Nan Chase, Edible Landscaping Expert and Advocate
Name: Nan K. Chase
Occupation: Writer, author of Eat Your Yard! Edible Trees, Shrubs, Vines, Herbs and Flowers for Your Landscape
Place of Residence: Asheville, N.C.
Background and Personal History: Although she has lived in western North Carolina for more than 30 years, Nan Chase spent her childhood in California, and much of that in the Central Valley, with a backyard filled with fruit trees and nut trees. She has never forgotten the sight of the almond tree covered in pale pink blossoms or the plum trees loaded with dark, juicy fruit.
Nan's college degree was in economics and journalism, and for some years she was an investigative reporter in a small town in North Carolina (she also covered weddings and beauty pageants). But as a stay-at-home mom living in rural North Carolina, she learned from the farm women around her how valuable it was — in many ways — to grow and preserve her own food. Since she moved to North Carolina, she has always lived within 5 miles of the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway, with its endless array of wildflowers, flowering shrubs and flowering trees. She's a self-taught gardener who learned from other gardeners rather than from formal coursework.
Once she joined a garden club about 20 years ago, she learned more and more about growing things, and started combining those two aspects of gardening: food and beauty.
She has been married since 1974 to her high school sweetheart, Saul, and they're still going strong, with three grown children and three grandchildren. She and Saul have moved tons of dirt and rocks over the years, and have planted hundreds of trees — and now she's happy, she says, to get to share the joy with the grandchildren. Somehow, gardening is new and different every day.
About her writing, Nan says:
"Writing has been my passion all my life. I always thought I would stay with newspaper and magazine work, and being a freelancer allowed me to work in short bits of time between domestic chores. But when my youngest child left for college I suddenly had the time for longer projects, and jumped into book writing with a big, serious history of Asheville, called Asheville: A History, I was hooked. Then came the collaboration on Bark House Style, and following that, the publisher asked me to consider doing another book. So I looked around for a topic and figured I had enough “edible landscape” experience from my own gardens for a book. That project became Eat Your Yard! Edible trees, shrubs, vines, herbs and flowers for your landscape. Now it looks as though I am a garden writer for keeps, and my next book, working title Vegevore! 50 Great Vegetables from A to Z, will be published in spring of 2013. That will be a small book of studio close-up photos of the vegetables, and to get them looking really fresh and interesting I tried growing them all myself in a yard that is less than one-tenth acre."
Current Projects: In addition to writing magazine articles (she loves travel writing), Nan is starting to work with a fellow garden club member on a book about producing beverages from the home garden. She's starting a new garden in a vacant lot in their neighborhood. "Right now it is just grass," she says. "My method is to 'start with a plant, not a plan.' The first plant was a little pear tree, followed by several rose bushes."
Other Fun Facts: Nan lives in a bark house! While collaborating on a book about bark architecture, an unusual rustic style that originated with chestnut bark in the North Carolina mountains in the 1890’s, she was so impressed with its energy-saving qualities that when she and her husband had the chance to build a new house on a vacant lot five years ago, they chose to cover the house in poplar bark shingles. The house will never need to be painted, and the bark acts as phenomenal insulation, she says. Wasps and bees like to make their nests in its quiet corners, and the wasps in particular do a lot of pest control in the garden while also helping with pollination. (The book, by the way is called Bark House Style: Sustainable Designs from Nature, and the co-author is Chris McCurry, “The Bark Queen,” who owns the company that makes the bark shingles, Highland Craftsmen.)
Nan doesn't garden on Saturdays. Ever. "Because I observe the Jewish Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, I am prohibited from disturbing nature in any way during that time, even pulling a weed or deadheading a spent flower. So I make sure everything is just so by Friday afternoon so I can enjoy a carefree day with the plants. In this case less really is a lot more."
More Places to Find Nan on the Web:
The online profile of her work as a writer
Her articles in Atlanta magazine, including this one on Atlanta gardens and this one on the wilderness in Florida
Her articles in Carolina Gardener magazine
In this interesting garden profile Nan co-authored for the Smithsonian