Falmouth farmer runs nursery on the cutting edge of strange

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FALMOUTH — Edgewood Nursery off Blackstrap Road is not your parents’ nursery.

That’s because it specializes in plants, fruits, perennials and seeds not commonly found in Maine. Or even the United States, for that matter.

Aaron Parker, who created the nursery three years ago, said he focuses on “unusual edibles,” including minor fruits, medicinal herbs, perennial vegetables and permaculture plants.

And what’s unusual? Well, almost everything in the garden, actually.

Parker grows schisandra, a complex-tasting berry-like fruit from China that translates as the five-flavor fruit. The fruit was commonly used in medicine as a diagnostic tool.

“Everyone tastes flavors differently,” Parker said. He said when eating schisandra, attention should be paid to the first flavor, because in early diagnostic medicine, that flavor you first taste is the resource you are most lacking.

Parker, 27, said he hasn’t counted all his plants, but estimated he has more than 150 species. His interest in the

Edgewood Nursery on the Schisandra Berry from Sun Media on Vimeo.

unusual, he said, stems from his other vocation, landscaping, which he has done for 12 years.

He said he couldn’t find the plants he wanted to use locally.

“The plants that really fascinate me are food plants not common in our culture,” Parker said.

So he began searching, and made lists after hearing about strange plants from other people. He would make trades for seeds. And he kept his eyes open in case something unusual came up.

“I love having new things to try,” Parker said. “Who knows what’s out there that nobody on this continent knows about?”

Take, for example, hablitzia, a perennial plant native to the Caucasus region on the border of Europe and Asia. Parker said it has a long harvest season, and since it is a perennial, it comes back every year. Its leaves are edible, too. To his knowledge, Parker is the only commercial seed seller of the plant in the country.

“Tons of things have fallen through the cracks,” Parker said. “The biodiversity of our food supply is collapsing.”

Edgewood Nursery is at 4 Cruston Way, on a five-acre parcel where Parker built his home. This is the first year he has had dedicated nursery hours, every Tuesday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., with between 30 and 40 species typically available.

Parker has also done a few nursery tours, which last an hour or so, where he leads people around the garden to see and taste the plants. He estimated that 75 percent of what he sells is the result of walking and talking with customers about his stock.

Business has been “slow, but steady,” he said, and he admitted he would probably have a difficult time finding success at a farmer’s market because of his “niche market” inventory. But he said the people who do buy from him are like him: they want to design their own edible landscape.

Because he deals mostly with perennials, Parker said his growing season is long. Generally, it’s between when the last of the snow melts and when the snow falls again. And outside of planting, initial watering and occasionally mulching, Parker said there isn’t much to do to take care of his plants.

“Once they’re established they put down long tap roots,” he said.

Parker said he enjoys being outside and working with his unusual plants, and hopes the business keeps growing over the next few years.

“I do my best and for the most part everything works out,” he said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Aaron Parker is the owner of Edgewood Nursery on Cruston Way in Falmouth, which specializes in unusual edibles from around the world.

Shisandra, also known as the Chinese five-flavor fruit, is one of the unusual edibles grown at Edgewood Nursery in Falmouth. It has been used in medicine as a diagnostic tool.

Edgewood Nursery in Falmouth focuses on perennial plants, like the hablitzia. Its leaves are edible, and Aaron Parker believes he is in the only commercial seed seller in the United States.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.