Missouri’s Heartland Harvest Garden should inspire edible gardeners everywhere
Officially open as of June 14, Heartland Harvest Garden is a feast for the eyes as well as the appetite. Comprising 12 acres of edible landscape, which garden officials claim make it the biggest such garden in the country, the Heartland Harvest Garden has numerous spaces both educational and beautiful: home-style kitchen gardens, fruit and vegetable parterres with designs based on quilt patterns, a vineyard, fruit-tree plazas, and the children's Fun Food Farm.
The "Missouri barn" will house an interpretive center; "Fresh: A Garden Café," which will use produce from the garden; and a silo/overlook of the parterres inspired by the gardens at the French chateau, Villandry. Although visitors aren't supposed to eat the landscape as they browse, "tasting stations" offer bites of what's ripe.
The biggest disappointment from my recent visit was simply that the garden wasn't entirely ready. Any garden is inevitably a work in progress, but the silo overlook and the Fresh café weren't yet open (and, yes, I was visiting for the food!); there was no interpretative guide or map to the edible gardens (yet, anyway); and the children's area was far from complete. I wanted to see the berry-bush maze in action!
Still, I learned a lot. Particularly appealing are the garden's identification labels: Not only is virtually every plant labeled, but the labels include comments about the plant's use.
Powell Gardens brought in two big-name authors to design gardens. Rosalind Creasy, an early edible garden promoter, designed one, and Barbara Damrosch (in green, at right), Washington Post columnist and author of "The Garden Primer," created another. Creasy's books include "The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping," published in 1982, and most recently, "Recipes from the Garden." This spring's cool, damp weather has put their gardens behind where we might expect them to be at this late date, but it's still valuable to see what the pros do.
So far I've been unable to confirm whether the entire Heartland Harvest garden is being grown with organic methods, although Damrosch, who was on hand Sunday, said her garden there was organic.
My visit left me with a couple of impressions regarding growing food:
- Container gardening can mean far more than a patio tomato in a plastic pot, which is how I've tended to regard it. The garden is awash in large, beautiful containers filled with a variety of edible plants. Now, I admit I'm curious as to how well some of these will do when, for instance, vines get big and herbs bolt. But even if they become unwieldy, it's clear that if you have only a tiny spot in the sun (such as my back porch) you can still grow something both ornamental and good to eat.
- There are many ways to go vertical when gardening in a confined space. Besides trellises, simple wire fences can be used to carry the load of squash, beans, tomatoes and other vining food plants, at least if you choose the right varieties.
- Inclusion of edible flowers, from nasturtiums to roses and many more, adds gorgeous splashes of color.
I'll be very interested to see how the gardens fare as summer's heat sets in. For those not from this part of the world, let me tell you that the weather can and does assault crops here in all sorts of ways. Will those potted plants need five-times-a-day watering? Will heat radiating off the paving fry the herbs?
And if the plants do survive, even thrive, will climbing tomatoes fall down when laden with fruit? Will pests beset the squash and melon vines? I guess I'll have to go back and find out.
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