Designing with edibles

22 August 2016

Designing with edibles

That edible plants can be a beautiful addition to our gardens is no revelation.  Renewed interest in ‘growing your own’ means many gardens now have some edible element, but traditionally we consign herbs to beds, fruit trees to orchards, vegetables to patches.  It’s all very static. How to incorporate these plants in a way that is dynamic and uncontrived is a harder task altogether.

One way is by seeking out more unusual plant varieties, such as borage (Borago officinalis), predominantly a herb but with edible flowers, and leaves substantial enough to be salad-worthy.  It also happens to be beautiful, with gracefully blue star-shaped flowers and downy buds.  It works well in wide, soft, perennial borders, perhaps paired with the bright yellow umbels of the dill plant (Anethum graveolens).  Edibles can provide longer lasting structure too.  Bold and spikey globe artichokes (Cynara scolymus), clipped domes of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) or the soft grey evergreen of sage (Salvia officinalis) will all work to punctuate more ephemeral planting schemes.

The year round display provided by most fruit trees is also worthy of a more central role in our outdoor spaces. As well as some beautiful natural forms, many fruit trees are amenable to some shaping and training.  Peach trees can be fan-trained in a sunny spot, providing a sweet alternative to more one dimensional climbers, a reliably striking variety is Prunus persica ‘Red Wing’.  Crabapples are also especially good value.  From the first pops of blossom, to the last drying fruits clinging on through frosted winters, they provide an almost constant show.  Favourite varieties include Malus ‘Evereste’ and Malus transitoria, the cut-leaf crab apple, with small yellow fruits hanging on well in to winter after a stunning autumn colour change.  Using these trees in multi-stem form as a feature in a small garden, or trained in to seasonally sparky hedging can make them part of the whole, rather than being tucked away in a distant orchard.

- Elizabeth Tyler

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