Want to add edible plants to your landscape? A new book from a Minnesota author offers a guide for Northern gardeners.
Some gardens are workhorses, dedicated to growing food, while others are supermodels, all about adding beauty. But more of today’s gardens are multi-taskers, expected to do both.
Author Emily Tepe (“The Edible Landscape,” $24.95, Voyageur Press) doesn’t accept the old notion that food-producing plants should be segregated in their own plot. She advocates combining them freely with ornamentals to add color, texture and visual interest to beds and containers. “I believe a yard can be both beautiful and productive,” she writes.
Tepe’s handiwork was on public display for several growing seasons on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, where she designed an edible landscape demonstration garden while she was a graduate student and fruit researcher. (Another student took over the garden last year.) Agriculture is a second career for Tepe, who spent a decade working in theater design before a garden epiphany convinced her she wanted to spend more time outdoors.
Tepe, a research associate with the university’s Department of Horticultural Science, now lives in Wyoming most of the year, but she’ll be returning to the Twin Cities this month for a series of seminars and book-signings.
Q: Are you surprised at the way edible landscaping has taken off?
A: I am a little bit. The Victory Garden thing is coming back. It goes along with local food, farmers markets, CSAs — I think the Obama White House garden has been an influence, and books like Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” People are talking more about pesticides, and thinking, “I should just do this myself, then I don’t need to be worried about it.” Edible landscaping is as local as local can be. Whatever is sending people into their gardens is good.
Q: Why did you decide to write a book?
A: I started a blog (www.artichokesandzinnias.com) to share resources. The acquisitions editor at Voyageur Press contacted me in summer 2010 and asked if I was interested in writing a book. I hadn’t thought about it, but I enjoy writing about edible landscaping and thought it could be a great opportunity.
Q: What did you think was missing from other books on the topic?
A: There are a lot of books but few focused on northern climates. We have our own set of challenges. I wanted to address those while being inspiring to people everywhere.
Q: What makes growing edibles especially challenging up here?
A: The shortness of the season means having to think ahead and get things started inside. Some of the perennials we have to work a little harder to protect. With fruit plants, it’s important to choose the right varieties that are hardy here. And placement is important. We have to create protected spaces. Even for herbs — they might say they’re hardy, but if you don’t have good snow cover, they might not make it.
Q: What are your favorite edible plants for northern gardeners?
A: I’m strangely enamored of Swiss chard. It’s such an easy plant to grow and so pretty. It’s my favorite. You can’t really mess it up. I’ve only seen it bolt once in my life. I also like other greens — kale and lettuces. You can stick them in here and there, and they play off a lot of ornamentals. They seem to look good so easily. Then there’s tomatoes. Everyone loves to have them, but it takes thought and creativity to have them look nice.