The Benefits of Edible Landscaping
What is edible landscaping?
Simply put, edible landscaping replaces plants that are merely ornamental with food producing plants, allowing you to create a multi-functional landscape providing returns (fruits, berries, etc.) on your investment of water, fertilizer, and time. Let’s face it, adding a plant to the landscape that only offers one season of interest or one function in the garden is an unaffordable luxury on today’s smaller home lots.
What are the health benefits to be derived from edible landscaping?
We are all familiar with today’s buzz word “antioxidants.” But what are they really? Antioxidants are phytochemicals that help neutralize harmful byproducts of metabolism called free radicals. These free radicals are believed to be that threat that initiates disease problems. Antioxidants are important in preventing cancer, stroke, heart disease, and loss of memory resulting from Alzheimer’s disease.
Many of the berry plants that Virginia Berry Farm grows are among the highest antioxidant sources available, as well as significant sources of other important vitamins.
Blueberries: Want to retain your memory? Try a blueberry. Lower your risk factors for some cancers? Make blueberries part of your diet. Protect your eyesight? That’s right, blueberries. The North American Blueberry Council says that blueberry juice has higher concentrations of antioxidants than any of the 40 juices tested. Other health benefits from blueberries are Vitamins A, B1, B2, C, Niacin, and the minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron. According to the New England Journal of Medicine chemically active pigments found in blueberries can improve failing eyesight and can prevent macular disintegration resulting from aging, as well as fighting urinary tract infections. And let’s not stop there.
Raspberries and Blackberries: What about raspberries and blackberries? The health-giving qualities of blackberries and raspberries have been legendary since the time of ancient Greece. Consider what research has shown us about the important health benefits of a small raspberry or blackberry. They abound in antioxidants that impart significant health benefits. Among these antioxidants are the phytochemicals anthocyanin and ellagic acid, and Vitamins C and E. Cooking does not seem to destroy ellagic acid, so even jams and desserts retain their health benefits! Raspberries are an especially excellent source of two critical antioxidant nutrients: magnesium and vitamin C, as well as dietary fiber.
Natives: What about the health boosting benefits of some native plants? Elderberries contain more vitamin C than any other herb except rose hips and black currant, a considerable amount of vitamins A and B, as well as flavonoids, very powerful antioxidants. Also to consider is serviceberry. The pea-sized purple fruits, resembling blueberries, were important as a food source for the Native American tribes that lived within its range and were a basic ingredient in pemmican, the Native American dried food staple.
Grapes: And let’s talk grapes. As a healthful snack nothing could beat the convenience or delicious flavor of grapes. And what could be more pleasant than enjoying a glass of wine with friends. But that’s not all you get when you munch a bunch of grapes or sip that evening glass of wine. Not only are they a good source of vitamins A, C, and B6, and minerals like potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, as well as trace amounts of copper, manganese, and zinc, they also contain beneficial compounds called flavonoids. These flavonoids include a compound called resveratrol. A study published in the 2004 year-end edition of the American Journal of Physiology indicated that resveratrol inhibits the formation of a protein that produces a condition called cardio fibrosis, a condition which reduces the heart’s pumping efficiency when it is needed most, at times of stress. Recent studies have suggested the use of resveratrol as a cancer-preventive agent in prostate, lung, liver and breast cancer.
So why not just take a nutritional supplement? Research has shown that it is the combination of phytochemicals working together with berry fiber, vitamins, and minerals which make it so wholly effective. Besides, who wants to miss out on all of that great berry flavor?
Why should I include these edible plants in my home landscape?
There are many reasons why homeowners are beginning to turn to edible landscaping. Here are just a few:
· Improved Taste and Nutrition: Nutrients and flavor in most plants are highest immediately after harvest. This is particularly true of raspberries and blackberries. They are a gourmet treat available only to growers since the fruit is highly perishable and is best eaten straight from the cane. The holding and handling period of market blackberries and raspberries is long enough that fruit loses its finest flavor and may be bruised.
· Increased Food Security: An edible landscape reduces your dependence on foreign food sources which have unknown production systems.
· Reduced Food Costs: With gas prices soaring the cost of fresh produce that has been trucked in to your local grocery has skyrocketed. It is becoming more and more economical to grow at home than to purchase.
· Convenience: Having fruits right outside the door will encourage you to add fresher, healthier foods to your diet, and it’s a terrific inducement for your children to enjoy them.
· Fun and Exercise: Growing your own crops is rewarding and fun! The exercise you get in the process can help you stay fit.
I’m ready to include edible plants in my landscape. How can they be used?
Think of the functions plants in your landscape fulfill: ornamental trees, shrubs in borders, hedges, screens, groundcovers, vines on trellises. All of these niches can be filled by one or more of our edible alternatives.
