The Garnish Garden: Growing Edible Flowers

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The name calendula means the first day of the month, presumably because pot marigolds are in bloom at the start of most months of the year since they bloom quickly.
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Go beyond eating locally—into your own backyard and patio! Inspired by the Obama White House kitchen garden and the growing desire to eat locally, families across the country are ready to break ground on their own vegetable gardens. “The Complete Kitchen Garden” by Ellen Ecker Ogden equips readers with the know-how to produce a bountiful harvest and delicious meals.
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Ellen Ecker Ogden, author and co-founder of THE COOK'S GARDEN

The Complete Kitchen Garden (Stewart Tabori & Chang, 2011) by Ellen Ecker Ogden is the definitive garden design and cookbook. Based on the seasonal cycles of the garden, each chapter offers an original themed garden design such as “The Salad Lover’s Garden,” “The Heirloom Maze Garden,” and “The Children’s Garden,” with recipes to match and step-by-step instructions for growing the ultimate kitchen garden. In this excerpt from the chapter “The Garnish Garden,” learn how to grow a beautiful garden filled with edible flowers. 

More from The Complete Kitchen Garden: 
• The Garnish Garden: Diagram and Plant List
• Arugula Pesto with Herbed Ricotta Gnocchi Recipe 

Inspiration for this garden comes from my neighbor Annie, who floats into the garden like a butterfly, touching each flower as if it were nectar for her soul. Her kitchen garden always stirs with magic; it is filled with a poetic blend of flowers and vegetables, a combination of squares and half-moons enclosed by a rim of sunflowers and a hedge of raspberries. She collects unusual flower vases to fill every room with bouquets, bringing the garden into the house. Annie taught me the value of taking time to appreciate the small nuances that a garden brings to the gardener, whether it is attracting honeybees or watching a darting hummingbird.

Annuals respond to frequent cutting, so plan to harvest your flowers and be rewarded with lush, bushy growth. Mixing ornamental vegetables with edible flowers in your Garnish Garden brings the best of both worlds together. Select vegetables that blend well with the flowers and that have longevity, so there are no gaps when the vegetables are harvested. Flowers have a way of transforming the garden—and any meal—into a work of art, and the Garnish Garden inspires the cook with a cascade of captivating blossoms.

Lay out the garden by building the outer squares first, and then measure in to the center circle. Edge the garden with a solid mass of low-growing greenery that will allow the garden to be viewed from all angles. Plan to start seeds in plug pots, and then transplant them into the garden. Allow adequate space between rows for the flowers to fully develop into bushy, robust plants. Make the paths of grass, to set off the colors of the garden and keep it looking natural.

Flowers and vegetables are equal partners in my garden, and the bouquets on the table also decorate the plate. From years of growing and tasting different varieties, I’ve developed a few favorites, and nasturtiums top my list. Blazing with peppery hot colors and spicy flavor, these brightly colored annuals originated in Peru and are commonly called Indian cress. The pungently flavored blossoms and the green lilypad-shaped leaves can be used in salads and are also reputed to have exceptional antioxidant qualities. There is something totally captivating about a brilliant blue blossom of borage adorning tomato soup, or a simple yet stunning viola scattered among thinly sliced cucumbers or a fruit salad. It is humbling to remember that eating flowers is nothing new. After all, bees have known all along how good flowers can be; now it’s our turn.

10 Tips for Growing a Garnish Garden

1. Start tender flowers indoors and transplant them into the garden after any danger of frost.

2. Harvest flowers early in the morning with clean scissors; take a vase of water into the garden with you.

3. Gently immerse edible flowers in cool water to release insects before garnishing your plates or salads.

4. Flower stems are like straws; they bring water up to the flowers. Recut the stems and change the water every few days.

5. When placing flowers in a vase, keep the arrangement loose and airy, allowing enough free space to allow a butterfly to fly freely in between stems.

6. To encourage new flowers, harvest frequently, just above the new leaf nodule.

7. Experiment with different varieties of edible flowers each season to keep expanding your repertoire.

8. Not all flowers are edible, and not all edibles are tasty.

9. For large blossoms such as calendula, rose, and chive, separate the petals from the flower heads before decorating salads.

10. Decorate the entrance of the Garnish Garden with an arbor covered with climbing roses or ornamental pole beans.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from The Complete Kitchen Garden, published by Stewart Tabori & Chang, 2011. 

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