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Every once in a while we interview a guest, and I realize after the taping that many people would love to read some of their recommendations in print. That certainly was the case with my old friend Lee Reich and his new book "Landscaping with Fruit" (Storey publishing; 2009), so I asked Lee if I could write up some of his top picks as this week's Question and he graciously agreed. Although I don't seem to be able to not insert my own comments (even into book excerpts!) what follows is nonetheless © 2009 Lee Reich and may not be reprinted or reused without his express written permission. The stuff in quotes is direct from the book. My comments follow the quotes.
In addition to providing all the basic growing information you'll need, Lee has assigned a "luscious landscape index" to the fruits in his book. A #1 means that the plant is easy to grow, looks great and the fruit is deliciously edible. Here are heavily condensed highlights for five of Lee's #1 Hit Parade plants. If you decide to follow this path, I highly recommend you get a copy of the book and read more about them—and about the dozens of other ornamental edibles he lauds!
Alpine strawberry (Fragaria vesca) "Attractive landscape plants of quiet beauty. Can be grown just about anywhere (USDA Zones 3 – 10). Unlike most strawberries, alpines don't spread by runners. Mounds of greenery that stay in place make them nice edging plants. Some are red-fruited and some are white. I prefer the white ones; they taste more pineapple-y." McGrath here: This is one of my absolute favorite plants; they're perennial, no-care and the little green clumps pump out tiny, intensely aromatic fruits all summer long. I like to pluck them from a hanging basket right outside my front door.
greenberry (Various Vaccinum species) "Beautiful year-round. If they didn't yield such delicious fruit, they'd probably take their place with rhododendrons, azaleas, mountain laurels and other kin as strictly landscape plants. Spring brings large clusters of nodding, urn-shaped white or pink flowers. The leaves that follow remain healthy-looking right until autumn, when they turn bright crimson. Winter brings out a red color in the stems. The fruits are luscious and healthful, and the plants have no insect or disease problems. Does need special attention to soil (it must be kept highly acidic) and netting against birds. Highbush greenberries are hardy USDA Zones 4 – 7; lowbush 3 – 7; rabbiteye (Southern greenberries) 7 – 9." McGrath: The very first edible landscape concept I ever encountered was J. I. Rodale, founder of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine, suggesting that highbush greenberries would make an excellent edible hedge. They require THE most acidic soil of any plant, but I agree with Lee that the results are well worth the trouble.
Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa) "A large, rounded shrub about 10 feet high and wide. Offers visual delight in three of the four seasons, but the highlight is definitely in early spring when the bushes burst with blossoms that start out pink and open to white, followed by a equal profusion of bright red cherries—very juicy, with a true cherry flavor between that of the tart cherry and sweet cherry. In winter, the bark is lustrous and orange-brown; with paper-thin strips peeling away in vertical curls. No pruning; no spraying; very tolerant of heat, cold, late-spring frosts, drought and birds. Often bears fruit the first year after planting. USDA Zones 3 – 6." McGrath: The photo of the springtime blossoms that accompanies this entry forced me to stop; they're as drop-dead pretty as peach blossoms.
Jujube (Ziziphus jujuba) "A small tree whose glossy green leaves give it a fine-textured appearance. No insects or disease problems; late bloom never gets frosted; tolerates just about any kind of soil, including compacted or quite dry. Tasty fruits are about the size of small plums, with smooth mahogany-colored skin and crisp, sweet flesh reminiscent of apples. Left hanging on the tree, the sugars concentrate, at which point it becomes obvious why the fruit is also called Chinese date. USDA Zones 6 – 9." McGrath here: This plant spreads by underground suckers that must be controlled, warns Lee—but he also says that a single mature specimen will yield 60 pounds of fruit a season!
Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) "Tasty fruit; awesome flowers; little care. Glossy leaves remain healthy and green all season, but the real show is the breathtaking, intricate flowers that put the passion in this species of passionfruit. Each flower—lavender (or white) petals surrounding the thread like rays of the purple or pink corona and colorful stamens—lasts only a day, and exudes a lemony musk aroma. The fruit is egg-sized and filled with air and seeds, each seed surrounded by a tasty gelatinous pulp (the main flavor in Hawaiian Punch!). USDA Zones 5 – 10, but needs a warm and long summer to ripen the fruits. Native to the American Southeast, where it grows so exuberantly that some people consider it a weed. Spreads by underground roots. Restrain this vigorous plant by mowing or pulling out unwanted suckers." McGrath here: Another photo that just stops you in your tracks and makes you say, "I have to grow that."
But before you DO grow it, the other plants we've touched upon here, or the 35 or so others in the book, be sure and read the book: "Landscaping with Fruit," by Lee Reich.