Friday, August 27, 2010

fruit for the edible landscape

When talking edible landscapes, vegetables are often at the front of our minds, while fruits take the back seat. Maybe it's because there are just so many vegetables we can grow here, or that they're relatively easy to grow, or that they're low commitment because they're generally only around for one season. Fruits are generally perennial, and many are in the form of trees, shrubs or vines, which makes them great to use in the landscape for structure and a sense of permanence. Fruit plants can also provide stunning color. Did you know the foliage on blueberry bushes turns a deep crimson in autumn?

Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension.
You might be thinking that it's just too cold here in Minnesota to grow fruit, and for some varieties that is very true. We won't be growing bananas or peaches here any time soon. (Well, I'm keeping my hopes up on the peaches.) But...did you know we can grow grapes, plums, cherries, and even a type of kiwi? There's a great range of fruit we can grow in Minnesota, and thanks to the trusty and talented plant breeders here at the U of M, many varieties have been developed just for us. How great is that? Check out these links to learn about the best fruit varieties to grow in Minnesota.

Selected fruit varieties for Minnesota gardens
Stone fruits
Currants and gooseberries
Hardy kiwifruit

edible landscaping at the minnesota state fair

Coming to the State Fair this year? If so, stop by the Ag-Hort building to see the new stage called The Dirt. There are a lot of great presentations and demonstrations on the schedule. We'll be talking all about Edible Landscaping on

  • Friday 8/27 at 9am and noon
  • Tuesday 8/31 at 11am and 2pm
  • Thursday 9/2 at 10am and 1pm

Hope to see you at the Fair!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

and now...this year's plants

This post has been hiding out in my drafts folder. It's about time I post it.

This year the edible landscape came together in a hurry. As some readers may know I was planning to move out of the state this summer. Well, those plans changed a bit and I discovered I would be in Minnesota for the entire summer at which moment I thought I must do another edible landscape demo garden. This was in early May, so I had to act quickly. There was no time to labor over designs and plant choices. I would not be starting flats and flats of seeds in the greenhouse. I would be designing by the seat of my pants with the plants I could find leftover from spring semester classes, herbs that survived the winter that could be transplanted, and so on. Oh, and I forgot to mention....considering the last-minute nature of this project there's also no budget. Perfect, I thought! This year will be a more real representation of what one can do with edibles in their home landscape on a budget, with little time and not a ton of space. Enter favorite!

Armed with a few packs of seeds and a few flats of plants from the Hort. Department Floriculture Crop Production course (which also grows some edible plants) I began planting. Now that's not to say no forethought was put into this. I spent an hour or so one afternoon in the garden just walking, stopping, sitting, thinking, imagining what might go where. I stopped out at different times of the day to determine where the shade traveled from the ginkgo and Honeycrisp trees. I took a good hard look at what was already growing in certain areas, and thought what might look nice near those existing plants, what requirements they have and what edibles might share the same requirements for light, moisture, etc. All things one should ponder before sticking a trowel in the ground. By spending time with your garden before you plant, it will tell you where things should go. Well, that's a little bit of a stretch, but I think you know what I mean. The better you understand your yard, the space, the light it receives, the existing plants...the more you'll be inspired to choose plants that will work really well.

So here's a list of plants in the edible landscape this year. Throughout the season, this list will be amended as certain plants will be removed after reaching their prime and others take their place -  usually direct-seeded greens, beans, radishes, and so on.

