One of the great joys in my life has been gardening. When I was a kid my parents had a smaller yard, but a couple of our elderly neighbors had larger yards. In order for us to have a vegetable garden Daddy would mow their yards in exchange for using a piece of their property for gardening. Of course, they could take whatever they wanted from the garden, and there always seem to be plenty!
Mom and I would plant a row of marigolds along the perimeter to keep the bugs out. We also planted a row of zinnias for cutting. I remember at the County Fair winning goldfish in a Ping-pong ball toss. The goldfish came in small glass bowls with narrow mouths. The poor goldfish never lived long, but Momma would save the bowls and fill them full with zinnias from the garden. These made perfect arrangements for the kitchen table.
I still marvel, like I did when I was a child, at how such tiny homely seeds can make such stunning bounty.
All my life I have tried to live in places where I could have some kind of garden. I knew from my childhood gardening experience how labor intensive a vegetable garden can be. My parents composted, rotated yearly plantings, and rarely used pesticides on the garden. It was an economic labor of love that, through canning and freezing, kept us well fed throughout the year. As an adult, I still have dreams where I can taste certain things that came from my Parent's Garden. However, I never could find the space, or the discipline, it would take to duplicate what they produced from our neighbor's backyard. Most of my adult life I have usually grown herbs and flowers for cutting.
In one particular home, the landlord's sister-in-law helped me plant a generous herb garden off the kitchen. She gave me a packet of nasturtium seeds and told me to soak them in water over night before planting. She explained to me that you could eat the flowers and the leaves. They were fragrant, and packed a delicious peppery punch to any salad.
During that time, I was waiting tables for a high end French bistro/pastry shop owned by Phoebe Sharp. To this day I still dream of Phoebe's food. She taught me so much about cooking, entertaining, eating, and life. One of the many things she introduced me to was the idea of edible flowers.
Phoebe would put petals of Rose, blooms of herbs, marigold petals on salads and pastries. I remember her candying violas for the tops of cupcakes. (Keep in mind, this was pre-Martha Stewart popularity.)
One of the great compromises I made in moving to the Big Apple was losing the space to garden. It has been a constant source of therapy for me throughout my life, and it was difficult to give up.
However, in my 5th year in New York City, by chance, I found a spacious apartment all the way on the tip of South Brooklyn. It had a an outdoor space. A deck that measures about 8' by 15'. It is not very large, but it affords me the space to grow quiet an array of potted plants.
Pictured here is what I call my "Salad Bouquet" pot. It has nasturtium I grew from seed, mint, and violas. Oddly enough, the violas were a gift from a Viola player, Leanne Darling. I think she gave them to me about 3 years ago? And they continue to volunteer in various pots throughout my container garden. You never know what may pop up in the garden from year to year if you give the soil, seeds, and volunteers a little love and encouragement.
I encourage you to try growing your own edible flowers, or buy some if you find them for sale. Not only do they add whimsy and color to your food, they also add unusual flavor to the dish.