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After reading this, you'll never view planting flowers or landscaping again the same way. You've been warned. (In a good way!)
When one thinks of edibles, landscaping isn't typically what comes to mind. But having free food right outside your door is a huge benefit no matter where you live.
In today's episode we dive into forgotten edible plants that also provide beautiful elements to your landscaping. No matter where you live, you'll be able to tuck edible plants into your existing landscape or add in brand new areas, ninja style.
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I am so excited to have a special guest with me on the Pioneering Today Podcast today, and her name is Angela England. She is the author of the new book, “Gardening Like A Ninja: a Guide to Sneaking Delicious Edibles into Your Landscape”, which I am thrilled about because having/growing your own food, any of you who have been listening for any amount of time know that’s something I’m super passionate about. But I know that a lot of people don’t have the acreage that I do and you’re not able to grow all of your own food. But most of us have some type of landscaping done, be it some pretty flower pots on your patio or a smaller yard. Most of us have landscaping to some degree where we live.
MKN: Welcome, Angela!
AE: Thank you! Thank you for having me, it’s really exciting to be here.
MKN: I’m just fascinated by this topic. If you are going to pick, say, your Top 3 edibles that you can put in your landscaping, what would your Top 3 be?
AE: Oh, I don’t know if I could choose just 3. The truth is there are so many amazing plants, that make really beautiful landscape plants and sometimes, it’s kind of unexpected. There are plants where they’re primarily used as ornamentals now but they were originally developed as edible plants.
For example Hostas, are one that’s staple in many shade gardens. In Japan, they were originally developed where there’s spring shoots, and the outside shoots where harvested each spring, and you can pick them like Asparagus, you can wrap them up in bacon, or, chop them up in a stir fry and then, you let the inside shoots first that your plant doesn’t die as these are perennials. And so, you’re able to just have a yearly harvest similar to Asparagus that they do well in a shade, as opposed to the sun. And that’s a really good example of plant that has kinda been corrupted for landscaping purposes, that was originally bred for its edible qualities.
MKN: I have no idea. I am like laughing because I have Hostas right now that are just coming up.
AE: It’s just about to bloom
MKN: Yeah! It’s in late March and so my gardening…some thing’s just coming up. You know the bulb plants, and the perennials are starting to come out. My rhubarbs’ just starting to peak out and grow. It’s not quite harvest time yet, and so I’ve got like, I think I have 4 sets of Hostas in front of our house, in the shady area and I had no idea that they were edibles. I’m so excited!!!
AE: I just add it with bacon and garlic and butter, kind of sautéed. They were really good, I would say, they are very Asparagus-like. It has textures, a little bit more like Spinach maybe…but it tastes just like Asparagus. So I have been told, that different varieties and colors have a little different flavor. So you might want to test taste the plant with your family and choose which one is the best. I wouldn’t recommend harvesting from first year plant and you know, you want your plants to be well established the first year because they are perennials. You want them to be strong and come back year after a year.
MKN: very similar to Asparagus, and rhubarb, as well then, as far as harvesting mine. Oh heavens, they’re like 10 years old.
AE: If you haven’t divided them then you should harvest them instead, that will be a lot little maintenance to take care, anyway.
MKN: I know I love that! They are due to be divided. So, if you are harvesting them then you don’t even have to deal with the whole dividing thing. I am so excited; I did not know that Hostas were edible. Awesome! For those that have, like here, I’m in the Pacific North West we have quite a lot of shade or wet areas. Check in little nooks, it’s actually quite hard to find plants that grow well in the shade so I’m just so excited that the Hosta, not only is it edible – that we can eat, but it grows in the shade, too! Awesome!
AE: one of the original designs that I’ve created for this book specifically was a park shade planter. You know a lot of homes have that kind of by-the-door garden area between the sidewalk and the house and you know, a lot of times what ends up happening is you just put a box shrub and you mow them down flat across the top and they’re just same-old, same-old…and there’s nothing special and unique about them at all.
I showed all the possibilities from a Camellia for shrubs, a Cornelian Cherry Tree, which can tolerate shade because it is, in the understory, related to the Dogwood family, and so it’s more of an understory small tree.
