When it comes to edible flowers and cut flowers, winter is the best season for annual varieties like pansies, dianthus, marigolds and calendula in South Florida. The blooms are healthiest and most productive during the cooler months of the year. We typically begin selling flower starter plants and planting them for clients in late November and usually finish their season by March or April. Their window of opportunity is short, but oh so sweet.
Edible flowers can and should be easily incorporated into a veggie garden for many reasons. Technically speaking they add bio diversity, they attract beneficial insects and sometimes repel pest insects. Although they can serve a purpose in the garden, their range of shapes, textures and bright colors along with the many ways we can incorporate them into our lives is probably the most attractive reason to get into flower gardening. Most of the varieties we like to grow for decorating food are pretty small plants that can be tucked into your herb patch, into the corners of your raised beds and they are more suitable for container gardening than most veggies.
We love edible flowers so much that we've created workshops to show people the many ways to use them. We not only grow a wide selection of starter plants at our nursery, but we also grow them in our demonstration garden to harvest flowers for projects, personal use and to sell at the Legion Park Farmers Market. They are very special during the holiday season and birthdays for decorating charcuterie boards and cakes, for dying foods and for making flower crowns. This year we were particularly inspired by Loria Stern who is the queen of decorating cookies with edible flowers. You must look at her website and instagram! We also love the work of Miami local Valentina Cordero, founder of The House of V, a vegan and gluten free cake and cupcake caterer who does absolutely tasteful work.
Tiffany made a batch of these adorable sugar cookies a la Loria Stern for the holidays.
Muriel has decorated her daughters birthday cakes with berries and flowers inspired by Valentina's work for many years.
Flower crowns are a super special way to connect with nature and flowers. They can be made at the park or on a hike using foraged plants or at birthday parties or any type of special gathering using home grown flowers, foliage and herbs.
Decorating a charcuterie board with flowers always takes it to the next level!
Flowers, petals and seed pods make great arts and craft materials for kids too. Gardens with herbs and flowers are a great way to get kids to spend time outdoors using their hands, their senses and getting creative.
We wanted to share a few technical tips about growing flowers successfully. They are pretty easy for the most part, comparable to kitchen herbs, but requiring a bit of special care in order to get the most blooms. First of all, full sun is key. Planting flowering plants in part shade isn't the worst idea, but you'll notice that your plants aren't branching very much and they may have just a few flowers here and there. Most of the flowering plants we grow are meant for full sun production and will get completely covered in colorful blooms when planted in the right location.
We generally promote balanced organic fertilizers for all of your garden plants, but when it comes to flowering plants there is a little extra boost you can give them. Fertilizing with a high phosphorus product such a Dr. Earth's Bud and Bloom Booster when plants begin setting flowers can lead to more blooms. This recommendation also goes for all plants in your garden that bloom in order to produce a fruit, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. The more flowers on your tomato and cucumber plants, the more fruit you'll get!
Deadheading is a technique that makes a really big difference when it comes to flower production. You should not deadhead the flowers of veggie plants because you'll be cutting away the potential fruit, but for edible and cut flowers it is a must. Basically, when a plant makes flowers the next biological step is a developed fruit and eventually seed production. Once an annual plant makes a certain amount of seeds it is triggered to stop growing and die to make way for the next generation. In perennial plants deadheading encourages continual new blooms. The process is extremely simple and involves cutting away all "spent" or flowers that are past their prime. You will notice that by reducing the amount of "spent" flowers on your plants they will usually send out new shoots and new blooms within days!
Here's a list of some of our favorite varieties to grow in a South Florida winter garden and why we love them!
We love marigolds of all shapes and sizes because they make the perfect companion plant in the home garden. Not only are they easy to grow and prolific with beautiful blossoms, but they are also completely edible, with petals that can be used as confetti or sprinkles in a salad or on cakes, and very pungent leaves that can be eaten raw in herbaceous salads or used to flavor sauces. Strawberry Blonde and Citrus Gem are beautiful varieties.
Pansies & violas can have a mild, fresh flavor or a more prominent wintergreen taste, depending on the variety and on how much of the flower you eat (a whole flower tastes stronger then the petals alone). Even though you can sometimes find pansy plants at Home Depot we suggest you eat only pansies that are grown organically, without chemical pesticides. Use the pansies to garnish cocktails, soups, and desserts. One reason why we love pansies in the garden so much is because there are so many colorful varieties to choose from. Johnny Jump Up makes dozens of sweet little blooms, Bambini makes rich burgundy velvet blooms and you can only imagine what Frizzle Sizzle Raspberry looks like!
