Life has given lemons — lots and lots of lemons — to Linda and Simon Eyles, who’ve made lemonade and marmalade and a lot of friends from sharing homegrown fruit and “citrus tales” with Heights neighbors and passersby.
Their interest in edible gardening, meanwhile, has grown bit by bit.
Or perhaps bite by bite, she says.
As suitable garden space has become available at their Houston Heights property, the couple has opted to integrate more edibles among the ornamentals.
Tasteful – and tasty – the cultivated results reflect the homeowners’ edibles experimentations as well as their collaboration with overall landscape planning and maintenance by Suzy Fischer and Mike Gibson of Fischer Schalles.
The Eyles’ triple-lot property encompasses two structures linked by pool, greenscape, patio and mixed-use garden. The property is one of six to be featured on Rice Design Alliance’s spring showcase: “Nourish: An Architecture Tour of Homes and Edible Gardens,” April 9-10.
A carry-over from a previous home, the Eyles’ prolific lemon tree was among the earliest of the couple’s edible installations. They transplanted it from pot to plot around 2002 after purchasing two urban-scale lots for a 4,000-sq.-ft. custom home. Its footprint enabled a small kitchen garden in an outdoor niche on the north side of the site, located at the corner of Arlington and 8th streets.
Other kitchen garden crops included herbs, lettuces, kumquats and tomatoes. An espaliered apple tree has proved to be a particular favorite for a neighborhood squirrel known to hunker down on a fence as he munches boldly on choice fruit nearly as big as he.
Since the couple enjoys cooking, “the basic idea of going to the garden and bringing in something was incredibly appealing,” Linda Eyles said. Over time, their recipes have not only featured a wider variety of their homegrown ingredients but also different ways to deal with bumper crops.
Which came first, the ingredients or the recipes? “The plantings definitely come first,” she said, “We’ve done lots of other obvious things, like eggplant Parmesean, pesto, sautéed chard…”
In 2011, they bought an adjacent lot, which brought them space for a 1,200-sq.-ft. flex space dubbed “Mini Me” for its stylistic echo of the main home. Though intended as in-law quarters, the built space instead became an office for her interior design business.
A variety of edibles have since been added into the greenspace that separates mini-office and mega-home, she says. Of late, strawberries made the roster, which also includes cauliflower, eggplant and figs.
“We’re accidental gardeners, not great gardeners. We just added (edibles) as space allowed,” she said. “We’re always adding and changing the plants.”
Experimentation just goes with the territory, she adds. “Lack of success is a lesson.” (Cherry tomatoes, for example, thrive. Full-sizes ones, not so much.)
Fischer says the property’s landscape design needed to be as crisp and clean as the home’s architecture (a project by Jay Baker Architects). Thus, edible varieties of trees, vines and bushes provide “evergreen bones” to an array of seasonal herbs and food crops.
Layering the landscaping can help create a useful garden that’s visual as well as edible, Eyles notes. She appreciates nature’s range of textures, heights, colors and tastes in their garden. When the fig tree is barren, for example, it becomes a sculptural element.
She also is practical about accepting the life cycle of plants, which are less attractive when fallow or gone to seed. “Things come and go.”
The Eyles are not alone in seeking an increasingly edible garden. Home gardening preferences surveyed by Garden Writers Association Foundation found an estimated 58 percent of the market in 2014 was into edibles, up from 35 percent the prior year.
Fischer says the edible trend has been building for years, as urban markets (and foodies) have raised awareness of organic and more locally produced food. She also noted a local uptick during the 2008 economic downturn.
For those looking to incorporate edibles, she suggests substituting ornamentals with fruiting trees, shrubs and vines. Or perhaps start off with container plantings. Seed packets and most transplants are inexpensive. Harvest what works and change out what doesn’t for something new, she says. Also, container-based edibles can follow the sun seasonally around the garden, for those who have that challenge.
Adding edibles is both trendy and healthy, notes RDA tour chairperson and landscape architect Flora Meh of Mirador Group. While RDA tours feature properties that emphasize the connection between inside and outside, this year’s theme — garden-to-table—heightens that connection, she says.
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