It will tolerate that park shade environment but still produce a fruit that you can harvest and make as jams, and wine out of it or jelly, whatever you like. I even had once, a Cornelian Cherry sauce that was poured over pink cakes, as a topping for pink cakes instead of strawberry jams. It needs a little bit more sugar for that, than maybe a jelly would take, but it was very good.
That’s kind of one of the designs I did — the problem of shade — very specifically because I know that’s something that a lot of homeowners struggle with and that it doesn’t matter really where your home is. You’re gonna have a shady side somewhere, there’s no reason not to make it beautiful and useful at the same time.
MKN: So you mentioned, which I am really excited about is the Cherry Tree, and I’m going to look into that. Some Cherries are in full sun, and I actually need to add something to our shade area, so I am learning so much from this already. I’m so excited. I got the Hostas. You mentioned one other, I think, it was a flower perhaps that goes in the shade area, that’s edible and I missed that.
AE: Yes, Camellia…and the other one in that design. When you get the chance to read the book, you’ll see this design. All of the designs have kind of a top down overview of where I placed the plants. Then, plant by plant is what’s make each one special, why I consider it kinda rock star in the edible landscaping arena, what its benefits are both as a landscape plant — what makes it beautiful and useful for curb appeal, — and also what makes it awesome as an edible-potential/edible for you.
One that does well in partly shade is the Elderberry shrub and there are recent developments that a native, wild Elderberry tends to be a little bit overgrown, very shrubby kind of nondescript green. The flowers are very beautiful and large; they don’t last very long and so it’s really exciting to me. One of the things that took the most research while I was doing this book was finding specific varieties of edible plants that really do add something very valuable to the landscape.
Proven Winners has developed in the Elderberry that is edible; still retains all its edible qualities but has burgundy foliage. So, it adds this great popup color. It contrast really well with the lime green, elongated Hostas, and at the same time you are not losing any of the edible qualities so it has a little bit more contained growth pattern — you’re not having them quite as heavily each year — so lower maintenance. That’s good! I’m all about lower maintenance. I have 5 beds and I want my gardening to be as simplistic as possible.
AE: You’re getting all the benefits of the Elderberry plants but with a variety of choosing one very strategically that is also very beautiful and add something very valuable to the landscape.
MKN: Ok, I’m so excited! Elderberry is one that I’d been wanting to put in because Elderberry is, as I’m sure many of you know but if not, then, you can learn something here. Even more fun here is, elderberry has medicinal purposes and a lot of people will make some syrups and tonics and what-not with that to keep in their natural medicine cabinet. It’s been one that I’d been wanting to put in but I just haven’t done it yet. But the burgundy foliage, I’m so excited. I have got to get my hands on a copy of your book because already we’re like, I don’t know, 7 minutes I think and oh, I want that one now!
AE: You will love that first design, and I really go through…one of the things that I wanted to avoid with was making people forced into a kind of cookie cutter copying the design that I created. So I show this space, and then I explained why that specific plant, and you kind of see the thought process and so it’s almost a landscaping clinic where you’re learning the elements of landscape design, as you are reading these designs.
You can take that and apply that to your own space. Your space probably won’t be the same dimensions as mine. But you’ll be able to say, “Oh, ok, I see what she did there”, “yeah, I can take this and I can do this one” and, “ Oh, I’m Zone this, and I can add this plant that she can’t grow and now she’ll be jealous of me”. “She might hate me later on at Instagram when I post my pictures”.
MKN: So awesome! We have a lot of listeners from all over, which I absolutely adore. Like I said, I’m in the Pacific North West, so, I’m Zone 8, and Angela you are Zone 7B?
AE: B, and I’m a much dryer 7B than you are in the Pacific Northwest A. I’m kinda in the middle of Oklahoma on South Eastern corner of Oklahoma, so, we are just out of the [feet of the] Ozarks, and it can be quite dry here. There are years where it’s very arid, very hot, and then, occasionally we get those blasts of cold, Arctic air that comes down and wipes out all of our Zone B plants.
MKN: Oh no!
AE: we try! We try really hard here to out here to stretch our zone as much as possible because our summer’s so hot and then you know every 5-10 years we get that one winter that wipes it out. We really plant with hopes though.
