The Willy Wonka of Edible Landscapes
As the fictional Willy Wonka stated, “Everything in this room is edible.” For Cal Chester, everything in his yard is edible. A full meal could be enjoyed just walking the winding path through his average-sized lot, landscaped to meet homeowner association parameters (70 percent lawn). Every possible inch is decoratively and strategically landscaped with flourishing edible plants.
Chester’s interest in horticulture began with his science teacher parents, who grew orchids in their spare time. He began his studies in botany and biology, but after he realized he enjoyed a more hands-on approach, he jumped into a major in economics and marketing. Chester worked as a writer for CMT for a while, but soon moved back to his roots to begin a landscaping business, Greenthumb Calboys.
His front yard is filled with curvy beds of a different evergreens, so it looks nice all year long, He also grows low-maintenance pineapple guavas as hedges and flowers like azaleas, but even the flowers are edible, and the olive-sized fruit has a taste between a kiwi and a strawberry.
Chester surveys each space for sun, shade, absorption, wind and other variables. More importantly, he is looking at a checklist that is customized to what his clients eat. It contains many choices that Chester has explained to them, and all do very well in our area. He explains that although the Emerald Coast has not been developed for agriculture, we are the San Francisco of Florida, with a climate that can grow avocados, kumquats, pineapples guava, citrus, evergreens, cherry trees, peaches and plums.
Chester or his team will give lessons, hints and suggestion for maintenance and will even take the produce to market or restaurants to help offset the investment and initial cost. From loquats for wine to comfrey for first-aid, not an inch of yard is wasted, and the benefits are enormous. Chester says he weaned his diabetic stepfather off junk food by replacing convenience food with better and more nutritious choices.
Greenthumb Calboys is conscientious about using heirloom seeds and the most natural, organic form of plant management. Chester says he only needs to run his sprinklers about four times a month, and his water bill is much less than it would be if all he were watering a yard full of grass. What grass there is pulls nutrients from the rich debris that falls from the plethora of plants. He spends less than an hour pruning each month because the strawberries crowd out the dollar weeds.
Winding around to the backyard, we discover what would be similar to the chocolate river in Wonka’s factory, filled with more than 100 varieties of plants and trees adjacent to the winding path. Chester started a war with the weeds by growing chocolate mint more as a ground cover than as a fragrant, lush, culinary treat.
Chester’s vision for Greenthumb Calboys is as big as Wonka’s. He believes he can reduce public assistance by teaching economically challenged people to grow food, feed themselves and also make some money. He is currently working with Gulf Coast College on a program to educate and train college students with a plan to help pay for their tuition.
Greenthumb Calboys, aesthetic organic edible landscapers and permaculture designers, is located in Panama City Beach. For more information, call 850-866-6867 or visit GreenthumbCalboys.com.
Thomas Masloski is a freelance writer specializing in green and alternative topics. Contact him at Masloski@gmail.com.