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Last year I planted a mix of calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis) from seed. I don’t remember really seeing any grow last year, though last year was pretty hectic for me and I wasn’t paying that much attention. This spring I did take notice as they have burst forth either from seed that was from flowers re-seeding themselves or from left-over seed that had not yet germinated.
I saw the first one appear a couple of months ago, surprisingly hidden under one of the giant leaves of my rhubarb.
Then others appeared
Surprisingly, I’ve noticed the color change some over time. Here are the same flowers, but about a month later.
I tasted some and was surprised. The taste is floral, kind of like rose, but sweeter. Though I’ve read that some could be bitter, so be sure to taste test yours before using them. My mouth felt a little funny afterward, kind of like it had a film of some kind of oil or soap in it. It wasn’t an unpleasant experience, just odd. I am going to try again and see if it happens again, before adding any of the flower petals to a salad or use them as a garnish.
Calendula flowers have something of a reputation as a medicinal herb, either as a topical skin treatment or as tea. I haven’t tried any of these out myself, but am planning on experimenting some more. It would be definitely interesting to try to make some Calendula soap, leveraging the herbal medicinal benefits.
As a landscape plant, I think they are really pretty, as I think the pictures demonstrate. They are a good mid-size annual. The fragrance isn’t particularly wonderful, but that is made up for with the visual appeal.
I hope to have Calendula in my yard for many years.
You might be doing edible landscaping and not even know it. All over world, people are growing roses, without knowing that they are growing something that is edible. As a kid I’d heard of rose hips being full of vitamin C, but who wants to eat a packet of seeds that can be chewy and unappetizing? Not me, especially not as a kid.
Since that time I have had rose tea, seen rose butter, rose sugar, rose honey, and more. I was introduced to rose tea at a nice restaurant and found it to be pretty good. Rose petals can be used in garnishes and in salads and in cooking. They are fragrant and have a delicate floral taste that varies amongst the different varieties. I’ve found that some of the darker roses can have a yucky metallic taste to them, so try tasting some before using them.
Personally, I prefer the taste of the red and wilder rugosa roses. The rugosa roses I have grown have had rose hips that were the size of cherry tomatoes, and had more fleshiness to them that had a taste that reminded me of sweet apple. The smaller rose petals are easier to use in salads, garnishes, and so on. I also like that my rugosa roses seemed to be more disease resistant and require less care.
I am not saying to not use other roses with larger petals, since even the larger roses can be used to flavor butters, sugar, honey, tea, etc. The range of color, variety, and beauty of different roses can be very appealing in a landscape.
I would not recommend tasting roses at the nursery or floral shop. Oftentimes those roses have been sprayed with toxic substances to either decrease decay or discourage disease.
I grow a few different roses in my yard. Most of them were there when I bought the house. I have pictures of some of my red ones.
This is a larger rose
This rose bush has many smaller blossoms
There are many recipes available for using roses. I would encourage you to take the plunge and try some. Personally, I think the next recipe I am going to try is rose lemonade. I will run it past my official taste testers, my kids, and see if it passes for regular use.
In my front yard I planted from seed about 6 different edible flowers last year, including blue cornflowers. I wanted to have experience with them all, both in how to grow them, how to use them in a landscape, and how to use them in the kitchen. I let them all go to seed and since that time, most of them have come back this year. One of the first ones that grew this year was my cornflowers, sometimes called by its Latin name of Centaurea Cyanus, or common names of Bachelor's button, Basket flower, and Boutonniere flower.
These are one of the only flowers that are a true blue color. Blue is my favorite color, so I jumped at the chance of having a blue edible flower. As you can see in the picture, not all of my re-seeded cornflowers are blue, but also come in shades of pink and light purple.
I made the mistake of growing these toward the front of my planting area, since the plants get between 3 to 4 feet in height at their full size, which blocks out my shorter flowers. They would look much better in the back.
The plant looks kind of weedy, and I’ve read that originally it was considered a weed in the United Kingdom from where it originated, though is now pretty rare there. I can understand it becoming a weed, since it was very prolific in re-seeding itself. So, I think it would be best controlled to having a backdrop location, with smaller foreground plants hiding all but the upper portions of the cornflower plant from view, but still allowing the blossoms to be seen.
