Edible Landscaping with Rosalind Creasy bio picture
  • Rosalind Creasy – Edible Landscaping

    Gardening can be easy, healthy, inexpensive, and best of all, in can be done just about anywhere. As far back as 1970, Rosalind Creasy was a pioneer in the field of Edible Landscaping.Her work has since revolutionized the way that many of us think about gardening. Cooking from the garden, eating organic, and eating fresh are all possible and not as hard as you might think.

    In this website, you can see some of Rosalind's best tips on making the most of your home garden, along with various recipes and advice. 

    Rosalind's new book, Edible Landscaping, was published in November of 2010 and is now in its third printing.

Bob and Julie’s Garden 2012

My son and daughter-in-law, Bob and Julie Creasy, have a house in San Jose, California, about 20 minutes from me. They’re in Zone 9, in one of the country’s ideal growing climates, warm enough for tomatoes and peppers to get the 90-degree days they love without the humidity that can cause fungal problems. Their garden also contains great soil—deep loam, filled with worms. I’m jealous; my garden is noticeably cooler and began with heavy adobe clay. Over the years, Julie’s gotten the gardening bug BAD, and she’s one of the best natural gardeners I’ve ever known. My son Bob plays backup with the all-important irrigation installations, design input, and, bless his heart, weeding.

Before the Edible Design

Their backyard was nothing much to start with: a concrete patio and a lot of lawn, plus one large almond tree on the left side.

Today, a much larger paver patio anchors the space. The redwood arbor sits off the patio proper, providing plenty of shade during the late afternoon without dominating the space and providing for a wisteria or climbing roses over the top in the future. The remaining space is filled with plants, both in the ground and in a variety of containers. There are plenty of edibles scattered throughout, including ‘Enchantment’ and ‘Sungold’ tomatoes growing in barrels and over small arbors, peppers contained in colorful “tomato” cages, strawberries, and a broad range of culinary herbs. Ornamentals are equally well represented, with roses, ‘East Friesland’ salvia, zinnias, and million bells. A low boxwood hedge edges part of the patio and walkway, creating a boundary and providing visual interest in winter.

A mix of pots cascades down the steps from the house, filled with purple salvia and petunias, orange zinnias, yellow gaillardia, blue lobelia, and orange and purple million bells to tie them all together. The colors reflect those found in the garden itself, and the red and terra cotta hues of the pots mix together surprisingly well. A small statue of a black poodle, a lookalike for their own dog Portia, keeps guard over the entire space.

Bob and Julie wanted to give a contemporary feel to the garden and purchased three large horse troughs and placed them along the path and filled them with portulacas and cucumbers. A yellow heirloom tomato in a barrel balances them on the left. Just past them, you can see the reincarnation of my old Magic Circle garden, featured in my book Edible Landscaping. A mix of bright colors surrounds the green birdbath: yellow lantana, red petunias, pink penstemon, and purple salvia. ‘Elfin’ thyme fills in the spaces between the stepping-stones.

Edibles and ornamentals share this trough-turned-planter. In this case, the edible is the heirloom ‘True Lemon’ cucumber, available from Seed Savers Exchange. Growing the cucumbers in a tall planter is an easy way to keep them off the ground without having to stake them.

Growing Rhubarb in an Edible Landscape

A rhubarb plant is an investment in the future—a long-lived addition to the yard. An herbaceous perennial with leaves that can grow from 2 to 4 feet tall, it has dramatic, 18-inch-wide, crinkly, green leaves atop rose red or green stalks. The red rhubarbs are so handsome they fit into the most sophisticated herbaceous border, flowerbed, or a foundation planting. Rhubarb also works well as an accent in a container and it is truly eye-catching when planted with red geraniums.

Rhubarb flowers bloom atop tall cream colored stalks. In warm-winter areas, cut them off when they emerge to focus the plant’s energy on stalks and leaves. In colder climates, where the plants are so vigorous and flower plumes so decorative, let them grow and show off in the summer.

Easily grown, with virtually no pests and diseases, rhubarb is hardy to zone 2. Here, it grows happily in this zone 7 Long Island garden. Sunlight coming through the plant emphasizes the red of the stalks and becomes a bright accent in your landscape.

How to Grow

Rhubarb has specific requirements. It needs at least 2 months of winter cold and is not productive in areas with very hot summers. In the high desert, plant it in autumn as a winter annual.

