Rise of the edimental

By TheHindu on 12 May 2018 | read

The garden, since Eden, has been a stand-in for Paradise — a lush island, sacred and sensual. The ancient Greeks grew greens and grain for consumption, but flowers were reserved for the Gods. Over time, the dividing line between the functional and the ornamental came to be demarcated by the domicile. Fronting the house was the ornamental garden, a polychromatic picture of trim hedges and fastidiously arranged flowers; behind it the vegetable garden, a pragmaticmandalaof trellises of okra, spinach beds and pocked rows of onion. Now, farm-to-fork proselytisers are rooting for the twain to meet in the progressive garden of edimentals.

The new portmanteau — uniting edible and ornamental — has been coined by the English-born Stephen Barstow, who made a compelling case for garden-grown edibles when he put together a salad with 537 varieties of plants, all but 28 of which came from his own garden. His 2015 book, Around the World in 80 Plants , documents indigenous foraging traditions, with detailed information about 80 perennial leafy green vegetables, their stories, sources, and recipes.

Eat what you grow

Edimentals endorse an assimilative approach to kitchen gardening that recommends every portion of land be optimally used to cultivate plants that both look and taste good. These include trees, flowering plants, herbs, vines, shrubs, succulents and ferns — essentially everything that can be consumed.

In the village of Assagaon in North Goa (incidentally called the Village of Flowers), practicing permaculturists Peter Fernandes and Rosie Harding transformed a 600 sq m parcel of degraded land into a bountiful farm forest with 200 types of edibles, including colocasia, amaranth, mulberry, turmeric and joyweed. Which means much of what they grow can go down the gullet. Roselle, for example, with its bulbous maroon calyces, is striking and makes a bold tea rich in anti-oxidants. Then there is the butterfly pea, another tea-worthy flower whose electric blue petals also double as a food colourant.

Function to the front

“The general perception is that only ornamentals have aesthetic value,” says Fernandes in a three-way conversation with Rosie, dialling in from France, adding, “Edibles, on the other hand, are typically grown at the back or on the periphery of a house. It’s a shame we spend so much time, effort and money to create huge swathes of greenery that have no function other than appearance, when, in fact, a large number of edibles have enormous value.”

Although kitchen gardens have taken root in the last few years, popular perception continues to cast food plants in biased light. “We sense a reluctance from some people to grow them because they believe the cultivation will be messy and time-consuming,” says Rosie, “While beauty is important, as is scent, we need to create ecosystems that work with nature and serve human needs.”

Going social

Gurgaon-based ad executive, Sangita Wahi Mohin, remarks, “Who needs special ornamentals when your driveway is lined with Chinese orange or lettuce beds?”. Mohin, who greened a patch of wasteland near her home with a variety of edibles, conducts kitchen gardening workshops and also helms an online community, Greenstreet, that encourages a cross-pollination of traditional knowledge. “Agastya flowers are batter-fried in Bihar, while pumpkin flowers, and the buds are cooked in Bengal,” she says, referring to culturally-specific edibles that are finding wider reach through online communities. “My daughter Twisha has also made pesto and even chips from peppery nasturtium leaves,” adds Mohin.

Fresh finds

Edible flowers have found new favour on the plate, thanks to food shows like Masterchef Australia . But they add more aroma, colour and texture than flavour to a dish, concedes chef Ajay Anand, culinary director at the Pullman and Novotel hotels at Aerocity, Delhi. He grows around 20 types of edible flowers in the 3,000 sq ft kitchen garden at Pullman, including petunias and pansies.

“The name of our restaurant, Pluck, is a direct reference to our garden, from where the produce for the meals is plucked,” he says. The farm-to-fork concept has more than just ecological and nutritional valency, it has appetite-whetting potential as well. Before guests are given the menu, they are shown the edimental kitchen. And then the sour cream and flower-petal amuse-bouche is trotted out.

“In the past, the diner would set aside the sprig of parsely on top of a steak; he now appreciates the garnish of say, cilantro flowers,” says Anand, who also dehydrates petals to add a hint of crunch, or powders them for colour.

Grow your own

The term ‘edimental’ is new to many, but the principles are familiar. “They may not know the word, but many want their gardens to look pretty,” says Kapil Mandawewala, founder of the Delhi-based company Edible Routes which sets up kitchen gardens and edible landscapes for clients. They have just designed a 6,000 sq ft terrace garden for Raas Devigarh and Raas Jodhpur, two hotels in Rajasthan. “We seed a mixed planting system, with, for example, low squashes and tall corn together, green Malabar spinach with red amaranth, etc,” he explains.

All said, an edimental garden would perhaps offer the most literal and perfect reading of the 4th-century philosopher, Epicurus’s words: ‘My garden does not provoke thirst through heedless indulgence, but slakes it by proferring its natural remedy. My garden does not whet the appetite; it satisfies it’.

Edimentals endorse an assimilative approach to kitchen gardening that recommends every precious portion of land be optimally used to cultivate plants that both look and taste good.

Edimentals (edibles + ornamentals) include trees, flowering plants, herbs, vines, shrubs, succulents and ferns — essentially everything that can be consumed