Designing Edible Landscapes and Gardens — Part I

kale Robinson herb garden Cornell 6-19-07 resize crop

By Debra Knapke (Abridged version of an article published in the Perennial Plant, Winter 2013, a publication of the Perennial Plant Association)

Edibles are everywhere.  This “new” garden trend has its roots in the Victory gardens of WWI and WWII.  When times get tough or supplies of food are low, we think about going back to the time when “everyone” grew their own food.  This time around, there is also the desire to take back some of the control over what we eat.  If you grow it, you know what’s in it.  And there is no denying that a home-grown tomato beats a grocery store tomato in flavor and eye appeal.

If you decide to embrace the task of growing some of your own food, you must understand two fundamental principles of creating and maintaining edible gardens and landscapes: edible landscapes are not low maintenance, at least, not initially; and edible landscapes are environmentally friendly.

Maintenance: plan before you plant!

  • Decrease your maintenance load over time by including perennial herbs, fruit and vegetables that require less maintenance once they are established – such as asparagus.
  • Take the time to understand the balance of an edible garden.  Nature is a web of checks and balances that we alter in our garden-making process.   Work with nature by using fertilizers and pest management practices labeled for food crops such as biological controls and cultural practices.  The products you use on the lawn and landscape may not work here.
  • For products where there are no guidelines you have to ask you self, “Do I want to eat that; Do I want to feed that to my family and friends?”

Essentially, if you treat the environment well you will be treating yourself well, too.

When you create any garden or landscape there are four factors to consider.  PART 1 covers the first three factors.  Part Two will contain Plant Selection.

  • Site Selection
  • Budget – time and money
  • Soil Prep and Care
  • Plant Selection

Berry protection

Site Selection: you’ve heard it before – figure out what you have!  Look at where you have sun and shade, wet areas and dry areas, and compacted soil.  Where are your microclimates: warm spots where you can push the zone; cold spots which will harm emerging plants?   And, then think about the surrounding environment.  Will you need to protect your garden from visiting animals?  Are there any restrictions imposed by your community?   In some subdivisions, vegetables in the front yard are not considered to be in good taste.

Nirvana for many vegetables, fruits and herbs would be full sun, well-drained, fertile, friable, loamy soils with a pH around 6.5 where there is little root competition from trees and shrubs.  It would rain twice a week in the morning from 6:00 to 7:30, soaking the ground.  No weeds would grow, no animals or insects would eat the leaves or fruit and, you would be able to spend less than an hour a day to harvest your bounty and keep everything running smoothly.

Not your situation?  This leads to the question: how much of the bed prep, planting and maintenance will you do yourself and how much will you pay for?  Budgets are often ignored because we go out, buy some seeds, a few plants, some compost and then we have to find the time to do it.  Two of your biggest costs will be the materials and time to create the foundation for a successful garden:  soil that is amended with compost that will support the growth of the plants.  If all you have is 20 minutes a week to garden, maybe a container or two is a more realistic goal and then support your local farmer at the many farmers markets that have sprung up in the Midwest.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are a variety of methods for preparing the soil that range from removing the sod and rototilling to the no-till technique of sheet mulching.  If you are adding edibles into existing beds you will be “spot-prepping” in between plants.  No matter which method you use, the end goals are to eliminate or prevent weeds from growing and to increase the fertility and friability of the soil.  In short: a garden that will grow food.

McGee, R.N. and M. Stuckey.  2002.  The Bountiful Container.  Workman Publishing, NY.Toensmeier, E. 2007.  Perennial Vegetables: From Artichoke to ‘Zuiki’ Taro, a Gardener’s Guide to over 100 Delicious Easy-to-grow Edibles.  Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Junction, VT.

Gardens to Drive for: Hellebore Day at Yew Dell

By Michael Leach

What long-lived perennial has winter flowers and boasts handsome, evergreen foliage year-round?