Only the petals of this flower are edible. I would recommend trying a little before using it in large amounts, since some have reported having allergic asthmatic reactions to the pollen.
The flower petals are more stiff and fibrous, so not something you would want to put in a salad. The floral taste reminds me of roses, but with a little bit more spicy sweetness. It is a good flavor for tea.
In many landscapes I’ve seen evergreen hedges that are trimmed and maintained to form living walls of foliage. I’ve often seen these hedges maintained between 3 to 10 feet, or sometimes even unmaintained and left to become behemoth walls of greenery. The trend in these hedges is to use an evergreen bush, usually some sort of broad leaf shrub, which can withstand intense pruning.
In my approach to landscaping of using edible plants in traditionally ornamental landscaping techniques, I found an attractive edible evergreen broadleaf plant that can withstand heavy pruning. The plant is called Laurus nobilis, perhaps more recognizable by its common names of Bay Leaf, True Laurel, Sweet Bay, Grecian Laurel, Laurel, or Bay Tree. It is an aromatic evergreen tree, whose leaves are most commonly used in such ways as adding flavor to soups and stews
Bay leaf is best maintained and pruned; otherwise it can reach up to 40 feet high and 32 feet wide. It handles pruning well, and is even successfully kept as a houseplant.
About 2 years ago I planted my bay leaf hedge of 4 plants in a partially shaded area. The suggestion I read was to plant them 10 feet apart, but since I want them to overlap and form a hedge I instead spaced them about 4 to 5 feet apart. When I bought the plants they were about 1 foot high, since then they have exceeded 6 feet. The hedge is now beginning to section off a part of my yard to form a private area that I intend to turn into a veranda. I am planning on maintaining the hedge at about 6 feet and encouraging more overlapping growth in the following years.
I’ve come to use bay leaf a lot, not only in my cooking, but in pest control as well. The aromatic nature of the leaves seems to ward off insects like earwigs and weevils. Whenever I have a box of fruit that needs to sit for a day or more, I put a handful of bay leaves in with it to chase away and keep the earwigs out. I’ve seen grains stored for years with bay leaves in it, in order to discourage insects from invading. I started putting a bay leaf into the forming artichokes in my garden, which has been helpful, since I used to find earwigs in my artichokes, which was a nasty surprise when eating them.
In my cooking, I usually just walk out to my hedge and get any number of needed leaves off one of my bay leaf shrubs, wash them, and include them fresh in my soups. I like the complex and rich flavor that is imparted to my soups when cooked with bay leaf. Once my soup is done, I remove the bay leafs. The bay leaves are fibrous so they aren’t palatable, but I’ve seen them dried and powdered for direct use in the store. I’ve seen or heard of bay leaves used in Indian, Mediterranean, and European cooking, though that is outside the range of my cooking skills. I’ve only personally used them in soups. If you have any good suggestions for cooking, I’d be interested in hearing about it.
I’ve heard from some that drying the leaves and letting them sit for a couple of weeks will increase the flavor; however I have not been able to notice a difference in my cooking between the fresh or dried leaves. So, drying them seems to me to be a waste of work, unless I needed to store leaves for a long time. Since I have a year round supply of more fresh bay leaves then I could ever use, I haven’t bothered drying any. If I were to give bay leaf as a gift of spice to family or friends, I’d probably dry them, since I wouldn’t know when they would need to use them.
Since I wrote last about an edible evergreen groundcover, I thought I would mention another one that I have and really like, namely American Wintergreen, or sometimes called Eastern Teaberry, Checkerberry, or Boxberry. The Latin name is Gaultheria procumbens.
This is native to the U.S. East Coast, though endangered there. Grows in zones 3 to 9 and loves shade. It spreads via root to a diameter of something like 12 inches. It is low growing reaching about 6 inches in height. It is one of the very few edibles I have that have berries in the late fall and winter. The berries are red with a white center, which remind me of candy.
I love the flavor of the leaves and berries. If you have ever eaten Wintergreen Lifesavers or had some of Wrigleys Winterfresh chewing gum, then you have tasted the flavor of this plant’s leaves and berries.
