Digging Deeper Vol. 18

Consider Uncommon Edibles For Home Landscape

As we browse our 2013 seed catalogs and make our final decisions on what varieties to add to our upcoming spring vegetable garden, there is still some six weeks of winter left to add new plantings to our home landscapes.  The continued chilly temperatures of February and March, coupled with our recent beneficial rainfall will still allow our plantings ample time to establish strong root systems before they have to face the stress of our hot and humid summer.

While we are currently busy selecting varieties for the vegetable garden, we should also remember that we can make edible additions to our landscape—wholesome, home-grown food for ourselves, as well as some special treats for our wildlife friends.  By growing specimens that have multiple uses, rather than solely for aesthetics, we will help to restore and sustain the local natural food chain.

These multi-tasking or “permaculture” plantings include not only actual food sources, but also those plants that attract pollinators, beneficial insects and wildlife garden friends.  By attracting and feeding these garden boosters, we will help insure a bountiful harvest for this season and many more to come.

How About Ferns, Hostas, Silverbell Fruits To Eat?

Most Upstate gardeners are very aware of the wide array of food plants featuring fruits, berries, and nuts of all shapes and sizes.  Two of my personal favorites are rabbiteye blueberries, especially the Tifblue variety, and muscadine grapes, both of which I have grown for many years without ever having to spray for any pests or diseases.

But who knew many of our landscape ornamentals, such as ferns, hostas, hibiscus and sedums are also quite edible and are featured culinary delights in other parts of the world?  I certainly was totally unaware until I read Englishman Martin Crawford’s book entitled “How To Grow Perennial Vegetables: Low Maintenance, Low-Impact Vegetable Gardening.”

According to Crawford, the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) “is a very hardy (Zone 2) fern, well known as a wild edible in North America and Scandinavia.  The young fiddleheads are eaten as a cooked vegetable—the flavor like a cross between asparagus and broccoli.  They have a crisp texture and are often eaten with eggs.”

Crawford says, “Various hostas have been used as vegetables in China, Japan and other parts of Asia for a long time, but elsewhere few people know they can be eaten.  Hosta leaf clusters (before they unfurl) are cooked before being eaten, either by steaming, frying or boiling and are particularly good served with butter or a sauce.  Larger-leaved selections provide more edible material, including Hosta sieboldiana cultivars ‘Big Daddy,’ ‘Blue Umbrella,’ and ‘Elegans.’”

And even our Carolina Silverbell Tree (Halesia carolina) is featured on his list of landscape edibles, described as “very ornamental in flower in spring, when it is covered with white bell-shaped flowers, which after pollination by bees, are followed by light-green, four-winged fruits.”  Crawford notes the green fruits are harvested when they are still young and “have a cucumber//pea flavor and a great crunchy, juicy texture.  They are excellent raw in salads, used to make pickles, cooked briefly in stir-fries and so on.”

The book includes more than 100 such “perennial vegetables,” and includes many more of our traditional ornamentals, such as basswood (Linden spp.), and beech (Fagus spp.) trees, mallows, hibiscus and perennial sweet peas (Lathyrus spp.)  It’s just a matter of choosing which ones appeal to your “tastes” and fit your landscape needs.  Come on out to the nursery and let the staff help you decide.

By Guest Author Randy Peele

As has always been the case with my garden writings, I would like very much for all of you to interact with me in “Digging Deeper.”  Recommended topics, critiques, opinions, questions, etc. all are encouraged and welcomed, and I look forward to hearing from you by e-mail at email@headleenursery.com.