Who doesn’t love a flower? But it wasn’t until I began to build my borders around more
substantial trees and shrubs that my garden began to take on dimension, body
and a sense of place. Whatever you want to call it—architecture, structure, the
proverbial “bones” —the floral frock of your garden hangs on this critical
framework which provides height, proportion, and balance.
Currently, three different varieties of corydalis await
placement in my already burgeoning borders. They’ve been sitting in a flat
since mid-March and may very well still be there in May as you read this.
Corydalis is the cotton candy of perennials: it blooms sweetly in raspberry,
cherry and grape before melting away to nothing. This plant is a fleeting
ephemeral in my sandy soil, offering a mere two or three weeks of bloom. It is
hardly the stuff of garden building and structural planting.
There’s no accounting for what little piece of flora will
grab my fancy. There was a time when my garden was nothing but a quirky plant
nerd’s collection; one of this, two of that. Whatever followed me home from a
plant sale or a trip to the nursery, (ostensibly to purchase compost) simply
got stuck into the garden anywhere I could find space. Don’t get me wrong—this
is a great way to observe and get to know a great many plants. As a former
nursery owner, I heartily recommend this approach. But anyone who’s faced a
“collector’s” garden with a giant pile of plastic nursery pots to show for it
knows: pretty doesn’t always make for a pleasing landscape.
Ironically, now I am free to indulge my plant lust because
more structural plantings define the space, creating planting pockets that
compliment a larger picture. A welcome side effect has been a reduced level of
maintenance as plants mature and knit together into a self-sustaining
environment provided I’ve followed the inviolable “right plant, right place”
Combining hot, salsa hues of rainbow chard with colorful
summer zinnias may create a beautiful and tasty composition but it does not a
garden make. Given the importance of woody plants in good garden design and my
continuing effort to break down the boundaries between the ornamental and
edible landscape, I investigated garden worthy, fruit-bearing trees and shrubs
that offer form as well as a function in the garden. I’ve been pleasantly
surprised at some of my findings and thrilled by the possibilities.
As for my corydalis collection, I think I’ll place them at
the base of my ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud. Their charming, if fleeting, blooms will
blend nicely with colorful waves of spring bulbs and other early season
perennials, climaxing in April when flowers appear along the redbud’s graceful
branches spangling the plants beneath them with a confetti of pink flowers, not
unlike the sprinkles on a cupcake. Not only are these tiny blossoms a valuable
nectar source for bees, but they are a delectable and decorative addition to
spring salads and desserts.
In addition to apple, pear, cherry and other fruit trees,
consider including some of the following trees or shrubs in your productive
Full sun to part shade, moist soil, these woody evergreen grasses can reach 25
feet tall. Harvest new shoots in early spring. Consult a bamboo specialist for
the tastiest shooting varieties.
Common blueberry (Vaccinium sp.) Full sun for best fruiting, height and habit
varies with cultivar; good hedge plant, delicious summer berries.
Crabapple (Malus sp.)
Full sun to partial shade, height and habit varies with cultivar, deciduous;
abundant and showy spring flowers are followed by beautifully colorful fall
Eastern redbud (Cercis
canadensis) Full sun to part shade, height to 20 feet with a
broad flat crown, deciduous; spring flowers are edible.
Evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium
ovatum) Tolerates shade, growing six to eight feet without
pruning; grows to just three feet in full sun, evergreen; late summer harvest
of sweet/tart blue-black berries.
Fig (Ficus carica) Full sun, height to 25 feet
but can be kept smaller
with pruning, deciduous; late summer harvest.
Gooseberries and currants (Ribes sp.) Full sun to part shade, these deciduous shrub
grow four to six feet tall; beautiful flowers and delicious jewel-colored fruit
Himalayan huckleberry (Vaccinium
album) Partial shade, this evergreen
grows three feet tall and equally wide; late summer harvest of blue-black
berries with a sharp flavor.
Persimmon (Diosporyus sp.)
Full sun, Asian varieties to 15 feet, American varieties to 35 feet although
they may be kept smaller with pruning, deciduous; gorgeous orange fruit ripens
in the fall.
Pineapple guava (Feijoa
sellowiana) Full sun, multi-stemmed evergreen shrub grows eight
to ten feet tall; Raintree Nursery says the spring flowers taste like “cinnamon
cotton candy.” Two-inch silver fruit with a tropical flavor ripen only in our
Quince (Cydonia oblonga) Full sun, height 20–25
feet, deciduous; closely
related to apples and pears, the bright gold, fuzzy and strongly fragrant fruit
ripens in late fall.
Rugosa Rose (Rosa rugosa)
Full sun to part shade, four to six feet tall; excellent as a deciduous
flowering hedge, harvest fleshy hips in the fall.
grandiflora) Full sun to part shade,
single or multi-stemmed tree fifteen to twenty feet, deciduous with excellent
fall color; this Northwest native bears large, red berries in July.
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) Full to part
shade, creeping evergreen groundcover to
six inches tall; bright red pithy berries begin to ripen in August. Both
berries and leaves taste strongly of wintergreen Lifesaver candy.
Chokeberry (Aronia sp.)
Full sun to part shade, a sprawling deciduous shrub five to six feet tall and
as wide, deciduous with beautiful fall color; berries ripen in fall and like
cranberries are tart, astringent and very high in vitamin C.
Elderberry (Sambucus sp.)
Full sun to part shade, a deciduous
suckering shrub to twenty feet, several cultivars with ornamental foliage; spring
flowers may be steeped in wine or prepared as a fritter; blue, black or golden
berries ripen in late summer.
In addition to these suggestions, consider columnar forms
of apple and pear trees, woody herbs and fruiting vines as you create a garden
of ornamental beauty and fruitful abundance.
Lorene Edwards Forkner is a freelance writer and garden
designer at Plantedathome.com. Her latest book Growing
Your Own Vegetables, an Encyclopedia of Country Living Guide is now
in print from Sasquatch Books.