About the author: Joy Hayes is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys gardening with her family. She especially enjoys growing edibles in her woodland, hillside and vegetable gardens. Producing and purchasing locally-grown foods is important to her and her family.
I am a big fan of the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s a humorous story about how a family “vows to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it.” It makes a “passionate case for putting the kitchen back at the center of family life …” Michael Pollen has a new book Cooked out in which he encourages less processed “food-like substances” and more whole foods that we take time to prepare as a family. Both books are about literally getting back to our “roots” and preparing locally grown vegetables and fruits. Even better yet, we can grow our own like Barbara’s family did.
If you are not sure about growing your own vegetables and fruits (or want to expand), you can easily add a few plants to your existing gardens and begin to transform them into edible landscapes. Here are a few of my favorite perennials that can make any landscape deliciously edible.
This shrub grows in full or part shade, is low maintenance, has showy flowers, has good fall color, tolerates clay soil, can be used as a hedge and has edible nuts.
Red Currant is one of my favorite shrubs in my garden. It keeps its shape and produces clusters of shiny red berries that we make into raspberry currant jam.
I enjoy all kinds of strawberries but woodland strawberries are especially nice because they fit well in most landscapes. One important feature is that they stay in nice clumps and do not send out runners.
Culinary thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and for a great groundcover—creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum coccineus)
I like thyme because it’s delicious fresh or dried in many dishes and the “creeping” type is a great groundcover.
Chives are great fresh or dried. I put them in potato and egg salad and roasted vegetable dishes. If you pick the buds before they blossom you can add them to recipes as well.
Asparagus takes a few years to establish but it’s worth the wait since it’s the first vegetable to produce in the spring. The tender shoots are great raw or roasted. Just add olive oil, parmesan cheese and salt and pepper and grill them up!
This sour cherry is a dwarf fruit tree which would fit into any landscape, especially smaller spaces. It has white cherry blossoms and is self-pollinating. It was bred at the U of MN and is very hardy.
Begin by putting a few edible perennials in unexpected places in your landscape. Those who enjoy your garden may be surprised and ask you about it. You can then share with them the many benefits of growing edibles. You and your family will also experience how fun it is to walk out to the garden and pick something fresh for your table. It doesn’t get any more delicious than that!
Still not convinced? There are many good reasons for growing our own produce:
- It is fresh. It’s fun eating our own hand-picked vegetables, fruit and herbs! By mid-June and we enjoyed lettuce, radishes, strawberries, basil and garlic scapes from our garden this week. We made pesto and tomato (Minnesota-grown Bushel Boy, no garden fresh yet!) open face sandwiches, strawberry pie with chocolate-coated crust, strawberry and cookies ‘n cream shakes and grilled chicken salads, strawberry salads, and more salads!
- If we grow it ourselves, we know how it was grown (preferably organically, sustainably and with few chemicals). We can use our own compost from food scrapes and yard waste (non-herbicide treated) so nutrients stay in our yards rather than going to the landfill.
- Growing our own produce has less of an environmental impact because the produce does not travel across the country. Most fruits and vegetables are transported over 2000 miles in refrigerated trucks to get to us. Some are picked before they are ripe and then chemically ripened.
- Growing locally preserves our green space. According to the University of Delaware Extension (Bulletin #137), the mental health benefits of green space include: stress and violence reduction and improved concentration. The physical benefits include: enhanced health, more rapid healing and improved environmental conditions, such as better air and water quality and a reduction in the “heat island effect.” I was amazed by all the positive effects on children which include alleviating symptoms of Attention Deficient/Hyperactivity Disorder, improving self-discipline among inner city girls, including enhanced concentration, inhibition of impulsive behavior, and delay of gratification. Children who play in green spaces demonstrate increased ability to concentrate, complete tasks, and follow directions.
- Children are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they’ve help plant, water, care for and harvest them.
- Growing food ourselves gives us (and our children) an increased appreciation for where our food comes from and gives us a sense of pride.
- We can build community by sharing with our family, friends and neighbors.
Enjoy your edible garden!