Green Scene

Tastefully Designed Gardens That Are Delicious, Too

Serviceberry has wonderful fall color and delicious fruit.
Serviceberry has wonderful fall color and delicious fruit. (Sandra Leavitt Lerner/ftwp)
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By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, September 19, 2009

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.

Planning a garden in this style is based on the philosophy that tastefully designed landscapes can also be practical. Just because the desired plants are edible doesn't mean you have to lay the planting beds out like an orchard, berry patch or the stereotypical vegetable garden.

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 whenever appropriate. 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 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. Its low rounded habit makes it a good screening tree, an ornamental for a mixed shrub border or a hedge. It has a clean habit, is handsome in fruit, and will grow to about 20 feet high in a sunny location.

-- 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. Plant at the edge of the woods or by your patio or deck for a low branching privacy tree with fall color.

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