COMMENTARY vegetables like artichokes, asparagus, sorrel, and Jerusalem artichokes to add color contrast and texture in the landscape. And chefs are again incorporating edible flowers into dishes to add flavor or a bright garnish. It’s delightful to see more people using certain flowers — pansies, begonias (tuberosa), calendula, daylily (Hemerocallis), and hibiscus — from their landscapes, expanding their edible pallet. Learning the story of plants, their ethnobotany (how they’ve traditionally been used in their indigenous lands or here in early America) has always been fascinating to me. I enjoy sharing that love of plants with others and am consistently surprised to find how many people are intrigued to find many of their traditional landscape plants also have edible value. Of course, with any plant material, correct identification using scientific nomenclature is a must before ingesting or serving it to friends and family. It’s equally important to note that just because something is edible doesn’t mean everyone will find it palatable (cilantro and brussels sprouts, for example). Most of us have enjoyed eating a pecan grown in the landscape primarily as a shade tree, but it’s something quite different to take advantage of the edible value of common landscape plants. There is now a company in Texas that sells yaupon holly tea (made from the caffeinated leaves) from this popular landscape shrub. Other plants like autumn sage (a relative of culinary sage) have been historically used to season beans and meat and produce edible flowers. There are also non-native plants that were once (and still are) used for their edible value in their home country, but those uses somehow didn’t make the transition to the horticulture trade
in America. One such specimen often found commonly in Texas landscapes is the silverberry (Elaeagnus pungens ‘Fruitlandii’). In early spring, their pleasantly sweet and tart fruits ripen and when soft remind me of a raspberry. Their large seeds are also edible with a flavor similar to a peanut. I know it seems strange to some, but for hundreds of years gardeners incorporated a mixture of edibles and ornamentals together in cottage gardens. During the dawn of America, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison incorporated edible plants throughout their more formal landscapes. Edible gardening doesn’t have to be focused solely on function and production. It is important to put some thought into the design of an edible garden or foodscape to give you or your client the best chance for success. Planting food with an eye for the overall beauty of the landscape in mind can and should utilize traditional design principles. Consider structure and movement, layering heights, contrasting colors, and use evergreens for winter interest. A multitude of plants are both edible and highly ornamental with varying colors and textures of foliage, showy fruits, and different bloom times for an edible landscape that continues to cultivate enthusiasm for seasons to come. DANIEL CUNNINGHAM is a horticulturist with Texas A&M AgriLife’s Water University program. For more gardening advice, check out Cunningham’s Dallas Morning News articles, tune in to NBC DFW (Channel 5) on Sunday mornings, listen in to the “North Texas Ag Show” 95.3 The Range, or ask your plant questions to @TxPlantGuy on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
May/June 2019 TNLA Green