Using fruit trees as edible landscaping is a wonderful practice that can promote sustainability in a fun and educational way. The best thing about edible landscaping is that it can be done with minimal effort and resource use. It can be viewed as guiding existing use of resources to create something valuable–resources that are in a sense being being wasted whenever landscaping is not edible. I will give an example of the benefits and joy of edible landscaping:
The following picture is taken on the north side of Spencer Laboratory, a building in the middle of the University of Delaware’s campus which houses the Mechanical Engineering department and the Center for Biomedical Engineering Research. A picture like this could have been taken almost anywhere in America, on a college or university campus or on any office or industrial park:
The tree on the left is a flowering ornamental cherry tree, like many others on campus. The tree on the right, however, is something very special. I walked and biked by it for over a year before I finally looked close enough to see what it really was:
I am not an expert in cherry cultivars but this tree has red and yellow (peach-colored) cherries that closely resemble the Rainier and Royal Ann cultivars I occasionally see for sale. The cherries are sweet…even when not fully ripe they are considerably sweeter than sour cherries and most Bing cherries. They are flavorful and aromatic and are among the contenders for the best cherries I’ve ever eaten. These sorts of cherries are expensive when purchased at the supermarket–the cheapest I’ve ever seen them for sale is for $4 a pound, and they are often much more expensive. One year I gathered over four pounds of cherries from this single tree. I have also seen others gathering the cherries as well. This tree generates a valuable economic resource which is freely available to anyone walking by.
The tree itself seems to be given no special care beyond the care given to other ornamental trees on the campus. The University does apply both herbicides and fertilizers all over their campus, so cherries from this tree cannot be considered organic by any stretch of the imagination–but it is not given any treatments to control pests the way most commercial orchards treat their cherries with pesticides. Its cherries are naturally relatively free of pests. When I pick cherries, only a small portion of them need to be discarded due to any sort of damage. This is significant, as the Organic Consumers Association has identified cherries among their list of produce which has the highest levels of pesticide residues.
The benefits to moving over towards more edible landscaping:
- Creates a resource “for free” – ornamental trees are being planted and maintained anyway; planting trees like this cherry tree that produce edible fruit create value that would not otherwise be there. One can view these trees as creating value out of the solar energy and water already falling on the landscaping and otherwise going to waste.
- The food created from edible landscaping is relatively pesticide free, especially compared to fruit from commercial orchards, and is fresh and local; it is close to the healthiest kind of food you can get. It’s probably significantly healthier than buying organic food at a supermarket. It also avoids all the resource use associated with packing, shipping, and selling.
- Having fruit like this to pick is fun and raises people’s awareness of where their food comes from, and encourages them to plant similar trees.
Although I don’t know who is responsible for the planting of this tree, as a UD alumnus, I want to commend the University of Delaware for this tree, including anyone whose decisions led to this tree being planted and kept in place, and also thank the UD grounds unit for maintaining it in excellent condition and pruning it such that the branches are low enough to easily pick the fruit. It provides a valuable resource to the community.
How can you help?
- If you own or manage any property, consider planting an edible fruit tree next time you consider adding a tree for landscaping purposes.
- If you participate in any boards or positions that give you any decision-making power that can lead to such trees being planted, consider giving a voice advocating for edible landscaping.
- Talk to the people who manage the grounds or landscaping for any organization or corporation in which you are involved. A few ideas of spaces to target include college or university campuses, your employer, your landlord, parks in your town or city, or the grounds of government property. Let these people know that you support edible landscaping and would be happy to see more fruit trees planted.
- Explore your area to find fruit trees and other sources of fruit in public areas. Let people know about the trees that are already there so that others can experience the joys of gathering and eating fresh fruit.
- Send this post to others; this blog is just getting started; if you like the message being put forth here, consider subscribing, and also please let others know about the blog.