In most climates, grow rhubarb in full sun in acidic, well-drained loam rich in organic matter; in the high desert, choose an area with afternoon shade for coolness.  Mulch in spring and fall with compost or manure to keep weeds down and to feed the plant. In arid climates, provide 1 inch of water a week. I’ve had the most success with rhubarb when it’s been in a bed with overhead water rather than drip irrigation.

Rhubarb serves as a backdrop for low-growing herbs in the Denver Botanical Garden. The parsley and blooming oregano provide bright green accents against the red of the flowering amaranth and rhubarb stalks while the straw bee skep adds a rustic decorative touch.

Rhubarb has few pests and diseases.  If placed correctly and given a modest amount of attention, a plant will last a lifetime. Two to three plants are adequate for the average family.

Unless you are growing it as an annual, do not harvest any stalks the first year. After that, harvest by gently pulling or cutting off the thickest, healthiest stalks near soil level. Harvest begins in spring and, if the plants are healthy, goes well into summer. Growth slows down in hot weather, but picks up again in fall. Well-established plants tolerate an additional light fall harvest. After a decade or so, if the plant is getting crowded, dig it up and divide into three or four plants.

In my cool and dry Zone 9 garden, rhubarb is a focal point. Its large leaves contrast nicely with the small foliage of the boxwood and jasmine surrounding it. In winter, after the foliage dies down, I fill the empty space with tulip bulbs that bloom in the spring.

In the Kitchen

Cook the thick, fleshy leafstalks of this striking plant in traditional rhubarb pie, sauces, and stew; my favorite is strawberry-rhubarb pie—sweeter than straight rhubarb. You can even make rhubarb wine. Preserve rhubarb as jam or wine. Freeze or can stewed rhubarb.

Caution: Rhubarb leaves are deadly poisonous if eaten.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Cobbler

This traditional rhubarb cobbler is surprisingly light and creamy.

Filling:

3 cups rhubarb cut into 1/2” pieces

3 cups sliced strawberries

2/3 cups sugar

1 tablespoon orange or lemon peel

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

Heat oven to 425 degrees F.

Place rhubarb, sugar, and orange peel into a saucepan. Heat over medium heat until rhubarb begins to juice, about 2 minutes. Add butter and flour and bring to a boil while stirring. Cook about 1 minute. Add sliced strawberries. Remove from heat and pour fruit mixture into a deep 10” pie dish.

Batter:

1 3/4 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, chilled

1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons, divided

3/4 cups half and half

2 tablespoons grated orange or lemon peel

Optional: 1 cup heavy cream whipped with 1 tablespoon extra fine sugar

In a large bowl, sift flour, baking powder, and salt together. Cut butter into small pieces. With a fork, or a pastry cutter, cut in chilled butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add 1/2 cup sugar and blend. Slowly incorporate half/and half with a fork. Spoon dough over fruit to cover. Mix 2 tablespoons sugar and orange peel and sprinkle over top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly and serve with, or without, whipped cream. Serves 6.

For many people, strawberry-rhubarb is the first “fruit” pie of spring. There’s no need to fuss with fancy crusts or picture-perfect presentations; something so delicious will quickly disappear.

Landscaping with Citrus

I can’t help it. I gloat when I go out and harvest my lemons. I’d pay 49 cents apiece for them at the store, and here I have them nearly year round for free. My lime tree produces enough fruit in May and June for me to have freezer bags full of lime cubes available for margaritas and fruit smoothies. Plus, I have lime leaf to use for myself in Thai cooking and to share. (While we’re talking about lime leaf, I have to bring up the fact that the name used by most people, kaffir lime, is, in fact, an ugly racial slur. We are working hard to get people to call it by another name. Nurseries are calling it kieffer lime and many cooks are calling it lime leaf; take your pick.)

If you live in a mild winter area like I do, USDA Zone 9, or warmer, the rich green shiny leaves, stunningly fragrant flowers, and colorful fruits make these edibles a must have. If you live in a colder climate, then you can grow them in containers.

Here we have a kumquat and Meyer lemon, both of which grow beautifully in containers. They also are among the hardiest of the common citrus and can be grown in warmer sections of Zone 8. In case you were wondering, my edible landscape here also includes sugar snap pea vines and onions among the flowers and herbs.

