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Marin IJ Articles

Using edibles as part of your garden design

  • Nanette Londeree
  • PLUCK A TANGY LEMON, snip a handful of fragrant rosemary and chives, cut a couple of plump artichokes, pick juicy apples from the tree — these are all things I've been doing for years in my garden, my ornamental garden. Other than a raised bed for tomatoes and another for some
    herbs, I don't have a food garden, or I didn't think I did.

    But when I pondered the plants that I grew for their beautiful form, flowers or fragrance, I realized I had thrown their delicious nature into my planning; I'd been landscaping with lots of different edibles without realizing it.

    Growing our own food has gotten many folks into gardening — people who had never lifted a trowel in their life. Having easy access to healthy great tasting food isn't hard and doesn't require a major overhaul of the garden.

    "I envision edible landscaping as the keystone of gardening in the 21st century," says Rosalind Creasy, pioneer in the field of edible landscaping and author of "The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping." "Growing your own food allows you to take responsibility for your own piece of the Earth."

    Often, traditional gardens are divided up into sections — some only for their good looks, others for play and entertaining, and another for growing something good to eat. Most plants rarely cross the divide between the areas. It makes perfect sense to isolate the food garden if it's necessary to protect it from children, pets or other furry varmints, such as deer and rabbits. But if that's not the case, there is a wide variety of fruit, nuts, vegetables and herbs you can incorporate into your existing landscape, be it in the back, side or even the front of your home.

    Edible plants that generally do well in Marin's climate include:

    • Trees: Almond, apple, apricot, citrus (lemon, lime, orange), fig, plum, peach, pear and plum, persimmon and pomegranate

    • Shrubs: Blueberries, elderberry, lavender and rosemary

    • Perennials: Artichoke, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, oregano, sage and thyme

    • Bulbs and tubers: Garlic, leeks, onions and potatoes

    • Vines: Grapes and kiwi

    • Annuals: Basil, beans and peas, cabbage, chard, lettuce, melons, peppers, squash and tomatoes

    • Edible flowers: Nasturtiums, pansies and roses

    Before you add any plants to your garden, consider:

    • What foods do you and your family like?

    • What do those plants look like — their size, form, texture and color?

    • What season do they grow, bloom, produce and look their best?

    • How often will they have to be replaced?

    • Where do you want to plant them and what are the growing conditions in that area?

    • How much time, effort and money are you willing to commit?

    "It's exciting to conjure up your new edible landscape and imagine all the wonderful things you can do," Creasy reflects. "From years of design experience with my clients, I have learned that it pays to be realistic."

    In addition to the investment of time and money for initial planting, there's the ongoing maintenance to think about — pruning, feeding, mulching and replanting throughout the year.

    Optimal growing conditions for the broad range of edibles can vary dramatically; most fruits and vegetables need at least six to eight hours of full sun each day and quality soil with good drainage. Water needs are very diverse — plants such as lavender and rosemary grow best with very little irrigation, while most annual vegetables thrive with regular, consistent watering. Higher water-use areas may result in an increase in slug and snail activity. And don't forget that root competition from large trees and
    shrubs can adversely affect edible plant performance, especially those with
    shallow roots.

    Once you've got your list of desired plants and a location that meets their growing requirements, move on to design. Basic elements of landscape design include unity, line, scale, balance and simplicity.

    Unity is creating a sense that some or all of the different elements of the landscape fit together. Line is used to lead the viewer's eye from one place to another, or delineate an area. Scale or proportion refers to the size of elements in relation to each other. Balance in landscape design is the use of symmetry or asymmetry. Simplicity, the "less is more" concept in the garden, can be achieved through repetition of colors, form and texture.

    Next are structure, size, form and color.

    Structural elements provide a year-round framework for the space and include man-made objects such as buildings, driveways, patios and walkways, fences, walls, trellises and water features. Structural elements also include mature trees, shrubs and hedges.

    When planting any type of plant, especially trees, it's important to plan for their mature size, otherwise you may end up shading a large portion of your carefully planted new landscape. The form of the plant consists of its overall shape, leaf size and density, trunk and branching structure and flower shape and size. Color is the most versatile and inexpensive design tool. It may come from leaves, flowers, bark or fruit, and may change with the season.

    So, if you're ready to join the legions of folks digging into the soil to grow their own food — from local school gardens to the White House, fall is a great time to do it. As Creasy notes, "Now you can have a gorgeous garden and eat it, too."

    The University of California Marin Master Gardeners are sponsored by UC
    Cooperative Extension. For questions about gardening, plant pests or diseases, call 499-4204 from 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays, or bring in samples or pictures to 1682 NovatoBlvd., Suite 150B, Novato.


    What: "A Garden for All Seasons" with Rosalind Creasy
    and herbalist Kami McBride

    When: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 22 

    Where: Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. 

    Cost: $10 to $60 

    Information: www.marinmg.org