When most people hear ‘edible gardening’ they imagine the vege plot around the back of the house. Straight rows of caterpillar eaten lettuce and wilted silver beet!
Today; as garden’s become smaller and lives busier, edible gardens have the opportunity to become the main garden. As we are faced with issues such as genetic engineering and high levels of pesticides and herbicides in the food we buy, it makes sense to grow as much food as we can.
By having an edible garden, your outside space can serve several purposes at once. It can be a place to enjoy, whilst providing food, protection from the elements and screening from the neighbours.
There are many new exciting edible plants which are now available. They not only produce seed or fruit but are also attractive in their own right. Be it as a shade tree, as an Avocado, or as a low hedge such as blueberries.
Small courtyard gardens are ideal, as there are now many fruit trees that have been grafted on to dwarf root stock. This means these trees only grow to about one and a half metres, but produce ordinary sized fruit. Another trick for small courtyards and gardens is to espalier fruiting trees up against walls. Not only does this save valuable growing space but also provides structure and a focal point for the garden.
Edible gardens can be set out in a formal style or incorporated in an organic, informal pattern. The best thing about it is there are no set rules, only the ones you want to make. Edible plants can be incorporated with other flowering plants and shrubs to appear to look like any other garden. The only difference; you can enjoy walking into your garden and picking delicious sun warmed fruits and berries, or cut up a lemon for that summer G and T.
Here are some planting suggestions of lesser known species which would grow well in most temperate climates.
Fig (Ficus carica)
Figs do well in a sunny, sheltered spot. They like lots of moisture but do withstand drought. The fig bears its heaviest crops when its roots are restricted. This makes it good for containers. Avoid nitrogen fertilizer but lime can be beneficial. Figs look great espaliered against a wall. They do well grown like this as it is their natural tendency to spread sideways.
Cocktail Kiwifruit (Actinidia arguta)
This plant has attractive glistening foliage and fragrant white flowers in spring. The shiny, hairless fruit are like miniature Kiwifruit, but only the size of a grape. Eat them straight, like a grape, or add to salads or ice-cream.
Plant in well drained fertile soil with protection from wind. Prefers sun. Grow over a pergola or wires. Hardy to -5 degrees. Needs both a male and female to fruit.
Blueberry (Vaccinium sp.)
If you can create the correct soil conditions these plants are easy to grow and low maintenance once established. Plant in moist, free draining, acid soil. Add peat or coffee grounds to create an acidic environment. I have totally failed as a blueberry grower. No plant has ever produced any fruit or lasted for more than a couple of years. It is just not a correct pH in my soil.
Coffee (Coffee Arabica)
Drinking your own home brewed coffee would be a real talking point around the weekly coffee group!
A coffee shrub grows about 3-4 metres. It is evergreen with white flowers in the spring which smell like Jasmine. Plant in rich soil, high in nitrogen. Protect from full sun. The coffee plant can withstand cold nights but does not like frosts. Use this plant as an indoor specimen if you live in a frost prone area. Makes a good hedgerow or feature plant outdoors.
Pepino (Solanum muricatum)
This small, vigorous bush, flowers in spring and summer and fruits from December until the first frosts. It looks good in a container or in the garden where it can be seen. Likes a warm, sunny spot with plenty of moisture. Tastes like rock melon.
Japanese Raisin Tree (Hovenia dulcis)
This is a quick growing deciduous tree with an upright, open habit. It has spreading pendulous branches. White clusters of flowers in spring are followed by fruit in autumn. The edible part is the swollen stem which holds the seeds. The tree grows in most situations and will begin fruiting at about three years.
Orangeberry (Rubus pentalobus)
This fast growing groundcover is from the same family as strawberries and raspberries. It produces a dense weed suppressing mat of dark green, grape-like leaves that are frost tolerant and have a purple tinge during winter.
Great for weed suppression or on banks which are too steep to mow.
They will grow in shade but flowers best in full sun so plant in a sunny well drained site. Feed sparingly and only when foliage is pale green. They grow well in a container and will produce more fruit.
Inga Bean or Ice Cream Tree (Inga edulis)
just imagine how popular you would be if you were growing ice cream!This rapid grower looks great in a small garden. Its fragrant flowers are produced during spring. These are followed by long pods which have an edible white pulp. This tastes like ice-cream (without the calories!). Great for desserts or can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Thrives in wet areas. Protect from severe frosts.
This is a lime for the cooler parts of the country. It is an attractive, evergreen shrub that grows to about 3 metres. It is a cross between a lime and a Kumquat. Likes a well drained soil with a good addition of compost. Will do well in a container or plant as a specimen, espalier or as a hedge.
All these plants can be obtained from garden centres. It is just a matter of hunting them down or getting your local garden centre to order them in for you.