It’s strawberry season in Arizona and you’re craving a sweet, delicate, red teardrop of goodness. You find none in your refrigerator. With gas prices soaring, you don’t want to make a special trip to the grocery store. What do you do?
Justin Rohner knows what he would do: simply stroll into his elegantly landscaped yard and pluck a fresh berry — or whatever he pleases, for that matter — right off the plant.
More than 60 percent of his yard is edible.
Rohner, 32, sees health, economic and aesthetic benefits in not only growing his own produce but utilizing it as the primary form of planned landscaping at his Gilbert home. It’s a concept called agriscaping.
Rohner is part of a group of six who work to educate and spread the practice of agriscaping through the Valley. They operate an online community, iAgriscape.com, which describes it as “what you get when you bring together the elegance and grandeur of creative landscaping and the best of productive agriculture.”
Every month Rohner holds a free meeting at two nurseries, Harper’s Nursery and Landscape Co. in Mesa and Summer Winds Nursery in Phoenix. He teaches an audience of about 50 how to design and maintain an efficient elegant garden.
“We make it as easy as grass.” Rohner says. “No, easier; there’s no mowing or de-weeding.”
Rohner also offers his professional landscaping skills and creative mind to those who do not have the means or time to do the work themselves, he says.
For $27 a month he and his posse will plan, maintain and harvest your agriscaped yard.
He sells his produce and clients’ produce at the Power Road Farmers Market in Mesa.
“It can produce more than it costs to maintain it,” Rohner says. “Essentially, it’s free.”
Each square foot will produce between $5 and $25 worth of produce a year, he says, and a four-by-eight bed can grow a year’s worth of produce for one person.
Rohner uses his Power Ranch home as a “test” site and model garden for agriscapes. Both his front and backyard are elegant, edible and homeowners association (HOA) approved, he says.
“Anytime is the best time to plant,” he says. “You just need to know what to plant.”
Right now, his front and backyard is a lushes green oasis of salad lettuces, artichokes, fruit trees, flowers, grass and much more.
About 10 feet under his children’s trampoline, he has dug a subterranean garden to grow more sun and heat sensitive plants.
He uses special soaps so he can recycle water from his showers and other sources in his home into his garden through a drain pipe.
Linda Thompson or Chandler also recycles water for her agriscaped gardens. She has a five-gallon bucket in her shower to collect water and carry out to her yard when she’s done.
Thompson, 60, spends about 12 and a half hours on her 200 square-foot garden a week. She has to go to the store for produce about three months out to the year — and she dreads it.
“Once you’ve had lettuce from your backyard that was picked that evening, you’ll have a very hard time going back to the store,” she says.
Thompson has been an intermittent gardener since 1994. She started attending Rohner’s Mesa meeting about a year ago and tries to make it to every one, she says.
She enjoys the exercise and recommends agriscaping to everyone. She agrees with Rohner: it doesn’t cost much to get started and once you have, you won’t give it up.
“My mother used to say, gardening is good for the soul,” Thompson says. “She was so right.”
Both Rohner and Thompson say you do not need a green thumb to agriscape. You just need a healthy start and a solid plan. Rohner said he is happy to help with that, for free.
In the beginning, he asks a few questions: “What do you want it to look like?” “What do you want to eat?” and “How much time do you want to spend on it?”
He and his fellow agriscapers have studied far and abroad to bring innovation to the elegant and edible home gardens in Arizona.
A fellow agriscaper went as far as France to study French Country gardens. They are also experts on Tuscan, Traditional English and many more garden styles.
Rohner is also working with local landscaping companies to spread agriscaping throughout the Valley, he says.
“A big part of our mission,” Rohner says, “Is to make people into farmers and teach them elegant landscaping.”
Angela, a senior studying journalism at Arizona State University, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org