Incredible Edibles

Have a hankering to harvest your own tea? Create your own coffee? Or maybe you’d like to make home-made cranberry juice.

The Incredible Edibles range, which is a trademarked brand, forms part of Tharfield Nursery near Katikati, has developed a reputation for offering gardeners cropping plants that are a bit different – and on Thursday, March 21 members of the public are being offered a chance to tour the stock garden (see the Events page for details; bookings essential).

Launched in 2000 by Fiona and Andrew Boylan, the Incredible Edibles range is widely stocked in garden centres throughout New Zealand and two show gardens at the Ellerslie International Flower Show have won gold (2006) and silver distinction (2010).

Andrew and Fiona Boylan (front) in their award-winning edible garden at Ellerslie in 2010. Behind them, from left, Caroline Elliott (nurserywoman), Sandi MacRae (designer) and Lindsay Robinson (builder). The garden was gifted to a children’s home.

As well as commercial production on the 5.2ha site, Fiona and Andrew also maintain a large stock garden filled with plants for observation. And even if they turn out not to be suitable for further development, plants are often kept for their curiosity value – probably the fate of the liquorice bushes, although Fiona says she hasn’t made up her mind yet.

“The root is actually the part which gets processed into what we eat so that’s probably not viable for home gardeners. But plenty of visitors are curious to see them.”

Carob is another that’s being watched – the trees need male and female plants to create the seed pods which lead to the chocolate substitute.

Fiona grows coffee as a pot plant in her office and says it should be a house plant in most parts of New Zealand as it’s simply too cold for it outside, but even indoors you’ll still get beans to crop.

However, tea, a member of the camellia family, is a good hedging plant and the Incredible Edibles website gives instruction on how to pick and dry the leaves to make your own cuppa – 1kg of green tip leaves will yield about 200g of dry tea leaves.

‘Everyone’s thinking about their health, and growing food instead of buying it,” Fiona says. “Despite our grandparents having extensive gardening knowledge, people are having to learn to grow their own food plants again and we try and help with any information we can.

“In my family garden in Thames we had 50 fruit trees and a big vege garden so it’s a bit ironic that I ended up doing this. We get a lot of emails with questions on how to grow, where to grow and what to do with fruit so we put recipes on the website and have led the way in the amount of information we put on our plant labels.”

The couple sell blueberries, feijoas and tamarillos to commercial growers as well as home gardeners, and regularly work with Plant & Food Research. Partnership plants include Tamarillo Tango, a lower-acid fruit, Blueberry Muffin and the bramble Thornless Jewel.

“I like to think of people planting a grazing garden,” Fiona says. “So as the kids go to school they can pick, say, a guava and go off munching it.”

As well as old-fashioned plants like gooseberries, currants (“we can’t grow enough of them”), brambles (which can be grown on a frame in a large pot), bay trees and rhubarb (“there’s an amazing market for it”), Incredible Edibles also specialises in the unusual.

The Japanese raisin tree (Hovenia dulcis).

The tiny, edible seeds of the Japanese raisin tree fall when ripe and should be picked up, have the seeds snapped off the stem, and put in a paper bag in the hot-water cupboard for a fortnight. When eaten they taste like raisins, hence the name.

The name of the ice-cream bean (Inga edulis) also describes its taste – the edible beans are cocooned in a fluffy white substance with a sweet taste.

Other exotic offerings include sugar cane, red banana passionfruit and cherimoya (custard apple), while recent releases include the dwarf Feijoa Bambina, Strawberry Sundae and dwarf apple Teacher’s Pet.

“When we look at whether to market plants we look at the taste, the size of the plant and ease of growing,” Fiona says.

“We’re pretty restricted by biosanitary regulations and quarantine so don’t bring anything in – all that we have is already available in the country.”

The pods of the ice-cream bean tree (Inga edulis) contain an edible white pulp.

The couple are occasionally approached by home gardeners who have something to share and which sometimes results in a new line.

“Someone bought in the naranjilla from their own garden. It’s a great ornamental plant with its big, hairy purple leaves and has strawberry-scented fruit that is used extensively for juice in South America,” Fiona says.

“We’ve also developed the weeping Cipo orange from someone’s garden.

“People who have older gardens probably have some really interesting things tucked away, things pioneers may have brought with them, although identifying varieties can often be difficult, especially with things like figs and feijoas.

“The only way everyone can get ahead is if we all share.”

This article originally appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been altered slightly for relevance and updated.

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