Colorful In The Garden And On Your Plate…
Remember making your resolutions in January? Perhaps it was to grow something new or eat more produce from your garden. It’s not too late to plant a spring garden with flowering herbs and edible flowers you can enjoy in your landscape, tucked into containers and in your meals.
Spring greens and edible flowers are easy to grow in our South Central Texas spring. They’re healthy, too. Most spring greens belong to the brassica family, with well-documented health benefits like vitamin C, vitamin K and natural compounds with anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties that help protect against heart disease and stroke. To make the most of the nutrients in these tender springtime plants, refrigerate and eat as close to harvest or purchase as possible.
Whether your focus is more on tasty salads or beautiful blooms, growing edible flowers is a fun way to blur the lines between edible and ornamental gardening. Many flowering vegetables and herbs blend into ornamental beds, as most of these plants have shallow roots and can easily be planted in containers or existing landscapes. Mixing flowers with other edibles also makes great sense in terms of garden ecology. Diverse flowers attract pollinators that improve yields of fruiting plants, as well as helpful insects to assist with pest management. If you’re more of an ornamental flower person, you may be surprised by how many of them you can eat.
You can buy starter plants at local nurseries or try gardening indoors using seeds and growing pods. Try searching for “Mason jar indoor flower garden” online for mini-hydroponic gardening inspiration. When getting started with edible flowers and other flowering plants, be sure they are grown organically to avoid pesticides in your food supply. Most herbs and greens require full springtime sun, but even sun lovers will appreciate afternoon shade in the Texas early summertime.
Expand your edible flowers and flowering herb gardening menu this spring with one or all of these seven plants. With an average last frost date in San Antonio of March 20, be sure to start your flowering spring garden soon, because come June, the Texas sun will scorch most of your spring plants.
Nasturtium flowers come in a variety of bright, summery colors, and the newer variegated varieties have green and white patterned leaves. The low-growing trailing varieties are lovely in mass plantings and grow well in containers, while climbing varieties are perfect for trellises. Plant seeds or starter plants in full sun and keep well watered as temperatures climb later in the season. The round nasturtium leaves are a bit peppery, with the flowers tasting sweet in their centers. After the blooms have faded, the intensely spicy seed pods can be easily pickled and used like capers.
Violas are classic bedding and container flowers that are especially popular for their hardiness in early spring and late fall when most other annual flowers can’t take cooler temperatures. They thrive in partial shade and come in a wide range of colors. Keep harvesting blossoms for your salads so the plants will continue to produce more blooms. Viola flowers are mildly sweet and absolutely beautiful against a bed of greens or a delicate dessert. While they can be used as is, you may want to try preserving them with sugar for fancy desserts.
Borage is a hardy plant that often reseeds itself in the garden. Popular with pollinators, borage can be easily grown from seeds sown directly in the ground starting in the spring. It will do best in full sun and once established is drought-tolerant. Both the first tender leaves that grow in spring and its blue flowers have a subtle cucumber-like flavor. Try freezing the blue blooms into ice cubes to serve with refreshing summer drinks, or use the freshly picked flowers as a garnish for leek and potato soup.
Scarlet runner beans provide vegetables and edible flowers in one plant. Plant seeds directly in the ground in late March in a sunny spot. Provide a tall trellis or poles, as their vigorous vines can climb to over 10 feet. It does not handle the heat well and does better planted in spring or fall like a regular green bean crop. Scarlet runner beans will add color, their abundant bright red flowers attracting pollinating bees and hummingbirds. The tasty flowers pair well with deviled eggs and other savory foods. Try adding them to egg dishes, or let some of the flowers mature into delicious green beans.
Chives are like a miniature version of an ornamental allium plant and are easy to grow from seeds or starter plants. Perfect for a sunny window box or container, they will also do well in the garden or in a patio pot. Grow in full sun with moist, well-drained soil. Starters can be planted in early March as they tolerate frost well. Onion chives’ stems and its purple blooms have a gentle onion flavor, while garlic chives’ stems and white flowers have a mild garlicky flavor. Both varieties work well in savory dishes or in salads.
Arugula is a cool-season annual that should be planted in full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. Easy to grow, arugula has shallow roots and tastes better in cooler weather, as it gets quite bitter once temperatures climb. Arugula has a spicy, peppery taste that mixes well with other greens. What few gardeners may realize is that once arugula goes to seed, its flowers are both stunningly beautiful and one of the best-tasting edible flowers in the garden. The flowers appear after the leaves have grown to full size and are too bitter to eat. Pick the flowers to add to a salad or use in an open-faced sandwich for a treat.
Sorrel is similar to arugula with an assertive flavor. If sowing sorrel seeds, plant in spring once the soil has warmed up. Keep the bed moderately moist until germination, and thin the plants once they reach 2 inches in height. Starter plants are also available locally and should be planted in well-drained soil and watered regularly. Harvest only what you need from the plant as it grows much like lettuce. Cutting its outer leaves once plants are 4 to 6 inches tall will allow the plant to continue to produce foliage. Sorrel’s sharp, tangy flavor is used in egg dishes or in salad mixes. The smallest leaves are best in salads, while larger leaves are more mellow tasting.
Story and photography by Iris Gonzalez