Edible landscapes deliver bold beauty and garden-fresh treats.By Rachael Devaney
For Dave Scandurra, 31, it was a “no brainer” to begin moving the local food movement into local backyards. With the motto “have your yard and eat it too,” he launched Edible Landscapes of Cape Cod four years ago. The Brewster business not only provides custom gardening services, but also plant education to help families grow organic gardens that combine edible plants and medicinal plants with ornamental flower beds. Scandurra—who has years of landscaping and growing experience and a thriving nursery chock-full of thick and luscious greens like fennel, Alpine strawberry, astragalus and asparagus at his fingertips—says that while edible landscaping was once viewed as a “radical idea,” it’s now a blooming, booming business.
“Edible landscaping has definitely found its niche throughout the local community and across the nation and it’s trending tremendously right now,” Scandurra reports. “People are realizing that they can optimize their ecosystem with a vegetable garden, but also customize it with flowers like marigolds, which [also] makes it beautiful.”
Another edible landscape expert is Ron Backer—a lifelong farmer who grows fruits and vegetables at both his Brewster and Falmouth Surrey Farm locations. He too offers growing education through his establishment and encourages his students and clients to embrace the basic elements like sun, water and soil to make the most of their edible landscape. While some of his favorite combinations include different colored mustards in between common flowers, he says by keeping things like color and texture in mind, as well as nutritional components like anti-test properties, families can create “wonderful environments” that treat the body well. “It only makes sense—why should you have separate gardens for different things?” questions Backer. “It’s sort of like accessorizing while remembering what feels appropriate and functional to you.”
While Scandurra has a gleaming green thumb, that wasn’t always the case. The growing process can take a lot of “trial and error,” and he encourages first-time gardeners to first rid themselves of fear. “Expect failures when you first start out and don’t beat yourself up over it,” advises Scandurra. “If we didn’t grow up farming and gardening, it’s only natural to feel disconnected and we need to be patient with ourselves.”
For Backer, it all starts with connecting to what plants speak to a gardener the most. He urges home gardeners, who are in the initial stages of selecting plants, to take in the fragrances of fruits and vegetables, and to recognize how those aromas can make one feel. “Herbs, plants, and veggies have fragrance and the ability to change one’s mood or even attract some of your favorite birds and pollinating insects, which is also extremely important.”
WHAT GROWS BEST ON CAPE COD
During his winters, Backer can be found in Florida growing papaya and orchids alongside yams, which produce a climbing vine reminiscent of the long ivy tresses that decorate New England’s landscape. But for those living on Cape Cod, he recommends that families begin with non-GMO seeds, like Baker Creek or Johnny Seeds, which can offer a huge variety of fruits and vegetables that grow well in coastal environments. Not only does he advocate for red and white currants, mulberries, blueberries and gooseberries, he says that peaches can add a touch of color to the yard and can also thrive if they are thinned out and cared for properly.
Other plants that will flourish on Cape Cod are arugula, potatoes, lettuce, an assortment of cabbages, dandelion, fennel, swiss chard and broccoli. Some of his more surprising suggestions include chili peppers and garlic, which are associated with the more southern areas of the country but are currently trending in Massachusetts. “Don’t be reluctant to try to grow things that someone wouldn’t normally think can be found on Cape Cod,” champions Backer. “Chili peppers grow wonderfully here and can be used as a garnish or for dry rubs for chicken, or you can even pair it with fruit and yogurt, or peanut butter and paprika or even incorporate them [into] vinegar beverages called shrubs.”
In Scandurra’s experience, many of his clients start off by planting conventional landscapes, but eventually begin to become adventurous by inter-planting herbs, berries and edible flowers like lavender, thyme and dill with other crops among traditional annual and perennial garden beds. Once his clients become comfortable with the “small stuff,” he feels they can begin accenting ornamental beds with Bright Light Swiss chard, which has a glowing burgundy color or a deep maroon. Beets come in pink and pale orange varieties, which pair well with begonias, marigolds or pepper planta. In lieu of Swiss chard, Scandurra often incorporates scarlet and red kales with runner beans and marigolds, or even asparagus, which, because of its height, can be used as a decorative fern. By taking the time to pay attention to color, texture and contrast, Scandurra says a garden can be beautiful and beneficial.
“I always tell my clients that they need to at least incorporate something into their garden that’s edible and once I explain the options, they are almost always in agreement,” notes Scandurra. “We all have different lifestyles and things we love and if you are willing to do the dance between what’s pretty and ornamental and what’s good for you, you will find the perfect balance.”
An alternative way of maintaining an edible garden, Backer explains, is by using “grow bags” or “earth bags,” which help people keep invasive plants like the Jerusalem artichoke, a perennial sunflower, from destroying other crops in close proximity. In one of his numerous website blogs he shares that he has roughly 300 bags per season, filled with cow manure, loam and compost, where he plants Asian peas, kale, Swiss chard and arugula. “With the bags, I can raise one to three crops simultaneously [such as] sunchokes, edible flowers and beans and it’s much more of a controlled environment,” he says, protecting plant materials from adverse weather conditions and produce-loving animals.