Growing An Edible Wall

Growing An Edible Wall

Part of Ep. 1803 Sustainable Gardens

The vegetable garden isn't just that square in the backyard anymore. Mark Dwyer of Rotary Gardens in Janesville demonstrates how to combine functionality with beauty in big and small spaces. Possible choices for an edible wall include nasturtium, hibiscus, Society Garlic, bronze fennel, parsley, scented geranium, hot peppers, Swiss chard, "Pesto Perpetuo" basil and "Black Pearl" pepper.

Premiere date: May 26, 2010

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley Ryan:
At first glance, this looks like a beautiful flower bed. And it is, but it's actually more than that. It's a living, edible wall. I'm at Rotary Gardens with the Director of Horticulture, Mark Dwyer. Mark, this is something you've featured this year ornamental edibles. Let's talk about what you've done here, it's beautiful.

Mark Dwyer:
Well, thanks, Shelley. The intent with this wall, as you alluded to, is not only beauty, because we have a great combination of foliage and flower, and also fruit. This combination of plants includes beautiful plants, but also those that serve another function.

Shelley:
Right, dual purpose. 

Mark:
Whether that's an herbal use, a culinary use, or edible plants, entirely.  

Shelley:
It's a great idea. As our population ages, some of us are moving to smaller yards or to apartments. So even if you have a really small garden, you can enjoy the beauty of it and still grow things that you can eat, too.  

Mark:
That's a great point, because this border's 140 feet long and about eight feet wide. It can be condensed to a very useable scale for a homeowner, whether it is in a container or a raised bed, or something smaller. You can also achieve the same effect.  

Shelley:
You can take a very small portion of this and get a lot of produce out of it and still enjoy it.

Mark:
That's just it, the vegetable garden's not just that square in the backyard anymore. It's being brought into the landscape. If these plants can offer beauty, why not something else for the homeowner? 

Shelley:
I think that is the trend. More people are growing more plants staying home and gardening. So why not make that function important?

Mark:
I agree, and that's the intent of this bed.

Shelley:
And it's a great job, too. Let's talk about some of the specifics you've got in here. A classic standby, a classic edible, too.  

Mark:
There you go, you're pointing to it. Nasturtium has been grown for many, many years. This is a marbled nasturtium called "Alaska." It has great ornamentation with the marbled leaf. The leaves, of course, are edible. They have a peppery taste. And also, the blooms are edible. These can be tossed in a salad and have many uses.

Shelley:
We were talking, the seeds are used as a caper substitute. You said the roots are edible, as well?

Mark:
Right, the entire plant is edible.

Shelley:
And look at it, it's gorgeous.

Mark:
Nice-looking, too, you bet.

Shelley:
And what else?  

Mark:
have this hibiscus. This is Hibiscus acetosella.

Shelley:
Which is beautiful, just the color.

Mark:
Look at the shape of the leaves. This is called "Maple Sugar," is the variety. It has a maple-shaped leaf, and these leaves are edible and have been used for centuries as a leaf green.

Shelley:
Would I use it this size or smaller, as a salad?

Mark:
Well, your best bet is the youngest growth. It's the most tender. And just feeling this, this is quite soft. It gets a little leathery as they get bigger but again, still edible.

Shelley:
If I'm using it for a salad, stick to the smaller leaves.

Mark:
Yes, uh-huh.

Shelley:
There is Society Garlic, which I've grown just because I think it's very pretty. I didn't realize it actually is edible, too.

Mark:
Absolutely, the tulbaghia has beautiful flower stalks. You can pick these flowers and eat them. They're edible blooms. But also, the leaves are used as a chive substitute. They can be mashed up or used in seasoning, as well.

Shelley:
So a gorgeous garlic chive. Let's talk about the bronze fennel back there.

Mark:
The bronze fennel that's coming up amongst the hibiscus is a wonderful plant. And you see it a lot in herb gardens. But it's not only ornamental, but the flowers are edible. The leaves have a wonderful scent when rubbed, as well.