Citrus fills all sorts of niches in your edible landscape. Full-size citrus reach 20 ft.; dwarf varieties that can be kept under 6 ft. are best for most yards. Of course, they’ll need sunlight; 6 hours is ideal, though lemons and limes can take less. Temperature is even more important. Most varieties tolerate only light frosts – kumquats and calamondins are the hardiest; lemons and limes are the least.  For sugary sweet grapefruits, oranges, and tangerines you need heat, lots and lots of heat. In cool-summer climates, give them full sun, plant against a hot south wall, or set them along a sunny patio that absorbs heat and reflects it back. All these tricks add to the sweetness of the fruits.  Consider citrus for hedges along the driveway or use smaller ones as foundation plantings, and make sure to have a few off your patio or bedroom window because the smell in the spring is unbelievable!

When I planted this navel orange, I made sure to put it in the warmest part of my yard. It benefits from the southern exposure, proximity to the house wall, and the extra warmth provided by the brick walk and gravel area. When a hard freeze is expected I put old-fashion large out-door Christmas lights in it and keep them lit all night to add extra heat.

Remember, your edible landscape also includes the no-man’s land between two houses or along a back alley. Ordinarily, this area is wasted. Citrus are perfect for that because they are shade-tolerant. A bonus for the trees is the extra heat from the street and house walls. The bonus for you is that the shade from their foliage cuts air conditioning bills.

 

This is actually my neighbor’s lemon tree that grows between our houses. It provides endless lemons and an amazing aroma to all our bedroom windows. Further down the path, toward the back of my house, my lime tree returns the favor, cascading limes into their yard.

Where do you start? First, decide. Do you want tangerines, mandarins, tangelos, grapefruits, lime leaf, limes, limequats, or lemons and oranges? Then, check your climate. What grows well in your area. If you have questions, there’s an amazing resource for you – Four Winds Growers. They’re a wholesale citrus nursery with a special place in their hearts for the home gardener. They’ve helped me when I’ve had questions, and they can help you, too. Their website will take you through the whole process from choosing from the many, many different varieties to how to plant, be it in the landscape or containers, how to grow them, and how to deal with any problems that may arise. They really want you to grow their citrus and succeed.

Tangelo and Kiwi Salad with Orange Blossoms

This citrus salad is lovely to look at and the flavors are both familiar, yet slightly different. Taste your citrus petals before adding them to the dressing. Expect some bitterness but if they are very harsh try blossoms from another tree. The point of adding a few citrus blossoms to the dressing is to infuse the tangelo juice with a lovely aroma and to deepen the citrus flavor.

6 medium tangelos, divided or 3 tangelos and a cup of bottled fresh tangerine juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

5 lemon, tangerine, or orange blossoms

1 teaspoon honey (optional)

2 kiwi fruit

Squeeze three of the tangelos and put the juice in a medium bowl. To the tangelo (or tangerine) juice add the lemon juice, and the petals of 3 of the orange blossoms. If the tangelos are not very sweet, add a tablespoon of honey. Peel and section the remaining 3 tangelos and peel and slice the kiwi fruit, add them to the juice mixture and stir to cover the fruit. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

To serve divide the fruit between 4 serving dishes. Pour the tangelo juice over fruit and garnish with orange blossom petals. Serves 4

June 9, 2012 - 5:16 am

KeriMae - 49 cents? Don’t I wish! I pay $1 a piece up here in the Pacific Northwest! Note to self: plant a lemon tree in my greenhouse :)

June 9, 2012 - 5:20 am

KeriMae - P.S. Your Four Winds link isn’t working

June 11, 2012 - 5:38 pm

Rosalind Creasy - Thanks for the heads up, it’s up and running now.
Ros Creasy

June 11, 2012 - 8:10 pm

Ali - Love the pictures!! I just bought your book! I am taking a landscaping plants course and we’ve studied ONE edible :-( someday when I have a house I plan on putting your book to good use :) interesting about the bad word lime tree. I just bought one of those this year. I’ll be changing the plant stake name tonight :)

June 12, 2012 - 9:02 pm

Rosalind Creasy - Hi Ali,
When i took design classes we studied just 2 edibles, sound like they are losing ground not gaining. :-) Glad you’re up to speed with the lime leaf rename.
Best, Ros Creasy