spring carrots

This winter I had the opportunity to meet Rosalind Creasy, an acclaimed gardening expert, and ask for her advice to a novice gardener. The short version: She told me to go to a nursery and flirt with the old men.

Huh. Admittedly, I didn’t see that advice coming. But then she explained. Gardening is an apprenticeship of sorts. You can read a zillion articles online or pour over glossy magazines, but ultimately most gardening know-how is tactile. Knowing what the soil should feel like. Knowing how to prune a rosebush. Knowing the good bugs from the bad bugs.

French green beans

And the most efficient way to cultivate this knowledge is through conversations with veteran gardeners—namely the old guys at the nursery. Or better yet through kneeling and weeding next to them. If you need to bat your eyelashes to start that conversation, so be it.

Of course, Creasy has been making waves since her horticultural career began in the 1970s. While taking garden design courses at a local college, she asked an instructor why no one was planting vegetables, fruits, and herbs interspersed with ornamental plants (i.e., the flowers and shrubs you don’t eat). The instructor told her pointedly: “Because that’s tacky.”

tomato blossoms

Luckily she paid him no mind. Today, Creasy is the grand dame of edible landscaping. She coined the phrase and the concept with her book The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping, originally published in 1982. Until her turn with the garden spade, there seemed to be an unwritten rule against planting lettuce and tomatoes beside your front lawn, much less using zucchini vines as a decorative element of your landscape design.

Lately that rule seems to be beating a hasty retreat. Creasy, who lives in a nearby town, completely updated and republished her tome in November 2010. I snagged a copy of Edible Landscaping at a local book-signing event, just before the new edition sold out within the month. Have no fear; it’s being reprinted and is due out in stores by the end of May 2011. I highly recommend it. Check out her beautiful garden photos here and here.

As for her gardening advice, I’ve taken a middle ground. Rather than flirt for free gardening tips, I’ve paid for mine through local gardening classes. The upshot? I don’t have to turn down dates to Bingo night.

Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy

p.s. In case any readers also live in the San Francisco Bay area, Rosalind Creasy is teaching a class on edible landscaping this Saturday, 5/28, at Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center in Palo Alto. More details here.