The Aesthetic Pantry: Trading Ornamentals for Edibles, by Matthew C.

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Henri Frederic Amiel once said, “Any landscape is a condition of the spirit.”
While once standing on the kopjes of South Africa, gripped by the panoramic view of vast bushveld, scrub thorn, and columns of azure African sky, the condition of my spirit was one of breathtaking wonder at our God’s creation.  When once overlooking the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, eyeing this deep and seemingly never ending chasm of layered and painted earth, the provision of my soul was that of mute and wide-eyed awe. Twice, the state of my existence soared on the wings of angels when my own “personal” landscape was narrowed to a small sterile hospital room in the maternity ward, where I witnessed the birth of my children.  Whether on the grand scale of a vista or on the hinged moments of a few first breaths, our landscape, and our reaction to it, truly portrays the window to our soul.

After reading Mr. Amiel’s quote, the onetime energetic and youthful landscaping crew worker of my college years resurfaced.  I asked myself, “Could the same ‘condition of spirit’ hold true for the conventional sense of the word that we know of as “landscaping”?  When most Americans think of the word “landscaping”, we normally think of neatly ordered rows of flowers, shrubs, and trees aesthetically modifying the visible features of a given area.  Holding true to Mr. Amiel’s quotation above, even this type of landscaping can portray just as much about us as our reaction to the first time our own “personal” landscape moved within our spirit.  More so, if Mr. Amiel is accurate, then the condition of the American spirit today sorely lacks the want, the need, and the drive of what we should all be striving for-sufficiency.

From the age of the pondering philosophers of the Greek Empire to the fashionably emulated and manicured streets of Paris and London, landscaping has and always will be one of those unexplainable acts that just exist and continues unerringly.  Whether it is because of the familiar pang of jealousy as your own property is compared to the next, to accentuate the beauty of what already exists, or to increase the monetary value of an area, holes will be dug, plants will be placed, and sprinklers will give life to our visions or our greed.  While each new foot of growth gives us an economical or covetous grin, that which is named “sufficiency” frowns down.  What will happen when the day comes when a morsel of food far surpasses the value of our property or the nurturing of our ego?

During my tenure in the landscaping industry, I have witnessed people emulate the lawn of the White House, mimic designs of their neighbors, and even replicate the lawn of their childhood homes.  I have performed jobs barely worth the effort, and I have completed tasks that cost as much as a low income family makes in one year.  When I look back on those years with a more observing eye, there is one underlying theme that resonated throughout each job.  Either grand or demure, the premise was this: Whether it was a flower, a shrub, or a tree, in no way did it provide even minute physical sustenance.  While pleasing to the eye or the heart, it was never advantageous to the stomach or body.
As preppers, our “condition of the spirit” should be this:  If it grows on our property then it must have a legitimate purpose.  And so, like an apparition from a lost and forgotten world, in walk the concepts of “edible landscaping”.   This principle was achieved almost effortlessly by our grandparents and forefathers and is beginning its rebirth again today.  It was attained just as effortlessly from the dawn of mankind, and it is still being accomplished by a select few, either out of a like mind or out of necessity. 
Edible landscaping is defined as an approach to food production in which exotic or ornamental plants are replaced with edible or productive plants.  The concept and advancement is neither daunting nor is it unfamiliar.  It may be achieved in stages or accomplished as a complete project, and, surprisingly, you do not have to sacrifice beauty for practicality and sustainability.
As survivalists, it is our duty to appraise our current level of landscaping and to take note of the plants which could or could not supplement some form of nutrition in the event of a crisis.  I will venture to say that our lists are quite small.  I might also venture to say that we may still be holding an unmarred sheet of paper after the assessment.  By the end of this article, it is my hope that your next appraisal yields a veritable pantry and bounty.
Whether or not we are discussing “ornamental landscaping” or “edible landscaping”, there are five main components to the overall design of both-trees, shrubs, vines, flowers, and ground cover, and the keys to the transition are simple substitutions and suitable plant choices that compliment both your taste and your climate. This is not meant to be a landscape design or plant zoning thesis but rather a substitution tutorial, a nudge in the self-sufficient direction. It goes without saying that we should all take the liberty of knowing landscaping basics; correct plant zoning for the area in which we live, care, fertilizing and watering needs of our plants. Likewise, we should also understand the common pests that infect them and complement our choices with our own skill level of each component prior to undertaking such a pivotal task. 


