7 edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity

7. Dog rose (Rosa canina)

Photo courtesy of Saxifraga. Photographer: Jan van de Straaten http://www.freenatureimages.eu

For our last edible shrub for improving urban biodiversity, we invite you to stop and smell the roses – the dog rose (Rosa canina) to be precise. A native rose prized for its flowers and rose hip fruit, this scrambling shrub is bound to win your heart. Found in the wild in hedgerows and woodland edges, the dog rose looks – and smells – stunning during summer with its elegant pink and white flowers. A vigorous grower, the dog rose will happily claim its space, if you let it, climbing up to 4 metres high. Its long overhanging branches create a striking, arched form. Canina stems from Canis,the Latin word for dog as it was believed that the roots of a dog rose could heal a bite from a rabid dog.  

Take the time to savour the beauty of a dog rose in full bloom. This abundance of flowers, which are rich in nectar and pollen, makes the dog rose a favourite food source for bumblebees, wild bees and honeybees. Furthermore, the rose petals are an exquisite culinary ingredient. They make spectacular decoration on top of a cake and impart a floral hint to honey, vinegar, wine, jam, jelly and candy. Why not try making your own rosewater and rose syrup with your blooms too?

Another reason you’ll love the dog rose are its rose hips. Covered with oval red/orange hips which appear after the flowers, the branches make an attractive floral decoration – though remember to leave some for the birds. When the rose hips ripen in autumn, birds such as redwings and fieldfares will be feasting in your garden. Plus, the thorny branches provide them a safe haven from (urban) predators. Rose hips are a superfood packed with vitamin C. While they’re a wonderful ingredient, removing the seeds (which can be an irritant) takes some dedication. Your hard work will pay off once you’ve taste your delicious jam, jelly and syrup. Both the dried petals and rose hips make excellent tea. 

Able to tolerate air pollution, strong (sea) winds, and rough handling, the dog rose is a tough cookie that thrives in urban conditions. In the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty/ Little Briar Rose, the princess falls into a 100-year-long sleep after being pricked with a needle. The castle becomes covered with thorny roses – can you imagine the city overgrown with these exquisite blooms? Now that’s good reason for everyone to stop and smell the roses. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our seven edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity and hope it has inspired you to create more urban nature in your city!

7 edible shrubs for improving biodiversity

6. Medlar (Mespilus germanica)


If you think that the medlar sounds like something oddly medieval, you’ve guessed correctly. Coveted in Roman and Medieval times, the medlar is a unique shrub that’s rarely planted today. With its pretty flowers and tasty fruit, which has an unfairly bad reputation, it’s a boost for biodiversity – all the more reasons for reviving it. If you’re looking for a characteristic and eccentric shrub for your urban garden, then the medlar may be for you. 

It was brought to the Netherlands by the Romans. Coveted as a winter delicacy, the medlar was likely forgotten over time as other fruits became more available during winter. The name Mespilus germanica refers to Germany, the confusion coming from Linneaus who thought that the shrub originated from there.

The medlar is a slow shrub in all senses of the word – patience is needed for its growth and to ripen the fruit. Its crooked branches are unmistakable; the French expression “As straight as an old medlar” referring to an untrustworthy person says it all.

When the shrub is in full bloom, the fragrance of the lovely large white flowers fills the air. Enjoy this treat for a couple of weeks in May, as will the bees, bumblebees, hoverflies and apple-and-plum casebearer moths. A few months later, around October, the round rust-coloured medlars look like they’re ripe for the picking. But wait. Medlars are inedible until they’ve been softened, or bletted to be precise. They can be left on the tree to soften, frozen, or picked unripe and bletted indoors, much like avocados or persimmons. And if you think you’ve accidentally left them to rot, don’t panic. When the skin and flesh have turned brown and mushy and there’s a heady smell of ripe apples, they’re ready to eat! Soft and sweet, medlars are little vitamin C bombs. A word of warning though: avoid the five rock hard seeds or risk breaking a tooth.

Traditionally medlars make excellent jam, jelly and liquer. Every part of the medlar is said to have medicinal benefits. Dried leaves are used to heal wounds and eating the fruit is said to improve one’s memory and alleviate menstrual pain. Though don’t overeat them because they have a laxative effect!

Bring the medlar back! With its striking contorted form, obscure but loveable fruit and flowers that are a feast for the eye and the insects, the medlar deserves a spot in any city. And lastly, don’t forget to bring your medlar walking stick on your next hike. 

Hidden treasures for a sustainable city – Biotope City Vienna

(c) image: Bauplatz 3 (ÖSW/Rüdiger Lainer + Partner) Visualisierung: Schreiner, Kastler

Praised by the advisory board of IBA_Wien because of “the consistent approach of a multi-layered implementation of contributions to climate adaptation in new neighborhoods” and the “scientific support for neighborhood development in connection with climate-relevant contributions” the new Biotope City Wienerberg urban quarter is an interesting and very recent urban development to study in more detail.

