by Charlene Burgi
Edible landscapes are becoming trendy. That trend suggests that we take a good look at our garden space. Some people are overwhelmed by the size of the garden area, while others yearn for expansive land for planting. Some gardens are in total shade, and their owners fear their edible crops can only be acquired at a local farmers’ market. Many times we give up rather than look for solutions to attain the garden of our dreams.
I was talking to a friend the other day who bought a new home. Her new garden is very tiny, yet she dreams of growing her own fruits and vegetables. We talked about growing crops in boxes built and spaced randomly on a trellis of wood to create vertical gardening. Tomatoes, squash, cukes, bush beans and peppers would thrive very well in the boxes if they were placed in a sunny location. The fruit trees could be espaliered along her fence line, and multiple-height raised beds could provide space for artichokes, asparagus and herbs. Strawberries could be used as groundcover and blueberries could be planted on the shady side of the house. If she has room, she could even plant foundation plants of pineapple guava. She could create the optimum edible garden.
There are many edible plants that can grow in shade gardens, despite what some may think. Mesclun is a delicate salad mix that only requires two hours of sunlight a day and can be harvested within four weeks of planting. Herbs will do well in the shade and offer a vast selection to choose from. Try growing basil, chives, cilantro, garlic chives, golden marjoram, lemon balm, mint, oregano and parsley. Root crops will also do well in partial shade. Beets, carrots, potatoes, radishes and turnips will thrive, but you’ll have to wait longer for harvest. Some might see this as an opportunity to grow gourmet mini carrots and new potatoes. Spinach, lettuce and arugula will bolt to seed when planted in the sun. These plants will welcome a shady spot to set down root. And blueberries are the perfect bushes to plant in the shade. They require pollinators so be certain to match up the variety best suited for the job.
For those of you surrounded by hardscape, container planting is an option. Seed companies have developed compact vegetables specific for this purpose, such as Patio Pik tomatoes and cucumbers. Remember that container plants require more water and fertilizer than those planted in the ground. This is the perfect garden for using compost tea instead of commercial fertilizers!
Those “stuck” with a big garden are the envy of most diehard gardeners. We tend to lament that there just isn’t enough space to plant all that we envision. If a large garden is your challenge, take heart. I have seen some creative homeowners offer space in their garden to neighbors less fortunate. Ground rules are set up so the community garden is maintained, access hours are established, and organic methods are employed by all using the spaces provided. One garden like this was featured on the Bay-Friendly Garden Tour a few years ago. The fruit trees were maintained by the homeowners, but the plots of veggies were tended by their neighbors.
Perhaps community gardening in your backyard seems extreme. If you have more land than you can manage, consider planting an assortment of trees. Citrus and olive trees do very well in Marin and do not require the pruning or experience the leaf drop of deciduous trees. Mulch around trees to keep weeds at bay and reap the crops or invite friends over for a harvest celebration! A friend of ours used to have an annual olive-oil-press event in his workshop until his trees produced so much that it required the crops go to the commercial Olive Press in Sonoma. The olive oil was amazing and the memories of those days are etched permanently in my mind.
Edible landscapes are fun to plan. There is always something growing and no challenge is too great to overcome. Winter is a time for dreaming. Now is the time to start planning!