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Guavas and quinces and other edible ornamentals
from the Davis Enterprise, October 22, 2009
Strawberry jam and a marketing ploy prompted this column.
One grower started labeling some of their attractive winter vegetables "ornamedibles" to suggest to customers that they leaves were pretty as well as edible. Ok, it makes a good point, but it's a little too cute for me. Garden writer Rosalind Creasy came up with a more staid term in her book The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping, originally published by Sierra Club Books in 1982 and due for an updated edition in January 2010: edible landscaping. The idea is simple: mix edible plants into your landscape. Choose landscape shrubs and trees that happen to provide food as well as beauty. Grow your vegetables, flowers, and herbs together for mutual benefit (the herbs and flowers draw beneficial insects for the vegetables, among other things).
Some common landscape shrubs meet these criteria: rose hips (fruit) can be used in tea, for example. Others aren't as well known, but include some adaptable shrubs and vines. Many of these plants help fill the harvest basket in fall and winter.
An unassuming little shrub in the myrtle family came our way the other day. It has tight, shiny dark green leaves, and a compact growth habit. Scattered along the branches were dark reddish-purple fruit, about the size of blueberries. Arising from the plant was a wonderful aroma of strawberries and guavas. It smelled just like fresh strawberry jam! The little berries had a sweet/tart flavor and a mealy semi-juicy texture.
is the odd name of this delightful little shrub. Native to Chile and parts of Argentina, it is sold by the common name Chilean guava. Ugni is a rare case where an indigenous name has been used for the botanical name; usually taxonomists use Latin (rarely Greek) names. In southern Chile the fruit is combined with hard liquor and syrup to make a liqueur called Murtado, which translates to "little myrtle."
Ugni: Chilean guava
Chilean guava will take full sun or shade, average water or drought, growing to 6' or so if you let it, but can be readily pruned to keep it small. Plant this near a window where you can enjoy the aromatic fruit, or near a path for quick nibbling. Adaptable, ornamental, and edible.
Feijoa: pineapple guava
Another shrub with edible fall fruit, also in the myrtle family and originating in South America, is
commonly called Pineapple guava. The name is indigenous, but not of the fruit itself: Feijoa is actually named after a Brazilian botanist. More obscure information about the name: it has nothing to do with a
, a Portuguese bean and meat stew common in Brazil;
derives from the Portuguese word for beans which is
. And some taxonomists give the plant's name as
which is the name by which you will find it on the UC Arboretum All-Star list, but which is rarely used in other references.
But I digress.
The dark green leaves are grey and fuzzy on the underside, giving an overall olive-green effect. The fleshy pink flowers are edible and sweet, popular with birds. The fruit is nubbly, dark green, ripening in October - November. Usually the fruit is cut in half and the fleshy interior is eaten with a spoon, though it is said to make an excellent chutney. Harvest the fruit when they begin to fall. They can store for a few weeks in a dry, cool location.
This is a tough ornamental shrub, tolerant of sun, some shade, wind, and drought. In fact, it is most commonly planted as an ornamental in Northern California. Feijoa can be trained as an attractive small tree, or clipped as a large hedge. Many growers propagate it from seed, so the fruit is variable, but some do cuttings or grafted plants of the varieties that have been selected for large high-quality fruit.
Both of these have the common name "guava" but are not considered true guavas. Do true guavas grow here? Members of the genus
(the p is silent), and also in the myrtle family, they're usually thought to be too tropical. But strawberry guava
has been grown without cold damage in the Sacramento Valley, and is about as hardy as your citrus: plan to protect it during serious freeze events, but most winters are not an issue.
One ornamental with very showy flowers is little known for its fruit, but well worth seeking:
the flowering quince. As the name suggests, it is closely related to the fruiting quince. This bright-blossomed deciduous shrub is the first to flower in late winter here. The most common variety is red, but there are white, salmon, and pink varieties, and the plants range in height from 3' to 8' or more.
