EDIBLE LANDSCAPING OR HOW TO MAKE YOUR VEG PATCH LOOK MORE ATTRACTIVE

Most gardens tend to have a rigid division between flowers and vegetables. Vegetables are grown in their own area which is designed on a practical basis as a means of producing crops for the table with no thought as to their aesthetic appearance. But there are ways to incorporate the edibles into the ornamentals as this interview with Lisa Hilgenberg explains. This comes from an article by Margaret Roach which I found on her A Way To Garden website.

EDIBLE LANDSCAPING. That appealing phrase sounds just like what it is: an approach meant to be not just delicious but also delicious-looking. So where do we start integrating plants we grow to eat into our ornamental gardens? Or, to come at it the other way: How do we make our edible areas more like gardens, not production areas? I asked Lisa Hilgenberg, the Fruit and Vegetable Garden Horticulturist at Chicago Botanic Garden.
Q. The CBG Fruit and Vegetable Garden is distinctive not just for its diverse collection of edibles, but for its geography?it has a distinctive location in the garden, doesn?t it? [Laughter.]
A. It does. We?re an island [map, below], which really helps me out as far as critters go and other problems. There are no deer, and very few raccoons.
CBG veg garden mapQ. Oh, really? Even the raccoons are kept away? That?s wonderful.
A. It?s very helpful, indeed. It?s a 4-acre island, and it?s a really diverse edible landscape. We have at times over 600 types of plants growing, and as you said, we?re following the USDA protocol for organic practice. We plant a lot of annual vegetables in addition to our collections plants.
Q. Collections like your orchard trees and so forth?
A. That?s right. I tend orchards of pear and apple, and we have an espaliered collection of fruit trees. We have grapes and nuts and bramble fruits, and we produce about 3 tons of produce each year. That eventually trickles down into the Chicago food system, and makes healthy, organic produce available in food-desert neighborhoods. We also have our very important pollinators with an eight-hive apiary that we tend.
12039728_10153601621535699_8186101313036106472_nQ. It?s very diverse then.
Edible landscaping continues to surge in popularity, and also has strong historical context in the American landscape. Let?s talk from your perspective about why now, and also what it was about back then.
A. Historically, growing fruits and vegetables on a family?s property was seen as a status symbol. You can look at Early American paintings that depict women with bowls of fruit?apples, pears, peaches?and children are often seen eating strawberries in those pictures. Anything they could grow at home became sort of the pride of the household. They consumed what they could grow out of necessity, and that history really epitomizes the garden-to-table movement of today. Homegrown produce is trending again, and with some planning, I think in every size garden we can incorporate a little bit of edible landscaping.
i-tzMdGPr-X3Q. So speaking of ?a little bit,? then, some of the ideas can be as small as a container, yes?
A. Absolutely. A great way to start in the early season would be to plant a cool-season lettuce basket [hanging, above]. It?s a way to combine frost-tolerant salad greens with herbs and edible flowers, and boost some spirits and shake off the winter blues, if you look at it outside on your patio table, for instance.
Q. How would I do that?how big a pot, what?s in it? Do I seed it or put transplants in?

A. I think you could do it both ways. It?s easy, depending on when you start. If you start in the very cold of March you would probably want to transplant some little lettuce starts out into the garden?ones you seeded in your kitchen under grow lights, and then you transplant those into a basket maybe 18 inches across. It can be very shallow; it could be an interesting container, as long as it has drainage holes in the bottom, I think you are just fine.
If you combine heirloom lettuces with an edible pansy, for instance, and add a triple-curled parsley to spill over the edge of the pot?which are available from garden centers, since they?re tricky to grow from seed, so you might want to pick one of those up. One note: Buttercrunch lettuces tend to be the most frost-tolerant of all lettuces, so if you decide that you want to plant while there is still a chance of frost, like March or April, you?re going to think about the frost-tolerance of the plants that you combine.
A couple of selections we love are the green oakleaf lettuces?
Q. Oh, yes.
i-2xkFNtc-X2A. So pretty. There is an excellent French heirloom lettuce from the 1800s called ?Rouge d?Hiver,? which means ?red of the winter.? It?s a Romaine. It?s productive in only 28 days, so that?s a wonderful, colorful addition to a lettuce basket. Another nice plant would be alyssum, a flower that?s a good cool-season companion. It?s said to deter aphids from lettuce, which is nice.
Q. I didn?t know that.
A. Have you heard of ?Frosty Knight?? It?s a newer alyssum variety with variegated foliage. Typically alyssums kind of die back when the weather changes and it gets warm. But this ?Frosty Knight? is a really good performer with temperature fluctuations.
Q. This basket?s getting more beautiful all the time. [Laughter.]
A. Can you see it? Also, ?Merlot? is a beautiful lettuce.
Q. I love it. I love all of Wild Garden Seeds??Frank Morton?s?lettuces. I think he?s the champion of all lettuce breeders. What great stuff.
A. It?s a knockout in the garden; we just love it, with ?Black Seeded Simpson,? or ?Speckled Trout Back,? [also called ?Forellenschluss? or ?Speckles? or ?Flashy Trout Back?] would be a really striking combination. You know the beauty of lettuce containers is that you can harvest the leaves from the outside of the plants, and then you don?t lose the integrity of your design.
Q. So we can eat judiciously from it.
A. Right, absolutely.

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