Late summer and fall are great times to make your meal plates and salads attractive in fall colors with flower garnishes you’ve grown in your garden or obtained at a local farmers’ market. You’ll want edible (i.e., organic), colorful flowers that are durable enough to hold up for several hours without wilting.
Since our family sells produce to restaurants, we normally raise several types of garnish flowers for use on customers’ plates. Some of the flowers we find easy to grow in our herb garden include the gem series of marigolds, nasturtiums, and borage, all usually available for much of the summer, but particularly attractive given that they come in colors associated with fall. Like most herbs, these plants require full sun for best growth. Typically they don’t receive much insect damage, so they can be grown without application of pesticides or other chemicals which would render them inedible.
The gem series of marigolds are tiny, citrus-flavored flowers that are available in yellow, orange, red, and mixtures of these colors. The plants can be seeded indoors in the early spring and transplanted out, or planted directly in the garden once the danger of frost has passed. They grow in neatly rounded small bushes, covered with the tiny blooms.
Nasturtium blossoms have long been known as an edible garnish for their hot, peppery taste, and are often sugar-coated for decorative use on cakes as well as garnish. They are usually direct-seeded once frost danger has passed. Nasturtiums are conveniently found in fall colors, including a variety of oranges, reds, yellows, cream, and near-black. Individual plants may remain fairly compact, or, if allowed enough room, they may start to vine, creating pretty masses of color in the garden.
Borage is a long-popular herb in Europe, but not well known in this country. Both the leaves and blooms are edible, offering a cucumber-like taste. Historically borage leaves were used for medicinal purposes, but the sky-blue, star-shaped blooms are often found in alcoholic drinks, particularly martinis, or even frozen in ice cubes, as well as garnish. Borage can be seeded indoors and transplanted out (take care not to disturb the roots), or direct-seeded in the garden. These plants grow a couple of feet tall, so will need some room. One note: Once you’ve planted borage, you’re likely to find it inhabiting your garden in subsequent years of its own accord. However, the plant isn’t keen on being moved once it’s emerged, so start some indoors if you want to “have the say” as to where it will be located in your garden!
Once you’ve clipped your desired blooms (best to do in the early morning, like all herbs, when temps are cooler), lightly rinse and store them in a covered bowl, plastic bag or clamshell, and store in the refrigerator. Add them to your salads or arrange them on your plates just before serving, using your creative genius. The bright colors add so much to the visual appeal of a meal; sky-blue borage blooms remind one of a sunny fall sky, complimenting the yellows, oranges, and reds of traditional fall colors. Plan now to include these in your list of spring planting favorites – a fun and easy way to enjoy the changing of the season!