Saturday, December 26, 2009

Eating the View

Who says a landscape has to be merely beautiful? By the same token, why must edible plants be banished to the back garden, out of view? I'm here to tell coastal homeowners: yes, you can have your beautiful landscape and (like cake) eat it too.

A trend has gripped the nursery industry these past couple years, with the onset of the scary economic situation that began in late 2007. "Edible" plants are all the rage. Funny thing is, for many vegetable and fruit growers like me, edibles have always been our reason for gardening in the first place. We may have all started with a tomato plant or two, and before you know it, the winter seed catalogs have us prancing down the garden path toward exotic herbs and Asian greens, not to mention strange fruits.

By now, many of you have become familiar with attractive landscape-quality edibles like kale, Swiss chard (especially the 'Bright Lights' variety) and the striking artichoke. These dinner staples can be worked right into a varied perennial or shrub border, fitting in as comfortably in the front yard as the veggie patch.

What you may not realize, or perhaps haven't considered, is that many fruiting plants are front-yard stunners as well. Why bother with barberry and cotoneaster in your foundation plantings, when you could instead plant an elderberry, evergreen huckleberry, cranberry, currant or gooseberry? Many of these plants offer more than just the fruit but also floral and changing-color leaf displays to enjoy. Those among us with an adventurous spirit, willing to pay attention to cultural plant needs, might even try the cutting-edge seaberries or honeyberry.

Working old familiar standards into a landscape can be easier than you think. In the past couple years, I have transformed a formerly sad juniper-patch into strawberries, and the south side of my garage is the perfect habitat for a 'Frost' peach tree, trained into a fan. This pink-flowered stunner provided 30 fruits in its first year. A stone retaining wall is now lined with a row of 'Saanich' raspberries instead of handrail, and the back fences of my property support a 3-way pear, 3-way apple and 3 new varieties of grape selected for the coast. The apple and pear are espaliered, to make the most of limited space.

Take a good long look at what is filling your front yard and ask some questions like, does it get full sun? Is there shelter from the strongest winds? What is that plant (in place now) doing for me-- is it flowering, providing groundcover, or just taking up space? Do I appreciate the texture, color, fall display? After you assess these questions, you can begin to think through what edibles might take their place, and provide you with more than just scenery. What you might get instead, is good eats!

My fruiting plant sources in the Northwest: Raintree Nursery (WA) and One Green World (OR). Be sure to check what can be shipped into your state-- many are prohibited to cross state lines.

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