Hedges, screens and shrub borders
With blueberries you can add not only a home fruit source, but beauty and function as well. Blueberries make excellent deciduous hedges. To form solid hedges or a screen, place plants 2 ½ to 3 feet apart. For tall hedges use the faster growing, upright varieties; for shorter ones use more compact varieties. They can also be interspersed in an existing shrub border. Blueberries offer lovely spring blossoms with white bells similar to those of Pieris japonica. They also develop striking fall foliage; red hues from burgundy to flame, as well as bright yellow oranges, add rich color to the landscape. The fall coloration can rival that of the overused burning bush. In winter, depending on the variety, blueberries have brilliant stem color, some in shades of red, others in yellow, not unlike red-twig or yellow-twig dogwoods.
For further fruit diversity why not include Bush Cherries? These compact shrubs resemble flowering almond in flower and form. The delicate white flowers are followed in fall by red “pie” cherries that are not bothered by birds, and the fall foliage gives a fiery display.
Also outstanding as a hedge, screen or in the larger shrub border is the native shrub American Cranberrybush Viburnum. This attractive native shrub is showy in spring with its large 4-5” clusters of small white flowers. In late summer the fruits turn bright red and remain on the shrub throughout the winter. These fruits are delicious made into jam. The foliage turns a bright red in fall. This shrub would also be well used in naturalized areas or in wildlife gardens.
An equally fine native shrub, Serviceberry, requires minimal attention aside from a generous layer of mulch. This large shrub/small tree has outstanding blue-green foliage, delicate 2 inch flower clusters and brilliant red and yellow fall color. The pea-sized purple fruits, which look and taste like a blueberry, can be used in pies and preserves.
Another beautiful native plant for use in naturalized areas is Elderberry. In spring tiny star-shaped white flowers are arranged in showy sprays up to 10 inches across nearly covering the plant. In summer it bears shiny, purple-black fruits. These fruits have long been used for wine-making and in pies and jams. It finishes the show with a colorful autumn display of yellow, orange and red foliage.
Blackberries and raspberries are also useful as hedges. They are great along a property boundary as well. Their aesthetic appeal includes flowers, form, and fruit color. In front of this hedge could be planted spring-flowering bulbs, and perennials such as peonies and low-growing, summer bloomers. As these flower the green stems of the brambles offer a backdrop. In fall the bramble fruit will come into its glory!
Need ornamental trees in your yard? Try apples, pears, peaches, plums or persimmons. They have beautiful flowers in the spring with the added benefit of providing fruit in the fall. Have room for only one? Plant one of our choice multi-grafted, “Four-Way” apples, cherries, plums, or Asian pears. Imagine, four different types of fruit on one tree.
Patio plantings are very fashionable now. What could be lovelier than several patio peach trees in attractive containers, either the green-leafed Bonanza or the striking red-leafed Bonfire? Add Mediterranean flare with the addition of containerized figs. You can include early season, mid-season and late season selections to prolong your fig enjoyment. And oh the antipasto possibilities right from your own trees!
Yes edible plants can fill this void as well! There are several varieties of blueberries that can serve as groundcover. Our native Lowbush Blueberries spread by means of their roots to provide a 12-18 inch shrub . It is drought-resistant and trouble-free, wonderful in mass plantings or for restoration projects.
Well’s Delight is another groundcover blueberry. It has small white flowers and blue berries that resemble their namesakes but are not edible. Birds adore them, however, and it will grow in heavy shade! A wonderful wildlife garden plant.
There is also a groundcover Raspberry called Formosa Carpet. This is a spreading, vigorous and versatile semi-evergreen plant. It will thrive in shade as well as full sun and the amber colored fruit has a good flavor.
Walls and Fences
Do you have a space against your house or along your stockade fence that is crying out for adornment? Why not clothe it with an espaliered, multi-grafted “Four-Way” apple? These trees will keep a tight profile against your wall or fence and provide your family with four different kinds of apples on one tree! Talk about space saving!
There is nothing more refreshing on a warm summer day than to sit under an arbor in the dappled shade of a well grown vine, and in today’s smaller lots we are all looking for additional growing space. Think vertically! Have we got some choice vine selections for you!
Grapes are ideal trellis candidates. Not only will they provide the dense shade you seek on a sunny day, but also beautiful, full clusters of grapes dangling beneath ready for the harvesting.
How about kiwis? They are expensive in the grocery store, but not if you grow them in your yard. These vines have long been cultivated as ornamentals and for their fruit. They climb by twining: most species are quite vigorous and capable of growing to a large size, so sturdy supports need to be provided. These plants are long-lived, having been known to produce fruit for at least 60 years. Plant both a male a female vine to ensure fruit set. Only have room for one? Select ‘Issai.’ This variety produces both female and male flowers and will self-pollinate.
Go outside your door. Grab some grapes, a bowl of blueberries, a bucket of blackberries and raspberries. Pluck an apple or a pear. When you are the farmer you can be assured they are pesticide free and organically grown. Who knew something so good could be so good for you? Cheers – here’s to your health!