Can you have a lovely garden and eat it, too? That's an increasingly frequent landscaping question these days, as more homeowners request garden plants that are both edible and ornamental.
And the answer, in short, is yes. With a basic knowledge of edible plants and guidelines on what can safely be eaten, it isn't necessary to choose between flowers and food because you can install ornamentals that will double as incredible edible plants.
Edible ornamental landscapes have gained tremendous popularity in the past three decades, fueled by a handful of popular books. Landscape designer Rosalind Creasy published a best-seller on the subject titled "The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping" (Sierra Club, 1982). About a decade later, Cathy Wilkinson Barash's "Edible Flowers" (Fulcrum, 1993) was published, offering innovative ways to design and prepare edible flowers.
Yet another book that inspired homeowners and landscape designers was "The New Kitchen Garden" by Anna Pavord (Dorling Kindersley, 1996), which promoted ways to plant standard fruits and vegetables as pleasing elements to the eye and palate.
Following are some common landscape plants that I like to integrate into landscape designs. If they are installed now, they'll grow to become both ornamental and tasty.
-- Common fig (Ficus carica) — This tasty fig is hardy to the Washington, D.C., region. It grows 10 feet tall by 12 feet wide but can die back in winter, so protect it or plant it in an area close to your home. It produces best in full sun, and its coarse, large leaves will add texture to your landscape.
-- Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) — Its ripe red berries in July can be used in tarts or to make syrup, and can also be added to cranberry sauce. This shaggy barked tree is virtually disease-free and is one of the first trees to flower in spring.
-- Downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) — The purplish black berries of this small native tree ripen in June and have a semi-sweet flavor. They can be eaten right off the tree or used to make jellies and pies. Birds are drawn to the berries, so be sure to pick the fruit quickly. The trees are shade tolerant, but will bear more of their fruit and characteristic white flowers in sun.
-- Jujube (Ziziphus jujuba) — The sweet custard flavor and texture of this drought-tolerant tree's fruit are appealing to the palate, and it is often used as a dessert in Europe.
-- Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) — This small flowering tree has year-round interest. The fruits are edible when they soften and turn red, and the foliage in autumn is maroon. It flowers from late April well into May and grows well in sun or shade. Kousa is resistant to the dogwood anthracnose that is killing native varieties.
-- Hardy orange (Poncirus trifoliata) — Grow this fully hardy citrus in sun or partial shade. Its fruit can be used as a garnish for drinks, such as lemonade or tea.
-- Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) — This small, slow-growing ornamental tree will thrive in full sun or partial shade to 25 feet in maturity. Its fruit must be kept on the tree until fully ripe and squishy. Foliage has a beautiful fall color, and it is the perfect edge-of-woods plant.
-- Highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) — This upright, branched shrub will grow five feet high and wide in partial sun to part shade with ornamental flowers, foliage and tasty berries.
-- Wooly creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) — Plant in spaces between paving material that was laid dry on stone dust or sand base. It grows in most soils and does best in full sun. Its fragrance is released when walked on, with the added benefit of its flavor for cooking or mixing into salad dressings.
Joel Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md., and author of "Anyone Can Landscape." His website is at www.gardenlerner.com.
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