The Pioneer of Edible Landscapes

Discover a different kind of pioneer in this profile of Rosalind Creasy who brought edible landscapes to the forefront of gardening.

| Summer 2012

  • Rosalind Creasy
    Rosalind Creasy has taken her suburban yard and turned it into an edible landscape that is both beautiful and useful.
    Photo courtesy
  • Front Yard Before
    Creasy removed the standard landscaping, which was identical to all of her neighbors, in favor of a landscape full of nutritious foods for her family.
    Photo courtesy

  • Rosalind Creasy
  • Front Yard Before

When you think about “pioneers,” mostly what comes to mind are the iconic images of trail-blazing adventurers who boldly leap into mysterious and uncharted territory, changing the world around them as they go. Rosalind Creasy is a pioneer in the truest sense of the word. In the 1970s she blazed a trail into the unknown worlds of edible landscaping and eating locally. Little did she know where the journey she started would lead.

Rosalind Creasy began her career as a landscape designer and restaurant consultant in the 1970s. Accompanying her husband, Robert, a famous computer scientist, on his business trips around the world, she was impressed with different cultures’ ways of gardening and growing food.

In Hong Kong, gardens were created wherever tiny space was available. She noticed both Egyptians and Italians seemed to make no distinction between attractive landscape plants and those that produced food. On a visit to an Israeli kibbutz, she saw innovative ways of composting food wastes in order to create precious garden soil in a severe, arid environment. She wrote, “Where folks (in America) were growing lawns, junipers and maybe an ornamental tree or two, they could grow a meaningful amount of food, which would be a much higher and nobler use of their soil.” All of those observations led to her own gardening practices and eventually to her first book.

In the American exodus to suburbia following World War II, edible plants were considered unimportant, often hidden in the back yard or behind the garage. Certainly no one considered planting vegetables in the front yard, and many homeowner’s associations specifically forbade it. Meanwhile, Creasy got involved with the Sierra Club and other groups which worked to prevent farmland from being turned into housing developments. She took a landscape design course during that time and as she wrote later, “Out of the 450 plants the class studied, only two were edibles.”

Rosalind, her husband and their two teenage children were living in Los Altos, Calif., near Stanford University, and close to where Robert worked for IBM. The house they bought was a typical California ranch-style home, with a narrow lot, houses close on both sides and a very modest front yard. The landscape included some bushes, a small tree, and lawn, like every other house in the neighborhood. Everyone on the block subscribed to the local exterminator service, which drove by once a month and sprayed the entire yard with insecticide. Creasy tolerated the landscape and the spraying practices for about a year, then in true pioneer style, she rebelled.

Concerned about her pets and children playing in the yard, Rosalind cancelled the spraying service. (Remember, Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s book that transformed how we look at chemicals and pesticides had only been written a decade earlier in 1962.) Neighbors and the exterminators warned her that she would be overrun with pests, but Creasy forged ahead and started creating the best organic environment she could for her family.



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