Cricket Hill Garden Sees Future in Edibles

Quince growing at Cricket Hill Garden.
THOMASTON, Conn. - For Dan Furman, the future holds not only blossoms but also edible plants.

As co-owner of Cricket Hill Garden, the last 25 years of the family business has been spent finding and selling tree, intersectional and herbaceous peonies. In the last two years, Furman has cleared the hillside - that overlooks the peony garden - to grow fruit trees and other edibles.

"Edible gardening is a trend right now - a good one - and peonies have such a short growing season," he said, explaining his interest in growing edible crops. "Any future for the nursery business is in edibles. Gardeners today want to be a little more self-sufficient and know where their food comes from."

As Cricket Hill Garden begins to diversify its offerings to customers, Furman's main focus will be on offering unusual fruit and trying to grow them organically. For example, he already grows - and offers for sale - Asian pears, figs, pawpaws, quince and mulberries, to name a few.

Furman is also growing medlar, a plant related to Hawthorn that also has Shakespearean roots. "They're kind of ugly," he said. The green-brown fruit looks like a large crab apple, except its bottom end is open. "You harvest it like a European pear," he said. The Brenda Giant Medlar has its roots in the Netherlands and is used for sauces and preserves.

Edible plants grow along the hillside at the nursery.
Hardy Plants for the Northeast
Many of the foreign edible plants Furman is testing comes from his interest in the USDA's National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon.

"There are pears you cannot import today," he said. "Three years ago I got a ton of material [to work with]."

"A lot does feel experimental," he said, referring to the lack of research of how these plants do in the Northeast climate. Varieties of plants that fail in his trial garden will not be offered to customers. "At least I can recommend stuff to customers that I will grow." For example, "Turkish quince is good for fresh eating." The Ekmek variety Furman is growing produces juicy, yellow pear-shaped fruit.

What's next? "One cool thing I want to do when I have older trees is multigrafted trees," he said, where different varieties can be grown on one. "You get to know your plants."

To view the edible varieties for sale, click here. To read the first part of this series, click here.

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