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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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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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