Edible Heritage Hedges at Petty's Orchard

Edible gardens can be as beautiful as ‘ornamental’ non-edible gardens. In fact, there is no real distinction between ornamental plants and productive plants.  Just because a plant is edible does not mean it’s not attractive. Quite the reverse! Few sights could be more beautiful, for example, than a citrus tree laden with glowing fruits, or a plum tree blossoming in spring, or a persimmon in autumn, radiant with stained glass leaves.

Combining productivity with beauty is nothing new. In Britain and Europe, gardeners have been using fruiting plants in useful and ornamental ways for hundreds of years. Hedging is an excellent example. In the UK, hedges are frequently informal and are usually made of a mixture of plant species, most of which produce edible fruit or nuts. By contract, most Australians favour non-productive, uniform hedges, with plants such as photinia or box. In this country, edible hedges are rare.

When members of the hard-working Petty family were establishing their orchard they retained the traditions of the Old Country, planting hawthorn hedges. But why cultivate a windbreak that is merely useful and self-repairing, when you can have beauty, food and even medicine as well, for your trouble? Later custodians of the orchard added hedge-plants that served four purposes: practicality - the capacity to sift the wind, be stock-proof, provide privacy and act as a noise barrier; attractiveness - fragrant flowers and colourful fruits or autumn foliage; therapy – medicinal herbs and berries to treat various ailments; and edibility - fruit, seeds, nuts or leaves.

The Heritage Hedges at Petty’s orchard have grown wild and jumbled over the years, but they still retain their virtues. Deep in that beautiful tangle (which looks its best in autumn) you can find mulberry, kumquat, hazelnut, some interesting hawthorn species, japonica and more.

Mulberry; red and black (Morus rubra and Morus nigra) Deciduous plants with attractive, ribbed leaves, mulberries are swift-growing when young, but soon become slow-growing and rarely exceed 10–15 m. In most species, the fruits turn pink then red while ripening, then dark purple or black and have a sweet flavour when fully ripe. (Wikipedia) One or two old mulberries remain growing in the Petty’s Heritage Hedges. It is possible that there were originally more, and that over the years their numbers have declined.

Kumquat (Fortunella spp.) These are slow-growing evergreen shrubs or short trees, from 2.5 to 4.5 meters (8 to 15 feet) tall, with dense branches, sometimes bearing small, stock-deterrent thorns. The leaves are dark glossy green, and the flowers white, similar to other citrus flowers. The kumquat tree can produce hundreds or even thousands of bright, tangy, orange-coloured fruits each year. (Wikipedia) These evergreens look good all year round. In autumn at Petty’s you will see hundreds of orange globes studding the Heritage Hedges, in places, like strings of small Chinese lanterns.

Hazelnut (Corylus spp.) Hazelnuts are delicious. Human beings have cultivated them since the Mesolithic era. There are between 14 and 18 species of this nut. Those growing in the Heritage Hedges at Petty’s Orchard are most likely to be Corylus avellana, the Common Hazel of Europe and western Asia.

Japonica (Chaenomeles japonica) Also known as Japanese Flowering Quince. In spring, the pure white flowers of japonica glisten like stars in Petty’s Heritage Hedges. Chaenomeles japonica is a species of quince. It is a thorny, deciduous shrub often seen in suburban gardens, where it is best known for its stunning spring flowers in red, white or pink. It produces small apple-shaped fruits that are a golden-yellow colour. The fruit is called Kusa-boke in Japanese. The fruit is edible but hard, and can be made into japonica jam or jelly (see the recipes below). It is not as popular in cuisine as its cousin Cydonia, the common quince.

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) The Petty’s Hedges include several varieties of Hawthorn, one of which may indeed be Crataegus azarolus, the Azarole, with its large yellow fruits. This species is known by the common names Azarole, Azerole, and ‘Mediterranean medlar’, and is native to the Mediterranean Basin. At Petty’s in autumn you will find hawthorn berries of varying sizes on different trees, some ruby red, some golden yellow and others amber-orange. In spring their cascades of blossom range from snowy white to a delicate, stunning pink which is extraordinarily beautiful.

The hawthorns are a huge genus of shrubs or small trees. Some species, such as the weedy Crataegus monocantha, have given hawthorns a bad name in Australia; however they should not all be tarred with the same brush. Many beautiful and useful hawthorns varieties are non-invasive. 

Culinary use: The fruits of the species Crataegus pinnatifida (Chinese Hawthorn) are tart, bright red, and resemble small crab-apple fruits. They are used to make many kinds of Chinese snacks, including haw flakes and tanghulu. The fruits, which are called shānzhā in Chinese, are also used to produce jams, jellies, juices, alcoholic beverages, and other drinks. In South Korea, a liquor called sansachun is made from the fruits. 

The fruits of Crataegus mexicana are known in Mexico as tejocotes and are eaten raw, cooked, or in jam during the winter months. They are stuffed in the piñatas broken during the traditional pre-Christmas celebration known as Las Posadas. They are also cooked with other fruits to prepare a Christmas punch. The mixture of tejocote paste, sugar, and chili powder produces a popular Mexican candy called rielitos, which is manufactured by several brands.

In the southern United States fruits of three native species are collectively known as mayhaws and are made into jellies which are considered a great delicacy. In Iran, the fruits of Crataegus (including Crataegus azarolus var. aronia, as well as other species) are known as zalzalak and are eaten raw as a snack, or used as in a jam known by the same name.

The leaves are edible and, if picked in spring when still young, they are tender enough to be used in salads. (Source: Wikipedia)

Next time you visit Petty’s Orchard take some time to seek out the glorious Heritage Hedges and try to identify their bounty.


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