Common tree species that are frequently selected in traditional landscaping designs are Ligustrums, Japanese Maples, Oaks, Spruces, Ornamental Pears, Hollies, and Myrtles.  These, otherwise ineffectual varieties, can easily be replaced with tree species that offer more culinary and medicinal qualities, while still retaining attractiveness.

Fruit-bearing Substitutions
:  If your substitution goal is to supplement your diet with more fruit production then your choices vary greatly and are dependent upon your taste.  Any fruit bearing tree can be substituted in the place of an ornamental tree and still maintain aesthetic value.  Examples include: Mayhaw, Juneberry (Shadbush, Saskatoon, and Serviceberry), Elderberry, Pawpaw, Guava, Crab Apple, Cherry, Apricot, Nectarine, various Citrus Varieties, Edible Banana, Apple, Kousa Dogwood, Fruiting Pear, and Plum. The choice of your species will be dependent upon sizing, spacing, shading, and practical use relative to your own needs. A family with a collection of fruit bearing trees on their property would have a tremendous advantage over that of a home that did not during a long term crisis.

Nut and Oil-bearing Substitutions
:  For those of us who prefer a more protein and fat laden diet (essential in any long-term survival scenario), then one available option is to replace an ornamental tree species with a nut or oil bearing variety.  Examples include: Almond, Filbert/Hazelnut, Gingko, Italian Stone Pine and other Pine Nut producing varieties, Chestnut, Olive, Chinquapin, Dwarf Pecan, Heart Nut, Butternut, Baurtnut, and Yellowhorn.  Nuts are of the simplest heart healthy powerhouses.  Pecans, for example, provide more antioxidant power than any other nut1, while pine nuts offer an incredible 18.5 grams of protein per cup2.

Medicinal Substitutions
: Whether your goal is to compliment your existing medicinal supplies or provide a long-term solution to a well stocked medicine cabinet, many trees provide naturally occurring compounds that have the same effectiveness as over the counter medication today. Examples include: Gingko, Birch, White Willow, Balsam Poplar, Dogwood, and Sassafras. In the absence of on-hand medical aid, having both the provision and knowledge to tend to our family’s medicinal needs will be critical.  White Willow bark (Salix alba) contains high amounts of salicin, which is the chemical forerunner of today’s most popular painkiller – aspirin3.  The inner bark of most dogwoods has a quinine-like quality effective in reducing fever and yields anti-inflammatory effects4, just to name a couple of surprising benefits.

Medium and Small Sized Shrubs (Perennial)
Common medium to low level shrub species used in traditional landscaping are Azaleas, Hawthorns, Gardenia, Heather, Oleander, Hydrangea, Roses, Thuja, Berberis, Clematis, and a variety of ornamental grasses.  In most cases, these plants are not only counterproductive but also poisonous.  As with the previously discussed tree species, we can substitute a multitude of plant varieties that are strikingly beautiful yet provide a long term resolution to caloric intake and production.  It is important to note that when selecting surrogates that only perennial varieties be used.

Daylilies, in particularly, Hemerocallis fulva, can and should be a welcome addition to any edible landscaping design.  Not only is every part of this plant edible, there are a multitude of colors and color combinations to choose from.  Nutritionally, the daylily offers an astounding 3,000 I.U. of Vitamin A, 2g of protein, and 176 mg of phosphorus per serving5.  The lost and forgotten Egyptian Walking Onion is a delectable culinary bulb.  Evergreen Huckleberries (high in Vitamin B and iron) provide gallons of wonderful fruit, while Horseradish, Thai Ginger, and Lemongrass provide a flare to both the cuisine and the view.  Landscaping “mainstays” such as Teacup, Mr. Lincoln, and Knock-Out Roses may be replaced with the Rugosa varieties.  This species offers an abundance of showy flowers and a heavy yield of winter rose hips rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and are eaten raw, steeped in tea, or made into jams or jellies.  Other great choices for substitution are Opuntia rufida (Prickly Pear), Purple Passion Asparagus, Violetta and Romanesco Artichoke, Sea Kale, Tuscan Blue Rosemary, Red Flash Orach, and various Aloe species.  Black and Red Pomegranate, particularly the dwarf varieties, could replace the redundant American Hawthorns, Boxwoods, and Yaupon and offer a superb fruit capable of fighting atherosclerosis and some cancers.  Each of these plants can be used to incorporate medicinal, aesthetic, and culinary value to any landscaped area.  To add more color and depth, potted herbs may be strategically placed around focal points. Vibrant varieties can include Barba di Cappuccino, Italian Oregano, Lady Lavender, Magic Michael Basil, Pineapple Sage, Red Leafing Amaranth (Semi-Perennial), and Spanish Tarragon.

