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Lazy Organic Gardener: Mr. Green Touts Edible Landscaping (with Video)

Last month, on a drizzling Sunday afternoon in Berkeley, the Lazy Organic Gardener sat down with Mr. Green, Sierra's answer man, to talk about the new release of Rosalind Creasy's Edible Landscaping.

We had planned to talk in Mr. Green's garden, but the rain chased us into his makeshift greenhouse, where we sat across from each other, a table of thriving basil seedlings between us. (You can jump directly to the video here.)

First some introductions — can't tell the players without the program. Mr. Green is Sierra Magazine's Answer Guy, a.k.a. Bob Schildgen, who grew up on a Wisconsin farm, lives and gardens now in Berkeley, California, and was Sierra's managing editor for many years.

Here's Mr. Green in his garden in between the showers, and below that a couple more angles on the garden.

Author and gardener/landscaper Rosalind Creasy, from Los Altos, California, wrote the groundbreaking "Edible Landscaping" in 1982 and has spent the last 6 years thoroughly revising, updating, and adding new material (including scores of color photographs) to create a brand new edition for publication this fall. Schildgen contributed to the revised edition as an editor. (Creasy's book and her ideas were with us in Mr. Green's backyard, but she wasn't.)

The Lazy Organic Gardener — that's me — I'm trying to grow a pretty good garden without too much work, money, time, or water. I'm a friend and neighbor of Mr. Green. His backyard is a five minute walk from mine.

(Full disclosure: I have only browsed the book, which is pretty hefty. But I do have a dog-eared copy of Creasy's Cooking from the Garden, published in 1988, also by Sierra Club Books, and I've followed some of her gardening guidance as well as recipes.)

I brought my cheap little video camera with me and I've got a few clips below. Minimally edited, and only peripherally about Edible Landscaping. (I'm no more disciplined editing video than I am gardening.)

Since neither Mr. Green or I are formal gardeners by any yardstick, I started with the obvious question: "Edible Landscaping. The two-word title tells the story. Why does such a sensible idea need a book? Why isn't everybody already doing this?"

If you know Mr. Green, it won't surprise you that he answered this question with a three-part rant about the odiousness of lawns, though we eventually circled back to Creasy and her landscaping ideas.

"Lawns drive me crazy, especially when they stretch out for acre after boring acre," Mr. Green said, "My father used to hitch my brother and me to the lawnmower with wire around us to cut the grass. One time the grass got so high a mule team of two Schildgen boys couldn't cut it, so he borrowed a power mower. Well, an old harrow tooth the size of a railroad spike that my brother and I had left in the overgrown grass got caught by the lawn mower and destroyed the engine housing. My brother also almost lost his finger cleaning the mower."

(There was more invective about lawns, but you get the point.)

During World War II, Mr. Green said, the government encouraged "victory gardens" and American households and communities grew 40 percent of the nation's vegetables in home or community gardens. That practice dropped precipitously with postwar prosperity, and gardening tended more toward beauty than utility. Instead of growing squash and beans, gardeners grew flowers and grass lawns.

Over the years, lawns got bigger and bigger, and farmers wound up with power mowers that had more horsepower than some of their original tractors. Lawns were a symbol of wealth — vast expanses of green that didn't produce food or sustenance. Many farmers had backyard gardens, but the front was reserved for flowers and lawns.

It wasn't until Mr. Green grew up and visited Europe that he saw the kind of edible landscaping that Creasy is promoting.

Creasy's audience isn't really people like Mr. Green or the Lazy Organic Gardener, but folks whose priority for a garden is beauty.

Early in the season plants like tomatoes can look pretty, but once the fruit is ripening, they start looking bedraggled.

Like Mr. Green, I'm a proponent of Creasey's ideas, if not occasionally a practitioner. There is a difference between a gardener and landscaper, though I suppose I've done some landscaping too, since I've put in a flagstone pathway that winds through my garden. (It's not edible.)

Creasy is not a formal gardener, but she's way more on that end of the spectrum than I am. She values the aesthetics of a pleasing garden enough to put in the hours. I applaud her for that. Someday, I may have the time and motivation to follow her sage advice.

Go to Sierra Club Books to buy Edible Landscaping.

You can read more Mr. Green at Hey Mr. Green.

And here's more of the Lazy Organic Gardener.

--John Byrne Barry

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