This is my favorite thing to include in my homemade teas. If allowed to steep for awhile, the flavor will cover over many nasty medicinal herb flavors, allowing me to give some medicinal teas to my kids when they were younger. Personally, I just like the flavor and include it whenever I can with my mint and chamomile teas. I’ve read that you can increase the intensity of the flavor by first fermenting the leaves for a few days in some warm water, though I have never tried that.
The berries can also be used in a nice winter-time fruit salad. Imagine the surprise of your family or friends when encountering the wintergreen flavor from a red berry, about the size and shape of a pea.
My one point of frustration with this plant as a ground cover is that it is slow growing. I wish it would grow faster, so I could use it more often. I have to use a lot of restraint to not keep picking at the newer leaves for just chewing on or using with tea. I am planning on compensating for this by buying more and filling in the plants closer to each other.
In keeping with my eccentric goal of only landscaping with plants that have edible parts, I have been experimenting with a variety of edible groundcovers.
One area of my front yard is under some evergreen trees, which block moisture and most sun, and instead rain down pine needles that cause the soil to stay pretty acidic. Hardly anything will grow there.
What I have found that will grow in such dismal conditions are creeping raspberries (Rubus Pentalobus).
In the picture you can see the very dry conditions and the blanket of pine needles. I watered this plant some the first summer to make sure it was set, and then have pretty much ignored it.
This edible ground cover is amazing! I am starting to see it used all over the Seattle area. It forms a low growing mat of green growth that stays under 6 inches in height and spreads 3 to 6 feet in all directions. It spreads by sending out runners, with leaves on them, which put down their own roots. It doesn’t climb trees or structures, so it won’t smother any of your other plants. I have seen it in lovely displays as it cascades off walls, softening hard edges of raised planting areas.
During spring and summer, the thornless leaves are shiny, dark green above and gray-green below. They turn burgundy or scarlet color in fall and winter. I’ve not really noticed the flowers, but have seen in late summer yellow raspberry like berries that form. Some have described them as tasty; personally I am eagerly waiting to try one to see how they taste.
You can easily propagate this plant by separating the different nodes that have put down roots.
I think most people think of spices and cooking when thinking of chives, which are truly important things with this wonderful herb, though I’ve found it to also be a really attractive flower and plant in my landscaping.
This is a picture I took, just a couple of days ago.
In April and May, my chive plants blossom in a showy display of purple bulbous blossoms.
Later in the summer the flowers turn into a bulbous whitish grey cluster of seeds. I used to have just one chive plant in the location of the picture, but I’ve allowed my chives to seed new plants around it, forming clusters of plants.
For much of the rest of the year, my chives look kind of like tufts of decorative grass.
I use fresh diced chives all the time in my cooking as an onion substitute, for things like sandwiches, roasts, soups, mixed with steamed or fried vegetables, and so on. I’ve tried using the edible flowers in cooking, but found the flavor to be a little bit too strong of an onion flavor for my taste. If you like a stronger flavor of onion, there is a good chance you would like the flavor of the flowers.
I’ve read that chives lose very little of their flavor when frozen or dried, but I really haven’t had to worry about that since for about 10 months of the year I can get fresh chives right out of my yard.
Chives make for a great companion plant. Like onions, they repel a variety of unwanted pests, while still attracting bees. For this reason chives are now planted in amongst my front yard planting areas, my herb beds, and my garden beds.
As a medicinal herb, Wikipedia claims that:
“The medical properties of chives are similar to those of garlic, but weaker; the faint effects in comparison with garlic are probably the main reason for its limited use as a medicinal herb. Containing numerous organisulplide compounds such as allyl sulfides and alkyl sulfoxides, chives have a beneficial effect on the circulatory system, acting upon it by lowering the blood pressure. As chives are usually served in small amounts and never as the main dish, negative effects are rarely encountered, although digestive problems may occur following over-consumption.
Chives are also rich in vitamins A and C, and contain trace amounts of sulfur and iron.”
There are now more than 3,000 named varieties of tulips, coming in all sorts of colors, sizes, and bloom times. A couple hours drive, north of my home are fields and fields of tulips grown and sold all over the United States. In the springtime, people from all over flock to those fields to witness the beauty of the tulips and celebrate the ending of winter.
