Unusually Clever People

The Gardens of Ros Creasy

Herbs-roses-and-heirloom-flowers-creasyrPUBLIC380

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. 

SOME CREASYISMS

  • 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.Ros380

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.

Posted by on May 11, 2009 at 5:00 am, in the category Unusually Clever People.
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17 responses to “The Gardens of Ros Creasy”

  1. Sisyphus's gardner says:

    Lovely article.

    I especially like the p[art about the misinformation about which ornamentals are edible (the person was just eating things and seeing if they caused illness). I have heard a lot of folk remedies from people who have never been 500 feet off concrete in their entire life, so I knew this was not a isolated concept, but it was nice to see it exploded.

  2. Oh Boy! Edible flowers! I can’t wait for the new book, I will have to find a copy of the old one.

  3. Ahh…Ros is one of my all-time favorite people! So glad you are spreading the word about her.

    My first printing edition of Edible Landscaping is so dog-eared! I heard she was revamping it and I can’t wait until the new edition comes out. I tell all my veggie landscape clients that it is one of the first books they should buy.

  4. Gail says:

    Love her books and have been following her since I saw her front garden a dozen or more years ago in a now defunct garden magazine! I cannot imagine redoing my garden twice a year…but then there’s a lot that one can get done with 25 hours of ‘help’! Susan, I really appreciate your commitment to changing the way Americans think about lawns and gardens! Thanks, Gail

  5. Cassandra says:

    I’m glad to hear about a new edition of her classic book. The old one is good, but it does tend to recommend citrus trees more often than a northern gardener would prefer. More photos will also be great!

  6. LauraBee says:

    Can’t wait, can’t wait !

  7. Frightening to hear that someone experimented on themselves as to what is “edible” or not and then used that as basis for all. Hope this writer did not do a berries or roots story!
    In addition to the flaws Ros pointed out, there are many plants that are toxic in a cummulative way — okay at first taste or having just a touch, but not so good built up in your system.

  8. I’ve always admired the potager style of gardening that Rosiland Creasy effuses.
    It just makes sense both aesthetically , functionally and financially if you are planting a vegetable garden in the front yard, though one should not have to redesign and reconstruct their hardscaping each time.

    If you design a vegetable, herb and medicinal garden in conjunction with good landscape architectural bones ( shrubs+ trees) the ‘annuals’ ( vegetables) will not be missed during the fallow season because the structural evergreen working plants in your design will sustain the design.
    That is sustainable gardening with a nuanced twist.

  9. chuck b. says:

    New hardscaping twice a year? She must be able to write that off.

  10. zephyr says:

    So that’s it…I need to get a second job so I can afford to pay for 25 hours of help every week of the season. Hm. Never would have thought of that.

  11. Pam says:

    Wonderful post. And amazing photos. Can’t wait to read her new book, when it comes out!

  12. A new book from her is good news. I’ve been a fan of hers for years, although I stick to her book advice and not her personal practice of redoing the garden several times a year. Thanks for the inside story.

  13. commonweeder says:

    I’m so glad there will be a new edution of Edible Gardening. I’m putting in my own Potager this year, veggies and flowers, and hope it looks one tenth as beautiful as hers.

  14. Who will be the publisher for the new edition of Edible Landscaping?

  15. susan harris says:

    Spidra: the same as the first edition – Sierra Club Books.

  16. Plantanista (Maureen D) says:

    Ros Creasy is da bomb!

    Having followed her from the beginning, when I was an east coast gardener, to now, lucky enough to garden close to her SV digs, and even to occasionally offer some of our organic, home grown snails and slugs to her chickens for tasty treats, Ros continues to be an inspiration to me personally, and to gardeners all over the world.

    The opportunity to view her amazing photos is one thing, but to see her work, not only in her own garden but in those of her lucky clients, is something else entirely, and a sublime privilege.

    Her imagination and talent for combining textures, colors, and proportion would be stunning even in “conventional” landscapes. But when you bring in the edible component, she becomes the Edible Garden Goddess. A practical, down-to-earth Goddess, which is what we all need these days.

    Cheers to you, Ros, and all of us are salivating in anticipation of the new book!

    Here’s to you, Ros!

  17. susan harris says:

    Here’s the other source (in addition to herself) that Ros recommends for edible flower info:
    Edible Flowers by Cathy Barash

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