Traditionally, the front yard of a home is reserved for a lawn and maybe a foundation planting of
trees and shrubs. Nan Chase upends conventional thought by growing fruiting trees, shrubs, and
vines, as well as vegetables and herbs, alongside the ornamental plants in her landscape. The end
result? Her small garden is able to supply much of her family’s fruit and vegetable needs for the
year and the majority of their fresh herbs.
Combines fruit trees, shrubs, and vines, as well as vegetables and herbs for four seasons of homegrown food
Clever vertical structures lend support to kiwi and grape vines
Annual vegetables are planted in succession to ensure a non-stop harvest
Nan Chase has the good fortune to live in an ideal
gardening climate near the Blue Ridge Parkway, a national
park that runs through the Appalachian Mountains. Mild
temperatures, lots of sunshine, and healthy biodiversity
reign in this part of the world. The good climate, along with
being a stay-at-home mom to three kids, gave her the
opportunity to experiment with growing a wide range of
edible plants. “I was encouragedto plant varieties that
looked beautiful and produced a lot of food,” she says.
Her plan is based on her own garden, which is just under
1/10 of an acre and includes a wide range of edible plants in informal beds.
Along with the vegetables, Nan has included trees, shrubs, vines, herbs, and
wildflowers — plantsshe says are equally important. “To me, ‘eat your yard’
means gardening for landscape beauty that lasts through the four seasons,
she says. “In some cases, I mix attractiveedibles into ornamental plantings —
Swiss chard, herbs, and roses, forexample — but I also have a couple of
all-vegetable spaces.” She evaluatesher plants from year to year to assess
whether she has really used andliked them, and whether they are reliable.
She recommends that gardeners experiment with both common and
unusual plants. For example, almond,peach, and pear trees are excellent
landscape plants that are beautiful in full springtime bloom. For outstanding
fall color, Nan suggests a sugarmaple, pawpaws, service berries (also called
Saskatoons or Juneberries), blueberries, and pomegranates.
Delicious and beautiful. Her best-tasting edibles include ‘Callaway’ crab apples (“the fruits are so sweet and juicy”), leeks, scallions (green onions), rugosa roses (“the hips!”), blueberries, and green beans (“they are incomparably tender and have such delicate flavor”). Of course, many of her favorite edibles are also extremely ornamental. “On the pretty side, some of the climbing or runner beans have lovely flowers and graceful habits,” she notes. Then there are the “neutral” plants, which she says “disappear into the general look of an ornamental bed but provide lots of food.” Among these are soybeans, which grow to be about 2 feet tall, and bush beans that can be broadcast in a small circle.
Certain areas of Nan’s yard are dedicated to mixed vegetable and herb production, which allows the crops to be easily changed throughout the season as plants are harvested. Larger fruiting plants such as crab apples, apples, pawpaws, pears, and blueberries are more permanent elements in the garden, but no less essential as they provide fruit and year-round interest and act as a screen against street traffic. Nan cautions that the trees and shrubs will require a bit more patience than the quick-growing annual vegetables and herbs. “My pawpaw had fruit this year for the first time — seven years as advertised!” she says with a laugh. Her pomegranates may never bear fruit in her rather cool climate, though she still holds out hope.
Vining interest. To take advantage of vertical space, Nan trains vines like kiwi and grape to climb pillars, trellises, and the two big posts near her stair garden, where she weaves the vines along the railings as they grow. Permanent gravel pathways lead the way around the yard, connecting each section of the garden and permitting easy access to the edible plants.
Nan’s Favorite Plants
Mixed ornamentals and shrubs: Spring bulbs such as daffodils, iris, daylilies, liriope, pansies, oriental lilies, peonies, crinum lilies, crape myrtle (dwarf cultivars), boxwood, holly (dwarf cultivars), self-seeding annuals, butterfly weed, butterfly bush, phlox, astilbe, lamb’s ears, sedum, ferns, hostas, and bee balm
Mixed vegetables, planted in succession: Onions, artichokes, lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, garlic, carrots, peas, beans, potatoes, soybeans (edamame), broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beets, pak choi, popcorn, kohlrabi, okra, peppers (hot or sweet), and tomatoes
Eat Your Yard
An exerpt from Niki Jabbour's Groundbreaking Food Gardens book with insight from Nan K. Chase
Illustrations by (c) Anne Smith
Provided with the permission of the publisher
What Not to Plant
Nan says to avoid planting these in your edible yard, due to their less-than-appealing appearance or pest and disease issues: zucchini, squash, cucumbers (“bugs and powdery mildew”), and tomatoes (“seriously homely, and everyone offers you their excess fresh ones”).