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Pat Munts: Grow ornamental plants for beauty, fruit, berries

Sat., March 1, 2014, midnight

The sour-tasting berries that follow the bright, yellow flowers of the Oregon grape plant make a dark purple, mild-flavored jelly. (File)
The sour-tasting berries that follow the bright, yellow flowers of the Oregon grape plant make a dark purple, mild-flavored jelly. (File)

Many people think the only place you can have edible plants is in the vegetable garden.

Wrong! There are dozens of ornamental plants that offer edible fruit and berries as well as beauty.

Here are a few of my more unusual favorites:

Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), otherwise known as tall Oregon grape, is a native shrub that thrives in partial shade. Its evergreen, holly-shaped leaves and upright growth habit make it an excellent screening or hedge plant. It blooms in early to mid-April with bright, yellow flowers that turn into dark blue but very astringent berries in August. Honey bees seek out the flowers as a source of pollen early in the year, and birds enjoy the berries into the winter. The berries may be sour-tasting but they make a beautiful, dark purple, mild-flavored jelly. Perfect for your toast on a winter morning.

We’ve all seen serviceberry (Amelanchier alinafolia). It is the white-flowering shrub that covers the hillside around the region in late April and early May. Serviceberry grows in full sun or partial shade as a tall shrub or small tree, so it’s perfect for the smaller garden. It is drought tolerant but produces larger berries with extra water. The dark blue berries are an important part of the Native American diet. For us, the berries can be used in jam or pies; that is if you can beat the birds to them.

Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii) is a native rose often found in moist areas and at the forest edge. In the wild, it spreads by underground stems and forms a shrub 3 to 4 feet tall. In mid-spring, its pink blossoms brighten forest areas. In the fall and winter, wildlife forage on the rosy-colored rose hips. For humans, these same rose hips are high in vitamin C and can be used to make jams and tea.

I didn’t consider raspberries (Rubus idaeus) an ornamental garden plant until we built our patio area to resemble a beach on Puget Sound. No Puget Sound beach is without its blackberries trailing everywhere. Problem was that the blackberries aren’t hardy over here. So as an alternative, my husband suggested we plant raspberries. Now we have a crop of canes that drape over the patio and the deck rail. Come July, it’s nice to take your bowl and the cream outside, pick your berries and sit down and eat them. I do have to fence out the deer, though.

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