MKN: AMEN! That truly, that is gardening. Be it just your regular vegetable garden, or you put perennials or fruit or like this, even edibles in your landscaping. Gardening is such an adventure of both faith and hope, all rolled into one, it really is.
AE: very much so…I agree! And I love kind of pushing the boundaries and fighting those microclimates in your garden, and I talked about that a little bit in the book where you can stretch your zone number a little bit more than what you can typically should be able to do. I love it. There’s a little bit of art into it that makes that really exciting to me.
MKN: We actually, here in the Pacific North West, last summer had the longest and hottest drought in the recorded weather history where I lived, and so, it was very interesting for me because that was something I have never had to deal before in the garden. It was complete opposite of what we normally do. This is great, too, for those who are wanting, that are in the really dry and hotter climates and zones. What are some good edibles that also look good in our landscaping, cause in the summertime when it gets really hot, some of my landscaping kinda goes away…some good plants that we can add in if you’re really hot and dry?
AE: ok, I do want to say that the book covers all kinds of zones, so the plants I talked about especially in the plant encyclopedia section, which is in the 3rd section of the book.
You will find plants for everywhere, from California to Minnesota, so doesn’t really matter what your climate is, there’s going to be a plant that can be applied to you. You’ll be able to adapt any of the designs that I created for my home, and to swap out the plants and substitute what’s necessary for you own home.
If you’re dealing with the situation, where you have, perhaps a drought or dry, arid area I really like…some of the herbs tend to do really well and I’m a huge fan of lavender and thyme. They work really well together.
There are new shrub roses by David Austin that he’s developed that are really very low maintenance, very hardy roses. They will bloom over a prolonged period of time and because they are hybrids from older rose stocks; there are separate varieties, I listed them down in the book the varieties that are specifically good for producing roses.
You can have the benefits of these new landscaping roses, you see that’s bloomed for long periods of time, they tolerate the heat really well, they’re very low maintenance. You don’t have to spray them, so if you are gardening organically like I am, you don’t have to worry about diseases wiping out your roses because you are not spraying them with chemicals every other week. So, you have that benefit of that type of rose without losing the old-world rose hips that many of the heirloom varieties would produce that has been bred out of many of the newer varieties.
AE: In the book I don’t just say all roses are good for edible landscape as to THESE roses. These are the ones that will still produce rose hips, these are the ones that maybe have a unique foliage pattern, a unique color bloom, or rosary, dwarf size, so, you can plant them in hot areas. One of the things I try to do is save people of all of that kind of trial and error by actually writing many of the plant companies that I can locate (this is what I’m doing) I want to include roses because everyone knows rose hips are of valuable, edible fruit that you can produce in your garden and look amazing in the landscape.
I want to make sure that I’m listing varieties that do have good rose hip production. So, they would come back to me and say, these are the ones, these are the best ones from our entire catalog of a hundred roses…these are the five that have the best rose hip production. I could narrow down options for people. You are really trying to make this edible landscape work and maximize every potential space that they have. If you want a rose, they’re great, make it a rose that can benefit, you don’t know.
MKN: I’m actually gonna jump in because I only recently learned, maybe a couple of years ago that rose hips, you could actually do things with rose hips. I’m a little bit late to some of these because where I lived, growing up my mom didn’t do herbal treatments and that kind of a thing so I’m learning this more as an adult on my own and so for those who are like me or you know, like, “you can eat or do these things with rose hips!?” So, as far as harvesting with the rose hips go, can you briefly give us just an overview on how you would harvest rose hips and some of the more simpler preparation on how they’re edible, and what you do to make them edible or how you prepare them?
AE: I haven’t used them medicinally yet but my understanding is they’re very high in Vitamin C and so a lot of people will use them in a Winter tea, or will add them to their tea blends during the Winter when you can’t have many fresh greens and fruits and veggies from your garden that harvest those elements down. They will use the tea as a way to add that boost of Vitamin C, extra energy during the Winter. And, I cheat, ok! Because I, too, am still learning much of these from scratch. There’s a reason why my website is called The Untrained Housewife
AE: I grew up in California, so, we went to the corner store. I can ride down my bike and get what I needed. So, I am learning much of this from my mother-in-law. I harvest my rose hips when they turn into that color that they look good. I just pluck them off, and bring them to the ranch. Then, I help my mother-in-law wash the jars and make rose hips jam.
