growing edible flowers

Sarah shows us some of the edible flowers she grows at Perch Hill, and discusses other edible flowers they use in the kitchens throughout the year.

We’ve got a big pansy trial going on at the moment, the edible violas. The whole viola family are all edible, they don’t taste of much but they look pretty, and this is a new variety called ‘Papillio’ I think, yes, and very, very pretty with this sort of mauvey, and purple and yellow flower, rather like the wild viola ‘Hearts Ease’, which is over there, which self-sows, so a little bit similar but just sort of slightly paler and prettier.

And the ones we’re really excited about, are these green flowered varieties which just, I think are absolutely fantastic, and that one is called ‘Green Goddess’ I’m pretty sure, yep it is, and then if you imagine that also mixed with, I’m just going to bring you another one, which is a brown called ‘Irish Molly’, and so you’ve got the greeny, yellowy one and then the sort of browny yellowy one, and they’re just so pretty just scattered over a salad, and when you mix it with the ‘Papillio’ variety and of course the original one which is here and just self-sows, we just line them up around the edge of the bed – I’ve got filthy hands because of gardening but – so that’s viola ‘Hearts Ease’, that’s ‘Papillio’, ‘Irish Molly’ and ‘Green Goddess’ and they are all edible.

As are so many, all the polyanthus family are edible, so the beautiful green ‘Francesca’, the gold-laced polyanthus, the primrose in the lanes, cowslips, they’re all edible, and so starting in the beginning of the year we tend to use viola ‘Hearts Ease’ for January and February because from an autumn sowing it flowers right the way through the autumn and winter, then in the spring we move on to these different violas and any of the polyanthus, and then in May and June we move on to Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ and Borage both blue and white, and the anchusa varieties as well, either the annual or biennial, and then in July and August we move on to nasturtiums and any of the dahlias.

So all the dahlias are edible and you can just scatter them over a salad and have a really lovely mix of colours, like the Venetian Dahlia Mix gives you such a wonderful mix of colours in a salad bowl. Nasturtiums of course also for August, September, October, November, my favourite is ‘Tip Top Mahogany’ but there are lots and I’m trialling a pink one this year which looks rather amazing, really bright pink. And then in December, January, you move back to viola ‘Hearts Ease’ again, so you’ve got year-round edible flower and they’re all so easy to grow and so prolific, just the more you pick the flowers, the more they flower, so with all those things because they’re annual and biennial, so that is just then the finish to a salad.

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