I too celebrate the blooming of tulips in my yard, as they herald in spring and bring color back to my garden in a way that drives away the doldrums of winter. I planted tulip bulbs a couple of years ago, during the fall, after ordering a collection of varieties described as romantic, with hues of red, orange, and yellow.
I got mine from a Dutch tulip company, which had an incredible selection of varieties. I haven’t seen anywhere else offer as much selection as the Dutch companies, so if interested, I’d recommend looking there first.
Tulips require a period of cold for them to bloom, which is why I planted mine in the fall.
My tulips have been pretty low care. In the summer the stalks die and I trim them back, not so much for the health of the flower, but to just keep my flower bed looking nice. A few of my tulips look diseased this year, in which they look burnt and didn't reach their full height. From reading on the topic, it sounds like what could have caused this is that they didn't get enough water in the growing phase, which is pretty important for tulips.
All parts of tulips are reported as being edible, though I have only tried the petals. I found the petals to have a pleasant flavor, kind of like that of a sweet pea, which is a flavor I have liked since I was a child. My kids like the flavor too and have shocked visitors to our house by nonchalantly eating the flowers as a snack. My Grandmother once told me that during World War II, people in Holland supplemented their diet with Tulips.
The petals can add great color to fruit salad or desserts. I’ve been meaning to try a recipe I have seen for awhile of stuffed tulips, in which you take a tulip blossom and stuff it, kind of like you would stuff a sweet pepper, and bake them in the oven. Since sweet peppers don’t really grow well in my area and tulips do, this has looked like a great and colorful thing to try. Tulip blossoms have some resiliency in their structure, so they would be good for something like this.
Have you ever considered surprising your dinner guests or family with a gourmet salad or entree? I am not talking about having food catered, or some packaged and frozen “gourmet” dinner, but making something great on your own. If you want to have something like is offered in the finest of restaurants, than presentation is important. One of the easiest ways to make a boring salad or dessert into something amazing is to include edible flowers. For example, a green salad with the pizzazz of purple or yellow petals is astounding, or how about a fruity drink, garnished by a lovely blossom.
Great edible flowers to do this with are pansies or violas. The range of color and variety of pansies and violas is amazing. I am growing Johnny-jump-ups, which are a common variety of pansy, but I have seen an incredible range of other possibilities at large nurseries.
My Johnny-jump-ups have something like a wintergreen-mint flavor, though the flavor can vary some by season. Sometimes different varieties and colors can have different flavors. Be sure to sample a little before using them in your cooking.
I would not recommend sampling any flowers in a nursery or at a floral shop. Many floral preservatives contain toxic chemicals and many nurseries have pesticides sprayed on their plants, which are also toxic if consumed.
I grew my pansies and violas for more than a year, or from seed, before starting to taste or consume them. Since planting them, the original plants have died away after having re-seeded themselves and come back on their own.
In the landscape, pansies look great in pots, mass plantings, and clusters. They grow well in sun to semi-shade and only reach a height of to six to ten inches, so are great as an understory plant, which is how I am using them. Flowers bloom in late winter and spring in warm areas and in summer in cool zones.
In general, edible flowers should be picked as fully open flowers in the cool of the day, after the dew has evaporated. Like any other garden herb or vegetable, be sure to wash them before using them. Pansies and violas have a bit more durability than many other kinds of edible flowers and will store fine for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.
A good way to start using edible flowers is in a salad. You can even make a salad dressing using flowers. Another way to use them is as a garnish. A flower floating in the soup is a sure way to get conversation going at the table.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries, edible landscaping is about cultivating things you can eat, and yet designing it all in a beautiful way. What I especially love to find is an edible that can compare to or exceed the plants that have been bred specifically for visual appeal. I feel I found this with Arctic Beauty Kiwi (Actinidia kolomikita).
Arctic Beauty Kiwi is the hardiest of kiwi vines that I know of, able to withstand temperatures to -40° F, making it possible to grow it in the widest range of climates. Yet, it is also is, in my opinion more lovely then many ornamental vine plants you can find.
