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Cheer up the garden -- and meals -- with edible flowers

Thinking of bright and delicious blooms on a grey, soggy day

Sage plant with red flowers
Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) can do triple duty in the
garden. Its flowers entice pollinators, add bright beauty
and are edible. The leaves also are edible. (Photo: Kathy

Well, we're definitely inside for a few days. It's cold and soggy outside, terrible gardening conditions. And wet soil shouldn't be walked on, anyway -- that compacts it, harming the soil structure and anything that is growing in that soil. And when compacted soil dries, it's more likely to be hard -- and harder to dig.

So, stuck indoors, the gardener can turn to catalogs, gardening guides, magazines, books and online publications that may have been stacking up (ahem!) or bookmarked for further reading. It's the best time all year to tackle that pile.

The Sacramento County master gardeners have dozens of online guides , so I dove into several I'd been meaning to get to. My current favorite, because it sounds so cheerful, is GN 155, Growing Edible Flowers in Your Garden.

I first saw flowers used in food when I was in college, visiting a friend in Oregon. One of her roommates crumbled a couple of marigold blooms into the salad. I was surprised -- this was long before organic gardening was common -- then intrigued. Turns out there are dozens of edible flowers, many of them quite familiar as ornamentals. This means much of the garden can incorporate double- or triple-duty plants: for beauty, food for humans, and food for pollinators and beneficial insects.

It's important to note that any pesticide-treated flower should NOT be eaten. This especially includes systemics, such as those sometimes used on roses.

But growing your own edible flowers means you can be sure they are free from pesticide residue.

While planning the spring garden, consider including some of the flowers listed here. Many more are listed on the aforementioned GN 155, which also notes specific flowers NOT to the eat.

Some pretty and edible flowers

Annuals: Borage (blue petals only); calendula (petals only), nasturtium, petunias, pineapple sage (often a perennial in our climate), radishes, scented geraniums (also a potential perennial; frost-sensitive), signet marigolds, snapdragons, violas.

Perennials: Bee balm, daylily, dianthus, hollyhocks, red clover.

Trees and shrubs: Apple, hibiscus, lilac, rose petals and rose hips, rosemary.


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For week of Dec. 10:

Take advantage of these dry but crisp conditions. It’s time to get out the rake!

* Rake leaves away from storm drains and keep gutters clear.

* Fallen leaves can be used for mulch and compost. Chop up large leaves with a couple of passes with a lawn mower.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they’re dormant. Without their foliage, trees are easier to prune.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Make sure to take frost precautions with new transplants and sensitive plants. Mulch, water and cover tender plants in the late afternoon to retain warmth.

* Succulent plants are at particular risk if temperatures drop below freezing. Don’t water succulents before frost; cover instead. Use cloth sheets, not plastic. Make sure to remove coverings during the day.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eaves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Plant garlic (December's the last chance -- the ground is getting cold!) and onions for harvest in summer.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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