Making a yard useful, edible and beautiful poses certain challenges in the ever-changing climate of Austin, TX. Especially if you are gardening in an HOA like I am. Here I’ll be outlining my favorite edible plants for our climate here in Austin that are annuals or biennials. For more information about fruit trees and large shrubs check out Part 1. And for more information about perennials (things you don’t have to replant every year) check out Part 2. This is the stuff you will have to plant every year, or every other year, but does well with little to no supplemental attention so is well suited to being out in the general landscape. A lot of this stuff is tropical in nature so winter tends to kill it. But once it’s in the ground it’s fairly maintenance free. Most of these things, although considered an annual will self-seed readily so it will appear as though they come back year after year.
Passionfruit – Tropical will die with frost. Needs a support to climb on. I pruned mine pretty hard and just trained it over an arbor to walk under. To get more fruit it will require supplemental water. The leaves and flowers are useful to make a calming tea, and of course you can eat the fruit. This one does not readily self seed but if you save some seeds from a fruit you can sprout them in a moist paper towel then plant it in a pot to grow into a plant over the winter for a new one. No pest problems Sunny location.
Malabar spinach – The red veined variety is beautiful. Super easy, very low maintenance. Readily self-seeds. you can eat all parts of the plant, leaves, shoots, even the berries. (which don’t taste like fruit berries at all and will stain your hands/mouth/teeth a dark purple color. Most pests avoid it although you can see a few holes in the larger leaves on the picture to the left below. It’s used some in Indian cooking and is the only leaf I’ve found that will readily grow during the hot summer here. I have to say I have yet to find a good recipe for it. It’s sort of thick leaves and is a little mucilaginous for my taste to eat on it’s own and raw, but added to a soup or a stew or a curry would probably taste great.
Wild cucumber – This, I believe, is a hybrid from one that i planted in a back corner years ago. It must have been cross-pollinated with a native wild sour cucumber and now I get a volunteer plant in the back by sunchokes every year that looks very odd:
Nasturtiums – These will give a nice accent to a salad in spring and fall with a peppery tasting leaf and flower both are edible. However summers are too hot for this plant so you’ll have to plant it twice a year to get the most out of it’s growing season. Since they are a little bit higher maintenance I usually plant them among my annual veggies so they get more attention. Slightly shaded/part shade. Here you can see them as an understory surrounding my cucumber and watermelon vines.
Leaves, Flowers and Herbs
Lemon grass – tropical will die with frost. This legit just looks like a tall grass. I only pull up the fat stems for cooking. Some are spindly and flat like a regular grass blade and that’s what they smell like to me too. The big fat ones are the ones that give off that lemon grass flavor we love.
Basil – plant it. Water it for a week or two then forget it. Makes a large bushy mass with bee-attracting flowers and is so delicious!! So many kinds of colors and flavors to choose from. Snip back regularly to get a bushy rather than spindly habit. Love putting this one row back from a pathway easy to get to and smells amazing.
Chard – is actually a perennial although it tends to look a little rough after its first year. If you can put it in a place where the caterpillars don’t find it, you can have a beautiful swatch of color.
Parsley – Makes a beautiful ground cover when planted closely. Tabouli anyone? This is a biennial which means it grows leaves the first year and i=will flower, go to seed and die the second year. If you let it go to seed you can basically just keep having parsley without much effort.
Pansies – edible flowers. These are quite tough. I plant mine in fall in a part sun location and they last through the winter into spring and only start to piddle off in the heat of summer. You nearly get an entire year from these tough little guys.
Fennel – likes heavily amended soil and frequent moisture. Mine lasted for two years and grew to be 5 feet tall. Attracts butterflies.
Aloe – tropical will die with frost is great in a pot that you can bring inside in winter. You can eat it, but also is useful for sunburns which is how I primarily use it. It tastes a lot more vegetable-like than I imagined (especially after having it in sweetened drinks you can get from trader joe’s) and of course is very slimy.
The no-joke highest output lowest input plant that I have. Throw an inch of dirt on top and forget about it forever plant is Sunchokes. Also called Jerusalem artichoke. What a star. My crappy gumbo clay soil that is hard as a rock is not even a match for this guy. I put it in the back corner which rarely receives any attention -ever. No watering, no weeding, nothing. This plant is crazy. I put one tuber in the ground and I get 4 lbs back in return for no work. Dig them up in fall/winter. usually after a frost when they are sweeter. If they get too cold they start rotting which is fine, you don’t want to eat it then but somehow more plants come up in spring. They look like weedy tall sunflowers. Stick them in a sunny location that doesn’t get much attention and you will be rewarded. Mine grow between 8-12 feet high and produce tiny little sunflower blooms that smell amazing. When the stalks die back completely you can harvest them. If you don’t you’ll just have more next year. I do recommend thinning them to get larger tubers. Put them where you want them. It’s impossible to find all of the tubers and make sure they don’t come up next year. They also have a tendency to spread so unless you want your neighbor to have them in their yard plant at least 2 feet away from your fence line. They are Great in sunchoke soup. It tastes like artichoke soup. It’s really delightful in the winter. I’m experimenting by growing some in a half whiskey barrel this year. We’ll see how it goes but so far so good.
More to come.