One of the quirks of my work schedule that I have come to both love and grumble about is downtime between therapy sessions. Sometimes its a blessing to have a few hours to run errands, other times I resent the time away from my kitchen when I could be more productive. Yesterday, I had four hours between scheduled appointments. Too long for shopping, not long enough to drive the 35+ miles home from the far West Metro. Instead, I dropped in at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum to spend an afternoon in the gardens. I didn’t have time for photos until this morning, but here’s what I jotted down during my break yesterday:
Today I am writing from the restaurant in the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, warming up (is it really May?) after a walk through the herb and home demonstration gardens. The Arboretum, located in Chaska, MN is a public garden, part of the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. You name a cold-hearty plant and somewhere on this 1,100 acre campus they are likely growing it.
As plants and I are learning to be friends, edible landscapes continue to spark my imagination. In urban environments, maximizing space for food production is essential. Yet we all want to maximize beauty and diversity in our gardens as well. How do we put a tomato with a strawberry and some herbs still make it look designer-quality? Wait, can vegetable gardens be “designer” in the first place?
The gardens I meandered through this afternoon manage to accomplish both: backyard, small-scale gardening that is both edible and beautiful. Could we solve the world’s food challenges if we all made our available green space look like this? Maybe. Maybe not. But at least we might feast on a few more good meals in a space we are proud of.
Here’s a few edible landscape ideas I bet you’ve never considered:
1.Instead of buying a decorative potted shrub or tree for color on the patio, get a bay laurel tree (think the herb bay leaf I almost never have on hand when I need it!) The leaves can be used fresh or dried in soups, poultry, and marinades; the plant itself can be pruned into a variety of shapes to fit in with your furniture and garden design.
2. Plant asparagus as a backdrop for your perennial or annual garden. You’ll get the springtime queen of vegetables for a few weeks and whimsy fern foliage to add height/dimension to your flower display later in the year.
3. Use geometry for your vegetable plot. This roughly 8′ by 8′ vegetable bed would easily fit into the average urban backyard and is home to the same variety of plants as a larger scale garden. Rather than traditional straight rows, the vegetables are planted in angular patterns, away from what will be a flowing tent of pole beans. It’ll make you look like a pro, without actually being a pro.
4. Hedges are a feature in most gardens–meant to add structure and privacy to yards without a traditional fence. If you’re planning to install a hedge, choose a fruit bearing bush. These low bush blueberries surround the home demonstration gardens and are a good choice for an urban hedge. Dotted with a tiny white blossom in the spring and then a pile of blue super-fruit in the summer.
The last edible landscape idea I saw at the Arboretum literally stopped me cold in my garden boots. Take a look at this and see if you can guess what is growing along this fence line:
5. They are espalier apple trees, yes, apples grown in 2D. Meant to conserve space while maximizing fruit production (these trees reportedly bear more fruit than a traditional tree of the same age), the technique of shaping fruit trees into fences dates back several centuries. If your curious, there’s lots more on the web about how to get started. If anyone attempts it, I will personally congratulate you with a bear hug and an apple pie for growing the coolest gardening thing I’ve ever seen.
Edibles. Edibles. Edibles. This summer when you’re planning yard and patio projects, achieve the look you want and eat it too.