When Russ and Lisa Hays moved to Nolensville’s Bent Creek subdivision in 2008, they had an idea.
They weren’t going to simply accept a front lawn with a couple of standard trees and a traditional backyard with mostly grass like everyone else. They had some experience planting fruit trees and decided to take that a step further.
“Actually, it started for us when we lived in Clarksville, when Russ was still a Warrant Officer flying helicopters in the Army,” Lisa said.
The couple started planting trees as soon as they moved to Nolensville. The first year, they planted two peach trees, followed soon enough by two apple trees. They have added trees regularly since then. They now have seventeen trees, including pecan, pear, fig, olive and even a lemon tree in addition to the apple and peach trees they started with. Their pear trees, situated on the side of their home facing the street, are especially interesting.
“We used the Espalier technique where you prune the trees to form a certain pattern,” Russ explained.
Edible landscaping has grown more popular in suburban areas over the last several years. People are replacing parts of their lawn, front and back, with food producing trees, bushes and other plants. Edible landscaping is not an entirely new trend. During World War II, for example, it was not uncommon for people to grow Victory Gardens, which at the time accounted for about 40 percent of the produce consumed in the United States. One reason edible landscaping’s popularity has grown is the increasing concern many have about the environment. Pesticides, fertilizers and gas-powered lawn mowers can negatively affect the environment.
For Russ and Lisa Hays, however, edible landscaping is a joyful pastime. Listen to them talk about it and it’s very easy to see they thoroughly enjoy it.
When asked about the impact of weather conditions on the trees, Russ said, “Most of our trees are good down to 20 degrees. When the temperature gets low, we move our olive, lemon and fig trees indoors. Obviously, we keep these trees potted.”
The Hays family, which includes seven children, also plant other fruits and vegetables.
"We plant various berries, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, spaghetti and butternut squash. This is a genuine passion for us,” Lisa said. “We try to plant something new each year.”
What do they do with all this food at harvest time? “We plant stuff we like to eat,” Russ said. “We also can fruit, or even turn it into jam.”
Their neighbors are very understanding and the Hays’s are generous. “Of course, you must have a good rapport with your neighbors," Lisa pointed out. “Be responsible when it comes to your neighbors’ property. We tell people to help themselves,” Lisa said. “There’s plenty to choose from.”
It also helps that they try hard to keep their garden well landscaped. Everything is neat and has attractive eye appeal. They are conscientious about their work. Their monthly water bill during the season averages about $200, including the lawn.
Is it hard to grow fruit trees and other food producing plants? According to Russ, it’s easy to grow these things, but not so easy to grow so that it produces food.
“Buying the right variety is critical,” he said. “For example, if your trees bloom too early, a frost can come and kill your fruit. It’s much better to buy late blooming, disease resistant varieties.”
He added that it’s also important to do your homework. “Take the time to find and order varieties that work well in this climate. And have a sense of humor! Unexpected things happen.”
Lisa suggested that anyone in the area that is interested in edible landscaping, would be well advised to patronize local nurseries for their plants and trees.
“They are more likely to have the items that work well in this area," she says.
Russ is employed as the Senior Army Instructor at Ravenwood High School. Lisa teaches dance, part time. They are planning to restore a 13-acre farm they own in Lewisburg when it’s time to retire. No doubt they will continue their passion for edible landscaping well into the future.