I really like the pink, white, and green variegation of the leaves. The picture is of a male vine, which pollinates my 2 female vines, which is needed for them to produce fruit. The male vines tend to be the ones that are variegated and the prettiest, but I was fortunate to also find female vines that get variegated as well. Usually it takes one or more years for the variegation to set in. The vine in the picture was planted last year.
Arctic Beauty Kiwi prefers some shade, unlike other kiwi vines. This makes it a great candidate for areas that otherwise would be a real challenge to produce some sort of fruit.
Kiwi is also really easy to propagate. One of my female vines I have growing was a cutting I took from new growth on my other female vine, which I just stuck in the ground and watered some. I was happy to see it still growing this spring, after obviously surviving the winter.
Kiwi vines can put on a huge amount of growth in a single season. They cannot support their own weight and will spread up to 30 feet. They require strong support such as trellis, arbor, or fence. “Strong” is the key word here, since I have seen a hardy kiwi rip a trellis apart due to the weight of its new growth, and saw it pry boards apart as vines grew larger and larger in the cracks. In nature, they grow up into trees. I have pruned a fuzzy kiwi vine to the ground, and watched it grow back the next year with another 30 feet of new growth. Do not be afraid to prune and control the vines. Arctic Beauty Kiwi is not as aggressive in its growth as the other varieties I had these experiences with, but it is still something to be conscious of.
This is not the typical kiwi you find in the store, but rather a smaller fruit, about grape size, which has no fuzzy skin, with the same great kiwi flavor. It is easy to just pop them in your mouth right off the vine when they have reached their ultimate sweetness and are somewhat soft to the touch. A mature kiwi vine can produce 200 pounds of fruit.
My kids love these. I think one year some of them made themselves a little sick from eating so many. I saw a bucket of these disappear in about a day.
Kiwi are very high in vitamin C and great additions to fruit salads and desserts, like ice cream, pies, jam, and wine
I had an area in my yard in which seemed really exposed to the view of my neighbors, not that I try to hide anything, but it is sometimes nice to have some privacy. So, some sort of privacy screen or fence made sense. I decided that a grove of bamboo would be a good option, since it would make a natural privacy screen.
As an edible landscaper, I am always asking myself, how edible is it? Most bamboo has edible shoots, which are used in Asian cooking. There are some kinds of bamboo that are considered the better tasting ones, including, but not limited to:
Phyllostachys nidularia 'Smoothsheath'
Phyllostachys vivax (vivier's bamboo)
Phyllostachys Dulcis (sweetshoot)
After doing more reading and talking with a couple of experts at bamboo nurseries, I settled on the sweetshoot variety, since it was reported to be the absolute best tasting. It is also reputed as being among the most beautiful, with its masses of large drooping leaves, thick culms and a white ring at each node. It is very quick growing and gets very thick for its height, up to 3 inches in diameter at 30 feet in height. It is hardy to minus 10 F. Plus, like all true bamboo, is evergreen.
My next problem was that the area that made sense to put the bamboo as a privacy screen was like a swamp. You couldn’t walk through that area without sinking about five inches into mud.
I resolved the swamp problem, plus the problem of how to contain the bamboo, by digging a three foot deep trench around the area I wanted the bamboo to grow. I put in drain pipe in the bottom of the trench and a thick bamboo root barrier. This was a real challenge, since the trench walls kept collapsing due to the swampiness of the area, but I persisted and after about nine hours of exhausting work, finally got everything in place. Within weeks, the swamp dried up.
The bamboo root barrier is really important, since bamboo can take over whole areas and be very difficult to remove once it is established. I really doubt my neighbor would like a grove of bamboo taking over his yard. To keep it under control, I’ve seen many people grow it in large pots, though that wouldn’t have been enough bamboo to fulfill what I was envisioning. So, I opted for a ¼ inch thick root barrier that was three feet tall. I then used wood and screws to join the two ends of the root barrier, in an attempt to eliminate the possibility of the roots being able to push through. I also left a little bit of the barrier above ground, since I've heard reports of roots sometimes getting over the top of root barriers.
I planted five culms of Phyllostachys Dulcis, spaced about 3 feet from each other, figuring that they would fill in between each other in something like 5 to 10 years.
