Gardening with Grains

By George Graine, Fairfax Master Gardeners
“For amber waves of grain.” — from America the Beautiful (1893)

book coverIf you are familiar with the name Brie Arthur, then you probably know that she is the author of “The Foodscape Revolution” published in 2017. This book explains how and why vegetables should be incorporated into your flower and shrub gardens. Brie is back with a new book called “Gardening with Grains: Bring the versatile beauty of grains into your landscape” (St. Lynn’s Press, 2019). She has taken on an additional and heretofore barely noticed plant family that is rarely considered as garden worthy by the home gardener. Pause for a moment when you realize how amazing it is that landscape designers have completely missed the point of incorporating grains into the landscape. Is it time?

Growing grains in your landscape is another game changer in the same manner as using vegetables outside of the typical rows and raised beds that are usually isolated from a “pretty” landscape. In other words, like the artistic expression where form follows function, so too can gardening with grains be both decorative and edible. Do you think that the subject of gardening with grains is of little consequence? Are you put off by thinking grains are limited to cooking and cereal products? (By the way, there is a cereal called Great Grains.) If so, you need to think more broadly. Wait until the last chapter in Brie’s book because it does include many recipes. The first eleven other chapters definitely measure up to the book title as she answers the question of why and how to garden with grains.

If you are in a hurry to learn how to garden with grains, then perhaps you should start your search half-way through the book with chapter 7, “Designing with Grains.” But to really get a feel for what grains are all about, then read chapters 5 and 6. These two chapters provide ample reason for the understanding of grains. Here you will find just six (out of hundreds) different types of cool season grains including barley, oats and wheat. Then you will read about three warm season grains that have a lot of visual appeal and may even surprise you. These are corn, rice and sorghum. Rice! Surely you have seen pictures of rice farmers planting rice in paddies. How is a home gardener going to maintain this plant? In a shallow pond! The fact is that growing rice in water is a weed suppressor. Therefore, the water acts as a natural herbicide. For gardeners, growing rice out of water will “work.” As an experiment, grow rice in a container. Water daily and make sure you locate the plant in a sunny location. Rice plants will also make a fine plant in the often used expression for container gardening — fi