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  • Writer's pictureGabrielle Stannus

Hey good looking! What you got cooking?

Would you like to create a garden that looks and tastes good? Read on for some tips to inspire your productive patch, whether you're starting from scratch or looking to plug a garden gap.

Before I launch into this topic, you may be asking why we have been so quiet on this forum recently. Over the past year, my attention was somewhat but not totally diverted from landscape design, as I took up a temporary gig writing for the horticultural industry whilst continuing to teach geography at the University of Tasmania. In the last few months, I have been focussing back in on our 'core business' so to speak. We have a few new projects to share with you, so be prepared as both myself and Ludovic get the writing juices flowing again.

Recently, I had the pleasure of being asked to present to the Launceston School for Seniors 'Garden Inspirations' class. I decided to speak to this group of horticultural enthusiasts on a topic very close to my heart as I search for meaning in what I do as a designer: Edible gardens that look good too.

A woman's home is her castle?!

I was inspired in part to think differently about how to incorporate edible plants into our landscape designs after my first trip to France in 2017 when we visited the Château de Villandry. Located 15 kilometres to the west of Tours, Villandry is a Renaissance estate and castle best known for its beautiful formal gardens made up of endless geometric parterres edged in carefully manicured and clipped boxwood.

When we visited in 2017, there was a stunning display of edible plants in this parterre garden that took my breath away! The summer crop (French: Culture d'été) was both beautiful and edible. This is when I first really starting thinking about how to design gardens that look and taste good. My interest in this space had been piqued a couple of years earlier after discovering ornamental brassicas. However, I realised that those plants are not exactly cultivated for their palatibility, so how could I do better? Well, differently is the word I prefer to use.

A parterre garden filled with colourful summer vegetables in the gardens of a French chateau
Culture d'été: The summer crop at Château de Villandry in 2017

This is an area that I am becoming more and more passionate about and is influencing our more recent garden and landscape designs. I would like to share with you some suggestions of what plants you could use in this way in your garden, right here in Tasmania. This is not a definitive list, but one to get you thinking about what you could add to your garden to make it look good and to give you food. The plants suggested below are all generally available in this state, although not necessarily at all times of the years. For example, if you want to purchase a deciduous fruiting tree, it is usually more economical to buy them as bare-rooted stock to plant at the start of spring.

Tree-t yourself!

A white-flowering crab apple tree
Malus floribunda (Image: Kenraiz Krzysztof Ziarnek via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

We are currently putting together a planting plan for the first stage of a residential garden we designed in Deloraine for a textile artist. Sylvia loves pink and crab apples, but wasn't necessarily thinking about a productive garden originally. However, we have found a great little spot to plant the highly ornamental, yet totally edible, Pink Crab Apple (Malus ionensis 'Rubra') and a White Crab Apple (Malus floribunda) in her rear garden, which she can view from her kitchen window.

Other trees that look good and provide food include almonds, cherries, lemons, olives and plums. Of course, they each have very different environmental tolerances, so do your research to make sure they suit your garden.

You may think that your garden is not sunny or large enough for a tree. However, there are so many different plants available these days, including dwarf and grafted fruiting varieties, that you are bound to find something that suits your personal circumstances. Talk with your local nursery to find something that can suit the space and microclimate/s in your garden. These experts will provide advice to ensure that you get the most out of these plants. For example, they will let you know whether the tree you want to plant is dioecious (has separate male and female plants) so that you make sure you have one of each for pollination to occur. And therefore fruit to come!

Hedge your bets

'Neighbours be-gone' is a famous catch cry associated with a nursery promoting hedging plants on the mainland some years ago now. Hedges can act as both a screen and a windbreak, providing your garden with privacy and shelter. Did you know they can provide you with food too?

Feijoa (Acca sellowiana), Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis), and Hazelnut (Corylus avellana) can all be planted for their hedging properties. How formal or dense you want your hedge is really up to you and comes down to spacing. Generally speaking, plant feijoas as far apart as you want your hedge to grow wide. Hazelnuts need a little more room, so 2-3 metre spacing ideal for hedging. Be mindful though that hazelnuts are decidious, so if you want privacy screening or wind protection all year round, choose something else, i.e. an evergreen hedging species.

A feijoa hedge lines a path in a garden at Heronswood House
Feijoa hedge at Heronswood House and gardens (Image: Gavin Anderson via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

Growing up!

Pergolas are great for framing a space and providing shade for outdoor entertaining during the summer months. Grapes make the perfect edible plant to grace these structures. There are many table grapes available in Tasmania to retail customers, including 'Perlette Seedless' and 'Vanessa Seedless'. We all know the fruit is edible fresh or dried, but did you know you can also use vine leaves in your cooking? I love dolmades, a traditional Greek dish in which vine leaves are stuffed with rice, meat, herbs and/or various other fillings (although I forgo the carnivorous variety).

