Figuring out how to grow useful and beautiful things that are edible in your HOA landscape is a challenge. This post is going to focus on smaller shrubs and perennial plants (ones that come back year after year) rather than trees which are covered here in part one.
Evergreen edible plants & ground covers
Evergreen shrubs are extremely important in the landscape. They form the backbone during winter. I want to be able to look out and see a ground covered in green in January. Not a bare silvery weathered fence, some bare twigs and tan grass. That’s common here in the burbs of Austin.
Rosemary – Has multiple varieties. They all seem to have the ability to get large. 5 feet tall, no problem, 6 feet wide, Yep. Some grow upright and some are the “weeping” variety that crawl and look great draping over an edge of a raised bed.
Sage – Multiple varieties and colors. From my experience the silver one does best in our area. but there are yellow and purple varieties that are beautiful and would work also. There are some that are more hardy than others Pineapple sage you’ll probably have to plant every year it because it’s not cold hardy. Some sages are really only ornamental so make sure you’re picking a cooking variety if your thinking about eating it. These are relatively short lived in Austin. 3 years is probably the max you’ll get out of them before they need to be replaced. But it’s easy to make more plants out of your existing one so that’s not too much of a deterrent for me. We use sage mostly in making Rosemary-Sage Salt.
Thyme – Multiple varieties and colors. These can be green, yellow, variegated with white edges. Some have beautiful pink, red or purple flowers.
Society Garlic – I see this plant EVERYWHERE. A lot of people don’t realize it’s edible. Traditional gardeners may even think that it’s not edible because it is commonly sold as an ornamental. But it is, and you can. The problem is that I have yet to find a recipe I like to really put it to good use. In the victorian era it was dubbed “society garlic” because it was thought to be less pungent of a flavor punctuating the breath of the people that ate it compared to regular garlic. So it was thought to be more polite to use it in a dish for company. It has pretty purple flowers that make it a great addition to any front yard. So far the only way I can find to use it is in chicken noodle soup. The variegated variety is less rugged than the traditional.
Oregano – Soooo many kinds and colors. I have two in my Yard. One gets to be a massive bush that I have to beat into submission so I can still use the pathway it is planted along and the other is a super low growing variety that has started to invade the grass in the yard. both are great for cooking.
Green onions – Believe it or not, the green onion bunches you buy at the store are made for Texas. Every time I buy a bunch i leave 1 inch of white stem with the roots still attached and plant them out in the yard. They are carefree and easy. They are green all year round and the best part is, next time you want some you can just snip off the top and they’re gonna grow right back.
Spine-less prickly pear – Not entirely true as my shin can tell you. This evergreen cactus has edible paddles and provides prickly-pear fruit in late summer/fall. it’s a win-win in my book. You can eat both the fruit and the main plant. Mine personally struggled through last winter but prevailed so That’s why it still gets a post of honor here. Even though it may be sold as “spineless” don’t be fooled. Little tiny splinter still protrude from the nipples of the plant (where normal large spines would be) These are called glochids and there are just as evil as their large spiked cousins. Not because they hurt more, but because they are hard to see and have a tendency to break rather than be pulled out. Never-the-less I think it’s a valuable addition to the edible landscape.
Dwarf Bottle brush – This plant is great for making tea. The dwarf variety is more cold-hearty than it’s taller relative. It’s beautiful red flowers attract hummingbirds in spring. It’s a lovely addition to the landscape.
Dianthus – Sweet william is a great low-growing ground cover that provides edible flowers that smell sweet and spicy. They flower in spring and fall, and are dormant but still provide a blue-green foliage when it’s too hot in summer and when it’s too cold in winter.
Deciduous edible plants & ground covers
Mint – most people want to contain it. This one tolerates more shade and I use it as a ground cover beneath deciduous fruit trees. It also is more thirsty than a lot of other plants to keep it looking good.
bee balm – Good for teas it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and has beautiful flowers. be prepared for it to spread. In my yard it’s crazier than any traditional mint plant the way it spreads. the flowers get to be 3-4 feet tall so put it in the middle or back of your landscape and probably not next to a fence if you don’t want to be responsible for it getting into your neighbor’s yard.
Mexican mint marigold – has pretty little yellow daisy like flowers in fall and an anise taste (black licorice). It gets to be about a foot and a half tall and loves full sun.
Lemon balm – is less invasive than mint and my go-to for under fruit tree ground cover in more shady areas. It doesn’t like full sun, it will burn in our Texas summers but it still needs some sunlight, dappled sunlight is fine. This is a staple in my sun tea. Not as thirsty as traditional mint in my experience.
Echinacea – beautiful flowers and if you feel like it, you can dig up some of the root and use it to make things to stave off winter colds. I have multiple plants in my yard and I have to confess the idea of pulling them up is not my idea of fun. They are too pretty. I’d rather just buy echinacea tea.
Chives & Garlic chives – similar to the society garlic but smaller in stature and less pungent still. It adds a delicate onion flavor when a hint of it is desired. Plus the purple flowers are pretty.
Sorrel- This sees to be a short lived perennial here. full sun burns the leaves. It needs a partial sun position with deep rich soil that drains well to do its best. Mine is in clay and is just sort of doing ok. Makes a great addition to salads with a zippy lemony-sour punch that is fun. The red veined variety tastes just as good and is more ornamental than the solid green.
Fruit bearing plants & other
Chile pequin – a naturalized native hot pepper that grows into a sizable shrub if you let it. Responds well to pruning. You could have a little hedge of this if you wanted to in a full sun location. I got mine courtesy of a bird dropping which now grows next to my fence. It may die back in winter but it will come back again in spring.
cardoon – This is a Mediterranean native. It’s related to the artichoke. You eat the stems of the plants instead of the flower. I made a traditional Mediterranean cardoon casserole with a rue base and the best description I can come up with is artichoke mac-and-cheese. It’s pretty delicious although a little bit of work to get it prepped. And yeah, they get huge. I had no idea mine would end up being 7 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Ideally you’ll cut them to the ground when they get maybe 3 feet tall to harvest the leaves for their stems. They will pop back up again. As long as they have sun they seem to be happy.