Backyard gardening can be taken to the next level when what you grow doesn't just look good, but tastes good too! Aside from being relaxing and fulfilling, consuming what you grow can not only put food on the table, but create a family tradition that you'll enjoy for years to come.
You paid a pro to landscape your yard, and you love the way it looks, but now you want to add some edibles. The good news is you don't have to say goodbye to that well-designed look. Here are five subtle but aesthetically pleasing ways to work edibles into your landscape:
1. Plant a grapevine in a large attractive containeer filled with good quality potting mix and train it to grow on a trellis attached to a wooden privacy fence. The vine will need regular water, slow-release fertilizer, and 4 to 6 hours of sun. A certified nursery professional can tell you which grape varieties will grow best in your part of the state.
2. Plant a peach, pear, or apple tree at the sunny end of a perennial border that contains winter and spring bloomers and winter blooming annuals. After the fruit is harvested and the tree has dropped its leaves, the winter sun shining through the bare limbs will help the flowers around the base of the tree strut their stuff.
3. In late February, or any time during a mild winter, plant small drifts of leafy lettuces, spicy purple mustard, and curly kale anywhere you find a bare sunny spot. In early spring, carve out a space in front of a grouping of shrubs or a large agave and plant red Swiss chard transplants (depending on your existing landscape palette, you might want to choose yellow or orange chard). Arrange the plants in a pleasing pattern and space them 8 to 10 inches apart. To harvest, pick leaves as needed for cooking, but don't pull out the whole plant. Winter greens and lettuces continue to produce new leaves as long as their growing tips and roots are left undisturbed.
4. Fill a galvanized metal tub with a good potting mix and slow-release fertilizer and plant a mix of purple mustard greens and green kale. Using a hammer and nail, make holes around the base of the tub for drainage. Set the tub of greens on a sunny south-facing porch or patio and be prepared to smile and nod to passersby who ooh and ahh at the sight of your colorful and multi-textured display of greens.
5. In a sunny sideyard, install a metal or wooden trellis (4 ft. by 6 ft. works well) or small arbor and plant runner beans or vining lima beans. Keep seeds evenly moist until they germinate and sprout. Water regularly through the growing season, and pick beans often so they will keep blooming and producing. In most parts of the state, beans can be planted in early fall and again in spring as soon as the soil warms. A vining bean in bloom is a lovely sight, but most folks would probably agree that it's not nearly as lovely as a mandevilla vine in bloom. The bean, however, is the winner in the good eating department.
Many homeowners make room for tomatoes, but what about Swiss chard? Or fennel and kale? There's not time like the present to start growing your own vegetables so you can make healthy dinners at home. And there's nothing quite like stepping outside your back door to gather vegetables and herbs for your evening meal. Your kids will probably want to help—vegetable gardens are popping up in school yards all over the country, and Texas schools are no exception. Here's a simple but tasty tomato salad recipe to get you started:
Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad)
8-9 large homegrown tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Handful of salad tomatoes, halved
1 cup sweet basil leaves, cut in thin strips
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
8 1-inch thick slices of day old baguette, cut into cubes
1 cup cucumber, peeled and cubed
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesano reggiano cheese
Lightly salt tomatoes and onion slices, place in a bowl and set aside for 10 minutes. In another bowl, stir garlic into 1/4 cup olive oil, add bread cubes and toss until bread is well coated. Place bread on baking sheet and bake in a 375 degree over until toasty and brown, but not blackened, about 10 minutes. Place bread on towel to absorb excess oil. Combine and lightly toss tomato and onion mixture with basil, cucumber, vinegar and the remaining olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste, then toss with toasted brtead cubes. Top with grated cheese and serve immediately.
Fill a 10- or 15-gallon galvanized metal tub with good quality potting soil. Using a nail and hammer, make drainage holes around the base. For a cool weather salad garden, plant an assortment of your favorite salad greens and cool weather veggies. Good options include spinach, Swiss chard, arugula, leaf lettuce, radishes, bunching onion, carrots and flat leaf parsley. (The parsley, chopped, will add fresh flavor to homemade vinaigrette salad dressing; see recipe below). For a warm weather salad garden, choose a salad-size tomato plant, sweet basil and a bush cucumber. A cucumber variety intended for containers works best, but you can plant a standard pickling cucumber and get good results by training the vine on a small trellis attached to the back side of the tub. You can start your salad gardens from seed or seedlings, with the exception of the tomato. which usually performs better if started from a seedling. Be sure to keep your tub garden moist (but not soggy), and if your potting mix doesn't include slow release fertilizer, you'll need to add some. Place your salad garden on a sunny porch or balcony and watch it grow!
Simple vinaigrette dressing: Pour 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil into a small glass jar or other container that has a lid. Add 1/4 cup red wine vinegar; 1 clove fresh minced garlic; 1 teaspoon dijon mustard; 1-2 teaspoons sugar or honey; 1/2 teaspoon salt; fresh ground pepper to taste; and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley or basil. Shake well until ingredients are thoroughly blended. Taste and add more salt or sugar if desired. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for about a week. Note: For a creamy dressing, instead of 1/2 cup oil, use 1/4 cup buttermilk and 1/4 cup oil. And instead of parsley or basil, add chopped fresh dill.