As much as we love flowers (and you know how much we love flowers), we have a feeling that the purely decorative garden’s days may be numbered. This bold statement is a result of meeting Leslie Bennett and Stefani Bittner of Star Apple Edible Gardens, an Oakland-based landscaping company determined to bring sustainable, edible gardens to even the tiniest urban and suburban plots. The two create gardens that harmoniously weave edibles and ornamentals and rechristen boring suburban lawns as stylish micro-farms.
Star Apple believes that where we live, what we eat and how we connect to nature and our community are all important to our health and well-being, and the gardens they create are both artful and fruitful. Put thoughts of clunky, raised railroad-tie beds out of your head; the garden designs from Star Apple are elegant, sophisticated, colorful and hardly recognizable as the hardworking mini-farms they actually are. Leslie and Stefani work closely with home gardeners teaching them how to cultivate and care for their new plots, as well as offering monthly classes focusing on seasonal topics like winter veggies or how to make cocktails with ingredients from your garden.
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The company strives to bring edible gardens to even yard-less apartment dwellers through a line of salad kits, complete with organic potting soil, organic mixed heirloom salad green seeds and organic fertilizer. Or if you’re lucky enough to have some outside space to spare and an affinity for eggs, Star Apple has been working with Modern Cabana to develop a pre-fab chick coop complete with succulent roof (available in Spring 2011). We got a chance to visit the green-roofed coop prototype with seven resident chickens at Stefani’s beautiful home and garden in Lafayette.
It’s hard to sum up Leslie and Stefani’s backgrounds in a sound bite. Between the two of them, their career paths have crisscrossed the worlds of law and landscaping, taken them from Switzerland to the Sierra Foothills, and finally landed them both back in the Bay Area where they’ve used their collective knowledge to bring a food and gardening revolution to the urban landscape. The two met while Leslie (a lawyer turned landscaper) was apprenticing at the organic foods landscaping company Garden Fare, and Stefani (with a career in non-profits turned landscaper) had just started the edible landscape division of Magic Gardens in Berkeley. They decided to use their design, fine gardening and organic farming expertise to start Star Apple and bring more edible plantings into urban spaces.
We asked the ladies for some tips on what to do in your garden right now:
Late September and October is when we have fun experimenting with heirloom hard neck garlics. This year we are especially excited about Red Toch, Purple Haze and Thai Fire. We picked up the local organic garlic seed at Baker Creek’s super stylish Seed Bank in Petaluma, Ca. on the same day Stef picked out her chicks. Hard necks are great because you can grow rare gourmet varieties unavailable at the market. Soft necks, although more common, can be braided and stored hanging — a great activity for kids and an unusual gift come summer. Garlic is super easy to grow. If you have never grown vegetables before, garlic is a great one to start with. This is also the time of year to start thinking about cover cropping parts of your garden. You can replenish soil nutrients sustainably using crimson clover, vetch, and favas (yum!). We like to build in visual interest using the low growing crimson clover interspersed among the more unusual pink-flowered fava bean.