Georgia Cooks: Nursery Crops
Sometimes we put plants in rigid categories. We fail to look at the beauty of our vegetable and herb plants, and we think of flowering plants as strictly ornamental. For example, blueberries are perfect for cereal or in pancakes, but blueberry shrubs have exquisitely shaped white flowers in the spring and the foliage blazes crimson in the fall. The lavender flowers of eggplant are pretty and its fruits shine like Christmas ornaments. Figs produce tasty fruits but they also have interesting large leaves and a striking branching pattern noticeable in winter. Bay leaves are invaluable for soups and stews, but the bay shrub is as attractive in the landscape as any privet. Yuccas are durable plants with bold foliage and flowers, but their white petals taste like mild, sweet cabbage and make an interesting addition to salads.
More than ever, the categories we put plants into are breaking down and boundaries in the garden are being crossed. Gardeners who do not have room for a separate herb garden or vegetable garden or orchard are incorporating fruits, herbs and vegetables into their overall landscape design. The concept of using food plants throughout the landscape is referred to as “edible landscaping.” Ideally, the plants in the edible landscape will be esthetically pleasing as well as productive.
Examples include planting basil among flowers, rosemary as a foundation shrub, muscadines to cover an arbor or blueberries as an informal hedge. Parsley, red mustard and kales such as ‘Lacinato’ are especially pretty throughout fall, winter and spring when planted in beds or containers with violas or pansies (whose flowers are also edible.) Oriental persimmon, American persimmon, feijoa, fig, sarvisberry (serviceberry), crabapple, peach, plum, blueberry, pear, bunch grape and muscadine are a few fruiting trees, shrubs and vines that may be liberated from the orchard and vineyard and utilized in the home landscape. Texas tarragon, bay, anise hyssop, thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, garlic, eggplant, hot peppers, okra and chives are a few herbs and vegetables that have ornamental qualities. Edible flowers include pansies, violas, nasturtiums, roses and yuccas and may show up on a salad plate as well as in a vase.
Even an apartment dweller can create an attractive planting of herbs or lettuces in a few bushel baskets on a sunny balcony. Homeowners with a swimming pool taking up most of the back yard can replace a lounge chair with a half-whiskey barrel containing a miniature peach or a strawberry jar planted with different kinds of thyme. Those with sunny patios or decks can set aside space for pots of calamondin, lemon or lime. (Although these citrus trees are not winter-hardy in Georgia, they are easily overwintered indoors and are attractive features outdoors in the summer.)
Garden writer Rosalind Creasy has been one of the leading proponents of edible landscaping. You can get many ideas from her books, but a horticulturist at your local nursery or garden center will also be able to offer advice specifically for Georgia gardens.
Consider making your landscape an edible one. Besides having freshest herbs, fruits and vegetables possible, you’ll have the pride that comes from growing them yourself.