MKN: so you mean, you can make jams out of it?!
AE: even jelly out of it. Really pretty, crystalline…really pretty jelly. It’s not as thick as a grape jelly or blueberry. It has a more translucent color to it. It’s very pretty. It has a soft, delicate flavor so we use it with like short bread and tea biscuits and kind of lighter dishes. You don’t get a lot so it’s kind of a special occasion jam that she and I like more than the boys do. But, I totally cheat! I find somebody who totally knows what they’re doing more than me, and I do hang-out there.
MKN: Yes, all the time. Yes, that is fabulous! Oh, awesome! That is so funny because I do have some roses in our garden and I got a few rose hips on them, so, I’m totally going to be harvesting all those rose hips this year coz I have to confess, I haven’t harvested them in the past because I’m really wasn’t sure exactly what to do with them. I put that on my to-do-list. I’m so excited that you fill that in for me. So now, I’m gonna be totally out there, making sure those little roses are well taken cared of.
AE: Once those hardy roses are well established, they can be surprisingly drought tolerant. It surprised me when we have this massive drought here a couple of years ago. We had like over 60 days of triple the year weather.
MKN: Oooh…not good.
AE: My roses came through it. I lost a Redbud tree but my roses came through it ok. You know, I had a little bit of dieback, but you just cut off those old branches, you prune them early; that came out in early Winter or early Spring when you see which ones had died, and which ones are still alive. You just trim out the dead wood. They came back better than ever. I was surprised.
I think some of the newer varieties have been bred for hardiness, and tolerance, and low-maintenance. People tend to think of roses as being very preppy but I like the newer varieties better, low-maintenance…like I said the ones that were based on some of the heirloom varieties in their ancestry still produced amazing rose hips and very fragrant. So that, just an added bonus to me.
One of the designs that I have is the fruit and herb corner. It’s kind of a backyard corner with three fruit trees and the herbs around and roses; pink on one side and raspberries and blackberries on the other side of the yard. I like incorporating the roses; the new roses with lavender and thyme as ground covered. It’s a gorgeous kind of cottage garden feel combination that is just so pretty. Even with our hot, hot weather out here it will just work.
MKN: I’m really excited because I love….I am very passionate about heirloom seeds. I thought, you know, heirloom gardening is one of my passions and you know, I go a lot into in our entire garden…vegetable garden and everything. It’s all heirloom. We seed saved and that. I love…I love it like you’re talking about some of those older roses that they’ve bred them from those base of the heirloom ones so you kind of get the best of both worlds. I love the vintage…I love vintagey plants. I love discovering lost…like lost things. So with the Hostas, I was like, oh my goodness, I didn’t even know that so I love discovering and bringing to life myself, not just myself but you know for other people as well. These little nuggets of things is so easily lost. I’m so excited that we could talk about this and bring this up. Yeah, I’m learning things that I didn’t know.
AE: and some of them are amazing plants that are completely gorgeous and one of them that comes to mind is a Pole Bean, maybe because it’s a foreign, it’s an Italian name but it’s an heirloom variety that you wouldn’t necessary find in a grocery store. It has a beautiful purple pods and the veins of the plant and the stems of the plant are kind of burgundy.
And so, if you have that for vertical accents maybe combine it with Nasturtiums. I used to have this gorgeous combination of like cream or yellow or orange Nasturtiums with this burgundy or dark green bean plant. You could pick any bean on a tower and its gonna look ok. But if you put something that has gorgeous heart-shaped leaves and this beautiful burgundy stems that contrasts with what you’re doing, then that just adds like oooh or just that little extra kind of sparkle to the landscape. Anytime you see a contrast like that, it’s beautiful. It’s an heirloom variety that I got through my research with Baker Creek Seeds (a big shout to them). They gave me some great ideas of, you know, varieties that are a hundreds of years old that still has an incredible value in today’s modern landscape.
