If the whole “edible landscape” notion has seemed unrealistic to you, the Heartland Harvest Garden at Powell Gardens in Missouri just might make you reconsider. Heartland Harvest Garden, which officially opened Sunday (June 14, 2009) is 12 acres of edible landscape, which garden officials claim make it the biggest such garden in the country.
It’s a timely spectacle, opening as interest in food gardening surges. The Heartland Harvest Garden has numerous spaces both educational and beautiful: home-style kitchen gardens, fruit and vegetable parterres with designs based on quilt patterns, a vineyard, fruit tree plazas and the children’s Fun Food Farm. It is a feast for the eyes as well as the appetite. (Click below for larger images of, from left, a portion of parterre, vineyard and Fun Food Farm sign.)
In addition, the “Missouri barn” will house Fresh: A Garden Café, which will use produce from the garden; an interpretive center; and a silo/overlook of the parterres inspired by the gardens at the French chateau, Villandry. Although visitors aren’t supposed to eat the landscape as they browse, “tasting stations” offer bites of what’s ripe.
Particularly appealing is the garden’s identification labels: Not only is virtually every plant labeled, but the labels include comments about the plant’s use.
My visit left me with a couple of impressions regarding growing food:
- Container gardening can mean far more than a patio tomato in a plastic pot, which is how I’ve tended to regard it. The garden is awash in large, beautiful containers filled with a variety of edible plants. Now, I admit I’m curious as to how well some of these will do when, for instance, vines get big and herbs bolt. But even if they become unwieldy, it’s clear that if you have only a tiny spot in the sun (such as my back porch) you can still have something both ornamental and good to eat.
- There are many ways to go vertical when gardening in a confined space. Besides trellises, simple wire fences can be used to carry the load of squash, beans, tomatoes and other vining food plants, at least if you choose the right varieties.
- Inclusion of edible flowers, from nasturtiums to roses and many more, adds gorgeous splashes of color.
Powell Gardens brought in two big-name authors to design gardens. Rosalind Creasy, an early edible garden promoter, designed one, and Barbara Damrosch, Washington Post columnist and author of The Garden Primer
created another. Creasy’s books include The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping published in 1982 and most recently, Recipes from the Garden. This spring’s cool, damp weather has put their gardens behind where we might expect them to be at this late date, but it’s still valuable to see what the pros do.
I’ll be very interested to see how the gardens fare as summer’s heat sets in. For those not from this part of the world, let me tell you that the weather can and does assault crops in all sorts of ways. Will those potted plants need five-a-day watering? Will heat radiating off paving cook herbs?
And if the plants do survive, even thrive, will climbing tomatoes fall down when laden with fruit? Will pests beset the squash and melon vines? What happens when all that Swiss chard bolts? I guess I’ll have to go back and find out.
The biggest disappointment about the garden is simply that it isn’t entirely ready. Any garden is inevitably a work in progress, but the silo overlook and Fresh: A Garden Café weren’t yet open (and, yes, I was visiting for the food!); there was no interpretative guide or map to the edible gardens (yet, anyway); and the children’s area was far from complete. I wanted to see the berry-bush maze in action! So far I’ve been unable to confirm whether the entire Heartland Harvest garden is being grown with organic methods, although Damrosch, who was on hand Sunday, said her garden there was organic.
The bright side of those shortcomings: I’ll have to visit again. Alas, it’s unlikely there will be another such mild day to visit in the next month or two.
For an overview of the Heartland Harvest Garden, check out Jill Silva’s story in the Kansas City Star or Garden Fest page (which you might not think to look at) on the Powell Gardens web site. The gardens provide a map and hours.