That was 2 years ago.
Here is a current picture;
In the picture you can see the bamboo in-between the black fence that separates my yard from my neighbor's yard and a gazebo in my yard.
I’ve heard that the first couple of years you shouldn’t expect much growth from Bamboo, but that by the third year you will see a leap of growth. Each year of the first two years my plants seemed to double in size, both in number of canes and in the height of those canes. This is the year I am expecting to really see something happen and have the chance to cut my first bamboo shoot and get a sense of what it tastes like. Young shoots are harvested, for eating, in spring before they exceed 12 inches tall, ideally just as they are about to pop above the ground.
I am also really looking forward to starting to be able to use my own bamboo canes in my garden. I think they add a really nice natural look to things made out of them, like trellises, garden towers, barriers, and more. However, this is still a ways out for me, since my grove hasn’t started yet growing canes to anything near their full size, and after that, canes take several years for the wood to achieve maximum hardness and durability.
I have a spring that starts in my next door neighbor’s yard, forms a little creek in my yard, before flowing in to and out of a pond.
Here is a picture of the top part of my creek, which has filled with watercress, below the ostrich ferns.
I planted watercress by seed in my creek a couple of years ago. I believe seed is the easiest way to plant it, due to the fragility of the plants. Since I planted it, it has been growing to such an extent that in the spring and fall time it can go from a little plant to filling my creek in about a month’s time. During the summer it seems to slowdown in growth. I have had to be pretty aggressive in controlling it, which has been easy since the plants are not deeply rooted and kind of float on the shallow water.
Watercress has a kind of mild peppery flavor to it. My primary use has been as a substitute for lettuce on sandwiches, which is pretty good. I tried adding it to stir fry, which I heard is done in China, but it didn't pass my kids taste test, so I doubt I will do that again.
Wikipedia claims that:
"Watercress contains significant amounts of iron, calcium and folic acid, in addition to vitamins A and C....Many benefits from eating watercress are claimed, such as that it acts as a mild stimulant, a source of phytochemicals and antioxidants, a diuretic, an expectorant, and a digestive aid. It also appears to have cancer-suppressing properties." Wikipedia also warns to not harvest it around farm animals, due to possible contamination from parasites, of course, this should apply to any vegetable or salad green harvested and used in its raw form.
I am looking for more great uses of this prolific plant and would love any suggestions.
This time of year brings back memories for me of eating bear candy as a kid with my Dad. I've passed on the tradition to my own kids as well, and this is one of the first things I sometimes see them "grazing" on in my yard in the spring.
Here in the Pacific Northwest we have a native berry bush called Salmonberries, which is related to raspberries and blackberries.
During the spring, these Salmonberry bushes blossom and put up new shoots. The shoots, when about a foot or so tall can be broken or cut-off off at the ground, the skin peeled off, and the tender stalk eaten. The flavor of the stalks, commonly called bear candy, can range between tart (when more firm) to somewhat sweet (when more tender).
The berries are some of the first berries to be available of the season. The flavor is mild, but if the berries are allowed to ripen from a yellow to a red color, can be fairly sweet.
As a landscape plant, they do well in shady areas, which is hard to find for other kinds of berry bushes. They prefer moist areas and can form a thicket of upright shrubs.
I like ferns. I think they add a nice softening affect to landscapes. With my eccentric vision of only having edible plants in my tended yard, I worried that I would have to do without any ferns, that is, until I learned that Ostrich ferns are edible.
During April and May, Ostrich ferns grow new fronds, which as the frond uncurl form a shape kind of like a fiddle. Cut the tender little rolls of fern almost as soon as they appear within a couple of inches of the ground. Carefully brush out and remove the brown scales. Wash and cook the “heads” in a small amount of lightly salted boiling water for ten minutes, or steam for 20 minutes. Serve at once, the quicker they are eaten, the more delicate their flavor.
A couple of years ago, in my exuberance of discovering an edible fern, I went to a nursery and bought one. Only to then discover that I already had more than 20 large plants of them growing all over my yard. In fact I was surprised to learn that they grow all over the northern hemisphere of North America, Northern Europe, and Northern Asia. I've been told by one of my Korean co-workers that in Korea they are considered something of a delicacy. I've also heard that they are considered a delicacy in the U.S. Northeast and can be seen on the menus of some really nice restaurants. Ostrich Fern fiddleheads are the Vermont State vegetable.
