Edible landscaping: a growing idea

Ray Mueller
Edible landscaping is a fun and tasty way to liven up your property.

KIEL - “The more I grow, the less I mow” is the motto for John Holzwart on what happens in the yard at his residence in Sheboygan.

In a presentation at the Kiel Public Library, Holzwart described himself as an urban gardener, a beekeeper, fruit tree grafter, edible landscaper, an ethical forager of wild plants, and a broom maker. He is also a grower, preserver, and consumer of fruits and berries that he harvests in his own yard and from other sites.

Both for himself and others, Holzwart endorses “edible landscaping” as a way to obtain nutrient dense inexpensive food, reduce the use of fossil fuels and pesticides, and find exercise. He also listed food security and safety, an opportunity for some extra income that supports the local community, and a reason to invite friends to one's backyard.

Site specifications

To anyone who decides to keep “a seasonal connection with nature,” Holzwart emphasizes establishing a diversity of plants in order to limit risk of pests and disease, arranging the plants so the tallest ones are at the north side on the site, choosing plants on such criteria as size and taste and color of the produce, and being aware of the blooming and harvesting times of the plants.

Depending on the plant, the growing site can be a container, a raised bed, a vertical structure such as a trellis or teepee, and a building rooftop along with a ground level growing bed, Holzwart indicated. For a ground level site, he recommends taking out the existing vegetation with a layer of cardboard or newspapers and enhancing the spot with soil-building layers of organic matter and fertilizers topped by compost.

In addition to the popular rhubarb and asparagus, among the easiest species to grow in the area are apples, berries, grapes, nuts, and a few of the stone fruits, Holzwart pointed out. With some of them, especially apples and nuts, several years are needed before the plant produces, he cautioned.

Apple ideas

With apples, the possibilities include traditional practices along with some recent innovations such as a red-fleshed fruit which is tart, Holzwart observed. He noted that dwarf apple trees, which can produce in four to five years, can be grown in container pots or trained in order to grow close to a brick wall.

A blueberry shrub serves an edible as well as ornamental function. Blueberries are an easy-to-grow alternative to turf in problem areas like around trees, slopes and pathways.

Grafting several apple varieties onto a single rootstock, such as famed botanist Luther Burbank did with 144 varieties on a single tree, is a common practice, Holzwart continued. Although he has not grown them himself, Holzwart mentioned the relatively new columnar apples which grow on a straight trunk, thereby saving space.

Regarding stone fruits, Holzwart warned that apricots bloom quite early, putting them at a risk of frost in the local area. Among the new California-bred stone fruits with a plum component are the tasty pluots and apriums (both plum and apricot crosses), he reported.

With grapes, for which Holzwart's Interlaken variety has perished, one precaution is to keep them from getting sidewalk or driveway salt runoff, he stated. He still has the Seedless Concord, which he prefers to dehydrate as raisins rather than for making wine, jam, or jelly.

Berry categories

Among berries, numerous new choices have become available to augment red and black raspberries and strawberries, Holzwart stated. He mentioned yellow and giant variety raspberries along with the white pine berry (a strawberry variety from Europe available from Stark Bros.) and the pine lemonade blueberry, which requires acidic soil.

Second-year strawberries thrive in an area of partial shade.

Holzwart noted that the aronia — also known as choke berry (not the same as chokecherry) — is considered “a super fruit” that has both black and red varieties whose berries need to be supplemented with sugar to improve taste. He also mentioned the “old classic” elderberry whose flowers and berries are edible.

For the highbush cranberry, be sure to select the native viburnum trilobum species rather than the European species (very bitter berries) for making soda, juices, jam, and jelly, Holzwart stressed. Similarly, with quince, which has a flowering variety that smells like jasmine along with a fruiting variety, be sure to mix the mealy dry fruit with apples or plums when making preserves, he added.

Black and red currants are winter hardy while gooseberries need to be placed so their sharp spines aren't near regular human traffic, Holzwart pointed out. As an alternative, he suggested the jostaberry hybrid (gooseberry cross with black currant), which doesn't have those spines.

Specialty choices

Holzwart raves about the rugosa rose, whose hips are very high in vitamin C and whose petals become a “it is divine” delicacy after being placed in neutral honey for six weeks. He also likes the red bud not only for its edible flowers but also for its roots which fix nitrogen and share it with adjacent trees.

The traditional mountain ash's fruit is bitter but the newly bred Ivan Beauty and Ivan Belle are much better, Holzwart observed. He also mentioned the shipova, which is a cross between the mountain ash and pear.

Edible dogwoods include the cold hardy carnus mas variety along with the carnus kousa variety, Holzwart stated. The American persimmon has a delicious fruit with a very high pectin content, he noted.

Holzwart also mentioned the increasingly popular pawpaw, which is a tropic-like fruit with similarities to the mango, avocado, and banana. It is the largest edible fruit native to the United States, can grow to a height of 25 feet, and tolerates shade, he indicated.

Another choice for shaded locations is ostrich fern (fiddlehead variety), Holzwart stated. He noted that it commands a price of $12 per pound in sales to restaurants in Chicago.

Specialty species sources

Holzwart realizes that some of species he mentioned are not familiar ones to the ordinary or new gardener. They are not included in the most popular seed and plant catalogs nor are they available at most nursery or greenhouse outlets.

To find those not in the major catalogs, Holzwart advises checking with suppliers such as One Green World, Raintree Nursery, Edible Landscaping, Trees of Joy, Just Fruits and Exotics, Burnt Bridge Nursery, Forest Keeling Nursery, Hidden Springs Nursery, Dave Wilson Nursery, and Petals from the Past — all of which have websites at those spellings or abbreviations of them. One exception is St. Lawrence Nurseries, whose website is

Holzwart has a website at He can be reached by phone at 920-457-9290 or by e-mail to