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Friday, November 11, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Plant Life

Edible, Ornamental

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You'll know you've joined the edible revolution when your White Flower Farm catalog is buried beneath those from Raintree Nursery (in Morton, Lewis County, www.raintreenursery.com; 360-496-6400) and Nichols Garden Nursery (in Albany, Ore., www.nicholsgardennursery.com; 1-800-422-3985).

A good place to get seeds is Renee's Garden (in Felton, Calif., www.reneesgarden.com; 1-888-880-7228.

IT TOOK RASPBERRIES, lettuces and basil to get my kids to notice the garden. I'd tried for years to entice them, cutting sprigs of whatever was in bloom to put on the breakfast table. I even resorted to growing a peanut-butter-scented Melianthus major outside my son's bedroom window. Now that they're 19 and 25 years old, I'd pretty much given up hope.

But since I've planted fruit and vegetables, the first thing they do when they arrive home is head outside for a snack. They pluck a few pea pods, check on pumpkin progress and ask what's for dinner. They've always been eager to discuss meals; the difference is that now it hinges on what herbs and vegetables they spot in the garden.

I'm convinced the buzz about mixing edibles with ornamentals is in large part due to younger gardeners. Gen X and Y grew up eating fresh food from farmer's markets. I doubt I ever saw a vegetable that didn't come out of a can until I was old enough to make my own restaurant and grocery choices. These are environment- and health-conscious young people, who are willing to devote garden space to growing food. They want organic, and there's no better way to ensure this than to grow it yourself.

Edibles can be an integral part of the ebb and flow of planting, ripening and harvest in even the smallest and ornamental of gardens. This is old news in Europe and not even a new idea here, yet we're seeing fresh translations. Just think of the garden designed and planted by teenagers from Seattle Youth Garden Works that took home the big prizes at last year's Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Flowers and lettuces were planted along with small fruit trees, art and containers. The garden won on sheer charm, and I bet it inspired a great many people to plant a few edibles in with the shrubbery.

I'm not talking about producing quantities, canning or freezing, but rather the joy of eating food freshly picked just outside your own back door. As with all good gardening, the success of the endeavor lies in the edit, especially on a city-sized lot. Without rows and rows devoted to vegetables, you need to be relentless about giving garden space only to those that do best in our climate and that you'll enjoy the most. While the idea of growing eggplants and peppers is exciting, they take up more garden room than they're worth because they so rarely ripen in our cool climate. Did we have a single warm evening last summer?

Some edibles are just prettier than others, so easier to work into the garden scheme. It took cut-and-come-again lettuces for me to realize aesthetics need not be sacrificed for a garden-fresh salad. Easy to grow from seed, these non-heading ruffled-leaf lettuces are variously colored and all are deliciously tender. Just keep snipping, and the plants keep on producing. Espaliered apples are a lovely sight, dripping orbs of ripening fruit along a leafy trellis. Blueberries are handsome plants with great fall color, and hardy dwarfs like 'Polaris' and 'Chippewa' are small enough to trim the front of a border.

Edibles look their best, as well as ripen faster, when corralled and elevated. Raised beds or large containers organize the plants and make it easier to provide good soil, adequate nutrients and water. There's nothing like a hard edge to show off the profusion of berry bushes, tomatoes or lettuces. Or try integrating edibles into the garden by making them part of its framework. Create a fruiting fence by planting leafy posts of columnar apple trees as closely as 2 feet apart. Scarlet runner beans can be trained as a living green canopy strung along parallel overhead wires. They'll produce beans and dappled shade in summer, then can be pulled down to let in winter light.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is valeaston@comcast.net. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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