Here is a picture I took today of an Ostrich fern in my yard
In the picture, note the fronds that look like they are uncurling at the top. These are the ones you want to harvest before they exceed something like a foot in height. Like asparagus, you don't want to over harvest or you will damage the plant so much that later years will have less or no fronds. This particular plant I harvested a handful of fronds from last week, though you can't really tell.
There are at least 3 look-alike varieties that have cancer-causing chemicals in them and are not recommended for consumption, so you need to be careful when identifying them to make sure you get the right ones.
Characteristics of Ostrich Ferns are:
As a landscape plant, they do well in moist or boggy areas and seem to do well in partial shade. Their root balls can form dense colonies resistant to destruction by floodwaters. I find the ostrich ferns to be a bit more delicate then most other varieties of fern that grow wild in my yard, in that the stalks tend to break much more easily, so I wouldn't recommend putting them in high traffic areas.
I've personally found the cooked stalks to be somewhat bland in taste, but that was due to how I've attempted to prepare them before now. The stalks might be good with a sauce, but they are not the thing to eat, but rather the actual fiddlehead. I had been trying to eat the stalks and not the fiddleheads. I guess if I had ever lived on the east coast, where these are a delicacy, I would have known that. The fiddleheads may be served, like asparagus, on toast. Cooked, chilled fiddleheads can be also served as a salad with an onion and vinegar dressing.
To freeze fiddleheads, blanch a small amount at a time for two minutes. Cool and drain. Pack into moisture- and vapor-proof containers and store them in the freezer. Fiddleheads can also be pickled and canned.
Back in the 1990's a few people got sick on the east coast after eating ostrich fiddleheads that had been "under-cooked" in restaurants, so a recommendation was created that you need to boil them for at least 10 minutes. Personally, my suspicion is that they had been served look-alike ferns (i.e. cinnamon fern), since people have been eating these all over the world for a long time.
Sometimes edible landscaping experiments don't work out, and sometimes they do. The fun is in trying something new, which adds an extra layer of excitement to gardening.
A couple of years ago, I tried something new. Something which I was so pleased with, I am planning on trying it again this year. To be specific, I planted runner beans on an arbor in my front yard.
In the picture you will notice that one side of the arbor the beans vines are much more full, while the other side, the vines are a bit more sparse. The difference was in the soil. I tried planting the left side in a rich mixture of compost and the right side in unamended, rocky, and compacted dirt. I was surprised by how well the vines on the right side did, figuring in the bad soil they were planted in.
Runner beans are described in this manner at the seed company, Territorial Seeds, that I purchase my seeds from:
"Phaseolus coccineus: Native to Mexico, runner beans tolerate cool, partially shaded areas better than other beans and make a gorgeous annual landscaping ornamental. For fresh eating pick when the beans are just starting to form in the pod. "
From another source, I learned that runner beans are not self-pollinating and that you need more then one variety for them to produce beans. So, I planted the "Scarlet Emperor" on one side of the arbor and the "Painted Lady" on the other side. Both produced a lovely display of flowers, which were followed by a real bounty of beans.
I found the beans to be really tasty and often enjoyed them as a daily snack when I got home from work. My dog and kids had a real fondness for them as well.
The plants are heavy producers. From this single arbor, in spite of everyone snacking on them every day straight off the vines, I still got so many beans that I froze probably half a dozen large freezer bags of them in the pods, cut to about 1 inch lengths, and canned another 20 quarts. It was a challenge to try to keep up with the amount of beans being produced every few days. I discovered that you do not want to let the bean pods get to full development, which can be a foot long in pod size, since the pods get tough and stringy, unless you are planning on shelling the beans and drying them. I think this is definitely an option, since the beans once dried look a lot like a showy dried bean with swirls of red or pink on them. I am planning on exploring this option more this year.
If you are in to edible flowers, like me, you will find that the runner bean flowers have a nice sweet bean taste to them.
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