Q&A with Nan Chase, Author of “Eat Your Yard”

By Shelley Pierce | August 21, 2016
Image by Gibbs Smith
by Shelley Pierce
August 21, 2016

Nan Chase spent her formative years in central and southern California. Much of Eat Your Yard! was inspired by her backyard, which contained an almond tree, a peach tree, two different plum trees, huge rosemary bushes, kumquat bushes, and some strawberries. The tiny front yard had a persimmon tree and roses. Later, living in the South, she got into the culture of canning and putting up food, winemaking, and herbalism with the native plants. Bliss all around. By profession she is a writer, currently doing public relations and loving it.

Nan’s latest release, “Eat Your Yard“, has information on 35 edible plants that offer the best of both landscape and culinary uses. Edible plants provide spring blossoms, colorful fruit and flowers, lush greenery, fall foliage, and beautiful structure, but they also offer fruits, nuts, and seeds that you can eat, cook, and preserve. Read on for more information about this book and find out how to WIN ONE OF THREE COPIES from Gibbs Smith!

1. Why should we choose to landscape with edibles?

Well, why not? And let’s throw “drinkables” into the mix [I am co-author, with DeNeice C. Guest, of Drink the Harvest]. So often I think people concentrate on the “edible” of edible landscaping, whereas I always think first of the “landscaping” part. I am sure that much of that orientation comes from my childhood in California, where I got to know landscapes wild and intensely groomed. For the last 35 years I have lived in western North Carolina, which is a botanically rich region with many beautiful landscape plants that also supply nutrition or other gustatory pleasure.

2. How does your book help the reader develop an edible yard that offers the best of both landscape and culinary uses?

Eat Your Yard! embodies my criteria for a beautiful edible, drinkable landscape: Is a plant beautiful two, three, or four seasons of the year? And does it produce something both for eating fresh and to preserve in some way – canning, dehydrating, fermenting, pickling. So, I don’t consider such vegetables as tomatoes and squash part of the edible landscape, as they have no landscape value.

3. There are 35 plants featured in your book ranging from the ordinary to the exotic. Why did you choose these 35 plants and what are some plants that you wish had made that cut?

First, I wish serviceberry had made the cut. Serviceberry should be in there, but I didn’t even learn about serviceberries until just about the time the book was finished…and then discovered a row of mature serviceberry bushes growing across the street from my new house. Also called June bush or shad bush, serviceberry has outstanding landscape value in several seasons, and eventually produces loads of edible juicing berries. Yum. I also would like to have strawberries in, as a well cared for strawberry bed can be a knockout; strawberry wine is the best one I make.

Now, as to my choices. At the time I wrote Eat Your Yard! I had been gardening in the mountains of western North Carolina for about 20 years, and had learned so much from wise gardeners around me and from the exquisitely layered natural environment. It turned out that I had at least tried growing most of them, not all, but enough to have a good feel for the characteristics of various regional landscape plants: wildflowers of all sorts, flowering and fruiting shrubs, and fruiting trees.

I knew the plants that I had grown myself are cold-hardy, so I feel comfortable recommending them to gardeners in harsh climates. And I wanted to include some plants that only grow in hot regions. My California background influenced my choices, as I had known so many in my own yard as a child.

4. One unique feature of your book is the inclusion of recipes, which makes it much more than just a landscaping guide. What was the impetus for including the recipes and which one is your personal favorite?

I included recipes because I wanted the book to be not just a How To guide, but a Why To guide. Why To grow a whole lot of new and interesting landscape plants. And recipes for great and unexpected concoctions seemed like the best way to make the case. As to a favorite, I have to say that I have sentimental reasons for liking the recipe for Mint Wine the best. That’s because it was the first time I had tried making wine at home, I did everything wrong but somehow it came out fantastic. That accidental success gave me the confidence to keep going with garden wines, and today, making wines and meads and ciders from the garden (and urban harvesting) has become a major hobby.

5. What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing edible landscaping? How do you begin the task of establishing your edible landscape?

