May 2020
One Bite at a Time By Christina Salwitz

Edibles are finding their way out of raised beds and into main parts of the landscape.

Plants with benefits are not hidden away in “the garden” behind the fence anymore; they’re front and center. Beautifully productive plants are prized more than ever, and selling them for their stylish qualities is also easier than ever before.

In previous years, you might recall me using the apt term “Ornamedibles” as an all-inclusive way to think about all plants with edible, practical and useful qualities, which is a helpful and holistic way to look at all the potential for useful plants that are not necessarily always in the fruits and veggies category.

Social Media Inspiration

Social media sites like Instagram, Pinterest and Houzz are providing record amounts of edible gardening ideas that seem to be accelerating by the day. Inspirational ideas that are out of the ordinary are popular, easy to sell and bountiful — to say the least.

edibles landscapePracticality is one element of this growing popularity, as Gen Z and millennials with young children are focused on the sustainability aspect of their gardening dollars (after houseplants and succulent purchases, of course). But equally evident are the concerns for pollinators all the way down to crafting elements from the garden such as all-natural, spa-style herbal bath products and beauty remedies.

Landscaping with Edibles

From plants as large and luscious as cardoon, whose dramatic and drought-tolerant foliage also provide a new sautéed vegetable experience (from the rib portion of the leaf) that might have once been available only to restaurants with four-star cuisine to herbal liquor infusions of flavors like lemon thyme gin, there’s a plethora of sales options and ways to excite the palate and taste for gardening like never before.

Why wouldn’t you encourage customers to use red lettuce as a gorgeous bedding plant alternative if they’re adventurous and want to use edibles in the landscape and not just in a raised bed out of view of the neighbors? Chives would be a fabulous flowering accompaniment — or even violas that could be “candied” for cupcake décor or added to salads.

Few of our customers ever see landscaping with edibles plants as an option. Their first comments when these ideas are discussed is often, “I had no idea you could plant THAT there!” To which I can’t help but reply, “They don’t know where they’re at.” Which often results in a chortle and, “Oh, yeah, that’s true, huh?” So why not help them truly think out of the box with your displays to show the true potential for combinations in the landscape and containers that help them springboard ideas of their own?

I have found over the years that far too many gorgeous blueberry shrubs are relegated to some corner of the nursery, where there’s no way anyone would “see” them in a new light. How about in a front and center display with other shrubs that take the similar growing conditions like azalea and pieris, for example? Then ask them to identify the shrub in that group that features an edible component plus stunning fall foliage and prepare for them to be shocked that they can design with both plants and get tons of berries, too!

Choosing Favorites

Say you ask the customer what their favorite colors are and they answer with purple and pink. “Aces! Have we got the pairing for you! How about purple tomatoes paired with pink Swiss chard growing underneath, AND we can add some incredible petunias and purple flowering basil?”

Pink chard, foliage color

If your customer has a passion for a re-seeding wildflower garden meadow for pollinators, how about a combo of borage and fennel? Or maybe they want a hanging or wall-mounted basket, but they’re intimidated about keeping petunias and other demanding flowering plants alive; how about a hanging basket of strawberries paired with rose lobelia for spring? Plus, neat fact, it tricks the robins, so they don’t see the berries! The options are endless if you think creatively!

Maybe your customer is obsessed with spicy foods and they love growing peppers. How about suggesting peppers for drying or roasting in fall for storage? Consider how you can offer elegant combinations in containers featuring hot chili peppers in ways they might never have considered before, like pairing them with pretty succulents that also love the heat.

Have Fun with It

At this point, the more wacky and creative the idea is, the better. Consumers want to have fun that they can show on their own Instagram. They want to experiment with the weird, wonderful and unusual or out-of-the-ordinary that the big box stores can’t offer.

My friends Lloyd and Candy Traven of Peace Tree Farm grow plants with expert skill and panache outside of Philadelphia and they are top-notch in promoting this category of plants. Under their organics section, you can find amazing edibles that you won’t see sold anywhere but independent garden centers. From a wide variety of basils

Christina Salwitz

Christina Salwitz, the Personal Garden Coach, is a container designer, public speaker, horticultural guidance counselor, service provider for The Garden Center Group and photojournalist based in Renton, Washington. She can be reached at [email protected]


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