Nasturtium is a super popular kitchen garden plant for good reasons. First off, the whole plant is edible; the leaves can be used fresh in salads, the flowers are edible, beautiful and spicy, and the fresh green seeds can be eaten fresh or pickled like capers. On top of that, the whole plant is beautiful and highly ornamental in the garden. The large lily pad shaped leaves stick straight up making a mounding type growth pattern, and if allowed to trail it’ll hang out of baskets or off of the side of your raised bed. Jewel Mix is a mixed gene pool variety where you never know what color flowers you’ll end up with, although most of them are an orangey-red/ coral thats so brilliant its almost hard to look at. This is the most vigorous variety we grow, but check our inventory for other more unique (and picky) showy blossoms.
Dianthus is a genus of about 300 species that includes the super popular “carnation” and sweet williams. All varieties of this genus are edible and some varieties have a distinct clove flavor. We have grown traditional larger carnations before but they don’t do nearly as well as the small flowers that grow in clusters known commonly as “dianthus”. These grow on super vigorous plants that are almost fake looking they’re so robust, green and shiny, and they make 2-3 foot tall strong stems with multiple flower clusters at the top. This makes them really robust cut flower types, but the petite flowers are also a beautiful edible flower option. In order to use the flowers as an edible garnish remove them from the bitter green “calyx” that the petals come out of and sprinkle the petals in drinks, on confections, or in salads.
Geraniums are super common household plants used for for decoration in pots and in summer landscaping, however the flowers are also edible! Geraniums love the heat, which we have plenty of, but they also like to be kept on the dry side. Treat them as you would your lavender or your sage & thyme plants, by watering just a few times per week and keeping well drained soil dry.
The borage plant is easily recognized by its white prickly hairs and its bright blue & lavender star-shaped flowers. It grows to about 1-2’ high, with many hollow, almost succulent branching stems. The deep green leaves have sinuous, wavy margins. The inch-wide bright blue star-shaped flowers have prominent black anthers forming a cone in the center. if your plant starts making flowers before it has a nice flush of mature foot long leaves (similar in growth pattern to comfrey) simply prune them off to encourage your plant to make more leaves and roots before it flowers. Once it gets going it'll really pop and you’ll have hundreds of flowers every day. If you just want to enjoy the flowers ands share them with the pollinators then just watch the flowers go! if you're trying to produce edible flowers harvest them every morning before it gets too hot for maximum production. If you buy these beauties from a farm you’ll be paying more than 25 cents per flower! so growing your own is totally worth it…
We grow white flowering sweet alyssum not just because its cute but also because the flowers are edible and smell and taste super sweet and fragrant like honeysuckle. You can plant this sprawling constantly flowering plant in your flower garden, along borders and edges, or in your edible plant raised bed. Sweet Alyssum loves full sun, but it does not like prolonged dry periods so make sure to water it regularly. Deadheading will keep the plants flowering but we’ve tried to do that before and it takes a lot of work because there are so many flower clusters on each plant. If you have a large drift of plants, shearing them by 1/3 would be an easier option than deadheading. They will set new buds quickly. Your in ground Sweet Alyssum plants should not need any fertilizer, unless your soil is poor. Container alyssum plants will need more frequent water and monthly feedings with a water soluble fertilizer.
Pentas is a very Florida friendly perennial flowering shrub that you may already be very familiar with . Pentas develop sparkling star- shaped flowers all summer and winter long in bold hues of red, white, lavender, purple, or pink. Pentas is a sun lover that grows 18 to 36 inches tall and when you harvest the flower clusters often it will flower prolifically. In most parts of the country, pentas is considered an annual, but in very warm regions like ours, pentas is perennial . We first started to see this flower referred too as “edible” by the most famous garnish and specialty crop farm in North America called “Chefs Garden”, in Ohio. They call it “Egyptian star flower” maybe to fancy it up before selling it to the fanciest chefs in America.... and we were excited to learn that our plain old beautiful common pentas flower were technically edible. Besides being edible this plant is also very pollinator friendly and a great companion plant for the garden.