With a stately habit and impressive foliage, as well as dense leaves that offer both colour and texture, junipers are of high ornamental value in any garden. When crushed, the foliage of most species is pungently aromatic. They produce fleshy berry-like cones, which ripen to a reddish or blue-black colour, and Juniperus Communis berries are edible and used in gin distillation. In fact, the word gin comes from the French word “genévrier” and the Dutch word “jenever” – both which mean “juniper”. Most plants drop their seeds annually, however, Juniper berries ripen over two to three years, and in gin, its distinctive taste depends on where the berries are sourced.
Magnolias are an ancient group of deciduous plants native to the northern hemisphere from the family Magnoliaceae , and are named after French botanist Pierre Magnol. They are slow-growing, one of the hardiest flowering plant, and have thick leaves and attractive foliage throughout the year. They also produce delicate, spectacular winter and early spring blossoms with a heady fragrance. Colours range from white and port wine through to burgundy shades.
Acacias are ideal as a hedge or feature tree, are fast growers and prefer full-sun conditions in light free-draining soil. They grow better with reliable watering in summer but are generally drought-tolerant once established. Once they’ve flowered, they can be given a light pruning and are propagated mostly from seed.
Most of the 1200 species in the Fabaceae family are found in the southern tropics and subtropics, notably Australia and Africa. Most acacias are small to medium-sized trees or shrubs. The foliage, which is often silver-grey or blue-green, is fern-like when young and in many species remains that way. However, sometimes the leaves narrow as the plants mature.
It is noted as an ornamental favourite for its fern-like leaves and large, spanning branches that provide ample shade as an umbrella canopy, and large, vibrant coloured red-to-orange flowers that flower throughout summer.
Perhaps its most striking character is its beautifully sweet fragrant flowers that bloom from the warmer months from November to April. Flower colours also vary enormously — from white varieties with a yellow centre to vibrant pinks, yellows, apricots, pink-orange-yellow (often called “fruit salad”), and even dark shades of mahogany-red. Birds, insects and butterflies are drawn to frangipanis because of their sweet scent, however only native trees will provide the nectar they love.
By Renesis – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Also known as wild carrots, that pretty well sums up Queen Anne’s Lace. The root is a wild form of our domesticated carrot and tastes pretty similar. Queen Anne’s Lace flowers and greens are also edible and can be made into dishes like this carrot top pesto or this floral soda.
Herbalists know plantain as a potent medicinal, great for insect bites, stings, and minor cuts. I keep a homemade plantain salve in my medicine cabinet, and we end up using it several times a week all summer.
Around here though, my little ones just love eating the tiny golden flowers fresh in the garden.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
One of my favorite perennial edible weeds, milkweed shoots taste a lot like asparagus when sauteed in butter. Every stage of growth is edible, from the young shoots to the flowers to the unripe seed pods. And at every stage of growth, it tastes a little different and results in a totally new vegetable.
The trick is, the plants can easily be confused with very toxic water hemlock. When in bloom, I think it’s easy to tell them apart, but this is one mistake that can be deadly. I’d recommend avoiding Queen Anne’s Lace until you’re really confident in your identification. For more information on positively identifying this edible weed, read up on the difference between it and poison hemlock.
The variety we get here grows huge, about 4 feet tall and just as wide. If they grow in an out of the way spot, I’m likely to leave them for their beautiful flowers and edible leaves. The leaves are tasty salad green, and work well cooked into dishes like this mallow leaf ravioli.
Dock plants form long tap roots, and they’re persistent perennials, producing thousands of seeds each year. Once one gets a foothold it’s hard to get them out of the garden unless you dig out the whole root system. Luckily, the roots are not only edible but medicinal. They’re used as a blood cleanser similar to burdock, but I’ll admit this is one of my least favorite medicines. Few things taste worse than dock root to my palate, but plenty of people love them.