One on One With Carol Cuoco
Nurturing a Tasty Garden, Part 1
By Gina Dostler
Newport resident Carol Cuoco, a master gardener certified in horticulture and landscape design, creates edible landscapes to rival any ornamental landscape design. Introduced to gardening as a child by her mother, an artist and gardener extraordinaire, Cuoco carries on with the same talents by planting her passion daily in designs not only to be admired, but to be eaten as well.
Q: Edible landscaping is gaining in popularity, but is it something really worthwhile?
A: There are so many beautiful edible plants that brighten the yard with their colors, flowers and fruits that there is no reason to not include these luscious plants in your landscaping. For me, beautifying the home and gracing the table with wonderful food is more than enough reason for me to replace part of my yard in edibles. For instance the artichoke plant with its beautiful grey-green deeply lobed leaves, swoop up and over to dramatically drape over the landscape producing tasty vegetables that if left unpicked blossom into gorgeous purple flowers.
Q: Don’t the edibles require a lot of space to grow?
A: No, not all! You can bring homegrown goodness into any space. Even in a cottage or condo you can utilize the limited room to plant edibles instead. Though there are some edibles like zucchinis or pumpkins that are trailing plants and require room to spread out, leafy greens such as lettuces, kale and spinach or herbs are some plants you can use for the garden design that don’t require lots of space and look pretty. There’s also vertical, raised beds, or container gardening, all viable ways to plant in any setting in any size.
Q: When planning for edibles, what are the steps to think about?
A: You have to find the sun first when talking edibles. Look at your strongest sun point. It should have at least four to six hours of sun, with six to eight being the best. This is very important. Second is irrigation. Best bet is to set up a drip system. If you have an automatic sprinkler system, tap into it for drip lines to your edibles. Since the lawn requires the most watering, connect the drip lines to the turf valve.
Q: What are the best edibles to grow?
A: There really are lots to grow and it all depends on what you like. From fruit trees to berry bushes, you can grow all kinds of wonderful things to eat. Try a garden of herbs. They are so beautiful in the ground. Lavender, sage, rosemary and thyme are pretty plants that can be placed with basil, cilantro, and parsley. All look very decorative. Chives taste and look good. It tends to droop forward, so plant it behind a little hedge or stones to keep it upright; or have it cascade over a retaining wall flowing with its round purple flowers. Rosemary too can creep over a wall or make a wonderful hedge that brings in pollinators, another benefit for the garden.
Q: Okay, but what about the garden design with the herbs and vegetables?
A: That’s where you can get so creative and have fun! Take for instance the potager garden, a French term for a traditional kitchen garden and combining it with an English design. The English are very utilitarian whereas the French love patterns and style. The combination works by squaring off the garden with boxwood or hedges, planting the vegetables inside the borders. This way there is a little bit of formality with repeating patterns of symmetry, allowing it to still look like a well-planned landscape, yet it’s actually an edible garden to make wonderful meals for eating.
Q: You mentioned fruit trees and berries. What kinds?
A: You can plant most any kinds! Instead of a ficus tree, plant an apple tree. Just plant the low-frost variety. Pineapple guava figures beautifully into the landscape. And of course any kind of citrus grows fabulous in this climate with their lovely white scented flowers. Citrus also do well in containers, so if you are limited in space, you can still enjoy these fruits either placed on a patio or nestled into the landscape. Check out the fruit salad tree. You can have orange trees with lemons, limes and grapefruit growing on them. Or peach trees with plums, apricots and nectarines instead. It’s wild, I know, but a wonderful and perfect way for a homeowner to grow a variety of fruits in a small garden plot. Besides luscious strawberries and yummy raspberries, the best berries to grow are blueberries. Super in antioxidants, easy to grow and best of all the kids and dogs love them. My favorite is figs and we keep one in a pot behind a raspberry hedge.
Q: Gardens are not only for the adults of the family, right?
A: Kids love, love, love to watch things grow. It gives them a connection to the earth and teaches them to eat good things. There are studies that show if a child can watch something grow and harvest it, the involvement in planting allows them to make better food choices on their own. Plus it’s simple fun. Have them plant strawberries or radishes. They are easy and fast to grow and fun to eat. Stevia is another plant that is easy to grow and use. Just pluck off a leaf and put it in tea to add a nice sweetness to it without the consequences of sugar.
Landscape Design by Carol LLC
PO Box 1994
Newport Beach, CA 92659