Ready to go really locavore? California garden designer Rosalind Creasy shows us how to harvest herbs, fruits, and vegetables in small backyards and containers. Here's a look at her tomatoes, strawberries, zucchini, blackberries, and more.
You might be thinking you'd love to grow your own vegetables, if only you had a big chunk of earth and an endless expanse of time. But you don't need either: Edible plants can thrive in nooks and crannies -- tucked into flower beds, along the street, beside the driveway, or in easy-care pots.
You'll reap the benefits of fresh food, improve your soil, and feel a little more self-sufficient, says Creasy. "It's just as easy to grow vegetables as flowers," she says.
For more than 25 years, in the tiny front yard of her quarter-acre property on the San Francisco Peninsula, Creasy's zucchini have coexisted with her marigolds and her 'Big Bertha' peppers with her petunias. She began her garden's transformation in the 1990s, after she took out her front lawn, laid a wide brick patio to create a courtyard, and carved two small terraces at the edge of her sloped lot to prevent water from running off into the road.
She traded ornamental trees and shrubs for fruit, hedges for blueberries, and jasmine for arbors twined with cherry tomatoes. Tulips pop up amid her salad greens, and roses bloom among her 'Black Satin' blackberries (shown here). Here's how she worked edibles into the mix.
Creasy believes the most striking gardens combine the pretty and the practical. In addition to being beautiful, flowers draw pollinators such as bees, as well as other "good" insects (ladybugs and lacewings) that help control the "bad" ones (aphids and caterpillars). It's a better way to boost plant health than using chemical pesticides, which wipe out those good insects along with the bad.
In this close-up shot of the garden, 'Raven' zucchini flowers grow alongside orange marigolds.
Like most petite front gardens, Creasy's needed separation from the street, along with ways to delineate smaller spaces. Instead of building walls or planting hedges, she made dividers she could eat: 'Enchantment' tomatoes and 'Straight Eight' cucumbers on wooden frames strung with wire trellising.
Between her yard and the street, she installed low redwood fencing and planted flowers and edibles -- including geraniums, black-eyed Susans, strawberries, and collards -- in front of and behind the fence. Even her chicken coop, discreetly positioned in a corner of this same front space, is a version of a garden room, its wire walls supporting 'Sungold' tomatoes.
Dense green junipers once separated Creasy's driveway from a neighbor's. She subbed in a dwarf 'Pink Pearl' apple tree, along with blueberries, strawberries, and cherry tomatoes. This colorful pastiche, which includes purely ornamental boxwood, blooming Gaillardia (blanket flower), Celosia (cockscomb), and purple irises, made her neighbors so happy, they added their own tomatoes.
For privacy and screening, Creasy and her neighbors share fruiting trees, as well: a 'Fuyu' persimmon, 'Black Mission' figs, 'Bearss' limes, and 'Shinseiki' Asian pears. The ripe fruit, each arriving in its own season, hangs copiously on either side, so both households can enjoy it.
For the gaps in planted borders and between stepping stones, Creasy chose herbs such as spreading thyme (pictured here), instead of more prosaic fillers such as turfgrass or baby's tears. Not only do such herbal carpets flower, smell good, and attract bees, they're also less thirsty than most of their purely decorative cousins.
At the garden's entrance is a gateway twined and topped with scarlet runner beans and blooming clematis. The clematis is a common garden greeter, and the beans' upright vining habit makes them ideal for the job as well.
In the shadier rear garden, Creasy trained a lusty 'Lisbon' lemon over the entrance to a seating spot. Its scented flowers and large fruit draw attention to a quiet corner that might otherwise go unnoticed.
With a few exceptions, edibles need about eight hours of full sunlight. Since the lot is brightest in the front, most of Creasy's food plants had to go there. (Some herbs, such as parsley and dill, tolerate more shade.)
Pictured here are some of the scarlet runner beans along the arbor near the garden's entrance.
"I killed a lot of plants before I learned this lesson," Creasy says, "especially potted plants." All her containers now use drip irrigators, which can be regulated by automatic timers (kits available at dripdepot.com). Since small-scale tubing releases water around the plants' roots, less moisture is lost through evaporation than with sprinklers.
Since she never has enough bed space for all she wants to grow, Creasy plants about 20 extra-large pots full of peppers, cucumbers, winter squash, and bush beans.
Pots add architectural elements and make edibles easy to tend. And because they're raised in potting soil, the plants are changed often and never need weeding. You can also give seedlings a good start by growing them in a container.
Fertilizer: Buy organic. Chemical varieties often lack trace elements plants need.
Seeds: Space according to packet instructions. (Try Martha Stewart's organic variety from Home Depot.)
Soil: Add a lightly moistened layer of organic potting mix at least a foot deep.
Filler: Place a plastic bag filled with leftover packing peanuts in the bottom of large containers to use less soil.
Vessel: Any container (at least 18 inches high and 28 inches in diameter) can work, as long as you drill a few holes in the bottom.
Feet: If needed, use wooden blocks or other items to raise your planter and help drainage.
Pictured here, Creasy's recycled wine barrel contains chives sprouting behind (from left) oregano, 'Green Ruffles' and 'Purple Ruffles' basil, and marjoram. Rosemary, parsley, variegated cress, and thyme grow out of holes she carved into the sides.
Creasy suggests these seeds for just about any climate: lettuce, peppers, blueberries, strawberries, zucchini, collard greens, cucumbers, and Mediterranean herbs (oregano, sage, and thyme).
Pictured here, 'Seascape' strawberries are raised in pots to ward off slugs and fruit rot.
The creator of this edible Eden is a food and garden writer, photographer, and landscape designer whose passion for organic gardening and growing her own food dates to the 1970s. She gives lectures across the country, has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, and works as a consultant to restaurants, growers, and seed companies.
Her latest book, "Edible Landscaping," is a revised and updated version of "The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping," published in 1982.