The Sunset Kitchen Garden at the upcoming Savor the Central Coast’s “Main Event’’ Oct. 2 and 3 was designed to demonstrate the concept of aesthetically merging edible plants with ornamental plants in a formal and informal home garden.
Sunset Associate Garden Editor Julie Chai collaborated with landscape designer and project manager Ken Hayek on the design, incorporating ideas from the new “Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles.”
Plant selections for the garden were carefully chosen with several main goals in mind, Chai said: That they will grow in the North County climate zone 7, provide a variety of healthy fresh foods and herbs for the kitchen, attract birds and bees for pollination (pollinators) — or that they present colorful and interesting foliage for aesthetics.
The curving path to the Kitchen Garden sets the stage for this edible-ornamental garden experience. The welcoming walkway is lined with 24 espalied semi-dwarf dorset apple trees.
The first tier of the demonstration garden is formal in nature — laid out in a geometrical design with square and circular beds surrounded by hedges. The uniqueness here is that edible plants are combined with both pollinator-attracting and aesthetic plants and trees. The borders of the circular and square beds are a mixture of boxwoods chosen for their small size and color variety, and the herb, rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue.’ Three formal boxed sections are dedicated to Berberis (Barberry) plants, “Admiration,” “Orange Rocket,’ and “Rosy Rocket,” selected both for color and berries, which attract pollinators. Another box contains salvias, lavender, and five varieties of Echinacea flowers mixed with the culinary herbs lemon balm, parsley, Thai basil and sage.
Albizia ‘Summer Chocolate’ trees line the formal central walkway, providing a rich brown leaf color and bird-attracting foliage, while a bay laurel tree for its bay leaf, and crape myrtle, chosen for color and hardiness, line the outer edge. The far end of the formal garden is defined by New Zealand flax “Sundowner” plants, which were selected for easy care, drought tolerance and beautiful range of colors at sunset.
The more informal second garden is dedicated to fruits and vegetables, arranged in interesting vignettes reached by mulched pathways.
The 19 fruit trees are not planted in rows, but are scattered throughout the plot in creative groupings. Nectarines, nectaplums, peach, and pluot trees are placed artistically within tomatoes and peppers. Espalied Fuji apples, almond, Gold Kist apricot and pear trees stand over wonderberry 'GoJo’ and honeydew vines while Oregon sugar peas wind their way up a nearby trellis. The timeworn farm fence is home to ‘Emerald’ and ‘Jewel’ blueberries while another outer edge is dedicated to a small vineyard.
A center section of the informal garden boasts a white Kadota fig surrounded by six pineapple guava plants, chosen for their showy flowers and two-tone leaves, green on the top and white on the underside. Across the mulched path, several pomegranate ‘Wonderful’ trees not only provide fruit, but bright yellow fall color.
To develop the soil, Hayek used the ‘Double Digging’ method, which involves first digging out 10-11 inches of soil and piling it by the side of the bed, then loosening the soil in the bottom of the bed another shovel length, adding organic material to it and replacing the top soil. Mixing compost into the original top soil finished off the preparation.
Hayek and his crew did the double digging for the new plot. “It was a lot of work, but worth it,” he said, “as it enables the root system to penetrate the soil and get the water, oxygen and fertilizer needed to grow.”
With home vegetable and fruit gardening becoming more popular, the Sunset Kitchen Garden idea of utilizing more of the front and back yard for food production by aesthetically merging edible plants into the ornamental landscape makes sense.