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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

CALENDULA NURSERY-a feast for more than the eye

As cheerful as the sunshine at Tacoma's Proctor Farmers' Market, Scott Gruber talks passionately, about plants. Scott and his wife Jill Bryant are partners and owners of Calendula Nursery and Landscaping, a means of livelihood that the word "business" just isn't adequate to describe. I listen, giving him my full attention, but I catch myself starting to grin. It isn't that he said anything funny, although a man with a business logo like his is not without humor. It's just that I can't suppress the delight I always feel when I see a person living a life built around what they love. Or maybe my smile is simply a reflection of his own. He can't suppress his either.

Busy with customers at the market, our friend Scott kept getting back to telling us, with great enthusiasm, about the aronia bush my husband and I were purchasing. This gorgeous ornamental shrub that bears delicious, nutritious fruit, is symbolic of the latest hot trend in home gardening: the edible landscape. But Scott's taste in plants is far more of the trend setting variety than trend following. Since the beginning he's believed in growing his own food.

"Food ALWAYS tastes better when you grow it yourself!" he states. "These days with all the concerns about where our food comes from and what conditions it's grown under, more and more people want to put their landscape to use to produce something edible." But rather than a few traditional fruit trees or rows of vegetables in a garden patch, Scott uses his background as an artist to combine form with function, creating an environment that nourishes both body and soul.

It's amazing how many garden plants can provide both beauty and food. Beyond the expected food producing plants, there are all kinds of vines, shrubs and flowers that can be eaten, even certain day lilies. On the Edibles page of Calendula's amazing web site I counted well over one hundred choices. Many of these plants can be grown in containers on a patio or deck. Scott adds, "I like to see people get away from the grocery store mentality and discover the physical and psychological benefits of landscaping with edible plants."

The word is out: Calendula Nursery is unique! Masterful gardening knowledge, inspiration, art appreciation, and maybe a whole new philosophy for your life, are all offered for free, alongside the most impressive selection of healthy, vigorous plants anywhere. This is no chain store garden department. It's more like the biggest family reunion Mother Nature ever held, with every individual plant loved, appreciated and understood.

Like their plants, Scott and Jill each have their best spot in the the garden. Jill spends most of her time out on the grounds of the nursery, helping customers while caring for the plants she loves, and the details of their enterprise. Scott thrives on design and interaction, sharing his enthusiasm, opening up an interesting world for people and watching how they react. Both do a lot of hard physical work, but love it. Together they are the definition of synergy.

Customers are inspired by Scott's philosophy of landscaping. Before becoming a nurseryman Scott was, and still is, an artist, a sculptor. At some point in time he came to realize that he wanted to create sculpture on a very large scale. He starts with earth and rock, adds color and texture, fragrance, sounds (through water features and bird habitat) and with the addition of the experience of taste, through edibles, he involves all five of our senses. Looking at a landscape as a living, dynamic work of art, he also considers the colors of the changing seasons and the growth of the plants, how it will look five or ten years later.

In addition to ornamentals and edibles Calendula features herbs too, thereby offering plants for complete wellness of mind, body, and soul. Here are a few of Scott's favorite plant picks (in his own words):

Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)
– Evergreen groundcover. 12"-18" high. Sun to part shade. This plant makes an exceptional ground cover spreading by underground runners. It will carpet an area in the same manner as Kinikinnick, which is also edible, but Lingongerries are far more tasty! Pinkish white flowers in summer and early spring turn to bright red 1/4 inch tasty but tart fruit. Berries persist into winter and are best after a frost or two. Makes excellent sweetened preserves or tossed fresh into muffins and pancakes. These features are especially delightful as the fruit is typically available in the middle of winter when you least expect it! Lingonberries are rich in vitamin C and other anti-oxidants and the plant and it’s berries have been used as food and medicine for millennia throughout Europe and northern Asia from Scandinavia to Siberia.

Aronia (Aronia melanocarpa)
– An under-utilized shrub in the Northwest, Aronia varieties can range in size from 2 feet to 6 feet, produce tasty and very nutritious bluish-black berries, and look stunning in white spring flowers or in blazing autumn red and orange foliage. The berries have a high concentration of vitamin C and are very high in a class of molecules called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are found in most red, blue or black fruit and plant material and are showing through continuing research to be the most powerful anti-oxidants and to have effects on diseases such as cancers and diabetes. On top of all that, Aronia berries have a high amount of pectin. So much, in fact, that you can add Aronia juice instead of packaged pectin to gel your preserves! Easy to grow in full sun to light shade in virtually any soil, Aronias are also drought tolerant once established.

Goumi (Eleagnus multiflora)
- A pretty, medium sized shrub, Goumi grows to about 6 ft. high and wide. Fragrant creamy white flowers bloom in April and are followed by beautiful, flavorful fruit that resemble small pie cherries. Leaves are silvery underneath and both fruit and foliage are covered in silver and gold flecks. 'Sweet Scarlet' was selected in Kiev, Ukraine for its superior fruit - great for pies, preserves or fresh eating.

Goumi fruit is very high in vitamins A,C, and E, and has the complete range of fatty acids used by the human body, which is very unusual in fruits. It has also been used to treat intestinal and stomach illnesses and to improve circulation.

Sarcococca – One of the true delights for deep shade to part sun, Sarcococca, or, Sweetbox, is a 2-4 foot evergreen shrub with smallish, dark green lustrous leaves, and profuse small white flowers that appear in late winter to early spring. But wait, that’s not all! The flowers are intensely scented with an intoxicatingly sweet perfume that will yank you out of a late winter mope and put a smile on your face in an instant! Great for those deep, dark, difficult corners in your garden. Virtually maintenance-free.

Ajuga – Also called Bugleweed, Ajuga is the best of the best for that irritatingly difficult spot under a conifer or any other tricky spot. It grows just as well in shade or sun, acid to alkali soil, and produces gorgeous purple 6-10 inch flower spikes in spring. It spreads by runners above ground and forms a 2 inch thick evergreen mat that inhibits weeds and helps keep the soil below it moist. It plays well with other plants as it gradually covers an area. Ajuga’s foliage comes in various shades of green, green mottled with cream and lavender, bronze, and deep purple. It needs water until it’s established, but is self-sufficient after that.

Echinacea – Also called ‘Coneflower’, Echinacea has been a staple for gardeners, natural healers, herbalists, and indigenous cultures for millennia. As a garden plant, the only thing it requires once established is sun. It grows in virtually any soil, will take wet or drought conditions and reliably starts blooming in early to mid summer and keeps going throughout autumn. Varieties are available with flowers ranging from pink and purple to coral, reds, oranges, yellow and white. Height can range from 18 inches to 42 inches. The flowers are bold and bright and rest facing the sky atop sturdy, erect stems. Therapeutically, Echinacea is a tonic for the whole body, has been used for myriad circulatory, lymphatic, and respiratory conditions and is an incredibly effective detoxifier. It strengthens the immune system helping the body ward off seasonal illnesses such as colds and flu. North American native cultures used it to treat stings, bites, sores, wounds and burns as it possesses anti-bacterial qualities. Much more information about therapeutic uses of Echinacea can easily be found in bookstores and on the internet.

Be sure to look at the web site for Calendula Nursery, where of course you'll find directions and all the latest news. Right now they're featuring BERRIES of every kind! For an education in plants that ought to earn you a degree, just click on Outdoor Plants. That will take you to many more categories to choose from, such as Edibles. Enjoy a whole new world of gardening with Scott and Jill and Calendula Nursery!

Copyright 2008 Candace J. Brown

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