Apple ‘Honeycrisp’
Bean 'Scarlet Runner'
Bronze fennel
Chinese pak choy
Creeping thyme
Eggplant ‘Calliope’, ‘Gretel’, 'Rosa Biaca', 'Hansel'
Garlic chive
Kale 'Red Russian'
Lavender ‘Munstead’
Lettuce ‘Freckled’, ‘Green Oak Leaf’’, ‘Lollo Rosa’, ‘Yugoslavian Red’, ‘Red Oak Leaf’
Mints: spearmint, pineapple, chocolate
Mizuna mustard
Pattypan squash
Pepper ‘Ciliegia Piccante’, ‘Cuneo Giallo’, ‘Jumbo Sweet’, ‘Numex Sunrise’, ‘Sweet Chocolate’
Purple pak choy
Rainbow Chard ‘Neon Glow’
Rhubarb chard
Signet Marigold ‘Lemon Gem’ and ‘Orange Gem’
Summer savory
Tomato ‘Cuora di Bue’, ‘Italian’, ‘Red Zebra’, ‘Stupice’, 'Red Currant'
Zucchini 'Cocozelle'

Thursday, July 8, 2010

currants, the gem of the edible landscape

Your experience with currants may be those shriveled little black things in the scone you buy at your neighborhood coffee shop, or in preserves so laden with sugar that you can't even discern the flavor of the currant. But have you ever plucked a string of ruby-red berries off the bush and tasted the tangy-sweet juiciness of a perfectly ripe currant. Let me just tell is like sunshine in your mouth!

A 'Red Lake' Currant was planted in the 2009 edible landscape, but since it was still too young, we didn't get any fruit last year. The plant was moved early this year to the new edible landscape, and though I wasn't sure of it's fate after the move, it proved to be resilient. The plant produced an abundance of these juicy gems.

The currant (and its cousin, the gooseberry) are great additions to the edible landscape. The currant especially, for two reasons I can think of right off the top of my head. One, the currant isn't quite as vigorous as the gooseberry, and while it requires regular pruning, will not become a scary thicket of prickly canes like it's more rugged relative. Second, come mid-June brilliant strands of glistening red berries will begin peeking out from within the dark green foliage. You'll have trouble resisting picking them too early - they're almost impossible to resist. But once you taste an unripe currant you'll understand the value of patience. Best to wait until they are deep red and look like they're about to burst. Then the sweet-tart, juicy explosion of each little berry will have you feverishly plucking the tiny gems from their stems. Oh, and I thought of a third! Currants are quite hardy in zones 4 and 3, and some cultivars are hardy to zone 2. Yay for Minnesotans! Another fruit we can successfully grow!

Three species of currant run the range of color from red-pink-yellow-white. These are Ribes rubrum, R. sativum and R. petraeum. The black currant (Ribes nigrum) has not been widely grown in the US due to it's susceptibility to White Pine Blister Rust. However, some cultivars have been bred with rust resistance. The red and white species tend to have more resistance. 

There's some great info out there if you're interested in adding currants to your edible landscape. The U of M Fruit website has a nice fact sheet to get you started, and has a long list of available cultivars. When looking for plants, I always check locally first, then check online if there's a cultivar I can't find here. There are several nurseries that carry many interesting cultivars. Just do a search for the cultivar name and 'nursery' to find a source.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

tomato cages are ugly

Stainless steel tomato spirals used in the
2009 edible landscape
Does anyone out there agree? I can think of few things that detract from the beauty of a garden more than tomato cages. And it really doesn't help much to buy ones that are painted green. Come on, you can't fool me with green paint. Last year I tried some nifty stainless steel tomato spirals, which I'll admit were very cool. But they only really worked for small-fruited and thin-stemmed varieties. Bulkier varieties just took the slender spirals down with them and required additional staking later in the season. This year I am determined to devise a sturdy, functional, and fabulous looking method of supporting tomatoes in the Edible Landscape. I'm not looking to buy the latest gadget. Rather, I want to construct something of natural materials or use found objects. So, faithful readers, I need your help. Post a comment with your suggestions, or if you have photos send them by email and I'll post them (since I can't figure out a way for you to post them right here). Just click on my profile pic to find my email address.

