Eating your landscape

Landscaping for the dinner table is something professional designers and home gardeners should incorporate in ornamental flower beds, arbors and landscapes of trees and shrubs, says Kyle Huffstickler, director of educational programs at LSU’s Burden Center.

Huffstickler, whose degree is in landscape architecture, was until recently the landscape coordinator at the LSU AgCenter’s LaHouse. Burden is part of the university’s agricultural center.

“Your Landscape: It’s What’s for Dinner” is the title of Huffstickler’s first-day workshop at the 24th annual Southern Garden Symposium, scheduled for Oct. 12-13 in and around St. Francisville, a 19th century Mississippi River town north of Baton Rouge.

“You don’t have to get rid of anything in an established landscape,” Huffstickler said. “There are places you can put edible plants to provide interest, texture and shape.”

In a new landscape, substitute artichokes, rosemary, blueberry bushes, lemon grass, fig trees, citrus and persimmon for an azalea, Indian hawthorn, camellia or gardenia, he said.

Edible landscapes produce fresh fruit, herbs and vegetables for the table. The landscapes are good conversation starters, too.

“An artichoke has a tropical look,” Huffstickler said. “When the plant produces a choke, someone walking by is going to ask you what you’ve got growing in the front yard.”

Leave some artichokes on the plant to produce exotic blue flowers for floral arrangements.

Go high. Go low. Go, Tigers.

Plant Cheddar cauliflower which makes golden heads and Graffiti cauliflower, purple, in open spaces in beds and around trees.

“Instead of pansies,” Huffstickler said, “plant strawberries. You might get enough berries for a salad or dessert. Plant strawberries now for harvest in February and March.”

Huffstickler brought edible landscaping ideas he had at LaHouse, a demonstration house and garden across from the LSU baseball stadium, to Windrush Garden, near the LSU Rural Life Museum on the Burden property.

Edible landscaping trains the eye to see possibilities.

“From my experience at LaHouse,” Huffstickler said, “I look at landscaping and see places to incorporate citrus, figs, blueberries and persimmon. People use limited plant material in the home landscape.

“Instead of pansies or violas, we have some beautiful leaf lettuces.”

Huffstickler likes using “C’est si bon,” a packet of seed that includes red sails lettuce and arugula.

To keep maintenance to a minimum, Huffstickler suggests putting in transplants of edible plants in the fall and early spring when insect populations are low.

Mulch to lessen the need for watering and help control weeds.

“In May and June, you start pulling out edible plants to get the ground ready for fall,” he said.

If you like the look — and taste — of fresh bell pepper, eggplant and tomatoes, put those plants in the summer edible landscape. Herbs, warm weather ones and ones that do best in cool weather, may be added through the seasons.

Keep in mind that rosemary and thyme require good drainage and do best in morning sun only in south Louisiana summer.

Most edibles need at least six hours of full sun, good drainage and a soil pH of 6.5 to 7. Blueberries require a more acidic soil, 5.5 to 6. Use elemental sulfur to lower the pH.

Pick up soil testing kits at the Burden Center or from a county agent. For more information, go to http://www.lsuagcenter.com.

If there are places in your yard that don’t drain well, consider planting in containers.

“It’s thriller-filler-spiller,” said Huffstickler. For filler, consider mint marigold, a tarragon substitute that makes small, golden flowers in the fall that might be considered thrilling to the easily excitable.

Rosemary pruned to resemble a small Christmas tree could be the dominant plant in a container with viola, variegated thyme and oregano providing “spiller.”

“Beets have nice red stems and leafy foliage for little pockets of color that you harvest for salads,” Huffstickler said.

Fences, trellises and arbors lend themselves to plantings of purple pod green beans, snake gourds, luffa gourds, sugar snaps and English cucumbers.

“If you eat flowers (in salads), roses, geraniums, pansies, dianthus, day lilies, use botanical names to know what you’re eating,” Huffstickler said.

“You can eat Begonia x tuberhybrida,” he said. “Don’t eat other begonias. Eat the petals, not the tubers. Eat in moderation because begonia petals contain oxalic acid.”

Or just look at the begonia in a cut flower arrangement while eating nice lemon grass soup.