Three Ways to Eat Your Yard and Impress Your Neighbors

Nina Zinn

We all know the joy of eating fruit from a local farmer’s harvest, or even vegetables from our very own gardens… but let’s take it even further this fall by incorporating edible trees and shrubs into new or existing landscape designs!  After all, shouldn’t our “green” way of living extend to the very plot of land that we call home?

This area of the world is fortunate to have a large variety of native plant species, and many are both aesthetically pleasing and delicious to eat! Edible landscaping can be a fun and challenging project to take on, but don’t forget that there are professionals in our area that can help.  Whether you just need some direction to start your research, or a complete, custom-tailored landscape design for your space, they are often a good resource.

Let’s take for example the Juneberry or Serviceberry. This small ornamental tree or multi-stem shrub is native to the Americas, and is known for its beautiful form.  Cultivars can range from dwarf varieties that top out around four feet, to majestic trees that reach upwards of thirty feet.   Early spring brings showy white flowers to adorn the Serviceberry’s branches, but the real treat comes in the following months.  Beautiful burgundy or red-colored berries replace the delicate white flowers, and are similar to blueberries in their size, incredible nutrition, and flavor.  While some Serviceberries will need an extra growing season before they will produce their coveted harvest of berries, it is well worth the wait.  And just as hints of fall begin to appear, the Serviceberry shows its last amazing show: intense green foliage fades to gold, orange, and even pinkish hues before dusting the ground.  And don’t worry, that seemingly unusable area of your yard that receive only partial sunlight or tends to have wetter soils is no trouble for the native Serviceberry.  As soon as this incredible native plant gets established in your landscape, your biggest worries will be how best to enjoy those delicious little berries.  Fresh from the tree as you return from your evening walk?  Or maybe an afternoon with a special friend, trying your hands at preserves, jam, or pie?  One thing is sure:  even your toughest critics will be impressed with a fresh-mixed cocktail using Juneberries grown in your own unforgettable landscape.

redbud buds

Do you have a small landscape bed that needs a sculptural element or focal point, but you don’t want it to block your view from the house? Traditional landscape designers might use a weeping Lace Leaf Japanese maple, which many neighbors already have, what about instead using a native with edible flowers and seed pods?!  You may have heard of the Weeping Eastern Redbud, but your dinner guests will be delighted to learn that the salad with fresh lavender flower buds and the entrée with sautéed seed pods actually came from your front yard!  This small deciduous tree is native to the eastern portion of the United States, and its purple-pink flowers emerge in the early spring, before its heart-shaped leaves develop.  The blooms are unforgettable, and may even grow on the trunk of the tree!  The weeping Redbuds are grafted to a standard Redbud trunk at about five feet in height, and can sometimes reach six feet across.  The mid-summer leaves can range from a medium green color to a deep burgundy depending on the variety, but generally transition to a yellow fall color, adding to the esthetically pleasing characteristics of this small ornamental tree.

ImageNow let’s explore a much larger tree, the American Persimmon.  This tree grows to a much larger size than the ones previously mentioned, so planning is crucial.  You will need more than sixty feet of height clearance and allow thirty feet for its width, but soil conditions are normally not a concern.  The American Persimmon has a much slower growth rate and a much longer lifespan, so it will take some years to develop and fruit.  For the most productive fruit production, plant this tree in full sun. Although you may have success with partial shade, just be aware that the harvest may be small.  The beauty of this native and edible landscape tree is not only the abundant shade it will provide with its dark green leaves but also the vibrant yellow to reddish and then purple fall color.  The fruit ripens throughout the late summer and fall, and adds plum-sized, orange clusters to the tree’s already colorful foliage.  Revel in the deliciously sweet flavor of your fresh persimmons, since the delicate skin bruises easily and isn’t suitable for keeping and traveling, much less your neighborhood grocery store!  Of course, you can always bring your baking to the next level with this little-known fruit, or even try your hand at brewing your very own mead, just to name a few ideas.  Or come up with your own creative ways to savor the incredible flavor long past the harvest season!  However you decide to enjoy the sweet fruit, you will be delighted that you chose this regal focal point to anchor your landscape.

I have only listed a few of the many native and edible varieties that we can grow right here in Western North Carolina, but I hope you now share my excitement about the myriad of ways you can start eating and enjoying your landscape! I hope you are as inspired as I am to start planting or planning an edible landscape this fall!

Nina Zinn – Development & Outreach Coordinator for WNC Green Building Council & Owner of Urban Backyard Edibles. Photos courtesy of: www.trophytrees.com, Nina D. Zinn, & Species ResearchJHS