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Flavorful Flora | Spring 2008 Out Here Magazine

Create a landscape that looks — and tastes — good

By Teresa Odle

Plants that feed you needn't be restricted to your garden. Not only are some tasty, but they are eye-catching ornamental plants as well, and could look good anywhere in your yard.

The practice is called edible landscaping, and it moves way outside the bounds of the vegetable garden, says Robert Kourik, an Occidental, CA, author and edible landscaping expert.

You can combine fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, vegetables, herbs, even edible flowers into your landscape design. It's not a new idea. Gardens in ancient Persia through 19th-century England combined edible and ornamental plants. But somewhere along the way, the edible plants in U.S. landscapes gave way to shade trees, lawns, and foundation plantings.

Kourik started planning aesthetically pleasing edible landscapes in the 1970s when a client had planted her herbs way in the back of the yard where she couldn't see them. "I built a brick retaining wall that she could see from the kitchen window and planted the edibles there," he says.

Herbs are an obvious edible choice, and the most cost-effective, Kourik says. Those you grow at home will taste and smell better, and cost much less per ounce than supermarket dried herbs. And because herbs have fewer pest problems than some vegetables, they're a good choice for container gardening, making it easier to place them near your kitchen.

English lavender is one of the easiest edible plants to grow and it's hardy in a variety of climates, Kourik says. Chives do well and the flowers have a good flavor."Thyme blossoms are edible and colorful and the herb makes a nice ground cover," says Kourik.

If you're looking for shade, try a fruit or nut tree. Kourik lists several varieties that are relatively disease resistant and require little to no pruning. Quinces grow in almost every zone; the raw fruit isn't particularly good, but it bakes well or makes great jam. And the trunk has an interesting, twisted shape.

Italian chestnuts are virtually disease free, but need lots of space. Kourik likes a tree called pineapple guava for its attractive foliage and flower petals and a brown, textured bark, though it's limited mostly to zones 7-9. Other great edibles, depending on your zone, are figs, kiwis, and Italian stone pine, which often is sold as a miniature Christmas tree and produces tasty pine nuts.

Consider plantings that deliver an uncommon harvest. Edible Asian pears, for example, grow in all zones and have a unique flavor, Kourik says, but the fruit bruises easily, so most supermarkets don't carry them.

To start your own edible landscape, follow a few of Kourik's "golden rules:"

  • Plant most of your edibles relatively close to your kitchen door.
  • Start small and add to your edible landscape after some success.
  • Talk to your neighbors and see what worked and didn't work for them.

Most of all, have fun designing and maintaining your edible landscape. You're creating beauty and food.

Teresa Odle is a freelance writer in Albuquerque, NM.