Edible Landscapes Delight the Palate!

Recently, I had the good fortune to participate in a panel discussion at the monthly meeting of the U.S. Green Building Council – Nevada Chapter. Appropriately, their meetings are held in a beautiful green building built with straw bales, one of several LEED-Platinum structures at the Springs Preserve. The topic was green homes and my talk encompassed a combination of many strategies and techniques that yield the most satisfying results.

I mentioned insulation, orientation and thermal mass as the foundations of passive solar design. Daylighting and efficiency were covered, along with renewable energy and even electric cars. There was mention of creating micro-climates, edible landscaping and using strategic shade trees to help maintain comfort and keep energy bills down. The main message was that everyone can make a difference and that improving our homes can also help with big issues like climate change.

Afterward, I spoke with fellow chapter member and landscape architect Anna Peltier about a project she’s been working on at her home.  She is an active member of the organization, serving as the chair of the Education Committee and often volunteering to help at chapter events. Peltier is the owner of Aria Landscape Architecture and when it comes to applying green concepts to her craft, she walks her talk.

Edible Landscapes

Pomegranates from Anna Peltier's edible landscapes, by Aria Landscape Architecture.At home she is implementing several green strategies including edible landscapes. The backyard features what she refers to as “traditional edibles.” There are dwarf fruit trees producing apples, oranges and pomegranates. A pergola supports interwoven vines of Cabernet grapes, shading a cozy outdoor dining area.

The pergola under construction. Creating edible landscapes.
Cabernet grapes beginining to grow. Creating edible landscapes.
Cabernet grapes filling in nicely. Creating edible landscapes.
18 pounds of grapes and a gallon of Cabernet! Creating edible landscapes.

I could almost smell the fragrance of lemon-grass, lavender, sage and rosemary as Peltier described what she grows. The list also includes marjoram, onion and garlic chives, oregano, thyme, lemon thyme and several varieties of mint.

Her traditional garden produces random seasonal veggies. She plants three times a year in the spring, fall and winter. Winter crops are protected by a temporary greenhouse made from landscape piping and clear plastic.

To offset the higher water use of her traditional edible landscapes, Peltier’s front yard features native and near-native species from the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, all bearing edible delights. Honey mesquite, Indian fig prickly pear, purple prickly pear plus teddy bear and staghorn cholla produce pods, flowers, pads or fruit that have been staples of the area for millenia. Peltier’s knowledge of desert plants and the food they provide is impressive. Her edible desert plantings also include ocotillo, wolfberry, Indian rice grass, Mormon tea, banana yucca, Mojave yucca and barrel cactus. One non-native exception is a black Turkish fig tree to help shade the house.

Peltier pays attention to others with innovative ideas and practical solutions. One such person is Brad Lancaster, author of “Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond,” who led a seminar on the topic in Las Vegas this summer. According to Lancaster, “You can collect 600 gallons of water per inch of rain falling on 1,000 square feet of catchment surface.” Other hardscapes like patios, driveways and sidewalks increase the amount substantially. Since we average about four inches of rain a year, a typical 2,000 square foot home can harvest over 5,000 gallons; fresh, chemical-free and with no carbon footprint due to pumping. The key is to capture, retain and use it efficiently. Peltier and I both attended the very informative seminar.

Now her home’s roof is being outfitted with gutters to channel occasional but sometimes intense rainfall into cisterns. The water can then be used more effectively; when and precisely where it is needed. The yard has also been graded into a series of mulch-filled basins, acting as sponges to store excess rainwater while reducing evaporation. Three basins drain sequentially into the next and small berms help keep rainwater from flowing into the street. These simple but incredibly effective methods reduce the need to irrigate with potable water.

Peltier says her main goal is the satisfaction of having an efficient yard that also provides supplemental food. She acknowledges that native species can never feed the city, but using native plants makes sense, no matter where you happen to live. They create a sense of place and a connection with the environment that is often sorely lacking in modern culture.

The more we appreciate the beauty of our rich, local biodiversity and integrate it into our lives, the more sustainable our community becomes. Aria Landscape Architecture is singing a song that is music to my ears and it’s all about Green Living. I love edible landscapes… Bravo!