That’s such a good question. Look at the parallel timelines: it takes herbs about ten minutes to get established in the garden. It takes a couple of months for herbs and greens and vegetables to produce, and a year or two for berries and rhubarb and such. And it takes some years for fruiting shrubs and trees to start bearing fruit. So plant some of each. Yes, plant fruit trees and vines right away, even if it’s for a rental (you are leaving the world a better place, for not much money). And plant herbs right away so you can start using them for dinner. Then, as time allows, fill in the spaces with the rest. And don’t forget to plant flowers too, for eye candy and for the birds and bugs.

6. What’s in your garden?

Artichokes, bay tree, cilantro, daikon….do you begin to see the A to Z of it? In fact I am “farming” two urban plots now, a 9/100 acre (that’s 3,900 square feet for the lot) lot where I live, and a further .18 acre with a studio on it close by in the neighborhood. My prize fruit trees are my Callaway crabapple trees. The two oldest have produced as much as 90 pounds of fruit together in a year; I harvest it and crush it for an amazing crabapple cider. Roses are important, beautiful, of course, but also pollinator magnets. And rose petals and rose hips alike go into various foods and beverages. Traditional roses, not the fussy hybrid tea roses, are so easy to grow.

Herbs include mostly perennials, planted in beds near the front door – rosemary, bronze fennel, green fennel, parsley, sage, thymes, tarragon, lemon mint, and on and on. It’s a wonderland, as I also use grape vines to screen the porch, and that gives the place a Victorian feel. The pawpaw tree has started bearing fruit, and I am planting persimmon trees. Rhubarb is highly ornamental on walls, and so is yucca.

As far as vegetable gardening, I stick to cold-hardy plants and let farmers grow the rest. So I rely on onion family tucked everywhere, including leeks, shallots, garlic, and onions. Lots of greens as circular beds among the flowers.


To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Thursday, August 25, 2016 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

What would you plant in your edible yard?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See Rules for more information.)

UPDATE 9/16/16: Congratulations to Ilene Marsch, Pat Harrison and Catherine Carmel!

Tell us what you think: Leave a comment
21 people are already talking about this.
This article was last updated on
Read more about Gardening Experts
Did you find this helpful? Share it with your friends!

Get our latest eBook, “Bring Your Garden Indoors: 13 DIY Projects for the Fall and Winter”

As the seasons change, it’s time to think about bringing your garden indoors. From creating an indoor garden to using natural decor for your holiday decorations, our latest eBook features 13 of our favorite DIY projects for the whole family.

 Happy holidays from all of us at Gardening Know How.

  • Joyce Baker
    Comment added August 29, 2016Reply

    My question is not about lawns. I have a small Maiden Hair fern growing in the same pot it was in when I purchased it about 2 months ago. I had great success with this fern when I entered it in the Fla. State Fair in Tampa, Fl & won First prize blue ribbon. I got that plant from my mother in law's
    back yard years ago. She advised me to place the fern in a large saucer & to keep it filled with water, which I did & was successful.
    This fern is sitting in kit. window which faces south but the plant gets a good bit of light thru window. There are numerous new stems emerging, which will open to the foliage. However, some of the new opened foliage is not green, mostly pale to white. Does it need food or need to be repotted. An article on this fern says to mist it but I follow my tried & true way having it sit in water. What is wrong with this fern and do you have any suggestions? I appreciate you help.

  • Poshan
    Comment added August 24, 2016Reply

    I would like to plant fruit trees, berries, jungle peanuts and moringa trees. I would love to see what other edibles are mentioned in the book so I can increase the biodiversity of my yard/garden. Thanks!

    Comment added August 23, 2016Reply

    I want to grow rhubarb to make pies and eat as a mush like I did as a kid.

  • Cathy Clontz
    Comment added August 23, 2016Reply

    I saw Dorman Raspberries growing at Renfroes Hardware in Matthews NC. They were awesome beautiful Berries that were supported on a lattice panel. I plan to find some plants this fall. The lady at the store said she thought it was just canes but it looked like a climbing plant to me as it was so tall and full of berries.

  • mindie rasmussen
    Comment added August 23, 2016Reply

    I would grow lots of herbs and lettuce,lots of spinach!!!

  • Kelli Campbell
    Comment added August 22, 2016Reply

    We are trying to figure out the best area in our yard to clear for fruit trees and are leaning toward apple and maybe a couple of Cornelian Cherries for the beautiful spring color! Look forward to checking out this book.

