Aster Lane Edibles
Date Published: Thu, 01 May 2014
Warning: The following may contain information that has been found to induce obsessive interest in edible plants. Certain studies suggest that conducting activities such as edible landscaping and associating with people involved in such activities can severely curtail one's ability to watch TV series on HBO, play video games, converse about non-plant/food topics, and shop (other than for seeds, plants or tools).
There have been, for a very long time, two seemingly opposing objectives that have determined the function and aesthetic of a garden. On the one hand you find the “veggie patch” or kitchen garden — generally speaking, a vaguely puritanical space that bespeaks utility, efficiencies, calculation, humility and prudence. On the other hand there is the ornamental garden, where the (somewhat bourgeois?) priorities of beauty, pleasure, leisure and tasteful design trump other more practical concerns. Recently — as in, the last decade or so — a radical shift has been taking root in the minds, hearts and gardens of growers around the globe. We are witnessing the convergence of these two garden "preoccupations" in something called edible landscaping.
Meet Telsing Andrews of Aster Lane Edibles - a woman after my own heart. At 39 years of age, Telsing is undeniably passionate (dare I say obsessive?) about edible environments, and is inspiring people with her enthusiasm for growing and her robust knowledge of designing gardens with edibles that are tasty, beautifuland often perennial to boot. Originally trained as a geologist, Telsing’s interest in plants began during a five-year stint living in England. Her pleasure in using fresh herbs in cooking led her to start growing plants for kitchen use. Her interest in“useful” plants quickly progressed into a passion for growing "edimentals" (edible + ornamental ) — a term coined by guru Steven Barstow (see an interesting interviewwith him on Telsing's blog).
One of the fundamental principles of edible landscaping is that gardens can be equally bountiful in beauty and utility. In Ottawa, where Telsing and her family lived prior to moving to their farm, their transformationof a large lawn-dominant lot into an edible Eden was initially met with neighbourly skepticism. Over time however, neighbours began recognizing the merits (for example,in bags of ripe tomatoes given to them) of what Telsing was up to and started expressing interest. Food brings people together more than lawns, apparently.
Together with her husband José and their two (now three) kids, Telsing moved from Ottawa to a 26-acre farm near Kinburn in 2012. Now known as Aster Lane Edibles, the farm has a small, established orchard and a mature maple bush, courtesy of the previous owners. Contrary to the common practice of clearing everything under and around fruit trees, Telsing has been under-planting the area around them with shade tolerant shrubs and herbaceous plants to begin creatinga forest garden — another related garden philosophy/practice that is catching on like wildfire in progressive gardening circles.
Amongst the trees are ever-expanding beds full of perennial edibles. Noticeably absent are straight orderly lines of soldier-like plantings. By June it will resemble a soft, meandering English garden, though planted with unusual combinations of shrubs, herbs, vegetables, flowers and foliage, perennials and annuals - all offering culinary contributions: varieties of allium flank sage and rhubarb, strawberries and thyme act as groundcover... It is a deliciously beautiful thing! It is amazing to see what Telsing has managed to bring to life in a mere two years here. The gardens are still young but there is a wonderful sense of organic energy and promise to them — even in the drab but expectant cloak of early spring.
A wide variety of unusual "edimental" seedlings is being propagated and will be for sale at the Carp Farmers Market as well as at the farm (see dates and plant list on her website). Telsing is continually testing out new seeds, sourced from networks she has plugged into around the world. Those that do well in her garden and display desirable traits are selected and collected to grow on. After several generations of selection, a gardener can begin to really cultivate plants adapted to the specific ecologies of their own garden.
Demystifying the process of seed selection and collection is one of Telsing's biggest goals — to enable cost savings to be sure, but also to help strengthen diversity in the genetic pool of seeds and to decentralize access to it. She plans to offer workshops later in the season on seed saving and other topics. In the meantime, some advice... Experiment! Try growing everything - even if the accepted canon says it can't be done here. Hone your observation skills — notice where a plant "travels to" (i.e. where does it like to be?). Pay attention to the myriad relationships happening all the time in your garden. Revel.
Get in touch
For full contact details, visit theHumm's Local Directory.
This month Telsing Andrews shared her recipe for Meatballs with Anise Hyssop; head on over to our Local Recipes page for this and other delightful local recipes.
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