In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
July, 2002
Regional Report

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These red currants look like jewels nestled in the foliage.

An Edible Landscape

For years I picked currants and damson plums in a garden that wasn't mine (with permission, of course!). Then, a few years ago I realized how silly it is to have to beg someone else's currants when I could grow them in my own yard so easily. Having them in my yard would also let me harvest as I wanted, rather than having to harvest all at once and stay up until midnight rendering juice.

My mind started reeling with the possibilities. With a couple of elderberry plants, I would no longer miss the prime roadside elderberry harvest because I didn't get out into the country on the day they ripen and beat the birds to them. I could grow my own Asian pears instead of paying pure gold for them at the market. Yes, selfishly, it would make my life simpler and a landscape of plants that provide food would let me greedily wallow in all sorts of unusual fruits and nuts that aren't available at the farmers markets.
I don't have a large sunny area for a separate orchard so my solution is to incorporate edible plants right into my landscape. Most fruits are perennial and relatively long-lived, so the initial investment, although higher than a packet of vegetable seeds, is basically the only investment.

Common Plants, Uncommon Beauty
Many common fruit and nut plants are beautiful in their own right and it seems a waste to confine them to mass-producing, utilitarian areas. Vegetable gardens and orchards will always have their place in the landscape, but it's possible to artistically combine plants that produce food with ornamental plants to create a yard and garden that pleases the eye and palate.

Little by Little
Since I have a landscape already in place, I've decided that anything I replace or add will be a food-producer. For example, I planted a currant hedge to replace a worn out fence. I've planted serviceberries next to my bird feeders. I planted grapes as a screen from a neighbor. The possibilities are endless! I can replace my ornamental crabapples with plums or edible crabapple trees and my maples and ashes with hickory and walnut trees. I can fill my planters with dwarf peaches and apricots and my hanging baskets with cherry tomatoes and herbs. I can add Swiss chard and eggplants to my perennial border, edge my beds in alpine strawberries and purple basil, and surround my house with blueberry and gooseberry shrubs.

I realize that food-producing plants require more maintenance than ornamental plants. But as we become more concerned with the quality and expense of our food, I think the extra time is a small effort for tree-ripened fruit and homegrown vegetables. Growing our own lets us depend less on food shipped in from distant fields and rely less on supermarkets that function to keep foods polished and displayed, and, consequently, expensive. Besides, taking responsibility for producing a lot of my own food just feels good and tangibly connects me with my landscape.

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