  • Gerald Turner
    Comment added August 22, 2016Reply

    I live in rural northern CA. I rent on 5 acres so area isn't a problem. Water is!! My front yard is about 50'X 50' enclosed by a three foot fence. I've been struggling to grow a lawn in it. I've decided to forgo that and plant about a quarter of it into small garden. Ive been relying on potted plants on my porch with two variety's of tomatoes, cucumber, lavenders, Hoja and other Hummingbird attracting plants and several other varieties of colourful house plants. I've been procrastinating on this for awhile but your article inspired me to do it. Best part also is I have two grand kids living next door who would love to help Papa. Thanks I'm going to enjoy this project!!

  • Elaine L.
    Comment added August 22, 2016Reply

    We currently grow many edibles in our backyard but one thing that I would like to grow is Kiwi and more herbs.

  • Philippe
    Comment added August 22, 2016Reply

    “The vegetable garden is a part of heaven, where the gods reign, since herbs can be used to defeat death.” Poem from the 6th century

  • Jessica
    Comment added August 22, 2016Reply

    I would plant fruit varieties that are pretty! I'd love to try the serviceberry mentioned, so I'm sure there will be other great suggestions in the book!

  • Laurie Benson
    Comment added August 22, 2016Reply

    I just saw Sea Buckthorn with its highly nutritious beautiful orange berries growing in Ontario and since it is from Siberia, it will be hardy in our harsh climate. I would love to grow it as well as Serviceberry.

  • Vicky Haynes
    Comment added August 21, 2016Reply

    We're working on converting our yard landscaping to more edibles, especially berry bushes. But also want to include as many bee, butterfly and hummingbird friendly plants. This old be a great tool to help me make the best decisions.

  • Brenda Waters
    Comment added August 21, 2016Reply

    I would like to try herbs.

  • Linda L.
    Comment added August 21, 2016Reply

    I would plant false Roselle and some fruit trees. I will definitely look into the serviceberry, Thanks for the recommendation! :D

  • Linda Warner
    Comment added August 21, 2016Reply

    We've planted fruit trees: pear, apple and plum. And some berry bushes like elderberry and currants. Also grape vines out near the road. I think we need to start putting in some herbs but I'm not sure what/where yet.

  • chester marx
    Comment added August 21, 2016Reply

    I grow some french purslane that I throw in my salads. They taste the same as the smaller American weeds,but are larger leafed and a little less peppery.

  • Deborah Rosen
    Comment added August 21, 2016Reply

    For a long time, I've wanted to convert my entire yard (just over 1/2 acre) from mostly "grass" to edibles, for humans and for animals, but I didn't know how to start (besides traditional veggie gardens). But this year, we got a tiller and I'm just going to get started and let the design develop as it will. You reminded me that I used to irritate my Mom by eating petals off her rose bushes - I had forgotten that - so I think I'll start with a rose bush! Pretty and yummy!

  • Catherine Carmel
    Comment added August 21, 2016Reply

    Being in the Pacific Northwest, I plant things like salal and other berry bushes in carpets of strawberries under fruit trees like apple and pear. I use lavender, rosemary and roses around the house, not only for the culinary benefits, but the scent. Herbs fill my potted arrangements on the porch, but I'm looking for more ways to completely incorporate growing food into the landscape.

  • margaret quinn
    Comment added August 21, 2016Reply

    I just planted fruit trees, berries and asparagus for the future. I have lived at my current home for 2 years and want to plant for the future. My next project is a herb bed with lots of room for cilantro and basil.

  • tami
    Comment added August 21, 2016Reply

    I already have several edibles, plums, pears, apples, strawberries and the lost crops of the andes, yacon, mashua and oca. I'd love to plant a persimmon or a fruit bearing passion vine.

  • Laurie
    Comment added August 21, 2016Reply

    Good article. I am also into edible landscaping, but still in learning mode. I already grow quite a few herbs as well as having a small strawberry bed and two apple trees in my yard. I would love to add some roses -- not just their beauty and wonderful scent, but also for the use of the flowers in crafts, cremes, jelly and rose water for retro cooking. I was also intrigued by what I read about serviceberry. I think it is a native where I live, but I know very little about it except what was mentioned in the article.

Show More Comments

Leave a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Join Us - Sign up to get all the latest gardening tips!