HARTLEY - A rainy spring afternoon encouraged O'Brien County gardeners to venture to the Hartley Library to hear Todd Brockshus, of Del's Garden Center, speak on edible landscaping. Brockshus is the son of Del Brockshus, owner and founder of Del's Garden Center in Spencer.
"Are you are searching for plants to be used in a new landscape border?" Brockshus asked his audience. "Are you getting ready to plant a new tree in you front yard? If so, why not consider making your choice an edible one?
"More people are moving to urban areas with less room for garden spaces." Brockshus said. "If space is your problem and fresh summer fruit and vegetables are something you enjoy, edible landscaping may be an excellent idea for you."
-Messenger photo by Robyn Kruger
Pansies are an annual flower with edible blooms. They have a relatively sweet taste and add color to a salad.
Trellises, obelisks and arbors make an excellent growing space for edible pole beans, Brockshus said, suggesting scarlet runner beans for colorful blooms and edible beans.
Grapes are another choice for fruit as well as a way to provide shade to the home or garden.
"The Amish often use grape arbors as a way to shade their homes, keeping their homes cool in the warm summer months," Brockshus said.
Hops, a vine whose fruits are used in the beer-making process, can be useful to the home brewer.
Border gardens can be enhanced with the use of edible ground covers like June-bearing strawberries and a variety of herbs.
Strawberries will need full sun and do need well drained soils. Herbs like creeping wintergreen, creeping thyme or rosemary not only add texture and interest to the landscape, but enhance the senses with their aromatic fragrances not to mention their many uses in the kitchen.
Consider the rhubarb plant, he said, as a replacement to the often used hosta in a flower beds and borders. Regular picking of the rhubarb plant will encourage continued new growth and fresh rhubarb pie for guests and family.
Asparagus can be used as a hedge or living snow fence. Asparagus comes in not only green, but a purple variety, and its fall colors will last for five to six weeks.
Asparagus can be mowed down in the fall or spring to make way for new spring growth.
Ostrich ferns, a popular border plant in the 1950s and 1960s are still seen in many older neighborhoods throughout the state.
The small new sprouts of this plant, often called "fiddle heads," can be used in stir-fry dishes.
The Ostrich fern is a good choice for areas of the yard where grass refuses to grow, Brockshus said.
Flowers like the day lily and annual favorite pansy both have edible blooms.
"Day lily blooms taste like lettuce with honey," Brockshus said.
Want to keep the neighbor's dog off of the lawn without building a fence? Why not plant a row of raspberries? The bush will spread into a thick row of prickly foliage and provide its delicious fruit in the summer or fall.
Area nurseries, including Del's Garden Center, offers raspberries with three colors of fruit - traditional red, gold and a new variety crossed with a blackberry that offers purple fruit.
The old-time favorite, the elderberry, is being called the new miracle fruit. The berry offers antioxidants and can be used in jams, jellies and wine.
Brockshus suggests the variety Sutherland Gold which has colorful foliage and reaches a height of 8 to 10 feet.
Another new favorite is the aronia berry. Aronia berries are often blended with grapes to make wine. The berry is super healthy and high in antioxidants, Brockshus said.
Aronia berries hang on the plant and are harvestable for six weeks in the fall - that is, if the birds don't get them first
Varieties he suggests are Viking, which grows to 8 feet tall and is an excellent producer of sweet berries. The variety Autumn Magic, which grows to a height of 6 feet, has flowers and beautiful fall colors.
Lastly, Iroquois Beauty is a smaller version at just 4 to 5 feet with excellent flowering abilities, beautiful fall colors and smaller fruit.
Those looking for berries that are edible, but one they won't mind the birds getting first, may try the American cranberry.
"The Native Americans used this berry dried on the vine much like we use the raisin, but I think it makes better bird food," Brockshus said.
The serviceberry is another fruiting bush that is attractive and grows nicely in both sun and shade. The varieties Princess Diana and Autumn Brilliance produce berries in June, with colorful fall foliage.
Other popular berry bushes are Nanking cherry, red and black currants and the ever-popular blueberry, which needs special care to be grown in this region.
Those wanting to attract wildlife to your yard, such as wild turkeys, will love the American hazelnut. Growing to a height of 10 to 12 feet wide and high, the American hazelnut produces "caterpillar-like blooms is the spring and turkey food in the fall," Brockshus said.
Black walnut trees have been a popular addition to many yards and groves throughout the state, Brockshus said.
Remember when planting a walnut tree to keep it a good 60 to 80 feet from a garden, as it produces a natural herbicide called juglone. Popular plant varieties affected by juglone are tomato, potato, blackberry, blueberry and apple.
Orchard trees like apple, cherry, apricot, plum peach and pear are also popular additions to any edible landscape, Brockshus said.
"Be sure the variety you consider is hearty to your zone," he said. "Many dwarf varieties are now available for those with limited space."
Contact Robyn Kruger at email@example.com.