Marin IJ Articles
July 30, 2007
by Annie Spiegelman
Did someone mention food? It must surely be time to take a break from work and EAT! Snack time rules! This summer my dwarf cherry tree, which grows outside my writing studio, had the largest crop of cherries in its twelve-year history. By some miracle, maybe my cranky old cat, the birds didn’t get to them first. To reward myself for suffering through writing and rewriting yet another semi-poetic and polished sentence or two, I frequently get up from my desk, walk over to the tree and pick a handful of organic cherries to help fire up the next round of synapses.
That’s what got me thinking about Zach Wahle’s gardening philosophy at Edible Attractive Terrains (EAT). Wahle, a landscape designer here in Marin County, focuses solely on designing, installing, and maintaining edible gardens. “Simply put, edible landscaping is the production of food on one’s own property,” says Wahle. “What I do for my clients varies: some just have raised beds with annual organic fruits and vegetables; others are fully landscaped large properties. In the case of the latter, other plants that are not edible, but often natives, are included in the design to complete a holistic system and support the food producing plants.”
Wahle studied Ecological Agriculture locally and then trained on an organic farm in Barbados. He simply believes in producing food in an ecologically and socially responsible way. “I help individuals effectively meet their dietary needs and culinary interests, while manifesting their aesthetic and spatial desires in the landscape. Ranging from organic vegetable containers to cultivated mushroom beds to native food forests, my landscapes are designed for sustainable beauty while enabling my clients to consume food produced on their own property,” says Wahle.
Edible landscaping is as old as gardening itself, but with all the recent food scares and the rapidly growing demand and popularity of organic and locally grown produce, it’s back in the spotlight where it belongs! Historically, the Ancient Persian gardens, the Medieval monastic gardens and the 19th century English gardens all combined both edible and ornamental plants including berries, medicinal herbs and a plethora of assorted fruit.
“In the Bay Area, edible landscaping has been around for a long time,” says Wahle. “The Indigenous Americans thoroughly used the landscape to produce food for their needs—that doesn’t mean they were agriculturalists or farmers in the modern ‘Old Mac Donald’ sense of the word, but rather they manipulated their environments within the native ecological context in order to support their communities. They created ‘food forests.’”
Instead of focusing only on ornamental plants in your yard, edible landscaping uses food-producing plants in the garden design as well. Here fruit trees, herbs, edible flowers, herbs and ornamental plants are combined. Wahle considers much of what he does to be within the realm of permaculture, which is an approach and particular mindset used to garden and care for the land.
Why landscape with edibles?
• To enjoy the freshness and flavor of home-grown, fully ripened fruits and vegetables.
• To eliminate pesticides and herbicides commercially used on the foods you consume.
• To increase the food security of your household.
• To grow unusual varieties not available in stores.
• To get those kids away from TV and computer screens and outside interacting with the natural world!
Wahle adds, “Edible plants can often be native, and therefore more drought, disease and pest tolerant, in addition to providing preferable habitat for animals. People are becoming more aware and enthused about the importance of local economy, and now they have a chance to produce the most local food possible. Our food security is increasingly under attack from genetic engineering and seed extinction compounded by problems of a carbon dependent society.”
For small gardens or apartments, Wahle recommends wine barrels with herbs, or tiered herb and lettuce racks, which save space; potted citrus, pomegranate, fig or dwarf stone fruit trees, cherry tomato, lavender, strawberries, aloe and basil.
Wahle passionately adds, “ To me, a garden isn’t complete unless you can experience that garden with all your senses. They are beautiful to see, pleasing to hear, intriguing to touch, delightful to smell, and heavenly to taste! I believe gardens are meant to produce tasty, healthy food for our bodies and minds.”
Okay kids, it’s time for another break and back to the cherry tree for snack time. See you next month for more lawn bashing!
Zach Wahle can be reached at 415.342.5857 or visit eatgardens.com.
Reading for extra credit:
Creasy, Rosalind. 2000. The Edible Garden Series. Boston, MA: Tuttle Publishing. With separate volumes on salad gardens, Italian gardens, heirloom gardens, and more, this series offers a wealth of ideas.