Waterwise Edibles? Yes!

Gary Jones

Fri May 29, 2015 12:05pm

Blue Elderberry

Vegetables and fruits, as most gardeners know, require a fair amount of water — although targeted (drip and row) watering and mulching can really reduce the water needed. But are there actually waterwise edibles and herbs? The answer is yes, although it’s a rather incongruous list.
It’s not surprising that most are native to Mediterranean climates like our own. Some are well-known and often grown, but others are not. Capers, for instance, are easily but rarely grown. Plant these sprawling shrubs where they can trail down a bank or over a wall. Pineapple guava produces a luscious fruit for cooking and preserves.
Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia species) produces edible berries sometimes found in grocery stores. Why not grow your own? You’ll never find hips of Rosa Rugosa in grocery stores, but they make great jelly, tea and chutneys to flavor meat dishes.
Well-established grapes are quite waterwise. Pears and plums do well with less water than other fruits. Jujube, an Asian native, produces fruit that can be eaten fresh (tastes like an apple) or dried (tastes like a date).
Two rather unusual fruits requiring less water are quince and blue elderberry (Sambucus mexicana). Quince is wonderful in chutneys and jams, and blue elderberries can be used for jam, pies and even wine.
Two Mediterranean classics are easily grown in Southern California: olives and pomegranates. Both are well-scaled to urban gardens, and pomegranates have the added advantage of very showy red flowers. Pine nuts can be easily grown as well. All you need is a bit of room and a healthy Pinus edulis.
There are many herbs that can be grown using little water once they’re established. Among the best are rosemary, sweet bay (don’t forget it’s a tree!), thyme, borage, caraway, chives, garlic, dill, fennel, oregano and sage.
Gary Jones is the chief horticulturalist at Armstrong Garden Centers. Email him your gardening questions to growingdialogue@armstronggarden.com. Or contact your local Armstrong Garden Center.