I’m interested in all sorts of plants and the weird things they do. I admire beautiful flowers and strange foliage and interesting growth patterns. I love almost every plant, even the mean pokey ones (except you, English Ivy, you are my enemy). But the plants that get my heart racing are the ones you can eat. So of course my focus at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show is finding interesting or creative ways to grow food-bearing plants. Last year, the inimitable Jessi Bloom created a “Little Farm in the City” (cough cough urban homestead cough) with Seattle Tilth. It was a thing of beauty – chicken tractor, rhubarb border, compost bins, rain barrels, goat pen, and so on. Here’s a photo of the chicken tractor at the Little Farm in the City in 2010:
After that bar was set, my expectations might have been too high this year. I did find some crops in the demo gardens this year, but I had to look a lot harder. Wight’s Garden, “Once Upon a Thyme” included creative use of edibles. They had blueberry bushes and a variety of herbs not pictured here. This child-sized mushroom table sat in a carpet of lettuce — not such a practical application because children trample lettuce, but it shows how lettuce can fill an empty space.
Also in Wight’s garden, I spotted a table centerpiece made of alpine strawberries growing in burlap bags. At home it would be a challenge to keep the strawberries moist enough. I am lazy about watering, which I get away with because of my location. This is an issue of “right plant, right place.” My garden is not the right place for anything that needs a lot of attention. All issues of practicality aside, I like the strawberry-bearing centerpiece.
In the Shamazan garden, there was a focus on native plants and a meadow, which provides medicine, food and fiber. There were some unusual edible plants in this display garden – native rhubarb, amaranth & miner’s lettuce. I wouldn’t have noticed them if I didn’t read the designers’ supplemental pamphlet. While this garden was not my style exactly, it was good to see a functional alternative to lawns. Us beekeepers wish more people planted meadows instead of lawns. And now I’m trying to figure out where I can tuck a little (lot) of amaranth into my yard.
I also found food-bearing plants at the Christianson’s Nursery garden, “A Day Well Spent.” This garden was an example of a small family run nursery of olde times. There were some berry bushes, maybe some rhubarb, and possibly some other edible stuff I can’t remember. Their plant list isn’t online, so I can’t verify any of this. I love the rusty metal stock tank, too.
Edibles were wildly popular in the Marketplace, though. I saw vendors hawking seeds (e.g. Irish Eyes Garden Seeds) and a variety of edible perennials (e.g. Raintree Nursery). Fungi Perfecti brought their ever-popular kits and spores for growing mushrooms at home.
Someday when life slows down a little and our teenage child gets over his objections to mushrooms, maybe we too will become mushroom farmers. In the meantime, I plan to continue foraging for mushrooms in small quantities. In lieu of a Fungi Perfecti mushroom log, I brought home some new raspberries and huckleberries.
I wish there had been more edible landscaping at the garden show. My fingers are crossed for next year. Every time I turn around, there is a new report that more people are gardening. Food prices are out-pacing our incomes. The likes of Michael Pollan, Vandana Shiva, Joan Gussow & Slow Food International are spreading information about our industrial food problems. You can bet your galoshes that people are planting berries and tomatoes instead of tea roses and creeping juniper. I believe display gardens should jump-start the imagination and give you an opportunity to dream about beautiful possibilities, but I want those beautiful possibilities to be delicious ingredients, too.
So what kind of food are you growing this year?