Saturday, April 21, 2012

EDIBLE HEDGES Hey, if we have to water, feed and prune our hedges year after year, the least they can for us is provide our families with fresh fruit, right? Many of us are bored to tears by the likes of ligustrum, juniper and pittosporum, so let’s try something fresh and flavorful instead since the rainy summer months are the ideal to buy and plant them. The easy-to-grow ‘Barbados Cherry’ (Malpighia glabra) makes a nice dense hedge or free standing shrub grown either formally clipped or in its own natural graceful form. I love the cotton candy pink blooms that pepper it throughout the year, each followed by a bright red sweet-tart fruit that contain many times more Vitamin C than fresh oranges. Also called ‘Acerola’, this overlooked shrub is easy to root from cuttings, so one plant purchased can quickly be turned into a lovely edible hedge to beautify your landscape. Another so-called “cherry” not related to true table cherries that thrive up north is the ‘Surinam Cherry’ (Eugenia uniflora) us native Floridians nibbled from as kids. The glossy leaves are bronze when young and mature to a rich green, offering a welcome contrast to the white blooms in late winter and the red-to-dark purple berries in spring. The flavor is love it or hate it; very sweet when fully ripe and with a resinous flavor disliked often by folks repelled by mangos. Spaced two feet apart, Surinam Cherry plants sold in one gallon pots quickly fuse into a dense, very low care hedge that will bounce back quickly after a hard freeze. It is just one of many edible Eugenia shrubs perfect for landscapes, like the ‘Cherry of the Rio Grande’ (E. aggregata) and apricot-flavored Pitomba (E. luschnathiana) that thrive in central Florida. We rarely think of citrus as hedge plants, but the Key Lime, Limequat, Calamondin, and Kumquat, if spaced about four feet apart as young plants, will form a dense, thorny hedge perfect for security needs. Just cut them back hard annually after fruiting to deter their becoming small trees, and you will enjoy that heady “orange blossom” perfume plus flavorful nutritious fruits all from an attractive, functional hedge that oozes “Florida”. Folks living along the coast and hence spared harder frosts and freezes can indulge in the exotic luxury of guava hedges. I now grow four kinds in my south Tampa yard, three coming up easily and quickly from seeds. The classic large guava with yellow skin and aromatic pink flesh used in Cuban cuisine and eaten out of hand is the Psidium bears lovely white blooms with wispy long stamens. The ‘Strawberry Guava’ (Psidium cattleianum) is often called the Cattleya Guava and produces smaller red fruits wonderful eaten raw or added to a blender filled with fresh orange juice. Eating the chewy tasty blooms (yes blooms!) of the Pineapple Guava (Feijoa sellowiana) is a nice bonus since the green-skinned, white-fleshed fruits offer their own exotic perfumey flavor eaten raw or served with vanilla icecream. Guavas are an unusually nutritious fruit, rich in various B vitamins plus C and A, copper, potassium, manganese and fiber. Not bad for an attractive hedge I’d say! Over-development of Florida has destroyed much of the character us natives grew up with.....embracing our homes and landscapes with tropical fruit bearing hedges can give that heritage back to our kids, and to the folks who will someday buy and live in our homes long after we are gone. SOURCES: Jene’s Tropicals 6831 Central Avenue St. Petersburg FL 727-344-1668

From my St. Pete Times column in 2006.

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