Add Some Flavor to Your Landscape

Spring is a great time of year! Flowers are blooming, the weather is nice, and days are longer. Another one of my favorite things about this season: local produce is becoming readily available at neighborhood markets! Local produce is fresher and tastier than produce shipped from farther away. Additionally, it is better for the local economy, and uses less resources in transportation.

So besides shopping at your neighborhood market, where else can you get local produce? The answer is simple, in your own yard!

Consider the following simple ways to add edibles to your landscape:

Trees

Native Fruit Trees (from upper left, clockwise): Serviceberry; Serviceberry fruit; Paw Paw fruit; young Paw Paw tree
Native Fruit Trees (from upper left, clockwise): Serviceberry; Serviceberry fruit; Paw Paw fruit; young Paw Paw tree

Instead of an orchard, plant native, ornamental trees such as Serviceberries (Amelanchier sp.) and Pawpaws (Asimina triloba) to get fruit, increase beauty, and provide habitat on your property. Both trees are mid-sized, and fit well into most residential settings. They both take full sun to part shade, and average to moist soil conditions.

Serviceberries are covered in white flowers in early spring which produce red to blue fruit in June (hence another common name, Juneberry). The berries taste similar to a blueberry and are delicious if you can beat the birds to them. They also have lovely fall color in a variety of shades from yellows, to oranges, to reds.

Pawpaws are interesting trees with an almost tropical appearance due to their large, drooping leaves. They have insignificant but curious, brown flowers followed by greenish-yellow, oblong fruits which taste similar to bananas. A variety of animals such as fox, raccoon, and opossum eat the fruit if it is not harvested first. Pawpaws have a clear, yellow fall color.

Berries

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries need no introduction as fruit, but let’s consider them as ornamental landscape plants.

Strawberries can be used as a groundcover in many sunny locations. Use ever-bearing varieties in sections of your perennial beds to provide white flowers and very attractive red fruit for much of the growing season. Strawberries grow thick enough to out-compete most weeds. Choose disease resistant varieties.

Blueberry bushes are beautiful enough to consider as an ornamental shrub even without the fruit. Numerous cultivars come in a variety of sizes from 2’ tall to 8’ tall. Blueberries produce white flowers in spring, berries in summer, and have terrific red fall color. Happy plants require acidic soil and full sun. So if you have this type of spot, add blueberries to any mixed border for food and beauty.

What raspberries and blackberries lack in ornamental appeal, they make up for in taste and ease of cultivation. If you have a property edge that is currently unplanted, raspberries may be the right plant for you. Stick a few plants in a back corner of your property and you will be rewarded with berries for years to come.

Left to Right: Strawberries grown in a perennial garden; Blueberry fall foliage; Blackberry grown in a mixed border
Left to Right: Strawberries grown in a perennial garden; Blueberry fall foliage; Blackberry grown in a mixed border

Vegetables

Many vegetables, such as chard, peppers, and string beans are attractive enough to tuck into existing beds as an additional ornamental plant. You don’t need to set aside designated areas for vegetable beds if you have the right growing conditions. Use your imagination, and squeeze vegetables in your garden wherever you can.

Flowers

In addition to adding vegetables to existing beds, you can toss various flowers into a salad. Plant nasturtiums, violets, and calendula for added color in your garden and on your plate. Even the flowers of redbud trees (Cercis canadensis) are edible and colorful.

Herbs

Herbs should almost always be grouped together in a garden for a number of reasons. One, it is easy to use herbs if your garden is set right outside your kitchen door. You can grab a handful of rosemary or thyme as you are cooking and toss it into almost any dish.

A second reason is that many herbs come from the Mediterranean, and therefore have similar cultural requirements. Infertile, well-drained soil and full sun will keep most of your herbs happy, but would stress many other garden plants. Group your herbs together, do not fertilize, go very light on water and enjoy using these edibles for most of the year.

Swiss Chard mixed with perennials and annuals; Nasturtium flowers make a spicy addition to salads; Herbs planted together
Swiss Chard mixed with perennials and annuals; Nasturtium flowers make a spicy addition to salads; Herbs planted together
Purslane, a common weed, adds tang to salads
Purslane, a common weed, adds tang to salads

Weeds

You may not have invited garlic mustard, dandelion, purslane, and many other weeds to your garden. Nevertheless, include them in your list of edible plants. Many were brought to this continent for culinary purposes so they can be quite tasty. Unfortunately, they escaped cultivation and are now considered weedy pests. So if you are going to pull them anyway, you might as well eat them! For more information go to: http://www.eattheweeds.com

Incorporating edible plants is a growing trend in gardening for a variety of reasons: Growing edibles saves money on your grocery bill, is good for you, good for your family, and good for the environment. So see what you can do to add edible plants to your landscape, and as always, contact GreenWeaver for more detailed information.

As always, beware of food allergies, make sure you have correctly identified any plant, and minimize pesticide use on any edible plant before consuming.