I bumped in to Nan Chase at the Blue Ridge Book Festival last May. The Asheville author was discussing her book, Eat Your Yard.
Riding the crest of the Eat Local movement, she has produced an attractive, helpful book to help backyard farmers. But instead of ripping out the sod to grow squash and beans, Nan takes an aesthetic approach—mix food-producing plants into the landscape.
Like most all good ideas, this isn't a new one. Back in 1962, my parents had the good fortune to buy a house built by Mr. Hayes, a “master gardener” before his time. Inside of three short years, he had turned a flood-prone corner lot into an attractive living space with a small ranch house and remarkable landscaping. He began with good quality dirt and fertilizer, then added an array of interesting trees and shrubs. The finishing touches were an array of amazing flowers and edibles.
That first year we enjoyed a bounty of tomatoes staked among the peonies, mint in the shade of the back porch, sage near the carport, and a plank fence loaded with gourd vines for fall decorating.
The following spring brought strawberries from the patch that hugged some old-fashioned yellow roses. Along the fence came shoots of asparagus spears and rhubarb which my mother proceeded to harvest and cook to death. We kids, of course, hated the soupy results.
Mom, who preferred house plants to landscaping, eventually let the asparagus and rhubarb succumb to neglect. Un-pruned rose canes choked out the strawberries. The mint and sage were regularly assaulted by the lawn mower. And of course we never bothered to plant more tomatoes. Within a few years, Mr. Hayes’ Garden of Eden had gone to seed and ruin.
But over the years I haven’t forgotten what he started and how magical it was to have a yard with food tucked around every corner. Recently, I tried sweetening our heavy clay soil with lime and mixing in sand for a “well-drained” asparagus bed. That effort brings a few stalks to the spring table, but I do have a healthy stand of rhubarb, sage, chives and rosemary. My small raised bed produces spinach, lettuce, tomatoes and… well, you get the idea. I’m pretending it’s 1962 all over again.