Eat Your Landscape

By Steffie Littlefield

[This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener January/February 2011 issue]
An image of lettuce, chard, and tatsoi in an ornamental garden

A formal Victorian ornamental garden features lettuce, chard and tatsoi. Photo courtesy Tamara Palmier, Missouri Botanical Garden.

Creating a garden or landscape that is more than a park but a place that produces food for your family is not just a trend, it is a style of gardening that has been documented since ancient times. From earliest recorded history there is evidence of kitchen gardens or enclosed spaces open to the sky, where plants were cultivated for their edible and herbal properties. Throughout history families and communities would organize a protected area of land where special produce, more than just the grains of the field or roots from the woods, could be propagated and grown to provide superior flavors for their meals. Modern gardeners have the same desires to grown their own special vegetables, fruits and greens to enhance the family’s table. And no longer are those plants consigned strictly to a defined vegetable garden or fruit orchard. More and more gardeners are mixing them right into their ornamental beds and borders to create their own edible landscapes!

Every garden and landscape can be revived with the addition of vegetables,

A photo of Malabar spinach, gombrena, hemigraphis, ornamental pineapple around a mailbox

Malabar spinach, gombrena, hemigraphis, and ornamental pineapple in an ornamental planting around a mailbox. Photo courtesy Tamara Palmier, Missouri Botanical Garden.

shrubs bearing berries, vines with grapes or trees producing fruits or even nuts. Wherever there is a sunny corner, an opening in a border or even in a pot or window box, there is an opportunity to add something edible. The choices are limitless but the most popular vegetables are tomatoes, peppers, beans and greens like lettuces and spinach. These can be found in the form of seeds that you grow yourself indoors in preparation for planting outside in spring or as starter plants that simple can be planted in beds in your garden.

Most vegetables prefer bright sunny spots with access to water. The soil should be loosened and some type of organic matter added to improve soil nutrients and water retention. Fruits can be found in the form of small plants such as strawberries that form a groundcover in a sunny bed, vines to grow on a fence or arbor, as shrubs small or large that produce berries and as trees that have flowers that transform themselves into sweet apples, pears, peaches and more. Blueberry or raspberry bushes can be added to landscape borders and fruit trees used in the landscape rather than other ornamental trees to provide flowers and shade as well as fruit.

Adding edibles to a landscape may require the removal of older overgrown plant material. Here is the perfect reason to finally eliminate invasive bush honeysuckle from the garden or cut out those overgrown yews that have overwhelmed the house and garden after years of neglect. Give your home a facelift and create a garden that is not only beautiful but is fruitful as well. Your family will enjoy the benefits of your efforts at the dinner table with healthy, fresh vegetables and exciting seasonable fruits and berries.

When reassessing your garden you may find that you already have some unappreciated yet delicious edibles like serviceberry, walnuts or ornamental sweet potatoes that can also be harvested and eaten. Do your research before harvesting and eating your ornamental plants since some may be poisonous, but you will be surprised at how many are considered delicacies in other cultures. Talk to your local garden center and learn more ways you can add plants with a purpose to your home landscape and enjoy the fruits of your labor in the garden and on your table.

5 Easy Steps To An Edible Landscape

1)        Plant fruit-bearing trees and shrubs.

“Our espaliered 4-in-1 trees have been very popular, with four different varieties of pears, apples or cherries on one tree. They are free-standing or you can put them against a wall, and they’re self pollinating, so one tree is all you need.” Babette Frisella Briagas, Frisella Nursery

“Try blueberries for a great shrub alternative.”—David Sherwood, Sherwood’s Forest Nursery & Garden Center

2)        Mix veggies into ornamental flower beds.

“I like mixing colorful leafy vegetables like mescalin, red-leaf lettuces, chards and kales in flower borders, plus rhubarb makes a striking accent in an ornamental garden.”—Cindy Collins, Hartke Nursery

Pick out a few tough herbs to scatter throughout your existing beds.  Rosemary, for example, provides wonderful texture with silvery green foliage and light purple flowers on upright stems. Other honorable herb mentions would be basil, Greek myrtle, chamomile and chives!—Jamie Sunfield, Hillermann Florist & Nursery.