Biotope City Wienerberg will be presented as part of IBA_Wien in 2022 on an international level as an innovative model example for future solutions in connection with adaptation to climate change in urban areas. The project contains many qualities that are not immediately visible upon completion at the end of 2020. But already now, IBA Vienna has published the brochure “Hidden Treasures“, which describes the hidden treasures of this forward-looking district.

Published by: IBA_Wien 2022 – Neues soziales Wohnen
Content and editors: Knollconsult Umweltplanung ZT GmbH Prof. Dipl.-Ing.in Dr. Helga Fassbinder Institut für Landschaftsplanung, BOKU Wien Articles by: Stiftung Biotope City Green4Cities GmbH, DI Thomas Romm, forschen planen bauen, ZT Lehner Real Consulting GmbH, Stadtteilarbeit Caritas der Erzdiözese Wien
Graphics and layout: Knoll Kommunikation GmbH

Housing quarters rich in nature – learning from experiences

Cover brochue (c) KAN

Building with nature requires a different way of working from developers, construction parties and housing corporations. This include new knowledge, a different perspective and a different role in the process. The study ‘Learning from natural residential areas from the past’ has come up with concrete tools for the development process, design, implementation, management and communication. These are now briefly summarized in the digital brochure which can be downloaded for free at KAN (Climate Adaptive Network Netherlands).

Green as Building Material Conference

On May 26-27 2021 the ‘Green as Building Material conference on ecological and nature inclusive design of the climate resilient city ist organized by Delft University of Technology.

The aim of the conference is to investigate and discuss the value of implementation of Nature in the built environment. Nature offers a range of specific ecosystem services. Two examples of such services are provided by vegetation in form of mitigation of heat stress in cities through provision of shadow and evaporation of water, and retention of water during intense rain showers reducing risk of flooding. Ecosystem services can play an important role in designing current and future climate-proof cities. In addition to aforementioned city cooling and water retention, many more useful ecosystem services can be provided by Nature. Further examples are cleaning of air, water and soil, and strengthening of biodiversity in the urban environment. Nature-inclusive cities are therefore healthier, more attractive, and thus overall more liveable.

On May 27 Mathias will speak about his research and findings within his vision of the ‘Next City’ as a biodiverse and nature-inclusive city of the future. The lecture is part of the session on design consequences of integral nature-inclusvie building.

7 edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity

5. Elderberry tree (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’)

From all the edible shrubs we’ve selected, our absolute favourite has to be the elder or elderberry tree (Sambucus nigra). Long revered, the elder is celebrated for its fragrant flowers and superfood berries that are both divine to cook with. If you’re looking for a bold eye-catcher in the design of an urban park, you – and the wildlife – will fall head over heels for the ‘Black Beauty’ cultivar with its stunning deep purple foliage, elegant pale pink flowers and purple black fruit. 

Native to the Netherlands, the elder has been associated with folklore and witchcraft. Its name derives from the ancient Greek wind instrument sambuca, and from the Anglo-Saxon word  aeld meaning fire as the elder’s hollow branches were used to blow the embers of a fire. An elder isn’t fussy about where it’s planted. It prefers sun but doesn’t mind some shade nor wet conditions. Resilient and fast growing, they’re an ideal shrub for establishing a design quickly, bearing fruit already after 2 years. 

If it were possible to capture the scent of summer, elderflower syrup probably comes closest. Choose a sunny day around early June to pick the large lacy clusters of flowers for your syrup – take a moment to really enjoy their heady fragrance. The Black Beauty’s dark pink buds emerge as pale pink flowers, an elegant contrast with its dark purple leaves. Be sure to make enough syrup to last into the colder months when you’re longing for summer. While harvesting, you’ll see that the insects of every kind adore elderflowers as much as we do; planting elder around a vegetable and fruit garden is sure to attract the pollinators you need. Elders are also hosted plants for butterflies and moths such as elderberry pearl moth, swallow tailed-moth and buffermine (gele tijger in Dutch meaning yellow tiger). Dried flowers make a lovely tea.

The sight of drooping clusters of ripe elderberries is an unmissable part of autumn. Leave the green ones as they’re poisonous and pick only the deep purple berries. These make the most delicious syrup (used in traditional medicine to treat colds), jam, pies and wine, and are also used as natural dyes. Birds flock to feast on the ripe berries, their droppings helping to spread the seeds. If you spot some wrinkled little brown ‘ears’ growing on older branches of the elder especially in winter, these are wood ear mushrooms. A culinary delicacy, they’re named after Judas who is said to have hung himself from an elder tree. 

