I HAD THE PLEASURE of meeting author and blogger Emily Murphy at Canada Blooms this year. Emily's new book, Grow What You Love shares her passion and tips for growing herbs and vegetables. And it also shares her philosophy of living a more inspired life.
I asked Emily to share more about her thoughts on fitting edibles into the landscape.
Q: You talk in your book about how your nonno (your maternal great-grandfather from Italy) practised permaculture before it was called permaculture. Can you tell me more about some of the things he did?
A: For Andrew Bei, my Nonno (my maternal great grandfather who immigrated from Italy as a young man), reading and working with the landscape was second nature. While I never met him, this is something I understand thanks to the many years spent in the orchards he planted and the gardens he once grew. Grapes and other tender plants like vegetables needing daily attention and frequent watering were planted closer to home, which also happened to be closest to the nearest water source. Further away from home he found meadows with natural seeps and plenty of open sun, tucked between the native mix of redwoods and oak woodlands, for fruit trees. Groves of plums, apples, and even chestnuts were all strategically placed to flourish within the existing landscape. It’s easy to see he took great care with his selections, spending time to develop a deep sense of the land before planting. He was a permaculture artist long before permaculture was born.
Q: You describe a vineyard on the approach to Sonoma, California, where there’s a low rock wall skirted with asparagus—and what a great landscape planting it makes. What are some other edibles that you think make great ornamental plants?
A: Edible perennials such as radicchios, asparagus, and rhubarb are an easy match with ornamentals. So too are hardy herbs like thyme and sage, and greens like chard or ‘Red Russian’ kale. Their habits are reliable and their forms just as lovely as any ornamental grass or showy perennial. They teach us to have some fun with the spaces on hand, think outside the traditional garden grid, and utilize concepts found when interplanting — pairing plants based on maturation time, habit, and seasonality to naturally build layers of texture, color, and interest in the landscape. Why not grow rhubarb in your perennial border? Or plant garden sage along with yarrow, Agastache, and bee balm? Rhubarb is one of the first to welcome spring and easily outshines its ornamental counterparts and sage is as powerful a pollinator plant as any other, plus it appreciates harvesting.
Q: In your chapter about edible flowers, you talk about using both borage leaves and flowers. I’ve used the flowers as garnishes…but never thought to try the leaves. How do you like to prepare the leaves?
A: It’s true. The leaves of borage are edible. It’s a little impossible to believe, I know. Especially when your most recent experience with borage was most likely pulling it up at the end of the prior season, leaving your arms red and itchy. But if borage leaves are harvested when still quite young they’re tender. Wilt them gently in a sauce pan with a bit of water and touch of salt, much like with nettles, spinach, or turnip greens, or toss them into a soup when it’s nearly ready to serve and you’ll have something wonderful and nutritious. It’s a triple win-win.
Q: You have sunflowers as one of the edible flowers. They do well for us here in Toronto (although I’ve found the squirrels enjoy them too!) I’ve never roasted the seeds, as my kids usually take the mature head and start chomping on unroasted seeds. How do you prepare and roast your sunflower seeds?
A: I like to roast sunflower seeds much like I roast pumpkin seeds. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F, spread the seeds out on a baking sheet, and roast for 30 to 40 mins, stirring them occasionally so they’re evenly roasted. Then sprinkle them with a little salt once cool or eat them plain — I love their simple flavor which is all the better when homegrown.
Q: What are some of your other favourite edibles that look really attractive in a garden?
A: This must be a trick question — there are so many! ‘Red Giant’ mustards, with their flamboyant leaves, the frill and spritely nature of cucamelon vines climbing their way up and over trellises, and the trailing vines of summer squash with their golden flowers are just a few. Perennial herbs are another category all their own. Fragrant, often hardy (except rosemary), and with reliable blooms for cutting, eating, and pollinators. But there are so many! These are just a few.
Emily's blog is Pass the Pistil.