3)        Grow vegetables and herbs in containers.
“At home, my husband and I grow our favorite herbs in containers so we can control the vigorous growth of things like mint and oregano.  We can also extend the harvest season by moving the containers indoors if we have an unexpected freeze or frost.”—Jennifer Schamber, Greenscape Gardens & Gifts

4)        Use plants with edible flowers and other plant parts in ornamental plants.
“The pansies and violas are our favorites! Plant them in the fall and they last long into the winter, then return beautifully in the spring! We really like the Delta orange blotch and blue combination.” –Sandy Richter, Sandy’s Back Porch

5)        Be careful with herbicides and other pesticides, read labels carefully or avoid use altogether.

Steffie Littlefield is a horticulturist and garden designer at Garden Heights Nursery. She has degrees from St. Louis Community College-Meramec and Southeast Missouri State, and is a member of Gateway Professional Horticultural Association and Past President of the Horticulture Co-op of Metro St. Louis.

Get a Hot Start on Cool Veggies

By Mara Higdon

[This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener January/February 2011 issue.]

Can’t wait to get out in the garden?  You can start sooner and have easily grown produce if you plant cool season vegetables!  Cool season veggies such as spinach, mustard, radishes, cabbage, kale, swiss chard, broccoli, and an array of lettuces can be started as seedlings indoors in February or sown in ground in a pre-warmed area of your garden.  These veggies thrive in the cooler weather of our early Missouri springs.  Many of the cool season veggies are also high in vitamin A and/or C.  A double bonus!

Start your seedlings indoors using the chart below as a guide. Some optimistic gardeners plant early with the hopes of mild winter weather. A week or two before the transplants are ready, prepare the garden space. To do this you will need to build a cold frame that consists of a temporary wall and an old window in the area you want to grow your veggies.  You can build your wall out of hay bales, concrete blocks, or even old bricks.  Then place the window on top of it horizontally.  This structure will allow the soil below to be warmed when the sun is out during the day.  It will also provide a bit of wind protection for your seedlings as they being their new life in the ground.  Once the weather looks promising you can try planting your seedlings outdoors.  Take note!  If the temperatures take a turn for the worse (and they definitely can at that time of year), you may need to cover them if there is a threat of a cold spell for more than 2-3 days.

Make sure that that you check on the seedlings daily.  Water your seedlings as necessary, but try to do it during the warmest time of the day.  You may also need to ventilate your structure on sunny windless days by propping it open a few inches.  It can get quite warm in the cold frame at times. If you’re an experimental gardener type, you can also direct sow one row of a particular cool veggie every week or so to extend the harvest time.

Below is a list of cool season crops you can try with the indoor and outdoor start dates for the Central Missouri zone.  I have categorized them according to the vitamins they provide your body.  I would love to see what type of cold frame structures you come up with and hear how your veggies fared.  You can send pictures to  Happy gardening!

Vitamin A (I.U./100g)

Dates to Start Seeds for Transplants

Dates to Start Outdoors/ Direct Sow

Carrot (12,500)


3/15 – 4/5

Leaf Lettuce (1620)

3/1- 4/1

3/15 – 5/10

Swiss Chard (9690)




Vitamin C (I.U./100g)

Dates to Start Seeds for Transplants

Dates to Start Outdoors/ Direct Sow

Cabbage (31)


3/20- 4/20

Cauliflower (28)


3/20- 4/20

Kohlrabi (37)




Vitamin A & C(I.U./100g)

Dates to Start Seeds for Transplants

Dates to Start Outdoors/ Direct Sow

Broccoli (3400, 74)



Collards (7630, 44)



Kale (8380, 51)



Mustard Greens (7180, 45)



Spinach (11790, 30)



Turnip Greens (10600, 60)



 Mara Higdon is the Program Director at Gateway Greening, Inc. They focus on community development through gardening throughout the St. Louis area. You can reach her at 314-588-9600 x22.

