The best thing about being a Master Gardener here in Orange County, CA is that a legion of dedicated scientists and professional horticulturists have agreed to embed a bunch of enthusiastic lay-people with their hard-earned (and expensive) scientific knowledge of horticulture, agriculture, plant diseases, insects and soil chemistry for free. How great is that?
Of course, in return we must pledge our gardening souls to the larger community of home gardeners in the form of providing good, science-based gardening information. And we must solemnly promise not to pass on advice gained from well-wishing friends and relatives (As I was advised not too long ago by just one of those well-wishers, 'Simply sprinkle moth balls around your vegetable garden, honey, it'll get rid of those pesky voles and gophers.' Yes, and any aspirations I might have to good health, too. Do not do this! Mothballs are a noxious mix of neurotoxins and carcinogens. Consult with a Master Gardener before taking any advice of this kind.)
So it was with great pleasure that I recently attended an intensive Train the Trainer workshop on Edible Landscaping at UCLA, intended to ready us for our avowed mission to take this valuable knowledge out into the world through seminars, workshops and talks to the general public. (Like the excellent talks given at the Farm and Food Lab at the Great Park in Irvine, run by Master Gardeners. (See this link for more info: http://www.ocgp.org/visit/info/)
What is Edible Landscaping you ask? One of the most famous and enthusiastic proponents of Edible Landscaping is Rosalind Creasy of Northern California. (Check out her terrific website for more information on her gardens and activities) Rosalind Creasy
This is her work. Isn't it fantastic? Take a look at the blackberries in full fruit against the climbing rose. Underneath the mirror* are luscious basil plants mixed with geraniums and fuchsia. Those bold leaves reflected in the mirror are zucchini. They are harvested near the same time in Northern California, where she lives, and precisely when roses are in full bloom, so this combination may be somewhat fleeting. But that's one of the great things about edible landscaping - the ability to experiment and change your planting scheme throughout the edible growing season.
The unusual thing about this combination of edible and ornamental plants is that it is in her front yard! Not in her backyard, hidden from the neighbors. Not in raised beds relegated to some sunny corner in the back forty. But up front and center in her publicly viewed space, her front yard. This is the essence of Edible Landscaping! Isn't it beautiful?
Most of us have dug colorful and ubiquitous ornamental kale into our front yards which comes in a variety of magenta-purple mixes as well as white. This is a great starter plant, but why stop there? Well, one thing that should stop you, at least temporarily, is a quick analysis of your sunlight, soil and irrigation. If you are a lucky soul and have well draining, loamy soil in full sun make sure you have adequate irrigation for your edible landscape and forge on. If not, you'll likely need to improve your soil at least a little, especially our native California soils, and determine that you have at least 6 hours of sunlight and good availability of water suitable for the needs of the edibles you want to grow. Potable water should always be used on edibles, using grey or reclaimed water isn't recommended since it could introduce pathogens to you and your garden.
Some edibles need less water than others; artichokes and many herbs, for example. Some need less light, but admittedly most need at least 6 hours of solid sunlight to be productive.
Who knew you could grow artichokes as a foundation plant? Since they're a perennial they'll come back in successive years, too.
Stay tuned for Edible Landscaping - Part Two: Fun and Games with Garden Pathogens
(*A side note on the use of mirrors in the landscape...I do worry about the increased use of mirrors placed in the landscape to make small gardens appear larger or to soften a blank wall with reflected greenery. Depending on their finish and placement, they might not be confusing and dangerous for birds, but I've seen a number of fairly large mirrors in the landscape that I just know mean trouble for birds. So assess your site from a bird's perspective before you introduce a mirror into your landscape.)