Feed A Family

• Research the location of edible plants in the design. Each variety has traits with special needs. For example, Northrop Mulberry trees (Morus Alba) can grow to 70 feet high, and are messy when the ripe fruit drops. Consider a location away from the house or in a corner of the property not near a driveway or sidewalk so any mess will be less obtrusive. These trees are hardy to -50 degrees F, self-fertile, and fruit-bearing in three to five years.

• Consider the size of the property and the size of the mature plants to dictate limitations.

• Encourage the use of heirloom varieties to add flavor and to save these plants from extinction.

Questions To Ask During Design Planning

After researching which plants will grow well in a particular USDA hardiness zone, make a “customer-choice list” with five to 10 choices per category to determine:

• Which vegetables the client eats regularly.

• Which fruits the family enjoys.

• Which herbs are used in cooking, and which are rarely used.

• Which salad ingredients are preferred (this list should include a sampling of salad greens and colorful vegetables).

• Whether a client would consider using edible flower petals in salads.

Guide The Process

For a homeowner who wants to add fruits and vegetables to the landscape, but isn’t sure what exactly is possible, consider the following suggestions:

1. Kitchen garden

2. Dwarf fruit trees (Espalier or fan-training in tight spaces)

3. Asparagus patch

4. Gooseberry garden (tree or bush varieties)

5. Berry patch

6. Grape arbor

7. Pergola with edible vines (annuals: peas, pole beans; perennials: kiwi, hops, grapes, strawberries at the base)

8. Fruit-tree orchard.

Kitchen Garden

For a vibrant kitchen garden, integrate salad greens, herbs, edible flowers, and a range of colorful vegetables. Alternate red, green, and chartreuse varieties of lettuces for a front-row border; rainbow Swiss chard, mustard greens, or kale work equally as well.

Give thought to the color and the texture (curly, spidery, or flat leafed) of each plant placement. Add a few edible flowers: pansy, peppery nasturtium, viola Arkwright’s Rub, or summer-squash blossoms.

Add vertical visual elements, such as red hot chili peppers, pole beans on an obelisk, tomatoes that vine, or burgundy Amaranth grain.(The red edible leaves add vitamin C to the salad.)

Dwarf Fruit Trees

Replace a decorative weeping cherry tree or the Bradford pear of the 1990s with a real fruit-bearing tree. Dwarf varieties of fruit trees, for example, are perfect for suburban lots because they are small enough to fit easily near a porch or deck, and can be harvested without a ladder. Dwarf apples, pears, and cherries can bear fruit in under five years if given good care and planted in a favorable sunny location.

Be sure to screen to prevent rabbit and rodent damage.

Some fruit trees require a second tree or a different variety to pollinate and produce a crop, while others are self-fruitful. For example, two dwarf sour-cherry bushes, and Carmine Jewel and Crimson Passion (Prunus cerasus X P fruiticosa) are hardy to Zone 2. Carmine Jewel will reach heights of 6 to 8 feet while producing more than 20 pounds of cherries per year. Crimson Passion is a smaller version topping out at 4 to 5 feet. It is an excellent fresh eating cherry, but its yield is less than that of Carmine Jewel.

If space is an issue, consider Espalier fan-training a pear, such as Doyenne du Comice, against a wall or building.

Blueberry Hedge Row

Design a small hedge row or large patch with blueberry bushes. The versatile blueberry fruit is sweet while the plant is decorative, as the leaves turn red in autumn.

For pollination, plant a row of six plants using three varieties, two plants of each variety. Selecting early-, late-, and mid-season producers will guarantee a longer fruit-bearing season.

Mulch heavily with compost, and bark mulch 4 to 6 inches deep for best results. Add nutrients or wood ash to keep the soil Ph acidic, as blueberry success depends on this.

Another tip–keep weeds away from the base, clearing about 1 foot around each plant. Blueberries do not need chemicals. Choose a sunny location, and make sure the client is committed to watering regularly in the first season to get roots established.

Today, Ruth Hrubo, on her suburban lot, still grows enough fruit and vegetables to feed a family of five. Some of her favorites are York elderberry, strawberry rhubarb, and Patriot blueberry.

Her backyard looks like a jungle–an edible jungle! And those neighbors–well, they don’t seem to complain when the benefits are elderberry and blueberry pie.

As for her skeptical teenage daughters, all three are now adult gardeners with edible landscapes of their own, having learned their skills from a true garden-trend initiator.

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