Detering Deer with Native Plants

(This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener November 2010 issue)

By Cindy Gilberg

an image of swamp milkweed

Swamp milkweed (photo by Robert Weaver)

Attracting wildlife by replacing lost habitat is one of the primary reasons to plant native plants, yet deer are among those who may come to visit. Most of St. Louis County is the territory of a highly adaptable and bold population of deer that continues to cause consternation among gardeners. Knowing which plants have good resistance to deer is the way to a peaceful coexistence with these creatures. Continue reading

Seed Saving

(This article was first published in the Gateway Gardener November 2010 issue)

By Mara Higdon

Seed saving is a fun and economical way of providing seed for next year.  To keep it simple, start with vegetables that have self-pollinating perfect flowers.  Examples include peppers, tomatoes, green beans, sugar snap peas, eggplant, and lettuce.  These vegetables’ flowers have both female (stigma) and male (anther) organs on the same flower.  For a flower to be pollinated, the pollen from the anther makes contact with the stigma.  Other vegetables such as radish, cucumbers, squash and spinach have imperfect flowers that are either male or female.  It is necessary to plant other plants of the same species close by to ensure fertilization. If, however, a plant of the same family (different species) is planted in the same garden there is a chance for cross-pollination, which could possibly lead to undesirable fruit the following year.  Continue reading

Creating a Habitat Garden

a photo of the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on blazing star

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Blazing Star, photo by Cindy Gilberg

By Cindy Gilberg

(This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener November/December 2011 issue.)

We have all seen landscapes where the only moving object is irrigation equipment or the weekly mowers. Occasionally a passing bird or butterfly can be seen, perhaps lost or on its way to more productive feeding grounds. A species count of birds, butterflies and mammals in this type of landscape would reveal very low numbers. In other words, landscapes such as these are incredibly low in biodiversity of animal species as a direct result of the low number of native plant species. Continue reading


By Mara Higdon

(This article first appeared in The Gateway Gardener March 2010 issue.)
a photo of berries on highbush blueberry

Highbush blueberry, photo courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden Plantfinder

Growing blueberries is relatively easy once they are established.  As an added bonus, the blueberry shrub provides beautiful fall foliage.  There are many varieties to choose from that range in height, fruiting season, and seasonal temperature tolerances.  For an urban area, I would suggest the mid-high hybrid cultivars that range from 2-4 feet in height.  There are also low-bush varieties that grow 1-2 feet in height. Either size can be used in the landscape as a border or hedge.  Select 2-3 year old plants so you don’t have to wait as long for your bushes to bear fruit.  Continue reading

Save Water, Plant a Dry Garden

By Steffie Littlefield

Lychnis coronariaNow it’s hot and dry just like every summer in St Louis and you look at your perennial border and a few sturdy souls stand out. You know the ones that don’t have wilted singed foliage, who still produce fresh flowers, whose color hasn’t faded to almost white or gray. Ever wonder why these can take the dry, warm weather while other plants seem to melt away? It’s all in the roots, at least mostly. Some perennials that adapt well to dryer growing conditions do so because they have deep roots that can find moisture in the greater depths of our soil. In fact these are sometimes harder to grow in a pot because they need the depth to accommodate their huge root systems. Continue reading

Peppers are HOT (or NOT)!

By Mara Higdon

Sweet Bell Pepper

Sweet Bell Pepper

Native to the Americas, peppers are a common vegetable used in cooking. High in vitamin C, peppers are available fresh or dried from scorching hot to your basic sweet bell. With Missouri’s hot summer weather, they are relatively easy to grow and come in a rainbow of colors. Try a few varieties, prep your soil and be prepared to test your taste buds. Continue reading