, flower and are ornamental, besides adding flavor to your family’s meals.
Mix attractive vegetable plants such as red or green-leafed lettuce or kale in with your annual flowers. I’ve even seen big vining squash and cucumbers planted to fill in empty spots in flower gardens. Tuck annual herbs into your flower beds. In some climates, rosemary is used as a short perennial hedge, but here, rosemary, parsely, and basil are attractive, useful, annual herbs.
You can grow almost any vegetable or herb in a container. Tomatoes are commonly grown in containers. Plastic Earth Boxes work well for tomato and pepper plants because they are watered from the bottom. But, try pretty ceramic pots filled with vegetables. A few years ago, we planted vining snap peas in large containers. We used bamboo stakes tied together with jute twine for them to climb on—they grew well, ripened early, and produced lots of delicious peas.
With an edible landscape, you will be able to grow tasty food better than any you can purchase in the grocery store. Remember, “An edible landscape is the only form of gardening that truly nurtures all the senses.”