Please act fast and send your ideas, the tomatoes are growing quickly!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

edible landscape taking shape

View down the length of the
2010 edible landscape
The 2010 season is off to a good start. With the early warmth we've had, all the plants are doing well! But first, a look around the new edible landscape. This year's area is long and narrow with a windy path on the front edge. I know I promised small scale, but the space just kept growing as I worked on it. However, the space is divided up by stone paths, a patio, and rock walls, so walking through the garden you'll get a great sense of what you could do if you only had one of these little areas to work with. We also have a little shade in the edible landscape this year! Yes, I consider that a good thing because it more accurately resembles a real home landscape. Edible plants generally prefer lots of sun, but there are some great options for edibles in partial shade, and I've got those under a lovely ginkgo tree that shades the garden till about noon (I'd prefer if it shaded them in the afternoon, but we work with what we have). In this area you'll find a few different lettuces, chard, pak choy...are you sensing a theme here? Leafy greens...partial shade...ah hah!

Here's a look at this year's edible landscape just as it's getting started. The stone paths are new as is the patio. Soon you'll see photos of the completed patio with containers filled with beautiful and delicious edibles. Stop by soon!
One of the sunniest spots in the edible landscape.

A view of the Honeycrisp tree, bean/cuke trellises
and the ginkgo tree.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

new garden for the new season

2010 edible landscape location
U of M St. Paul campus display and trial gardens
Yes, it's still the same blog from the University of Minnesota Edible Landscape, but I thought since we're entering a new season the blog should have a fresh, new look. As the season progresses I'll be updating the slideshow so it'll be clear which photos are from 2009 and which are from 2010.

The edible landscape demo garden will have a new look also, because it has moved to a new location in the gardens. The green area on this map is the edible landscape. When you visit, you'll notice edibles planted in other areas of the demonstration gardens as well. This idea of landscaping with food plants is really taking off, and the gardens are looking great filled with a rainbow of purple kale, chard and lettuces. Soon the warm season crops will really start producing, what with the warm temps we've had. Signage will be up soon to explain what's going on in all the different areas of the gardens. Look for the "What's Growing On?" signs.
Look for these signs to discover what's
happening in different areas of the gardens.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

small space edible landscaping 2010

The edible landscape project in 2009 was large...very large. Over 1500 square feet of vegetables, fruit, flowers, herbs were bursting from their beds throughout the season. But as I met more and more people who were thrilled by the idea of edible landscaping, I was reminded that most of us don't have such grandiose space to work with. So this year's theme is going to be all about what you can do in a small space. Minnesota Master Gardeners are going to be working on the Veggies by the Yard project in the beds of last year's edible landscape, and I will be transforming other areas of the display and trial gardens into tiny oases of beautiful edibles. Prepare to see fruit trees, vegetables, herbs, flowers and small fruits intermingling in the ground and in containers. You don't need a lot of space to have an edible landscape, so come by the U of M Demonstration Gardens this season to get inspired!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

let's talk greens

Image borrowed from
Today I had the pleasure of speaking about edible landscaping to a delightful crowd of 100 or so at the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center Horticulture Day in Waseca, MN. To all those in attendance, thank you for your warm welcome and your enthusiastic participation in what was for me a really fun hour of edible landscape conversation.

We talked a bit about a little-known leafy green named Mizuna mustard. This Japanese mustard green has deeply serrated leaves, with long, light green stems. It has a fringy, lacy appearance making it a great addition to the edible landscape. It's great for use in salads, where it adds a nice texture and a mild zing when used with sweet and tender baby lettuces or other leaf lettuces.

When I got home this afternoon I found that my latest issue of Organic Gardening magazine had arrived. On the front cover is a beautiful salad guessed it...Mizuna mustard! The article tells of several other greens that would be really fun to use in the edible landscape. A few of them are:
All of these, and many more would bring a great splash of color, texture and of course flavor to your edible landscape! Bon appetit!

Monday, February 15, 2010

edible landscaping presentation

Here's a slideshow on edible landscaping that I've been presenting to garden clubs and Master Gardener groups.