GIMME SHELTER- Eat your yard: A juicy primer on edible landscaping


Michael McConkey
Edible Landscaping, website: www.eat-it.com.
PHOTO COURTESY MICHAEL MCCONKEY

Q: I've heard a little bit about "edible landscaping" but would like to know more. What exactly is it? And how would I get started creating edible landscaping around my home? 

A: Edible landscaping puts an emphasis on "less care" plants and trees that supply fresh fruit of some kind of food value. It also goes along with the green home idea, as there is a self-sufficient and healthy living aspect to it.

Most people relate to the fruits they find in grocery stores– apples, plums, pears, oranges– but those plants are typically hard to grow, and people who buy them might not necessarily be aware of what they're getting into. After a few years, many people start getting cynical about having to maintain such plants, given the fact that they don't produce anything similar to what's found in stores. 

Edible landscaping takes all the thousands of plant species and narrows it down to those that are less challenging, even not challenging at all, but that produce a tasty fruit. For example, pomegranate, paw paw, hearty kiwi, persimmons, and figs are all fruits that can be easily grown around your home. In addition, the arrangement won't look much different than regular landscaping, as you have to look pretty close to see the fruit on most of these plants. 

Ideally, if you're thinking about edible landscaping, you should start with native plants– as they already thrive here– and ones you don't have to spray or cultivate, such as American persimmon, juneberry, or pecan. These native plants don't need alot, as long as there's no competition from grass. On the other hand, if you decide you want native blueberries or raspberries, you may have to add peat moss to the soil or plant them closer to your foundation, as they don't grow in red clay. 

Remarkably, many people are not familiar with all the edible native plants we have. For instance, we were at a festival recently and were handing out paw paws– even though it's a native fruit, nine out of 10 people said they had never tasted one. Many people are also not familiar with wineberries. 

Of course, there are also some misconceptions about which berries are toxic. Recently, I noticed there were juneberries on a bush in front of the Burger King at Barracks Road. I happened to see a kid walk by and try to eat one. His mother pulled him away, saying "Don't eat those. They're poisonous!" But juneberries were one of the fruits that members of the Lewis and Clark expedition survived on, as they were used in many Native American recipes. Still, there are some berries to watch out for, such as pokeberry, poison ivy berries, and black nightshade berries to name a few. 

If you decide to get more ambitious about edible landscaping, there are dozens of food producing plants to choose from, including strawberry, plum, apricot, apples, cherries, oranges, pears, lemons, currants, even coffee and hops, to name a few. It all depends on how edible you want your landscaping to be and how much work you want to put into it. 

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1 comment

Hey, that's me in my greenhouse! Like anybody would actually believe Michael McConkey is me. Nice try. I'm going to feed the children like the noble knight I am! Goodbye world hunger, hello rock and roll!