Manifesto: Right upon Green Environment

Right on time for lobbying towards the municipal elections in the beginning of 2022 the Dutch nature and garden associations presented a Manifesto on the Right Upon a Green Environment at the end of March 2021 which stresses the benefits of a green environment and implicitly nature-inclusive cities.

The Manifesto is based upon recent research on the European Green Captials published in 2017: Well established and maintained green areas have a key role on reaching the high quality of life […] Green Capitals are leading cities (chronologically, Stockholm, Hamburg, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Nantes, Copenhagen, Bristol, Ljubljana, Essen and Nijmegen) that provide an excellent access to the public green areas . […] As a result of abundant provision and proper distribution, almost all citizens in most of the Green Capitals live within a distance of 300 meters to a green area.

This manifesto is even more urgent today as the one-year-anniversary of covid-19 in the Netherlands has shown a significant increase of burn-out among employees (research by CNV union) that even worries national health insurances (article by Zilveren Kruis).

The manifesto was initated by AVVN , Natuurlijk tuinieren, KMTP/Groei&Bloei, KNNV, NL Greenlabel, Stichting Steenbreek, Velt and Vogelbescherming Nederland.

Metropole Ecology Course

In spring 2021 the Master on Earth Sciences Future Planet Ecosystem Science at the University of Amsterdam and its course ‘Metropole Ecology’ held by Prof. Judy Shamoun-Baranes, Dre Verena Seufert (VU).
An increasing part of Earth’s terrestrial surface is taken up by urban and peri-urban land use, forming large agglomerates known as metropoles. These intensively-used areas are dynamic ecosystems with distinct properties, hosting particular species and communities, but also creating nuisances e.g. through invasive species or human-wildlife conflicts. At the same time, metropolitan ecosystems are pivotal in supporting human well-being, as over half of the global human population lives in cities, facing challenges related to e.g. air quality, heat, storm water, and space for leisure. Urban ecosystems can provide services to address some of these challenges. In this course we use an interdisciplinary approach to understand specific challenges and opportunities of an urbanizing world for biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and people. Specifically, we will learn about biodiversity, human-wildlife interactions, urbanization, human well-being, and the role of ecosystems and their services in addressing these challenges”

On Monday April 12, Mathias will speak on Nature inclusive building: Dive into the Anthropocene and find out how the rapid growth of metropoles is not only a threat but also an opportunity to bundle forces and design a new generation of cities based upon the hypothesis of the Next City that provides Quality of Life – for all Species.

7 edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity

4. Common hazel (Corylus avellana)

Which shrub was cultivated by the Romans, its nuts the star ingredient of Nutella? The hazel. Planting a native common hazel (Corylus avellana) will boost the presence of all sorts of wildlife in an urban landscape – the squirrels, particularly, will have plundered your shrub for their winter stash in the blink of an eye.

Give a hazel space and time – it starts producing nuts after about 8 years. Your patience will be rewarded with harvests of delicious homegrown hazelnuts and sculptural long flowers called catkins that add visual interest to the sleepy winter garden. With its sculptural multi-stemmed structure that widens at the top and grows up to 8 metres high, a hazel needs room to thrive. However, it’s also excellent for compact hedges, which are vital for sheltering wildlife. The hazel’s bendy branches are well suited for weaving; corkscrew branches are popular as Easter decorations. 

From winter into early spring, the deciduous hazel looks like it’s hibernating but in fact it’s in the midst of flowering season. It’s the first wild plant to flower so early, marking also the start of hay fever season. On its bare branches hang clusters of yellow male catkins, swaying gently. Nature perfected their lightweight, elongated forms to catch the wind and spread pollen to the female flowers, which resemble buds, located on the same tree. Beekeepers plant hazels to feed their honeybees that are active early in the year.

Appearing after the flowers, the toothed-edged leaves are a delicacy for caterpillars. The hazel is an important food plant for many butterflies and moths. These include the renowned Giant peacock moth and Comma butterfly, and moths with charming Dutch names such as the Hazelaaruil and Bonte beer, meaning Hazel owl and Multicoloured bear. 

Keep a close eye on the clusters of hazelnuts, which form on the female flowers after pollination, as they ripen in autumn from pale green to deep brown. The trick is to pick them not too early as they will be tasteless but not too late as chances are there’ll be none left as the squirrels, mice and birds will have beaten you to it. Forgotten hazelnuts from an animal’s stash get the chance to germinate and grow, which is another way the hazel spreads. 

How to combat climate change & its impact as architects?

The Royal Institute of Dutch Architects BNA is offering the Course on Circular Designing and Building, including a session on Designing Nature-inclusive and Climate-adaptive. This session on April 13 2021 addresses biodiversity, quality of life for plants and animals, building with green as well as dealing with the influence of heats, droughts and heavy rain. 

Next to Mathias explaining on how to contribute to UN SDG 13 “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts” and how to think in systems and processes from a spatial point the co-speaker in this session will be Robbert Snep (WUR).