Pick, eat and sell: flowers in my garden

Vegetables are the main occupants in my one acre market garden, but the flowers that grace the borders and scattered rows play an important role as well. Having abundant flowers for the children to pick for our kitchen table along with bouquets to share with others is a blessing. However, being a rather practical person, I often struggle each spring with how much space to allow for flowers. Happily, I have found so many good purposes for flowers that I am nearly guilt free when I add a new peony to the border, plant another row of zinnias next to the tomatoes or line the path with nasturtiums.
The flowers that greet me as I walk to the garden help me smile, despite the mountain of weeds I need to tackle that day. I’m convinced that God created beauty as an effective remedy for pain. The bed at the edge of  my garden is a cottage garden of jumbled perennials from various friends and plant exchanges. The hollyhocks and phlox are in their glory this time of year and remind me of the loved ones who shared the starts with me. Randomly scattered throughout my garden are cheery volunteer sunflowers and I planted Mexican sunflowers near my kitchen window so I can enjoy the butterflies while I wash dishes. Blue bachelor buttons next to bright orange calendula (both self-sowing flowers) are a visual treat as I walk down the path. And who can look at the shaggy red poppies without smiling? These blooms not only draw the gardener into the garden but also serve to attract beneficial insects which naturally help in the quest against the bag bugs.

Despite their delicate appearance, flowers are real workhorses when it comes to garden economics. Selling cut flower bouquets is a helpful addition to my garden income. With four weddings last season plus various other bouquet requests, the snapdragons, larkspur and Bells of Ireland earned a nice living for the space they occupied. Millet, sorghum seed heads and rye from my cover crop are main ingredients in the fall decorations I create that double as bird feed.

Edible flowers are another lovely income source. Salad bags for my customers are topped with a handful of nasturtiums, calendula, borage or johnny jump-ups. Schloneger’s Homemade ice-cream in downtown Kidron (right across from Lehman’s store) makes a specialty flavor called “nasturtium pistachio” and I am their nasturtium supplier. Occasionally I get special orders from a customer wanting to decorate a cake with edibles or spice up a special occasion with a color splashed salad.

Pressed flowers are a great embellishment for my handmade paper cards. This time of year I have several sandwich stacks of newspaper and cardboard topped with cement blocks to press yarrow, sweet peas, pansies and even potato blossoms. I keep experimenting with new ones, including weeds, to see which will hold their color and shape nicely for my winter projects. Some of the petals will even go directly into my homemade paper to impart a playful confetti look.

Finally, the flowers make great natural toys. Our children love making daisy chains, talking snapdragons and hollyhock dolls. My grandmother taught us to make the traditional hollyhock dolls and we took that a step further to include daylilies, bachelor buttons, poppy seed heads and even garlic flower scapes. These pre-Barbie era toys are held together with toothpicks and will last for an afternoon of creative play. Try your hand at creating your own flower doll with blooms from your backyard!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted some time ago. I absolutely love Karen’s statement that flowers are a divine remedy, and she talks about my favorites, phlox, hollyhocks and snapdragons. I’m ready for an abundance of flowers! Try some of her favorite plants in your garden this year. Many are available at nurseries and greenhouses as starts. Good luck, and good growing–and good eating! There’s nothing that can brighten a rough day like your own flowers on the table and in the meal.

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