Edible landscaping is a great way to look at plants in a new light, learn about the nutritional value of ornamentals, and give those lawn weeds a second chance. Of course, growing plants for food is the most basic of gardening conventions — but maybe looking at the practice in a different light might spark a few ideas for the future.
Fruit trees, berry bushes and seasonal vegetables are the most commonly planted edibles. But what if everything we planted in our landscape, garden or courtyard was edible? What if we planted fruiting cherries instead of ornamental cherries? Or what if we better recognized how existing or native plants could fuel and heal our bodies?
Jason Breslin of KW Edible Landscaping Nursery is passionate about teaching others how to incorporate more edible plants into their home gardens, landscapes and lifestyles. In 2013, Breslin and his wife, Emma, started KW Homestead in Stokes County where they raise ducks, heritage turkeys, pigs and chickens.
Breslin offers many services through the edible landscaping facet of KW. He propagates and grows a wide selection of edible plants and offers installation and consultation services to best suit his client needs.
“We do a lot of walk-through consultations,” Breslin said. “We see what is feasible and would line up someone’s time and financial budgets with their sight and their goals.”
KW offers traditional and non-traditional fruit trees, berries and vines. They also specialize in unusual edibles such as huckleberry, goumi, wintergreen and blood sorrel.
Breslin explained that a person interested in incorporating more edibles can go as big or small as they desire. He also stressed that it’s not the size of the garden or plot of land that matters — it’s how the gardener wants to interact with the edible plants within the space. He tries to focus on which plants would best benefit the client.
Sayonara Herrera and Maro Barajas are clients of KW and have worked with Breslin for several years. The front and back yards of their Greensboro home are filled with edible plants, all of which greatly benefit their family. Their landscape is also a great example of how knowledge of edible plants can benefit a household lifestyle.
Barajas gives credit to Herrera for most of the plantings, as she is very interested in medicinal plants and sustainability. Herrera has taken classes in herbalism and strives to teach their children what is edible and what is available to forage outside their front door. She has focused more on herbs this year than vegetables, and is working on making natural medicines.
(People who forage should always be certain of their plant identification before eating any foraged food, and should avoid any areas, including roadsides, where pesticides or other contaminants may be present. Good resources for foraging safety and plant identification are local extension offices and the N.C. State University plant database at https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/find_a_plant.)
Fruiting cherry trees, peach trees and elderberry are planted along the front curb of their home, where they are able to capture the most sunlight.
Along the driveway, blueberry and aronia bushes grow in alternating mounds. A large swath of holy basil sits at the top of this line, which had already succumbed to cold weather on the day of my visit.
Also known as tulsi, this tender herb is a reliable re-seeder, and will return next spring.
“I use tulsi in teas, I make infusions,” Herrera said. “I cut some back, I harvested some and I freeze some. It tastes really different when it’s fresh versus dry. I do dry a lot of my herbs and we’ll use it throughout the winter. (Tulsi) is an adaptogen, so it helps your body adapt with the stresses of everyday life.”
Barajas and Herrera have two daughters — Isabell is 6 and Annabella is 8. Both girls regularly forage snacks from the landscape plants and the lawn. Isabell chewed on freshly picked wild onions as she told me that she also eats mint, chickweed and violets from the lawn.
“I’m trying to teach the girls so that they recognize the different herbs,” Herrera said. “I’ve told them you have to recognize a smell and feel. And if you’re 100% sure you know what that is, then you can consume it. Because we don’t eat anything that we don’t know, and of course we don’t eat anything that’s outside of where we know it’s safe.
“Children have an ability to see the differences in the shapes of leaves. If they smell something, right away they get it. I really want them to learn that not everything comes from a supermarket. Nature provides for you and they know that. That makes me really happy.”
Breslin pointed out that many native ornamental landscape shrubs can double as edible plants. For example, yaupon holly (ilex vomitoria) is a landscape shrub often used as a hedge. Dwarf cultivars have made yaupon holly a staple in commercial nursery production. Yaupon berries contain a lot of caffeine, and can be used in teas.
Aronia melancarpa is another common, native landscape ornamental. Also known as chokeberry, aronia’s nutritious fruit can be used to make jam, jelly, tea and wine. Aronia berries are not palatable fresh, though.
“Aronia blow blueberries out of the water as far as antioxidants,” Breslin said. “They are one of the highest plants in antioxidants. It’s another native and awesome for butterflies. It’s extremely astringent and horrible to eat fresh, so it needs to be with teas or juices blended up.”
Breslin also mentioned such plants as hostas and milkweed. When hostas first emerge in spring, the tightly curled leaves can be eaten fresh. Young shoots and seed pods of common milkweed are also edible.Breslin embraces the concept that an edible landscape includes not only plants, but also animals and sustainable composting practices. Having backyard chickens can go a long way to making a backyard ecosystem thrive.
“I include chickens, livestock, worms into the whole edible idea,” Breslin said. “If you look at what a chicken gives you everyday or almost everyday — nutritionally, it’s hard to beat that. The manure helps close the fertilizer gap.”
In our fast-paced world of convenience and food waste, take a moment to consider how incorporating more edibles into your landscape could benefit your family, your lifestyle and your community.
You may be surprised at what an impact that could make.