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Plants for Your Edible Landscape

Incorporating certain edible plants into your garden is an easy way to enjoy the benefits of their beauty, harvestability, and health benefits. I selected some of the best for their use in the kitchen as well their attractive addition to a garden.

One of the most all-around must-have native plants is the blueberry. Considered a super food, blueberries are rich in phytochemicals. Some of their health benefits include reducing blood pressure, boosting the immune system, and possible anti-carcinogenic properties. As a garden plant, the blueberry bush has year-round beauty with small white flowers which are much like the lily-of-the-valley and are followed by the gorgeous indigo blue fruit. The birds might get to them before you do, so it is a good idea to place netting over the plants. Their autumn color is an amazing blend of yellow, orange, red to purple leaves. Your blueberry shrub will grow approximately 5’ to 7’ and prefers a well-drained, acidic, loamy soil.

There are many types of blueberry bushes to choose from. Two of my favorites are the Duke (Vaccinium corymbosum `Duke’) and `Emerald’ blueberry. Duke is high-yielding, hardy, and has quality fruit. Interestingly, it was developed by the USDA in Beltsville, Maryland. Emerald blueberry is a prolific producer with large fruit and a mild sweet flavor.

If you have not yet discovered the health benefits and flavors of the elderberry you are missing out! Our American black elderberry (Sambucuscanadensis) is native to North America and often grows along roadways, in fields and meadows. The plant is multi-stemmed, wide-spreading, and grows 10’ to 12’ tall. The flowers are edible and a great addition to fritters, cordials, syrups, and teas, as well as being a source of nectar for insect pollinators. Elderberries are thought to boost the immune system and can relieve flu-like symptoms. The berries are not eaten raw so cook them to make a delicious tea, pies, syrups, or eat them mixed with other berries. Elderberries are versatile and, if not harvested, will be enjoyed by birds. Often the European elder (Sambucus nigra) can be found in health products which are used for colds, flu, and immune function. `Adams’ is a good selection of American elderberry as it has large flowers and berry clusters. `Johns’ is a larger shrub with very large berries but overall yield will be less than Adams.

Figs grow well in Glen Echo. A new selection named Fignominal (Ficus carica `Fignominal’) is now available. It is a relatively small plant but is highly productive. It produces sweet, deep brown fruit over a long period of time. It needs to grow in full sun and will do well when grown in a container. Since Fignominal is a relatively new introduction, it will probably only be available online.

There are two non-woody plants that I feel a need to include in your edible landscape. The first is Florence fennel, also called finocchio (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum). Please note the following important distinction as there are two kinds of fennel: one is the sweet fennel herb that is grown for it’s delicious anise flavored leaves and seeds and the second is a bulbous fennel and is grown as a vegetable. The first is grown as an annual, grows to 2-3 feet tall, and has a gorgeous textural, feathery foliage that makes it quite striking in the garden. On the other hand, the bulb variety is eaten fresh or cooked. I prefer to thinly slice the bulb for addition to salads. Butterflies love fennel and deer don’t like it.

Swiss chard is a stunning plant in the garden because of their colorful stems and bold leaves. Perpetual Spinach, a variety of Swiss Chard is well- worth growing. Sow seeds in early spring and the plant will continually make tasty green leaves throughout the summer. Since it is a biennial, the plants will go to seed the second year. Young leaves are eaten fresh, older leaves can be blanched. Chard is great for green shakes, salads and more!

You don’t need to have a vegetable garden in order to grow many edible plants. Do consider incorporating them into your existing space this spring for their multiple benefits.

One of the nurseries where I often buy plants for the edible landscape is:

Edible Landscaping, 361 Spirit Ridge Lane, Afton, VA 22920 Questions or Orders: (434)361-9134

A great source for seeds:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

2278 Baker Creek Road

Mansfield , MO 65704


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