CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gardeners across the land are switching from "beautiful" to "practical" when it comes to plant choices. The most-frequently asked question I hear used is, "Is it easy to take care of?" when folks ask for plant suggestions. Now, people want to plant things they can consume as well as enjoy.
I can't give up pretty -- I just love colors and flowers and textures. But I'm adding a lot of practical edibles to my pretty beds that are great-looking as well as delicious.
On the back deck, I've got pots of tomatoes and peppers mixed in with the pots of annuals and perennials. Cannas grow next to jalapeños, and lobelias curl around pots filled with rosemary and oregano. The mint-filled pot sits near a low wall where guests can rub against it and release that fresh scent -- and growing it in a pot keeps it manageable.
If you've got an acidic spot, put in a blueberry. (They grow in similar conditions to azaleas or rhododendrons.) Instead of putting in a clematis vine, put scarlet runner beans or cherry tomatoes on that trellis.
In an article in Gardening Club magazine, gardener and author Ros Creasy was highlighted for planting a wine barrel filled with strawberry plants.
Creasy is the author of "The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping" (Sierra Club Books, 1982), which was followed by a dozen other books on edible gardening. She's been known to plant wheat, peanuts, lettuce and other edibles among her beds of flowers. Swiss chard is mixed with tulips. And mixing the beds keeps them healthy -- with tomato vines flanked by pots of herbs, Creasy says you are less likely to attract pests.
Marion Owen, a gardener and co-author of "Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul," says if you are faced with removing a tree that has died or outgrown its site, consider replacing it with a fruit-bearing one. Apples, currants, blueberries, Oregon grape (mahonia), raspberry, tayberry, red huckleberries, crabapples, plums and cherries are just a few of the possibilities that provide color and texture as well as food.
By the way, if you're looking for unique fruiting plants, trees and berries, check out Raintree Nursery, in Morton, Wash., (www.raintreenursery.com) and One Green World, in Molalla, Ore., (www.onegreenworld.com).
One interesting plant that caught my eye is the Sochi tea seedling, $19.95 at One Green World. Here's what they have to say: