Flowers: Food for the Soul
Beauty and the Importance of Ecosystem Services for Changing Times
Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine for the Spirit” – Luther Burbank
For some reason, the first 20 years I had a home garden, I didn’t integrate flowers into my vegetable and herb beds. But, once I changed my outlook and started planting flowers among the vegetables, at the end of rows or mixed in with culinary or medicinal herbs, I never looked back.
There are basically two types of flowers: perennials’ that grow and bloom for many years, and annuals that grow, bloom, seed, and die all in one year. In Hawai’i, because we can grow and harvest all year round, we can mix perennials and annuals together within the borders or beds of our vegetable & herb gardens.
“Flowers don’t worry about how they’re going to bloom. They just open up and turn toward the light and that makes them beautiful.” – Jim Carrey
I have a flower border on two sides of my Kitchen Garden that is mostly perennials. The beauty of that border changes during the year as various flowers bloom. I plant annuals within my garden rows and inevitably they go to seed and new babies pop up at the end of the cycle, without even having to reseed!
Flowers that are easy to grow and loved by everyone (birds, bees and humans) are the Hawai'i Marigolds, the Giant Orange Cosmos, and the Roselle (Tea Hibiscus that tastes like cranberry) all currently available on the Marketplace. Those three flowers would be stunning together in a bed. The taller Roselle in the background, then the Orange Cosmos in front or to the side and the Hawai'i Marigolds in front. It would be a Red & Orange Riot! Orange always looks pleasing with purples and blues so Love in the Mist & Cleome could be in the same bed with a small trellis or “teepee” of the Blue Butterfly Pea toward the back….. I can see it now.
“Minds are like flowers, they open when the time is right.” Stephen Richards
Some flowers and the flowers of herbs actually “repel” pests. Marigolds, Dahlias, Dill, Green Onions, Cilantro and many others repel certain garden insects. There are many websites that talk about this, but I like the Wikipedia site that has a list of pest repelling flowers, herbs, and vegetables.
The idea of “companion planting” can include flowers, vegetables, and herbs. The Companion Planting concept suggests that certain plants could be planted next to one another for pest control, pollination, habitat enhancement, and other beneficial services. A very good guide to Companion Planting is offered by Cornell Extension.
The seed eating birds, like the Common Brown or Yellow Finches or Lavender Waxwings love to eat flower seed, especially Cosmos seed, so if you want to save some for the next planting get out early in the morning before the birds have their breakfast.
Individual flower petals or sometimes whole flowers can be used for spicing up culinary dishes, and a handful on top of a plain green salad can turn it into a spicy attractive dish. Some flowers like the Blue Butterfly create the most beautiful tea.
Marigold petals have a citrus taste, the flowers of all beans are sweet, squash blossoms taste a bit like asparagus, the Mexican Sunflower has a mild nutty taste, the Roselle flower makes a sweet tea (try adding a stick of cinnamon) and can be used as a cranberry substitute, and all Dahlia Flowers are edible.
To learn more about edible flowers, check out this good resource and Edible Flowers Guide.
“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly our whole life would change.” Buddha
A special shout-out to our Pollinator Friends, who will be coming to our gardens in much greater numbers with more flowers present, increasing pollination and harvest and receiving food at the same time. Native Bee species, including the Black Carpenter Bee (who loves the Lilikoi and Poha Berry flowers), tiny flies and winged insects, and of course all our butterflies and moths are busy with pollination services for us in our gardens. When we plant flowers amid the vegetables, herbs, and fruits, we bring a balanced wholeness back into the ecosystem with beauty, food, and a little help from our insect friends.
Have you ever heard of a Tussie Mussie? This is a quaint, endearing term from the early 1400s and Victorian period for small round bouquets of flowers and herbs, each sprig having a specific symbolic meaning. They were given to friends or potential lovers to convey a wide variety of personal messages in a way where “words” didn't have to be spoken. It has come to be known as the Silent Language of Flowers and I love to make them and give them away. Let’s say I wanted you to know of your “hidden worth” (cilantro flowers) and I wish you “peace and tranquility” (cosmos flowers) and that I feel passionately that you are like a “brave and courageous lion” (marigold flowers). Try making one sometime from your garden flowers, and see your friends light up! Check out this very sweet short video titled: How to make a Herb and Flower Tussie Mussie
One more thing…..every New Years Day, I walk around my gardens, collect one of every flower blooming, and lay them out into a “collage.” Looking back on last year’s flowering plants is always pleasing.
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A hui hou,
“Don’t wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul.” – Luther Burbank