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Monday, November 27, 2017

Beautiful Edible Gardens: Growing Edible Flowers

Whether you’re looking for taste, looks, medicinal value, or some combination thereof, there are many edible flower options for growing in your home garden, be it a spacious lifestyle block, urban garden, or the tiniest patio planter or window box.  I often have great ambitions of using more flowers in food or even just as garnish, but confess that I do it far too infrequently.  That's already started to change with a few simple edibles straight from our garden, and when the new garden is planned and planted, I'll be including lots of edible flowers in both the general landscaping and potager garden. Exciting times ahead!  Do you have a favourite variety to suggest? A recommended recipe or use?  We would love your inputs - please leave a comment or post us a message on the GiRL Facebook page.  I look forward to sharing our garden with you as it grows.

New garden planning means I will be looking for inspiration, scribbling ideas, trolling through my notes, reviewing my garden journals, and plotting (hahah...sorry...) so expect some fresh new additions and updates to our collection of garden planning info and idea sheets in the new year. As an early treat before the official start of our southern summer on Friday, here is the edible flower addition:

When trying to select edibles for the garden, especially if using them in general landscaping, things often come down to a compromise between form and function.  Do you want to grow the  flowers primarily for eating or will they need to do double-duty as a productive but pretty landscape feature? For many of us, it’s the latter when we're talking flowers, but if your favourite edibles don’t suit your landscaping, you can still tuck a few into a less prominent position in your veggie garden, berry patch, or other less visible place.  Bonus points for encouraging the pollinators to visit! 

No matter how much we might like a plant for taste, looks, or other properties, we need the right growing conditions.  What plants will grow in your climate? In your garden conditions? How much room do you have for plantings?  Do you want annuals or perennials?  Many common edibles are easy to grow, including lots of novice gardener and/or family-friendly options.  Be diligent with labelling and record-keeping to ensure that you can correctly identify the plants before any taste tests, and remember that not all parts of an flower may be suitable to eating.  Some require trimming (e.g. petals only) or other preparation before eating.

Within general categories of edible (or mostly edible) flowers, different varieties may be more or less suitable to culinary uses. Once you've narrow the field on which type of plants you'd like to try growing, do a little background digging (I know...I can't help myself) to select varieties that suit your local conditions and your culinary goals.

Edible doesn’t necessarily mean delicious, or even palatable. Culinary herb flowers often taste familiar, but other flowers can be quite a surprise: sweet, bitter, peppery, minty, and more. Some are better as pretty garnish than for their taste. Variety is the spice of life!  I'm braver with my garnish than my food, and even if you are only adding flowers or petals as a just-for-looks garnish, it's best to keep things in contact with food edible for food safety, even if they might not be tasty.

The better suited your plants are to your growing conditions and planting aspect, the easier it will be for you to grow healthy plants without the need for chemical pest and disease controls, which is very helpful for edibles.  If you are eating from the garden, then you need to be careful about any potential chemicals or other unhealthy substances that might be in your plants from source, soil, sprays, treatments, exposure, or other contamination. This is true for all edibles, not just flowers.  Choose fresh healthy-looking flowers that you know to be safe for consumption, free of contaminants, and always wash thoroughly before use/eating.  

If you are ever in doubt, don’t eat it!  If you aren’t sure whether a flower is edible or not, whether you’ve correctly identified the flower, or which specific parts of the flower are safe to consume, give it a miss.  There are many poisonous flowers and plants, or parts thereof.  Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between similar looking plants and their flowers. Always err on the side of caution.   

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