Ficus vs. Harvestable Hedge

Native Shrubs Bring Blooms, Berries and Habitat as well as privacy

October 8, 2018. By Cassy Aoyagi: LA’s ubiquitous, oh-so-conventional ficus hedge rows are second only to lawns on the ho-hum scale. While almost any mix of three hedge materials will be more appealing than ficus mundanity, a mix of three California native hedges is particularly powerful… and delicious!

My own hedge includes a mix of Coffeeberry, Lemonade Berry and Catalina Cherry. They are favorites for their deep, lush, drought-tolerant green foliage. We’re continually delighted by the subtle differences in their leaves and shades of green. Yet, unlike ficus, they offer so much more than simple greenery! Along with the strength that comes with biodiversity, they bring birds and a bountiful autumn harvest.

Coffeeberry (Rhamnus Californica)

There is a reason for the name of this hedge! It’s beautiful, hard little berries can be roasted to create a robust yet caffeine-free coffee. The process takes a little time, but we are fans of the result!

As a hedge material, Coffeeberry brings dense foliage for a full privacy screen. Established growth is a deeper, darker green than ficus. Its leaves are thick and leathery, qualities that help them resist drought and high-heat.

Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia)

Lemonade Berry is a wise choice of hedge for the foothill community in which I live. It’s thumb-sized leaves are leathery and leave little flammable litter, something that also translates into exceptionally low maintenance. Its berries have become one of my great delights.

Lemonade berries start off as you see here, a cloudy, almost fuzzy-looking white. Before long they become a glossy, candy-coated red. They are tart and a bit sour and make the most delightful lemonade!

Catalina Cherry

Catalina Cherries are delightful! Twice the size of a typical store-bought cherry, their flesh is intensely sweet and flavorful. You will have to fight off the birds for your fair share!

While you’ll likely want to pick the cherries before you eat them, the birds tend to eat the flesh, leaving the large seeds clinging to the branches like ornaments. That is a gift, as the seeds are also edible when dried and ground.
If you’d like to see them live and in-person, visit the Edibles Garden in the Authentic Foothill Gardens at Sierra Madre City Hall.

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