Aug. 6 2018 01:50 PM

Residents of a Madison, Wisconsin, neighborhood are benefiting from the city’s edible landscaping program in more ways than one.

I’m not sure exactly when the phenomenon began. Maybe it was when millennials began moving into city cores instead of out to the suburbs as their parents did at their age. But somewhere along the line, neighborhoods in cities across the nation began developing their own pockets of culture within the larger metropolitan areas that they’re located within. They even came up with catchy names for these distinctive communities.

Was it designed that way to attract young people and families into the cities? Or did they move in first, with the hip shops and restaurants following, and the fun neighborhood names like Hingetown and Birdland developing shortly afterward? Either way, from Detroit to Los Angeles and everywhere in between, small enclaves within large cities are becoming trendy and getting trendier by the minute. The Tenney-Lapham neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin, is a prime example. Over the last few years, many new specialty shops and restaurants have popped up along the streets there. Most of the folks that live in this fiveblock-by-10-block neighborhood, on the east side of the state capital and along Lake Mendota, live in charming colonial style brick homes built in the early 1900s. In 2017, a 1,000-unit luxury high-rise apartment building opened its doors, bringing even more young professionals to the area.

The neighborhood is thriving for many reasons, its several parks and proximity to the lakefront and downtown among them. It’s walkable, it’s bikeable, and in a few years it will also be edible. That’s because in April, a group of residents, landscapers included, came together to plant cherry and pawpaw trees that entire neighborhood can enjoy.

The idea was initiated by the Tenny-Lapham Neighborhood Association. The group surveyed residents about the types of activities they wanted to see in their community, and the idea of a shared space for edible trees was one of the top responses. It wasn’t hard to get approval from the city because it encourages such activities.

“We went through the city of Madison’s edible landscaping initiative which allows either individual residents, community groups or neighborhoods to plant any type of edible landscaping on public property,” Tyler Lark, says TLNA vice president.

The association identified a piece of land owned by a water utility adjacent to a park with a well. The location fit the bill nicely, with its combination of good sunlight and underutilized land. “It looked like a good candidate where you could add some greenery and future shade and vegetation and also get something from it too in the form of some fruits,” Lark explains.

Getting to work

The initial plan for the edible landscaping project called for the planting of six fruit-bearing trees — three cherry trees, consisting of two semi-dwarf Meteors and one Montmorency; and three varieties of pawpaw, PA Golden 1, Peterson Allegheny and Halvin.

“We thought pawpaw would be interesting because it is something most folks haven’t been exposed to,” says Lark, who wasn’t familiar with them at first, either. He describes the fruit’s taste as something of a cross between a mango and a banana, and thinks it will be a “fun, unique and new flavor” for people to try.

The cherry varieties were selected for their tartness and suitability for inclusion in pies. “The main thing with the edible landscaping approach is it’s just a nice way to put to good use some underutilized land and have something fun and productive come from it as well,” Lark says.

Trees in general are an appealing addition, especially since the emerald ash borer has made its indelible mark on the city.

“We’ve lost a lot of street trees and trees planted in terraces and general canopy cover,” Lark says. “I think there is broad interest in increasing the number of plantings and landscaping and vegetation, and the idea of going the edible route is really attractive to a lot of the neighbors. It’s a way to get more bang for your buck and produce something of value that people can eat, share, enjoy and gather the community around.”

TLNA purchased the cherry trees from Jung’s Garden Center in Madison and the pawpaw trees were brought in from the Nolin River Nut Tree Nursery in Upton, Kentucky. To raise the money buy them, neighborhood residents held a party in one of the parks and asked for donations.

Planting a future

The trees were planted on Earth Day, April 21, 2018. Landscapers in the neighborhood and other residents, ranging in age from three to 65 pitched in to help. It’ll probably be a few years more before they produce any fruit, and in the meantime, neighborhood volunteers will tend to them.

“A few landscapers who live and work in the neighborhood and garden enthusiasts are the core team that volunteered to be caretakers for the plantings, watering them and helping them get established,” says Lark.

Granted, six trees don’t sound like a lot, but TLNA decided to start small. “The thought is that was a good place to start, and if it’s successful, maybe next year we can come back and expand it a little,” says Lark. “Maybe we’ll put in some edible shrubs or berry bushes or something to make it more of a hub, a central location for people to come out and see some unique fruits or unique bits of landscaping that they might not have been exposed to or otherwise been aware of.”

With all the bricks and mortar that have sprung up in the neighborhood lately, adding trees will provide some balance.

“We’re a neat area just east of the capitol that’s really seen a lot of revitalization and redevelopment going in,” says Lark. “Right across the street from where we put in these fruit trees, there are brand new high-rise apartment buildings, and three or four major residential or commercial developments within a block or two that have all gone up in the last year or so. It’s a nice way to bring some more greenery and landscaping to help balance that new development.”

The fruit trees won’t just be nice for the current residents; this is the type of gift that will keep on giving for years and even generations to come. As Lark explains, “It’s a project the residents can pass on long beyond their time in the neighborhood.” It reminds him of an old saying, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago and the next best time is today.”

Those who live in Tenney-Lapham today leaving a gift to the residents of tomorrow. Maybe the fruits of their labors will inspire others to do the same. Landscapers like you can play an integral role in encouraging and assisting with edible landscaping projects in your community.