Flowers and Ground Cover (Perennial)

The most common theme of any landscape design is color and contrast, and flowers are the easiest way to achieve this.  They serve as focal point modifiers and, in essence, they are the heart of any landscaping project.  There are literally tens of thousands of stunningly visual, yet valueless, species to choose from; however, an effortless transition between a dramatically useless landscape and an inspiringly functional scenery can be achieved quite easily by substituting Garlic Chives, Creeping Thyme, English Sorrel, Johnny Jump Ups, Bee Balm, Lady Lavender, Portulaca, Tuberous and Wax Begonia, Marigold, Carnation/Dianthus, Baby’s Breath, and Violets.  In some instances the plants may hold added medicinal values as well.  For instance, the leaves of the Bee Balm plant contain thymol, which has powerful antibacterial qualities6, and lavender tea has been used as a sedative for millennia.

Groundcover (Perennial)

Furthermore, most traditional landscape designs lack the planning and ability to withstand its biggest pest-the weed.  At one time or another, we have all been on our hands and knees, sweating profusely, determined to rid the world of their existence.  Groundcover, as opposed to mulch, can be a simple solution.  By planting such selections as Purslane, Houttuynia, Alpine Strawberry, Mint, Edible Wintergreen, Bear’s Garlic, Ramps, American Cranberry, Creeping Raspberry, Nepalese Raspberry or Creeping Oregon Grape these once weed infested areas could yield an abundance of life giving food.  All of the varieties listed above can offer sustenance, variety, medicinal value, and culinary wealth to any homestead.   Purslane yields a larger amount of carbohydrates than most plants, and all raspberry species contain potent phytonutrients (the newly discovered raspberry ketones) that have the highest “free radical” concentrations of all plant species7.

Vining Species
Finally, landscapes that incorporate trellis designs will often consists of various species of Ivy, Jasmine, Wisteria, Yellow Dot, Lantana, or Vinca Minor.  Suitable aesthetic substitutions that provide a more practical alternative include all varieties of grapes, Hardy Kiwi, Maypop, Dragon Fruit, Chayote, Muscadine, and Chinese Yam. Chayote, a member of the squash family, holds vast amounts of folates, essential in DNA synthesis, and is a great source of dietary fiber.  Likewise, the Chinese Yam (Dioscorea opposita) is a good resource to obtain essential nutrients such as thiamin, riboflavin, and folic acid.  It is an understatement that “Vertical landscaping” is the most often overlooked, yet efficient way, to maximize growing space.
 In conclusion, each one of our tales is unique and distinct. Personally, I am guided spiritually by my God and I am lead secularly by my principles. Of those standards, the one that towers above all and envelopes all of the others in its arms, is the love for my family.  From that adoration stems the belief that I must provide a self-sufficient lifestyle for them.  It isn’t an easy burden to bear when the enormity of it seems impossible, but it can, should, and will be done.  In a world in where we have traded convenience for hard work and call it progress, there are small actions we can take that draw us back to an era where wealth was once measured in love and providence rather than paper or plastic. As we trade ornamentals for edibles, the simple act of substituting our surroundings could one day provide both an abundant and visual aesthetic pantry.


1 National Pecan Shellers Association. “Pecans. So good. So good for you. Nutrition in a Nutshell.”, n.p., n.d.
2 Self Nutrition Data. Know what you eat. “Nuts. Pine Nuts. Dried.” 3/21/2012.
3 Bisset NG. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Stuttgart, Germany: Medpharm Scientific Publishers; 2004:534-536.
4 ”Hikers Notebook: Dogwood.” n.p., n.d.
5 Only Foods. The Right Nutrition is Your Kind of Workout. Anwiksha. “Daylily (Hemerocallis).” n.p., n.d.
6 Mazza, G., F.A. Kiehn, and H.H. Marshall (1993), J. Janick and J.E. Simon, ed., "Monarda: A source of geraniol, linalool, thymol and carvacrol-rich essential oils", New crops (Wiley, New York): pp. 628–631,
7 Park, KS (2010). "Raspberry ketone increases both lipolysis and fatty acid oxidation in 3T3-L1 adipocytes". Planta medica 76 (15): 1654–8. doi:10.1055/s-0030-1249860. PMID 20425690

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This page contains a single entry by Jim Rawles published on October 7, 2012 12:09 AM.

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