When it comes to scary subject matter — the stuff you try not to think about when you wake unexpectedly at 2 a.m. — Stephen King can’t hold a candle to Poisonous Plants of the Southern United States. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen to you within 48 hours of, say, nibbling a little lantana from your curbside landscaping, this handy guide from West Virginia University will tell you in excrutiating detail. (Don’t read the lantana section if you are about to have lunch. You’ve been warned.)
As the grandmother of two toddler girls who love to pick flowers, I’m all for nontoxic landscaping. Better yet, edible landscaping. So this year, while our regular backyard garden is doing its usual exuberant summer thing…
… some food crops have replaced traditional landscape plants on the “public” side of the fence. Five itty-bitty Bush Pickle cucumber plants, tucked next to a privacy fence and around the foot of an antique urn, have produced several dozen fat seven-inch cukes and show no signs of slowing. No sign of wilt or insect infestation, either — which, here in the coastal subtropics, is cause for rejoicing.
We tried a ten-foot row of Greasyback Cornstalk beans, a wonderful heirloom that was my great-grandmother’s garden favorite, against a section of privacy fence. A strip of plastic bird netting is tacked to the fence posts to give the beanstalks something to grab. I’m watering them with a dipper from our algae-rich fish pond, and they’re producing lots of characteristically knobby, slightly shiny green beans. Some catnip and St. Francis finish off the little bed.
There’s something very satisfying about landscaping with table fare. Our lawn crops over the past two years have expanded to include citrus, blueberries and culinary ginger, and we want to keep moving in that direction. Eating the yard isn’t for everyone — there are a lot of folks living in suburban housing developments with restrictive covenants, for example, and inner-city gardeners whose street gardens are fraught with unforeseen hazards.
But, personally, I love the idea of yanking out a poisonous invasive and replacing it with something the grandbabies can happily harvest. Hey, lantana! Let’s see you do this: