Chestnut Herbal School

The Beautiful Edible Garden

Co-authored by Leslie Bennett
Photographed by David Fenton and Jill Rizzo

This is an excerpt from The Beautiful Edible Garden, co-authored by Leslie Bennett and Stefani Bittner and published by Ten Speed Press. This beautifully-photographed book shows gardeners how to artfully incorporate organic vegetables, fruits, and herbs into a stunning modern garden design.Featuring a fresh approach to edible gardens, glorious photographs, and ideas for a range of spaces—from large yards to tiny patios—this guide is perfect for anyone who wants a gorgeous and productive garden. Chosen as one of Amazon‘s Best Garden Books of the Year, The Beautiful Edible Garden can be found at your local bookstore or online here. This writing is published with permission. 

The Beautiful Edible Garden - An Excerpt

Herb Beds

Fresh herbs will change the way you eat. They are the edible garden’s big bang for your buck. These plants have short “fresh” shelf lives, so what’s offered in a grocery store is often not only expensive but also less flavorful. Many culinary herbs are perennial and pay back their initial investment after only one or two harvests. Plus, you can have a larger range of fresh herbs on hand if you grow them yourself.

To really integrate herbs into your life, the ones you cook with everyday should be easily accessible at a moment’s notice. If you’re following a recipe that calls for a specific herb, it makes all the difference to be able to simply step outside your door and pick what you need rather than having to walk halfway across the garden. You’ll find that, because the herbs are so convenient, you can start cooking more intuitively— tasting the dish as you’re preparing it and deciding what to add next. Therefore, the best place to grow culinary herbs is right outside your kitchen door. If you can’t create a “kitchen door” herb garden, choose a planting bed as close to the house as possible and designate it as your permanent herb garden. If you don’t have a planting bed that is easily accessible from your kitchen, create one by using a clay container or building a raised wooden planter.

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Herbs include variegated White Anniversary oregano, purple culinary sage, Silver Posie thyme, Fern Leaf dill, and edible viola flowers

Herbs include variegated 'White Anniversary' oregano, purple culinary sage, 'Silver Posie' thyme, 'Fern Leaf' dill, and edible viola flowers

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Rosemary, oregano, thyme, and sage are classics, but this is your opportunity to have at your fingertips all the specialty herbs you’ve seen in your cookbooks and wished you had in your garden. Marjoram is a great example—a bit milder than oregano (although from the same family), it is an herb often used in traditional French and California cuisines. Chervil, cutting celery, sorrel, and salad burnet are other herbs that have short shelf lives and so are not usually found at a grocery store. They are easy to grow and wonderful additions to any herb salad. Plant different varieties of herbs, like regular and garlic chives, and experiment! You will come to know which ones you prefer in your favorite dishes.

As with any other planting, keep design principles in mind as you plant your dedicated herb garden. Plant your herbs close together to deter weeds and for a full look. Within your herb planting, repeat and contrast textures: the soft, fuzzy leaves of culinary sage look amazing next to spiky chives and the small, glossy round leaves of variegated lemon thyme. Add flowers for splashes of color and to tie in with the key colors or foliage textures of your larger landscape. Pay attention to plant selection, choosing varieties whose color and height fit in well with your planting. Like many plants, the edible and medicinal flowers agastache, echinacea, and lavender have smaller- and larger-sized varieties—look for smaller plants that grow in the twelve- to eighteen-inch range for an herb garden bed.

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French and English thyme, Tricolor sage, garlic chives, Greek oregano, and white- and purple-flowered pollinator-attracting alyssum cascade over the edges of this dedicated herb container

French and English thyme, Tricolor sage, garlic chives, Greek oregano, and white- and purple-flowered pollinator-attracting alyssum cascade over the edges of this dedicated herb container

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Place taller herbs, like rosemary, lemongrass, and lovage, in the back of the bed or, if planting in a container that is accessible from all sides, in the center of the planting. Next place your medium-height herbs, keeping plant color, texture, and leaf shape in mind. Herbs that are medium height, meaning twelve to eighteen inches tall, include parsley, basil, lovage, sage, and epazote, among many others. Group like colors and textures together for a more monochromatic, modern look, or plant herbs with like colors asymmetrically across the planting bed. Then fill out your herb bed with low-growing and groundcover herbs that will spill over the sides, including low-growing varieties of thyme, chamomile, and oregano.

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Herb Wreath

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Herb Wreath

When the weather turns chilly, head indoors for some cozy kitchen projects. Herb wreaths make a lovely hostess or holiday gift, are a fun project to do with children, and can be a snazzy addition to your own kitchen décor. As a bonus, the dried herbs can be utilized in your cooking. To make this wreath, start by cutting long sections of woody rosemary branches to build the frame for the wreath. Form them into a circle and bind the sections together using baker’s twine or your favorite natural gardening twine. Next, snip several stems of sage, chives, thyme, marjoram, lavender, and any other herbs you have. If you have children, they can help you gather these herbs and arrange them into small bunches. Tie the small bunches of herbs together and secure them to the rosemary frame with twine. Continue in this fashion until you have completed the wreath, and then hang and dry it for your own culinary preparations, or give it to a friend.

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Step 1: Start by cutting long sections of woody rosemary branches to build the frame for the wreath.

Step 1: Start by cutting long sections of woody rosemary branches to build the frame for the wreath.

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Step 2: Form the branches into a circle and bind the sections together using baker’s twine or your favorite natural gardening twine

Step 2: Form the branches into a circle and bind the sections together using baker’s twine or your favorite natural gardening twine

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Step 3: Snip several stems of sage, chives, thyme, marjoram, lavender, and any other herbs you have. Tie the small bunches of herbs together and secure them to the rosemary frame with twine.

Step 3: Snip several stems of sage, chives, thyme, marjoram, lavender, and any other herbs you have. Tie the small bunches of herbs together and secure them to the rosemary frame with twine.

Meet our Contributor:

Leslie Bennett

LESLIE BENNETT is the founder and owner of Pine House Edible Gardens, an Oakland-based landscape design firm that creates beautiful, edible gardens. She is the co-author of The Beautiful Edible Garden (Ten Speed Press, Feb 2013) and former founder and co-owner of Star Apple Edible Gardens landscape design firm. In her work, she brings together ecologically sound landscape design principles and small-scale urban agriculture, working with both ornamental and edible plants to create integrated landscapes. Her work has been featured in Martha Stewart Living Magazine, Better Homes & Gardens Magazine, Sunset Magazine, C Magazine, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Gardenista.com.

Want to take a deeper dive into medicinal herb cultivation?

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5 thoughts on “The Beautiful Edible Garden

  1. I thrill in join you in this reading. When will you guys start. I’ve got a copy of it and will get start reading it soon. Thanks for the invite

    • Christine Borosh says:

      This is an open invitation to read this incredible book! Feel free to begin at any time, we’ve already started 😉

      We’d also love to hear your insights once you’ve read the book back here in the comments. Keep an eye out for our herbal book hub page that we’ll be creating in the future too. We’ll announce it in our email newsletter once it’s ready!

  2. Susan Scorah says:

    One more book for my herb book room, it used to be just a shelf but has morphed over time….looking forward to reading it on vacation

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