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EDIBLE LANDSCAPING

Many people still identify me as one of the "founders" of the "edible landscaping" movement.

The generic form of edible landscaping is meant to reintroduce food plants back into the yard around the home in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. I have never suggested that every plant in the yard has to be digestible to have a true edible landscape. The idea is to blend some utilitarian plants into a visually pleasing design. Edible landscaping doesn't really dictate organic versus chemical gardening. However, my book on the topic, Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally (see page 499), provides a thorough, nondogmatic, and scientific basis for edible landscapes, while offering a smorgasbord of organic techniques for their care.

To some, the idea of good-looking landscapes with a high functionality or productivity was pretentious maybe even elitist. The rush of enthusiasm for edible landscapes, mostly during the 1980s, was fueled by the realization that long, straight rows of ratty corn don't have to be the order of the day. Previously, the landscape architecture department of a state university had never considered talking to the agriculture or pomology departments. Now, these various ivory-tower "divisions" more routinely mingle.

Lately, people have been asking me, "Whatever happened to edible landscaping ; is it dead?" While interest has dwindled in California compared to the early 1980s, the seed of the idea has multiplied and disseminated like dandelions (which are themselves edible). While some believe that eternal popularity is the true mark of success, I take an altogether different view. Like the successional growth of grasses and lupines cloaking a recent landslide and yielding to the choking shade of woody shrubs some decades later, all gardening styles and methods should go through natural deaths, rebirths, and renewals. Edible landscaping is no exception.

Today edible landscapes have begun to fully integrate into the web of suburban life as they were meant to. My favorite example of the success of edible land scaping comes from one of those women's magazines found clustered around the supermarket cashier like leering buzzards. It is a cartoon. In the background, three men are on all fours "grazing" on the lawn. One guy is picking from a hedge. Another is on a ladder in a fruit tree. One woman is leaning over the fence to tell her neighbor, "It's one of those new edible landscapes . . . saves me hours in the kitchen."

Mainstream America is making fun of edible landscaping we have arrived! So many of my friends from the sustainable organic alternative-energy nonprofit groups of the 1980s actually tried not to have their work introduced into "those silly suburbs." I always pleaded the opposite. Newsstand satire of edible landscaping is the mark of market penetration. This means the foot is finally in the door.

I'm not worried if the phrase "edible landscape" should disappear completely from the lexicon like a head of lettuce dissolving into a worm bin. While the spread of edible landscaping now seems slow and plodding, it merely represents a period of completely healthy and natural assimilation by our culture.

In fact, the gradual spread of edible landscaping is much preferred over the exotic fads some have fostered in an effort to prolong media exposure. The culinary gyrations found with some edible flower recipes and snooty cuisine are more worthy of laughter than serious eating. While I do appreciate an elegant "gastronomical experience," I don't think of it as anything more than a wonderful, hedonistic extravagance nothing that will shift the culture's center of gravity. Real people eat real food. Good barbecue will probably always triumph in numbers (pounds or cholesterol) over carved mushroom caps and fried squash blossoms stuffed with weird cheeses.

Written by: Robert Kourick


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