Landscape designer and garden writer Rosalind Creasy was an authority on edible gardening long before it became fashionable to rip out your lawn and grow food. The author of the pioneering "Edible Landscaping" will discuss growing, harvesting and preparing food from the garden on Feb. 12 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. Creasy said the lecture was prompted by questions from young gardeners and cooks. "Young people are interested in sustainability and good food," Creasy said. "They don't care about ornamentals."
What is a common mistake gardeners make when growing food?
People don't know when things are ready, so they don't harvest them. I always tell my clients, "I will come back in three months." They think because tomatoes are hard in the store, theirs should be hard too. Tomatoes should feel like a peach. How do you know when a carrot is ready? You feel around the top and look at its crown. I will go over the basics of harvesting during my talk.
Some things are harder to grow than others. Asparagus comes to mind. Can you suggest some easy edibles for California?
I like to call them edible plants with training wheels. I always advise starting with Mediterranean herbs. If you forget to harvest them, it doesn't matter. If you don't water them, it's fine. They won't die. Why pay $3 for a bundle of oregano or sage or thyme when you can easily grow it yourself?
How do you choose edibles for your own garden?
I like to plant things I haven't grown before. People think they know a lot about heirlooms? They haven't scratched the surface. We have more than 20,000 varieties at Seed Savers Exchange. Some of my favorite edibles: spotted trout lettuce from Germany. I always have to have red basil. I like a few different types of basil — Thai, lemon and a standard basil. I always have three different types of thyme, sage, oregano and cilantro, which is good for attracting beneficial insects. If you have onions growing, or peas or beans or peppers or zucchini or chard, you will always have ingredients on hand for a stir fry.
Can you offer some suggestions for a small-space edible garden? A balcony garden perhaps?
You can work wonders with half a day of sun. I love large containers. If it's a very large container, you can put Styrofoam or twigs on the bottom so you don't fill up the whole thing with soil. Plant basil and other culinary herbs right outside your door. If you've done that and you have a few staples from the farmers market and the store, you can change up your meals with herbs. Plant simple things like a bush tomato or bush cherry tomatoes. In Southern California, you can have tomatoes for six months if you fertilize them every few weeks. Plant jalapeño for spicy foods.
How do you justify growing your own food during a drought?
When in drought, plant edibles. Think about how much water is used commercially. When I drive through the Salinas Valley — almost 80% of our salad greens come from the Salinas Valley — I see huge plumes of water on sprinklers. The wind is often blowing. During harvest season, they have tanker trucks that are filled with water. Then, at the grocery store, they spray the produce with water. What do you do in your garden? You put it on a drip. You probably use half a gallon of water per pound of lettuce. As a home gardener, especially if you use rain barrels, you can use much less water compared to the average American, even in a dry climate. What is the worst thing you can do in California? Grow a lawn.
"Cooking From the Garden With Rosalind Creasy"
Where: Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia
When: 9:30 a.m. to noon Thursday
Info: (626) 821-4623; arboretum.org