To stroll among the plantings that grace the parks and public spaces of Alys Beach is to experience a reward of textures, colors, smells and yes—even tastes. It’s these edible plants, mostly herbs and fruit trees, that add an extra level to the town’s landscapes. That extra level was all by design, according to Alys Beach landscape architect Kendall Horne, who has brought her guiding hand to the community since its earliest days. Kendall says that landscape designs are carefully chosen to provide as many benefits as possible, from beauty and low maintenance, to habitat for wildlife and tasty rewards for people.
“The Alys Beach landscape looks very simple, refined, and restrained, but it has underlying levels of other benefits one may not instantly realize,” she says.
Citrus trees such as lemons and limes are some of the most common edible plants around the property, as they perform well in tight spaces and pots. The citrus also brings the most wonderful scent to the air every spring as each plant puts out hundreds of fragrant blooms. It is from such blossoms that is made one of the world’s most prized and expensive essential oils: neroli. Here at Alys Beach, the scent floats free on the wind.
It’s also common to see herbs like sage and lavender tucked amongst native plants and well-adapted ornamentals. Perhaps the most popular edible is rosemary, the aromatic Mediterranean herb that brings both scent and flavor. It usually appears in its trailing form, spilling over masonry walls in a pleasing contrast between its green needlelike leaves and the white stucco.
Along the town’s first block of homes near Seven Wells Court lies a special little spot that, in the nearly 20 years since the birth of Alys Beach, has become part of the town’s language and lore: Mojito Alley. In this intimate passageway running west from the pedestrian path is a large lime tree in a weathered concrete pot, and an expansive urn of mint—two of the main ingredients for the classic cocktail.
Just a bit farther up the pedestrian path is the “soup garden,” a cluster of pots and plantings where many a handful of fresh herbs are gathered. A bay tree anchors the garden, its leaves bringing an infusion of fragrant flavor to soups and other slow-simmered dishes. Surrounding herbs include oregano, parsley, chives, rosemary, thyme, and mint, with the mix changing occasionally.
With the inspiring use of a range of edible plants in public spaces, Kendall says that many homeowners have joined in as well. “The homeowners always seem to love the idea of incorporating edibles into their own private landscapes. Many have added pots with frost tolerant citrus, and in many private courtyards you’ll see where owners have put in their own touch of pots with their favorite seasonal herbs. Lemongrass is a popular one that can be used in soups and other dishes while it also helps to repel mosquitoes.”
Kendall says that a particular fruit tree has emerged as one of the most beloved. “It’s hard for me to choose my favorite, but I would say one that I love and owners and guests seem to love are the loquat trees. Ours at Alys get loaded with fruit and the bright yellow-orange fruit looks gorgeous on the trees. The fruit is bite-sized and delicious!”
The largest expanse of edible landscaping is the hundreds of rabbiteye blueberry bushes that form a hedge along both sides of Lake Marilyn. These bushes deliver a sweet harvest every June that delights families, with easy picking that makes for overflowing bowls of blueberries to take home. Though, anyone who has picked blueberries knows that the first handfuls of fruit always go straight into one’s mouth.
Kendall remains on the lookout for opportunities to include more edibles, with plans in the works for a small park that could include pears, lemons, herbs, and a fig tree. It’s all part of thoughtful and deliberate design that pushes us to fully enjoy our senses, as landscapes inspire through our eyes, nose, and palate.