Learning (And Snacking) At The Country's Largest Edible Garden | KCUR

Learning (And Snacking) At The Country's Largest Edible Garden

May 29, 2015

At the Heartland Harvest Garden, flowers are more than just decoration.
Credit Eleanor Klibanoff / KCUR

Powell Gardens is just outside of Lone Jack, Missouri and it's hard to miss--there are huge Lego blocks sitting outside the entrance, waving you in. They are currently featuring Nature Connects 2, a traveling art exhibit of larger-than-life-size Lego structures integrated into the gardens. 

But surrounding the art is something even more fascinating, particularly if you're hungry: the country's largest edible garden. Everything grown in the Heartland Harvest Garden can be eaten, whether by popping it in your mouth or using it in cooking. 

Some of what they grow is expected: strawberries, peaches, onions, and lots of varieties of basil. But others are surprising.

"We have flowers and plants that don't always look like they can be eaten," says Barb Fetchenheir, the garden interpreter. "But everything in the edible garden can be used to eat."

When I visited, Fetchenheir had me try begonias, violets and sorrel, plants that I don't usually keep in my refrigerator. But if you're not feeling so adventurous, you'll want to check out the Kitchen Garden, which has a lot of plants that you might recognize. 

"We try to put in a lot of herbs and spices that you'd readily use in the kitchen," says Fetchenheir. She also uses the garden as a chance to teach visitors about plants. 

"A lot of people don't know that cilantro is both an herb and a spice," she says. "The leaf is the herb and when it goes to seed, it is then going to be coriander." 

They hope that people will take these lessons home with them, to their own gardens. If you're just starting out, herbs are a safe bet. 

"It's kind of an entry to gardening," says Callen Fairchild Zind, the director of marketing for the gardens. "They're pretty easy for the most part. One of the thing we hope is that when people come to visit, they'll be inspired to try something new, whether its buying it or growing it or both."

Fetchenheir recommends starting with basil, oregano or parsley, which are fairly foolproof. But she also says the key is to grow something that you like the flavor of, and that you're going to use. 

"I always recommend to people, grow it somewhere close to your kitchen, not 5 miles out on the property," she says. "Grow it close to your house so you'll actually use it when you need it."

If you're interested in learning more about cooking with herbs--and growing your own--Powell Gardens is having a day of herb-based exhibits and lessons on June 13. There will be classes on the medicinal properties of herbs and cooking lessons, as well as free advice from the garden interpreter herself.