Flowering quince is very adaptable, tolerant of sun or shade, and moderately drought-tolerant. Some varieties set moderate crops of 2 - 3" yellow fruit that resembles a very hard, lumpy apple, ripening in mid-fall and holding on the plant well into winter. The fruit is unbelievably aromatic and cooks down into a rich sauce useful for flavoring roasts or making into jam or jelly. Not every variety sets fruit, and reference books don't list them that way. If you see one with fruit, ask the owner if you can harvest them. Most people have no idea they are edible.
A couple of vines have edible fruit.
is an attractive, well-mannered deciduous vine which twines to about 15'. The flowers are dusky purple or white and smell like vanilla. The fruit is pretty rare, but looks like a purplish sausage and has a taste that is described as sweet with a consistency that is "an acquired taste." The vine stems, according to one forum, are sought by basket weavers to "make intricate and delicate basketry."
is the genus of vines (some rampant) that includes the subtropical passion fruits as well as the ornamental passion flowers. Most of the varieties of
, which are grown especially for fruit, are more tender, though they can be grown here with protection. Some of the other species and varieties, generally grown for their showy flowers, happen to also produce edible, even tasty, fruit. Examples include
. All the passion flowers are likely to show frost damage in a normal winter here, but recover quickly in spring.
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Some citrus are grown primarily as ornamentals: clean shiny leaves, fragrant flowers, colorful fruit which happens to be tasty. Kumquats and calamondins are among the most attractive citrus for their dense growth habits and narrow leaves. Both flower over a longer period than other citrus, setting and holding bright orange fruit nearly year-around. Sour oranges have long been planted as ornamentals, with fruit used in preserves and marmalades.
are in the genus
, and are native to a colder region of China than other citrus. Thus they can be grown well north of the usual range of citrus, and were unscathed by our major Sacramento Valley freezes of 1990 and 1998 (the fruit on my Nagami kumquat froze solid and fell off at 16F in 1990, but the leaves weren't even damaged; a nearby navel orange was nearly killed).
The fruit is tart but the peel is sweet, so the way to eat a kumquat is to pop it whole into your mouth and chew it up quickly. The tangy flesh will startle you, but will be balanced by the sweet skin.
in the Philippines) is generally described as a hybrid between the kumquat and a tangerine. This puts it in the relatively hardy category as citrus go. Again, the peel is sweet, but the flesh is very tart, so it is usually used as a garnish (squeeze onto fish as with lemon) or for sweetened drinks. Braver souls can pop the fruit whole into the mouth and chew rapidly. Most people who grow Calamondin just consider it an ornamental shrub with fragrant blossoms and showy fruit.
are actually a signature tree in downtown Sacramento. A stately line of them, probably the Seville variety, can be seen leading up to the east entrance to the Capitol building. Large showy fruit litters the ground during winter, and countless tourists have tried to eat them. But sour oranges, although intensely flavored, are both very tart and somewhat bitter, requiring lots of sugar to be palatable. Hence they are the classic fruit for marmalade. Note: 2 lbs. (6 - 8 fruit) of sour oranges makes about 11 cups of marmalade. A tree produces 50 - 100 fruit or more.
Not very many gardeners plant sour oranges anymore, what with more tasty relatives available here, but a couple of varieties are worth mentioning and seeking out as garden plants. 'Chinotto' has small, attractive leaves and a very tight, bushy growth habit on a slow-growing plant with clusters of small, shiny orange fruit.. It is sometimes called the myrtle-leaf citrus (there's that
again; citrus are not in the myrtle family, but there is a resemblance of the foliage). 'Bouquet de Fleurs' has huge clusters of extra-fragrant flowers and attractive fruit. 'Chinotto' makes a great bonsai; 'Bouquet de Fleurs' is often used as a focal container specimen. One other sour orange worth noting is 'Bergamot,' which has extra-pungent fruit that is used to flavor Earl Grey tea.
This is the lazy way to get food from the garden! We choose plants that are pretty and easy to grow, and the fruit is a nice bonus.
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© 2009 Don Shor, Redwood Barn Nursery, Inc., 1607 Fifth Street, Davis, Ca 95616
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