Shelley:
They smell great. And it attracts beneficial insects. I plant it because it brings good critters to my garden.

Mark:
It does a lot of great things, definitely.

Shelley:
We should talk about some of the other foliage too. Here's a classic, parsley. But look at how it fills-in some of the blanks here just with beautiful foliage color.

Mark:
Right, and this is the Italian flat-leaf parsley. You see it's filling a void between plants. But this is a type of plant that's producing year-round. You could be picking and cutting this back throughout the course of the entire growing season.

Shelley:
And it's so good for you, too. It's not supposed to be just a garnish on the plate. Okay, one that I have to play with. That's a scented geranium, peppermint.

Mark:
The scented geraniums are great in the garden. It's one of those that, it's a tactile thing. You have to actually rub them to get the scent. But it works real well in the garden. And if you position it along the edge of a border in an area where it's accessible, the intent is to encourage people to enjoy that fragrance which is vital in the garden.

Shelley:
You can use it in teas. I know people use it in baking. Again, it has many functions. And look at the beauty of it, it's beautiful. So we've talked foliage. We can go right into fruit.

Mark:
When you talk about fruit in the ornamental, the edible garden, hot peppers come to mind. And hot peppers, in terms of ornamentation the coloring gets better throughout the year. This is "Holiday Cheer," which has a different shaped fruit than most people are used to. These are entirely spherical. They age from white to yellow, to an orange, to a red. And you can see that on this entire plant.

Shelley:
They're just going to get better as the season goes on. 

Mark:
To me, this will rival any bedding plant. There's probably 200 peppers on ready to be picked and used.

Shelley:
Very carefully, they're probably hot.

Mark:
They are hot.

Shelley:
But behind it, again, mimicking the color you've got the Swiss chard, look at that.

Mark:
Another common name for Swiss chard is "summer spinach." Straight up spinach needs a cool season, but the nice thing about the chard is you can be cutting that back through the course of the year. It's very, very nutritious and just continues to regenerate new growth.  

Shelley:
You can eat the stalks and the leaves.

Mark:
Absolutely, yes.  

Shelley:
What about the basil that looks like a small shrub?

Mark:
That basil is neat. That came out on the market a couple years ago. It's called "Pesto Perpetuo." That's actually a variegated lemon basil. Not only can you use it in the kitchen and keep snipping back on it, it has a nice, natural ovoid form. It's very compact, and in terms of the garden it's a real eye-catcher as well.

Shelley:
I grow it in a container. It's very ornamental in a pot, it looks just beautiful.

Mark:
Great form.

Shelley:
Yeah, exactly. I see you've got another pepper. Look at the color of the leaves and fruit on that one.

Mark:
That pepper has been around for a couple years as well. It's an All-America Selection winner, called "Black Pearl." It has almost midnight black foliage. In full sun, it certainly gets the best leaf coloration. But you see the peppers emerge a glossy black and they'll age to a red.

Shelley:
And really hot.

Mark:
Extremely hot, and I can attest to that.

Shelley:
So again, eat some of these with caution but you can still enjoy them in the garden. And you mentioned full sun. Is most of the stuff in here full sun?

Mark:
Well, in this border it is in full sun, but the majority of our herbs and vegetables really thrive in full sun locations. But it is important to have nice, organic soil. You want to have a nice composted bed. The other thing is drainage. This is on a slope, so we do have nice drainage over the course of this wall, but we plant things quite tightly. The intent is to create a nice visual mosaic and have it look nice.

Shelley:
Which it does, it's beautiful.

Mark:
Once it fills in, these plants become a living mulch. They'll shade the soil, thereby decreasing weed competition and also retaining moisture.

Shelley:
Okay, beautiful job. I'd have this anywhere. Thank you, Mark.

Mark:
You're welcome.

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