You probably know Ros Creasy as the author of her popular 1982 Edible Landscaping, or one of her 16 other books about gardening and cooking. You may know she was a pioneer in recommending organic gardening practices, recycling, other then-scoffed-at notions. But I know her as the possessor of the most beautiful photos of edible gardens in the world, so I tapped her to donate some of them for my White House proposal [pdf].
Having heard Ros speak to an adoring audience at the Burpee Open Garden Day at their Fordhook Farm Garden, I now know the back story about this photos and these. Like how she got sick of her Palo Alto, CA front lawn and decided to replace it with an ever-changing palette of edible ornamentals. That came to include corn – not the first plant we think of as pretty – and raising chickens – yes, in the front yard.
Ros's next-door neighbor at the time had just paid $2.5 million for his house and was none too happy about this turn of events, but even he eventually became a fan. Ros's advice about growing food in front yards and not freaking out the neighbors? Include flowers. And to make temperate-climate gardens attractive all winter? Hardscape, and lots of it.
But what stunned the audience was the news that she completely redoes the garden twice a year, including the hardscape, with never a repeat among the 40 different designs there to date. How does she do it? With 25 hours of help per week, on average. But why? Because it's her photo studio.
- Grow paprika! Throw away that 7-year-old jar!! These exclamations were accompanied by the passing around of a jar of her homemade paprika, which does indeed smell nothing like the stuff on my pantry shelf.
- She doesn't
believe in "companion plants" – because worrying about them makes it all too complicated. Just grow lots of
small-flowered plants all over the garden – beneficial insects love them – and you'll do fine. Thyme and other culinary herbs are recommended for their flowers and the fact that deer don't like them.
- She's a big fan of Italian cuisine, which she's quick to point out is NOT all about pasta but is indeed vegetable-based. And don't even think about ordering something out of season – it isn't done. Compared to Italians, Americans have the palettes of children, preferring foods that are soft, sweet, and
salty, though our preferences are finally becoming more sophisticated.
- A great gardening project for kids is planting wheat, cutting and threshing it, then baking it up and eating the result. She does this with the kids in her neighborhood, who eat the bread they've grown at the yearly block party.
- There's tons of misinformation
out there about which flowers are edible. She contacted one writer to ask about her sources and was told that she simply tried eating plants and if they didn't make her sick, she recommended them. But were you pregnant at the time? Or taking blood pressure medication? Um, no, said the writer as she realized the flaw in her research – and the possibility that people could be hurt by her advice.
NEW EDITION OF EDIBLE LANDSCAPING COMING SOON
So much has changed since 1982 – especially the popularity of heirlooms – that writing a new edition is turning out to be a huge project, taking 5 years and counting. But it'll be worth the wait, with many more beautiful
examples, showcased in 250 photos (versus a stingy 24 photos in 1982). And it'll include plants and photos from all over the U.S., not just her idyllic Silicon Valley location.