Monday, July 19, 2010

I Finally Understand the Value of Edibles in the Landscape

About three and a half years ago, Jason designed and installed a complete landscape for a customer. During the design phase, the customer reminisced about how she’d love to have some persimmons and figs in the backyard like her grandfather used to have. Upon coming home and explaining this to me, we kind of looked at each other and rolled our eyes. Wait! Hold the presses! Yes, you read that correctly - we actually rolled our eyes at the idea of planting a fruit tree in the back yard. When I remembered this about a week ago, it nearly knocked me off my feet! Our eye-rolling episode was basically a product of lack of education and lack of exposure to fruit bearing plants. On the exposure side, we definitely know more about home food production than we used to – all from self-education. But back in 2007 we had operated the business for nearly two years, and this was the first time anyone had asked for ANY fruiting tree, shrub, or bush (or vegetable for that matter). On the formal education side, Jason can attest to the fact that while they talk about “sustainability” in Landscape Architecture graduate school, home food production and how it can fit into a more formal landscape is a non-issue (in their defense, they are often learning about commercial landscape design, and one could argue that including food producing plants in these settings begets its own set of dilemmas that are hard to overcome).

However, while it is slow in coming, I believe that we as a society are doing a commendable job incorporating more sustainable activities in our lives. As an example, my parents had a fairly large garden until I was about 6 or 7 (nearly 30 years ago!). Eventually this was demolished and in it’s place went a lovely landscaped sitting area that was used perhaps once a year for pictures. Upon retirement within the next year, they plan on moving to some acreage in the country, and Dad has been reading up on solar panels and starting a small home orchard, among other “homesteading” activities.

In the same vain, one of the initial questions Jason now asks during his consultations with new customers is if they would like some type of edible landscaping or garden bed design added to the property. A surprising number now want help with this. Landscape design wise, we definitely are seeing more people interested in all sorts of aspects that come with living a sustainable lifestyle – composting, rain barrels, vegetable gardens, and urban orchards. Fortunately we’re on that path as well, so we’re very eager to discuss these matters and help customers (and anyone that will listen for that matter!) incorporate sustainable practices and food production into their landscape. What could be better than walking out your door to pick a warm peach straight from the tree that grew it? I can’t think of much – except maybe warm tomatoes off the vine, locally produced mozzarella, fresh basil, aged balsamic vinegar & olive oil, and a touch of sea salt….but that’s another post! –Carrie


  1. Productive, sustainable landscaping makes so much more sense, doesn't it? And it can be aesthetic as well! I cringe every time I drive by somebody's golf course lawn and landscaping. I'm sure by now you've heard of Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke. I would absolutely love to be able to afford those volumes but fortunately our county library has them. My longterm goal is to have no lawn, just edible landscape communities of plants. Our neighbors think we're nuts, but hopefully they'll like what they see and want to do it for themselves. So nice you share this interest with your dad.

  2. I've got a HUGE established tree in my back yard. Like 60ft across. I'm trying to find some understory fruit tree's to plant any suggestions?

  3. Fruit trees in the shade is tough. Most require a fair amount of sun.

    Paw-paws will fruit in the shade. Blackberries and raspberries will also fruit in part shade.

  4. What Pigs Don't KnowJuly 20, 2010 at 6:01 AM

    Benjamin -
    This is a major problem for us as well. I've been doing research recently on this exact issue because I, too, would like to plant some fruiting trees & shrubs in an area that is covered much of the day by our pecan. We're in Dallas - Zone 8 (I don't know how zones work in Australia, sorry!). If your climate is similar to our Zone I'd suggest checking out Dallas Fruit Grower's website (link above in comments). They are a wealth of information - both fruit & veggie-wise!

    So other than the paw-paws, blackberries, and raspberries mention by DFG, in our area these other varieties should produce in part shade - Elderberries, Rhubarb, Figs, Persimmons (American varieties can apparently take a bit more shade than others), Strawberries, Kiwi, Nanking Cherry, and a variety of "berry" shrubs (? trees?) I'm not familiar with including Honey, June (also known as Serviceberry), Josta, Wolf, and Huckle. I believe Gooseberries & Black/Red Currants are good for Zone 7.

    The thing to remember about many of these is while they can grow in part shade and even produce, usually the volume of fruit will be reduced verses planting in full sun.

    Hope this helps! - Carrie

  5. To be fair, Carrie, the visual feast replaced the gustatory feast when the shade from the forest in which we live covered the veggie garden. To this day we don't even have enough sun in one place to grow more than one tomato plant and harvest more than 5 - 1 and 1/2 inch tomatoes. Can't wait to get to the new digs and its sunny acres. What a difference it will make in our eating and shopping habits.

  6. What Pigs Don't KnowJuly 25, 2010 at 11:09 AM

    Mom (Candy),
    OK, I will agree that the shade factor had something to do with it. But honestly you would have only needed to take down one or two trees in order to allow the sun in again. But you did the veggie garden thing for years and I think you were just tired of it! Your kids certainly didn't help - or probably made a fuss if asked for help. Plus I think dealing with us in our teenage years just about wore you out (believe me we're almost there) - it's no wonder you couldn't deal with the garden! I know the new acreage will be a breath of fresh air. Can't wait to see what you do with the place!