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Biodiversity in an edible landscape

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Costa Georgiadis sheds light on what it means to have diversity in an edible landscape.    
Often when people want to create an edible landscape they really only mean a vegetable garden, discretely located out the back behind the shed. Costa believes that we should not be beholden to those old beliefs and that instead we should be concentrating on maximising the production of the garden.


Why not have an edible front yard, for instance with striking plants such as rhubarb and artichoke?     
Costa has other great ideas. Borders could be made of thyme or marjoram and parsley could be planted as an understorey. These things may need to be replanted but the produce we gain from them is worth that extra effort.

Tied to this, Costa sees that we have lost our urge to celebrate food. Cherry Week in Young reminded him that rarely do urban dwellers get to celebrate the crop, something that Europeans have been doing for centuries. In fact, because we import from all over the place there are blurred lines about the seasons and not much recognition of how the crop is grown and harvested. When he was living in Vienna Costa found that each month was a celebration of that particular crop when it was at its peak for example peaches, asparagus, plums, berries and all guest houses and restaurants would feature this produce in their menus.
The other thing to remember is that when it is at the height of the season, produce is at its cheapest so it really is time to celebrate it by cooking, pickling or just eating and enjoying lots of it. As Costa notes - what does December or January in Australia mean without mangoes?

Integrating edible plants into all parts of the garden makes it more difficult for insects to chomp their way through parallel rows of identical plantings. This diversity of plants prevents one insect species from dominating any particular planting, a kind of natural insect control.

Many edible plants are beautiful to look at if we take off our blinkers about what plants we want to look at. This integration of plants is also how natural bush tucker grew in its original landscape. Good drainage at the top of a ridge would be ideal for lemon myrtle whereas a shaded, moist area suited warrigal greens. Looking at how these plants are orientated in the landscape can help people understand where they should be planted in their garden and careful selection can ensure that there is always some plants producing food, thus reconnecting with the seasons.

People forget that macadamias and lilli pillies are also bush tucker and are easy to grow and care for, as are midyim or Midgen berries and dianellas. For beginners Costa recommends mint in a moist position and a lemon tree (try ‘Lotsalemons’) which can also be grown in a pot. A grafted citrus tree known as a splitzer, which produces lemons and limes on the one tree is also worth a thought.

He thinks lilli pillies, which produce apple-like fruit, are valuable for their range of uses and lemon myrtle is a useful native plant, the leaves easily making a tea when a few are steeped in hot water for five minutes or so.
Those who have areas which get at least five hours of sun a day should think about a passionfruit vine. Create a simple structure for it to grow over and you will be harvesting fresh passionfruit for use as a refreshing summer drink, freeze it in ice cube trays for later use on cakes and fruit salad too. Herbs, such as sage and rosemary are a standard that no garden should be without. What about planting a rosemary hedge instead of the typical murraya or buxus hedge, and give it a shape so that it even can become a focal element and talking point in your garden?

How much productive diversity your garden reflects is your decision. Just make sure that you observe what is happening to them when they grow because they may need to be moved.    
At the end of the day “OBSERVATION” is the best asset any gardener can carry in their wheelbarrow of tools.
Every garden is different, but when you are out and about and see a wonderful example of a particular plant, take a second and observe the conditions in which it is thriving: what way is it facing, is it out in the open or part of an understory, is it protected from strong winds, what type of soil is it growing in, where is it in the landscape (top of hill, bottom of hill or in the middle), is it potted......

This list could go on but the point is that you will be surprised at how much information you can absorb just by looking a little more closely at the plants around you. And what's more, it is the most healthy research you can do because you are not sitting down at a desk or computer, you are actually out in the landscape enjoying the view, the fresh air and the beauty of being in nature.

Text: V.B. March 2010

All images from Costa Georgiadis 

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