ISSUE 100  |  Thanksgiving Feast

Required Reading: The Beautiful Edible Garden

November 26, 2013 8:00 PM

BY Michelle Slatalla

This is not just another book about how to grow as much of your own food as possible. In fact, the authors of The Beautiful Edible Garden think you may be trying too hard. Do you feel overwhelmed when your lettuce bolts, your apples rot on the ground, and your parsley goes to seed? If so, this is the book for you.

Leslie Bennett and Stefani Bittner, garden designers and co-owners of Star Apple Edible + Fine Gardening in Berkeley, CA, wrote The Beautiful Edible Garden to try to persuade you to change your expectations. Not scale them back or give up on the whole food-growing endeavor, but…just relax.

“A garden should be a really weird balance of planting the amount of food that actually works for your lifestyle–and of taking it slowly, so you don’t burn out,” says Bittner.

We were so intrigued by the book’s philosophy that we caught up with Bennett and Bittner recently and asked them to elaborate:

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Above: Photograph via Star Apple Edible Gardens.

Forget about an íœber raised-bed vegetable garden laid out in a precise grid across the better part of the backyard. That is for people who don’t have jobs, kids, dogs, or a serious addiction to Homeland to indulge. You are too busy to devote ten hours a day to your crops. Instead, tuck in a few edible perennials–like rosemary, blueberries, asparagus–among the things you’re already growing in your regular old garden. You’ll have a harvest year after year.

One trick is to interplant vegetables with ornamentals in the garden. Why? Well, for one thing, it’s more stylish. After you harvest the food, the garden will still look good.

Says Bennett: “Don’t plant a garden with all annual vegetables or herbs, or else it will look really, really bad really quick.”

Adds Bittner: “Perennials will hang out a lot longer and will anchor the space.”

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Above: Photograph via Star Apple Edible Gardens.

Repeat plants throughout the garden to create a cohesive design, using different varieties of the same plant to create a “succession harvest.”

Says Bennett: “We like to use blueberries through garden, but different kinds of bushes: plant an early-harvest variety, a mid-harvest variety, and a late-harvest variety so you have a consistent supply.”

Says Bittner: “You don’t want to be hit with everything in a four-week period; it’s too much. Spread your harvest over the growing season.

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Above: Perennial herbs at home in a flower bed, via The Beautiful Edible Garden. Photograph by David Fenton.

If you’re just starting out, limit yourself to an herb garden–and limit the selection to a handful of perennial herbs that you use all the time to cook–and plant them in a spot that’s convenient to the kitchen.

Says Bittner: “Rosemary, thyme, and oregano. Start there, with classic culinary herbs that are easy to grow and need very little water. Whether you plant in the landscape or in a container, you want something that’s just going to hang out there, doing its job, being evergreen, and holding the space.”

Says Bennett: “And plant them so they are useful. Right outside the back door, that’s a plant you are going to pick from or snip more often because you can see it out the window and be reminded.”

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Above: Espaliered fruit trees, via The Beautiful Edible Garden. Photograph by David Fenton.

If you plant edible perennials, you don’t have to beat yourself up if you don’t get around to eating every last bit of your harvest. There’s always next year.

Says Bennett: “In addition to the edible perennials, add some plants pollinators like, like edible flowers.”

Says Bittner: “Pollinators love nasturtium. And yarrow–we call that the workhorse of an edible garden because you can use it for teas and it also brings in so many pollinators.

Says Bennett: “We love agastasche and nigella.”

Says Bittner: “And cumin.”

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Above: The Beautiful Edible Garden is $27.21 from Amazon.

For more of our favorite gardening books, see Gardenista: Required Reading. See The Greatest Hits: Perennial Vegetables and start making your plans for next year.

N.B.: This is an update of a post published April 10, 2013.