Homegrown Edibles

Growing food in an urban home has rewards you can sink your teeth into

“It’s an attractive houseplant, but it’s also edible.”

That’s not something lifelong horticulturist Jonathan Bardzik gets to say very often. In fact, during a conversation about growing edibles at home, Bardzik only makes the claim once, singling out scented geraniums, or the many fragrant and flavorful varieties of those popular potted plants with colorful flowers. Scented geranium leaves, whether mint or orange or chocolate, can be chopped up finely and added to a fruit salad or to a small container of sugar. “Let it set for a few days,” says Bardzik, popularly known as the “Eastern Market chef” for his Saturday cooking demonstrations at the venue, “and it will perfume that sugar with the scent.” Put that in your morning coffee and savor it.

Scented geranium Photo by Todd-Boland

Scented geranium
Photo by Todd-Boland

All in all, it can be a challenge to grow edible plants at home, particularly if you have little or no outdoor space and limited exposure to sun. Everything really does revolve around the sun — very little survives in the shade. Even those most basic of edibles, herbs, require at least some sun for perennial growth. Then again, maybe it’s better to just think of potted herbs, at least easy-to-find ones such as basil and thyme, the way we do cut flowers — as a short-term, accenting purchase. “Don’t be afraid to throw out herbs that are wilting or drying up after a few weeks,” instructs Bardzik, who works for AmericanHort, the plant industry trade association. His green thumb just might be genetic: His family runs garden centers in his native New England.

Bardzik’s advice to consider herbs like cut flowers points to another key consideration when growing edible plants: appreciating their decorative qualities. The edibles you grow should accent your home, not detract or overwhelm it. “That’s one of my main criteria for growing edible plants in a small urban space,” Bardzik says. “Anything I’m going to grow needs to look attractive.” In the small yard of his D.C. home, for instance, Bardzik has planted a couple varieties of BrazelBerries. These branded berry plants from an Oregon nursery are significantly smaller and more compact than the traditional fruit-bearing varieties. “It’s a nice, bushy, compact, two-and-a-half to three-feet tall raspberry plant,” Bardzik says of the variety known as Raspberry Shortcake, which each summer bears enough of the red fruit for a couple pies and several mornings of pancakes.

Unless you have a larger yard, with room enough for planting trees, growing most other types of fruit is out of the question. But not all: The Old City Farm and Guild, a garden shop in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, offers one other option: the patio peach tree.

“The patio peach tree grows well in a container,” says Frank Asher, the landscape gardener who owns and operates Old City. “It doesn’t get very big and it produces lots of peaches.”

That is, of course, with one key caveat, adds Asher: “If your patio can get a good four hours or more of sun.”

In season, Bardzik offers cooking demonstrations at Eastern Market, 225 7th St. SE, on Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more, visit whatihaventcookedyet/wordpress.com. Old City Farm and Guild is at 925 Rhode Island Ave. NW and is open Tuesday to Friday from noon to 7:30 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. Visit them online at oldcityfarmandguild.com, or call 202-412-2489.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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