MKN: I’m so excited about that. Because we have…which is why I love an heirloom…I do, I love mixing what you wouldn’t necessarily think. How many times have you thought of actually using a pole bean in part of your landscape? I mean, that’s not something that you normally would see in a potted plant or on the trellis as part of a landscaping but like you said, if you are using a variety and that’s where the beauty of the heirloom is, because there’s so much different variety that you get in color and flavor and just so much compared to what we are used to seeing on the grocery store shelves. With the high breeds, we always count on an October Bean because in October when we typically harvest them, it’s a shelly bean and the bean pod — it has like the burgundy streaks through it and turns white but the stems and the leaves are just green. And then the harvested bean inside is actually very pretty, too. It is white with the burgundy streaks on it. I’m betting that they’re probably close relatives but that one that you’re talking about because it has that burgundy stems as well.
AE: Yeah, and it’s just a unique thing…you can find an ample garden in the book uses it. It’s kind of a New England garden, and her front yard was the only sunny space that she had. So she transformed her yard from this kind of sloping, ugly grass. It was terrible grass. Of course, it’s a New England house, very cottage-style home, very beautiful New England home, much different climate than mine. You see the before picture in the book and then, you see the after picture and she’s got this really cool, symmetrical shaped span of plants that she has on one side versus the other side.
On the pathway you’ll see the two dimensions and then growing up the trellis is this beautiful pole bean and it really is just lovely, lovely! Like you said, there are seasons where starting plants kind of fail, maybe they’re cool season annuals or cool season perennials. So, they bloom in the spring and they just die off in the summer. You can take a potted plant with this pole beans that you’ve started in the spring somewhere else and bring that in to your front yard or in to your accent place. Put it where your other plants had started to die out and all of a sudden now your landscape is just perk back up.
AE: I love planting in containers because you can bring plants in seasonally as you need to add this accent of color wherever you want it and really elevate those plants to eye-level which just creates that much more interest.
MKN: Like you mentioned to the nasturtiums with the pole beans and nasturtiums were actually, when I was little, it was one of the few edible plants, besides our vegetable garden because I grew up, (we grew up) with a really large vegetable garden and all that. But as far as flower beds, my mom, every summer, I would have my little, tiny flower garden in the yard and I can plant in it like essentially what I ever wanted she would let me plant in it. And I always did nasturtiums and I always with great delight when a neighborhood kid comes over and I’ll be like, “you can eat this one” and they’ll be like –“no”, — “yeah”, and you know, I would go, of course, — “watch this!”
AE: Great job.
MKN: yeah that was our drama back then but the nasturtiums are great because they’re just inexpensive, you can plant them by seed. They’re not fussy. You can kind of grow them anywhere. You can grow them in the ground, or in plants. I’m really glad that you mentioned nasturtiums because nasturtiums are really one of my favorites. Probably, because I learned in the early age that they were edible.
AE: They are really awesome and they are available in such a wide variety of colors. It’s great if you need a splash of colors somewhere, or hang them in hanging basket, or put in trellis or scatter them around other plants and let them ramble like a ground cover. It’s just really, really fun. They’re fun plants. You can tuck them into any kind of space.
MKN: I kinda like them because they have an almost a little bit of a peppery flavor to them so when you’re adding them to salads or something they give it – it’s not like a green, I mean, I love greens and all that but it adds a flavor element to the dish, as well.
AE: Yes! I have a friend who eats hers in her sandwiches. She just uses them instead of like mustard. That’s a nasturtium in her sandwich. She’s got meat, and her cheese, and her lettuce, and then nasturtiums.
AE: But the first part is the basics of gardening, and then the basics of landscape design — color, height, dimension, texture – all of those kinds of elements that a landscape designer will consider when they’re planning a space. And then, part two is my original designs that I did. It’s kind of a walk around the house, so, all of the different spaces and challenges that somebody might encounter, I try to accommodate there with 7 original designs.
Then there are watercolor illustrations for each design, so you see not just my sketches but then, also these beautiful, inspirational illustrations that are amazing that Wendy did.
Part three, probably, like ultimately, the reference piece that people will refer back to next year, next year, next year because that’s where I had my research and you know how to grow, talks about the plant, its hardiness zone, its classification and how to grow it and then the varieties, the recommended varieties for each one and there’s like so many plans there. I forgot the exact number but I think it’s over 80 plants that I profiled in that section.
To learn more about Angela's book, Gardening Like a Ninja: A Guide to Sneaking Delicious Edibles into Your Landscaping and e-course and book bundle go here.
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.