My little urban farm is situated on a 4,000 square foot lot in the heart of Seattle. In the 2,500 square feet that are not taken up by my house, I’ve made it my mission to grow as much food as I can.
Since space is an issue, I don’t often grow something just because it’s beautiful. I like to choose plants that give me a lot of bang for my buck and that’s why I think these flowers are so fantastic.
All of these beauties can be sown from seed, so they are as easy on the budget as they are on the eye. Also, most of them are edible and the pollinators love them as much as I do!
Why: Yes, I realize that arugula is mostly enjoyed for its leaves and the peppery bite it adds to salads, but did you know that you can eat its delicate white flowers? They taste just like, well, arugula! The arugula flower is a fanciful addition to a salad, but is also a sign that it’s going to seed, which means you’ll get a crop of arugula again next year.
When and where: Plant arugula in a spot where it can self-sow and grow again. Arugula, like lettuce, can tolerate a little shade and can be direct-sown (seeds sown right into the soil outdoors) throughout March and April.
Violas (a.k.a. Johnny Jump-ups)
Why: Violas are adorable, self-sowing and most varieties are edible. Dress up a salad or garnish an omelet or soup with its petals.
When and where: Viola seeds can be direct-sown outdoors throughout March. The seeds can take up to two weeks to germinate so be sure to keep the seed bed moist.
Why: Calendula flowers are beautiful, daisy-like bloomers in striking yellow-orange hues. Their seeds are large, making them easier for kids to plant. Not only are they prolific and easy to grow, calendula is a culinary flower and is thought to have medicinal qualities. Calendula petals are lovely on a salad and can also be dried, ground and used in place of saffron.
When and where: Calendula thrives in full sun and is a self-sowing perennial flower. Saving calendula seeds for future planting is easy! Once the flower loses its petals, a seed head forms on the stem. Let the seeds dry and either fall naturally back into the soil or snap the seed head off and save the seeds to be planted the following spring. Calendula seeds can be planted in late March or as late as June for early fall blooms.
Why: Again, chives are not the first things that come to mind when you think flowers, but their blossoms are beautiful and edible. Add the bold, purple chive blossoms to salads or soups as an oniony garnish. Chives will come back year after year if you let them.
When and where: Plant chives in a spot where they will get partial to full sun. You can start chive seeds indoors to transplant or direct-sow outside throughout April and May.
Garden-to-table tip: Add the bold, purple chive blossoms to savory egg dishes or soups as an oniony garnish.
Why: Nasturtium seeds are another variety that are super-easy for little hands to sow, and most kids will love watching big bumblebees immerse themselves inside the deep nasturtium blossoms, like they’re searching for buried treasure. Hummingbirds love these flowers too. Every part of the nasturtium plant is edible — leaves, flowers and seeds. Aphids love to eat them too, which can be a nuisance since once they appear, they quickly take over the entire plant. However, some gardeners plant nasturtiums as a decoy to protect other plants that aphids love. Lovely, edible and practical!
When and where: Nasturtiums will self-sow and come back season after season, but if you’re planting for the first time, pick a sunny, well-draining spot in your garden. Nasturtium seeds can be sown April through June.
Garden-to-table tip: Besides being a dramatic and peppery garnish in a salad, colorful nasturtium blossoms can make a bright-tasting, orange-tinted vinegar. Put about a cup of loosely packed nasturtium flowers in a clean pint jar, fill the jar all the way to the top with white wine vinegar to completely cover the blossoms and put the jar in a cool, dark place for three weeks. Strain and mix with olive oil for a delicious homemade nasturtium vinaigrette.
Zinnia and sunflowers
Why: Zinnia and sunflower seeds are big, easy-to-sow seeds — great for planting with kids. Both are nectar-producing flowers with big pollen-filled centers that pollinators love. When buying seeds, try to buy heirloom varieties and watch out for words on the seed packets like doubles, double blooms, and pollenless, which are flower varieties that beneficial insects can’t access. These varieties may not be appealing to the human palate, but both are nectar-producing flowers with big pollen-filled centers that pollinators love!
When and where: These flowers will thrive in full sun (at least six hours a day). Plant these seeds in May through June. Cutting the zinnia blooms for bouquets throughout the season will actually promote continued growth, as will deadheading, or removing spent blooms.
Why: Such a classic, charming flower, daisies are perennials — get them started one summer and they’ll be a prolific bloomer for years. Daisies are laden with pollen and will attract lots of bees into your garden. They are easy to maintain and look beautiful in a summer bouquet.
When and where: Start daisies from seed in June through early July, when the soil temperature is high enough to promote good germination. Just be sure to keep the seed bed moist. Daisies, like most of the flowers on this list, enjoy full sun. However, I’ve planted several daisies in my partially shady side yard with great success!
Flowers can be more than just for show and once you start eating the tasty ones, you’ll want even more edible blooms in your backyard. Your neighborhood pollinators will too!
This article was updated on March 29, 2017.