Edible gardens pioneer

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 11, 2010 - 4:22 PM

A California landscape designer wrote the book on edible landscapes back in 1982. Now it's being updated for a new generation of gardeners.

Rosalind Creasy, author of "The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping."

Edible landscaping is a white-hot topic in horticultural circles this season. And it's about time, said landscape designer Rosalind Creasy, its cheerleader for almost three decades. Her 1982 book, "The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping," will be updated and reissued as "Edible Landscaping" later this year. We caught up with Creasy at her Northern California home.

Q You were ahead of your time. How did you get interested in edibles?

A I have a unique background. I married a physicist, IBM sent him all over the world, and I got to go along. I was passionate about cooking and gardening, so people would take me to farmers markets, gardens and restaurants. Then in Israel, I went to a kibbutz. They had grassland, similar to California, but it was covered with sand dunes. They had to make soil using compost from the city. On the airplane, I thought, "We have still good soil in the U.S, but we're covering it with lawn, junipers, azaleas -- things that take water but don't produce food." I brought it up back here and was told that it was "salad-bowl gardening," that it was tacky and no one did it. I'd seen the front yards in England, where they had gorgeous apple trees, cabbages planted with the flowers. I knew we were off the beam. But I was considered a nut case.

Q Where did you see the best edible landscapes?

A Italy is No. 1. The reason people go to Tuscany is the acceptance of the change of seasons and food of the highest quality. Italy hasn't lost track of the real heart and soul of human living. They have grapevines on arbors, olive trees, herbs by the front door. England, France and Germany are close behind, and I saw beautiful things in Taiwan. We've lost a lot, and we thought we were making progress.

Q What edibles are in your landscape?

A I have a cherry tomato arbor. The FedEx man comes and asks, "Can I pick one?" Kids ask for them. Edible plants connect you with your neighbors. I'm also growing wheat in my front yard. The neighborhood children come and plant it, we grind it up, make bread and have a block party. I have a chicken coop in the front yard.

Q How did your neighbors react?

A One neighbor was upset when I first pulled my lawn out, then he became enamored of it. I live in a suburban cul-de-sac, with Mercedeses driving by. If I can do it here, you can do it anywhere.

Q What advice do you have for those of us trying to grow edibles in Zone 4?

A That mind-set is the No. 1 problem. There's this fantasy that everything here grows beautifully. When I tell people in California how easy people think they have it, they roll their eyes. You folks have no clue how hard it is to irrigate effectively. There are a lot of things you can grow in Zone 4 that I can't. Like blueberries. They won't taste as good here. Or cranberries. It's not cold enough. You do not have to have a bog; they can cascade out of a container. ... Sour cherries -- you can grow 'em, I can't, and they're more versatile than sweet.

Q It must be satisfying to see edible landscaping finally taking off after all these years.

A It is! For years, I was the bad girl of horticulture, the crazy lady out of California. ... My goal, before I die, is that when someone is planning their landscape, their first question is "Where do I put the edibles?" not "Where do I put the damn lawn?"

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784

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