A fruitful stroll Garden: Who needs the supermarket? Your own shrubs, trees and ground cover can provide you with produce all summer.

July 05, 1998|By Ary Bruno | Ary Bruno,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There is something idyllic about walking around a well-landscaped property, no matter what its size, and being able to casually pluck the bounty of nature from otherwise conventional-looking ground covers, shrubs and trees. What super-market could offer as much con-venience and freshness as something you have nurtured yourself? With a little extra planning, even a very small garden can provide this return to Eden with minimal expenditure of time and money.

While some of the most popular edibles, such as citrus fruits, mangoes and avocados, are not compatible with our climate, and others may call for large, unconfined spaces - think of chestnuts, pecans and full-size pome fruits - the home landscaper still has a wealth of choices.

Besides the obvious substitution of fruiting for non-fruiting plum, cherry and crab apple trees, even formal elements of traditional gardens can be metamorphosed. For instance, take the allee of pleached limes or hornbeams that English gardeners are so fond of. Why not an allee of pleached filberts (hazelnuts) or sweet Chinese jujubes, which taste like apples and look like dates, with handsome, glossy, dark leaves?

Other attractive small trees can also be seamlessly integrated into the landscape. Many of these are self-fruitful, and can be found on dwarfing rootstocks if desired. Sweet cherries ('Lapins,' 'Stella' and 'Morella') and sour ('North Star' and 'Meteor'), crab apples ('Candied Apple' is a weeping variety), Italian prune plums, persimmons, peaches, pears and apples are all good candidates, with only the last three really needing a spraying program - or you can choose resistant cultivars, like the apples 'Freedom,' 'Liberty' and 'Sops of Wine.'

There are more unusual possibilities. Turkey figs are beautiful trees, hardy in this area, with large, glossy, green leaves, whose fruit can be eaten fresh, preserved or dried. Quince, with its lovely white or pale-pink, cuplike flowers, can be used in cooking like apples or pears and trained as a bush, espalier or small tree. Shadblow, or service- berry, as it is sometimes called, is one of the first trees to bloom in the spring, with graceful sprays of white flowers followed by dark-blue, half-inch berries used like blueberries. At 10 to 15 feet, it makes a fine shrub or small tree for a lightly shaded situation.

For ground covers, there are boysenberries and other trailing blackberries, most thornless and forming a thick network of non-climbing prostrate vines. Alpine strawberries are another tasty option, which I plan to introduce, in the cultivar 'Pink Panda,' to my own front yard next year to augment some happily rampant wild strawberries. Lingon-berries (12-16 inches tall); dwarf blueberries ('Top Hat' and 'Wells Delight'); Gaultheria procumbens, the basis of wintergreen flavoring; and bearberry, or Uva-ursi, used in herbal teas, are other options.

Vines with edible fruit, beyond the generous selection of grapes, range from hardy kiwis (Actinidia arguta and kolomikta), to passion flowers ('Maypop,' 'Coralsea'), hops and akebia, with its sweet but tough-skinned fruit, which can also be used as ground cover. Classic annual vines are 'Scarlet Runner Bean' and 'Hyacinth Bean' (Dolichos lablab), with red and pink-mauve blooms, respectively. For a less invasive (annual) alternative to English ivy, one could try Malabar spinach, with its striking red stems and large, dark-green leaves, which will quickly cover a trellis, post or fence. This would be especially nice for those in rented quarters who do not want to invest in long-term landscaping to cover board or wire fences.

Small and medium-sized shrubs abound. Many are extremely sturdy and under-rated, such as the beach plum (somewhat tart, but delicious in pies and preserves); high- and low-bush blueberries, which could take the place of bayberries in the landscape; the native evergreen huckleberry; gooseberries and currants; and high-bush cranberries (Viburnum trilobum compactum). Chilean guava (Ugni molinae), a small, evergreen shrub with white rose-tinted flowers in early summer followed by red berries that taste like strawberry guava, could make a delightful hedge.

Even if you end up leaving or losing some of your harvest to birds and other varmints, you may still feel that quintessentially American satisfaction of being a little more independent, and enjoying the natural riches of this Earth at your doorstep.

Bamboo shoots, anyone?

Plant sources:

Lawsons Nursery, Yellow Creek Court, Ball Ground, Ga. 30107; 770-893-2141

Wayside Gardens, 1 Garden Lane, Hodges, S.C. 29695; 800-845-1124

Stark Bros. Nurseries & Orchard Co., Louisiana, Mo. 63353; 800-325-4180

Miller Nurseries, 5060 West Lake Road, Canandaigua, N.Y. 14424; 800-836-9630

Henry Field's Seed & Nursery Co., 415 North Bumett, Shenandoah, Iowa 51602; 712-246-2011

Pub Date: 7/05/98

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