A wooden pergola covered in grape vine leaves
Pergola and grapes (Image: jbolles via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

Kiwifruit (Actinidia deliciosa) are another great choice for pergolas. These plants can get quite heavy so choose and construct a supporting structure very carefully so that it can bear this plant's load. Think also about the location of these plants in your garden, as kiwifruit require shelter from the elements, especially strong winds. Being dioecious plants, you will need to ensure that you get at least one male plant to help pollinate your female plants. Once again, I highly recommend you to speak with the experts at your local nursery before purchasing any plants.

If you want to try your hand at something a little different, have a go at growing Billardiera longiflora (Purple Appleberry or Climbing Blueberry) or Rubus parvifolius (Native Raspberry). Note though that these are native species and have not necessarily been cultivated for form, so they are probably more aptly described as scramblers rather than climbers. I wouldn't recommend them if you want to cover a pergola. However, you may want to grow them in the right spot along your fence or similar. Yes, they have edible fruit!

Go native

There are many other Tasmanian native plants that taste great and look good too. This is evident in at 'Murnong' in Wynyard, on Tasmania's north coast. Rees Campbell and her partner Col's garden is designed to show how easy it is to grow native plants in a suburban setting, and to get a feed from them too.

After visiting Murnong, I was inspired to put pen to paper (sounds more poetic than fingers to keyboard, but I think you know what I mean!) So, if this topic interests you, check out my blog: Tasmanian plants to tickle your tastebuds. Alternatively, go direct to the expert and source yourself a copy of Rees' book Eat MORE Wild Tasmanian for some native gardening inspiration.

A sunny afternoon in a suburban garden filled with edible native plants through which a raised boardwalk meanders.
Murnong: A suburban garden in Wynyard filled with native plant inspiration

On an aside, if you are after something a little more in tune with 'Neptune's garden', Rees recently released a new book The Seaweed Supplement to Eat MORE Wild Tasmanian. Do yourself a favour and check out this guide on the who, what and how of edible seaweeds cast on Tasmanian beaches. Find out more on Rees' Feisty Tasmanian Facebook page.

Last but not least

Edible flowers are right on trend, and there is good reason why. What's not to love about a little flourish on the plate when it comes to serving food up to your family and friends? Life's here to be enjoyed! There are so many plants with edible flowers that I won't pretend to know them all - who could? The world is a big place. Some popular varieties here in Tasmania include Sunflower, Borage, Calendula, Chives, Pineapple Sage, Rose, Viola and Nasturtium.

As much as I love Nasturtiums for their edible flowers (and leaves!), I am mindful that this plant is naturalised in some places across mainland south-eastern Australia. As our climate changes, I would heed caution if intending to plant it in or nearby environmentally sensitive landscapes here on the Apple Isle.

If you are going to choose a plant for its edible flowers, I would highly recommend that it also brings other properties to the kitchen table too. For example, the dried flowers of English Lavender (Lavender angustifolia) are edible, and according to The Gardener's Companion to Medicinal Plants can be used "to make a refreshing tea to ease digestive disturbances and headaches of nervous origin" (Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, 2016, p.112). I have recently recommended this plant's inclusion in a client's front garden for its medicinal properties, and also because it is edible and highly ornamental, the latter making it perfect for a Mediterranean-style cottage garden feel. You can see this garden indicated in the concept plan below in an area I somewhat cheekily called 'Herbaceous Heaven' (Number 19).

In this concept plan, note also the dense Bay Laurel hedge, next to a Feijoa Hedge interspersed with Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium). You may also see a Hazelnut Hedge placed on the inside of those two hedges, so that it is protected from strong westerly winds at this site. This hedge will hopefully provide some shade from the harsh westerly sun to the adjacent garden beds during summer's hottest months. Anyway, more on this garden in due course ...

Landscape concept plan showing a design for a productive garden on a rural property.
Concept plan: For a productive garden featuring edible hedges and much more!

Wrapping up

Well that is about it for me now! I could say a lot more about this topic, but have learnt recently to pace myself so that I stay the proverbial distance. You may just get another blog out of me soon :)

Humans are heterotrophs and unable to produce their energy. So we have to eat (and most of us love to eat!), and much of what we eat is plant-based. Well, if you think about it, everything we eat is plant-based either directly or indirectly. If you choose to eat meat, you are essentially consuming the sun's energy as it has been converted by plants which those animals have then eaten in turn.

We have to eat and plants form an essential part of our diet. So why not have a garden that feeds you but also pleases the eye too?

If you have any questions about this topic, please do contact us. We would love to hear what you have been doing in your garden. Which plants would you add to this list?

A bientôt! (Hopefully a lot sooner than the last time)

1 comment

1 Comment

Oct 01, 2023

Spot on Gabby. There are so many beautiful plants that are also edible... or edible plants that are also beautiful. Maximise the space by growing productive species... and they're usually excellent habitat plants for our insects and birds too😊

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