Hellebores  of course. The modern hybrids of the flowers commonly known as Lenten and Christmas roses are anything but demure. The old-fashioned, low-growing plants bear down-facing blossoms that are hard to see. The newbies show off their pastel flowers well above the ground level and have outward-facing flowers. You can’t help but notice and admire them during the dreary winter days.Helleborus hybrid crop resize

One of the best places to view a huge range of blossoms is Yew Dell Botanical Gardens near Louisville, Ky. (Please see our post on Yew Dell of May 4, 2012.) The hellebores are found  mainly in The Secret Garden. They are part of a collection of more than 70 winter and spring-flowering hellebores used throughout the gardens. The show is such as success that this month’s Horticulture magazine has an article.

Along with the hellebore display, Yew Dell holds a sale from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday April 6.

Trendspotting: Go Green

By Teresa Woodard

It’s no blarney. Emerald green is the hot color this spring and not just for St. Patrick’s Day.  Pantone, the creative industry’s color authority, has designated this radiant jewel tone as the 2013 color of the year in its Fashion Color Report.Pantone emerald green

“The most abundant hue in nature, the human eye sees more green than any other color in the spectrum,” said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute®. “As it has throughout history, multifaceted Emerald continues to sparkle and fascinate. Symbolically, Emerald brings a sense of clarity, renewal and rejuvenation, which is so important in today’s complex world. This powerful and universally-appealing tone translates easily to both fashion and home interiors.”

In the green gardening world, it’s easy to be fashionable this year.  Still, here are a few ways to update your outdoor spaces with this lush green color:

  • Emerald foliage:  Be lavish with green foliage favorites like hostas, ferns, heucheras, canna lilies and begonias.  Plant them in mass or fill up containers in monochromatic color schemes.
  • Emerald flowers:  When it comes to flowers, green is harder to find.  Look for Zinnia ‘Envy’, Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis), Gladiolius ‘Green Star’, Helleborus ‘Green Gambler’, Alocasia ‘Green Velvet’, Hydrangea ‘Limelight’, and Echinacea purpurea  ‘Green Jewel’.
  • Emerald accessories: Dress up porches and patios with pillows in trendy green trellis patterns or oversized botanical and flame stitch prints.  Try spray painting a chair or bench emerald green.  Shop for green pots or candles in recycled wine bottles. Even create a table top mosaic in emerald jewel tone tiles.

Trendspotting: Patio Fruits

Columnar fruit treesTrendspotting: Patio Fruits

By Teresa Woodard

Gardeners no longer need an orchard for fruit growing.  Rather, they’re growing fruits on patios, balconies, and other small spaces.

Thanks to recent introductions in the nursery industry and some ages-old techniques, gardeners have a number of options for growing fruits in limited spaces.  Check out these five ideas:

  • Columnar apple trees – These trees grow straight up 8 to 10 feet with no side branches.  They bear fruit their first year but require two apple or crabapple trees for pollination.  Try Northpole or one of the Sentinel varieties in pots.Espaliered pear
  • Espaliered fruit trees – Fruit trees can also be “espaliered” — trained to grow vertically along a wall.  This ancient pruning technique offers beauty and makes smart use of limited space.  Learn more from Martha Stewart’s video or Fine Gardening’s detailed instructions.
  • Dwarf Raspberry Shortcake — A new dwarf, thornless red raspberry from the BrazelBerries™ raspberry shortcake brazelberryCollection has an endearing, rounded growth habit and is perfectly suited to large patio containers.
  • blueberry peach sorbetDwarf blueberries – Loaded with antioxidants, these super-fruits prefer soil that’s more acidic (pH above 7). So for folks like me with alkaline soil, try growing blueberries in containers.  Two dwarf favorites are Top Hat or the new Peach Sorbet that’s self-sterile and doesn’t need a second plant for pollination.  This variety’s evergreen foliage also looks great in the landscape as it changes from green to deep purple in winter.Strawberry hanging basket
  • Strawberries in hanging baskets – Strawberries grow well in hanging baskets as the plants naturally cascade over the edges with fruit hanging down.  Try potting three or four everbearing varieties like Tristar,  Mara des Bois or Ozark Beauty.

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