What we would give to have Stefani Bittner and Leslie Bennett digging in our backyards. This stellar duo owns Star Apple Edible Gardens, one of San Fransico’s foremost edible garden design firms. We love that they not only help home-owners to design edible gardens – no matter how small – but offer maintenance services to help families keep gardens healthy, productive and beautiful as well! Sounds like a dream.
Leslie and Stefani have penned The Beautiful Edible Garden, a resource for those of us who live beyond the reach of their Bay Area services. In the book, they outline dozens of brilliant ideas for home gardeners, including those of us who barely qualify but have the smallest of dirt patches we want to dig on into. The ladies are sharing the ideas below with us and watch for more of Star Apple on TCM in the future – we just can’t get enough!
It’s easy to make your garden both beautiful and productive by swapping out ornamental plants for plants you can eat! This time of year, we love to plant our cutting gardens with plants that can be used in the kitchen and in floral arrangements that bring the garden’s beauty indoors. You won’t feed your family each night with edible flowers but…
Cutting Tips From The Beautiful Edible Garden
- Petals on your petit fours
Flowers can be used as garnishes for your salads and cupcakes, and as the basis for a cup of tea or a cocktail. Many know the edible blooms of Nasturtium, Borage and Calendula, but expand your palette! Even when it comes to these well-known edible flowers, seek out unusual vaitieties such as the white flowered Borage (Borago officinalis ‘Alba’), the variegated Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus ‘Alaska’) and the Bronze Beauty Calendula (Calendula officinalis ‘Bronzed Beauty’) to spice things up.
- Beyond blossoms
Chose beautiful foliage plants to add to bouquets as well your salad: purple varieties of Shiso (Perilla), and Basil such as Purple Ruffles and the variegated Perpetual Pesto, and chartreuse colored Golden Fever Few (Tanacetum parthenium ‘Aureum’) all add beauty and production to your cutting garden. These plants will look stunning in your landscape and will provide a foil as well as depth to a bed that is dominated by flowers. Edible groundcovers and herbs will often offer attractive form and foliage color and can add drama to the border.
Various forms of Lemon and Lime Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus) offer foliage variegated with yellows, creams and chartreuse. ‘La Crema’ and ‘Tricolor’ Culinary Sage (Salvia officinalis) offer variegated foliage and purplish new growth. For a touch of chartreuse try Golden Margoram, it’s season long lemon yellow foliage is great trailing over the edge of a path or retaining wall.
- Go higher
Vary bloom heights and don’t forget tall edible flowers. Agastache varieties are great choices for almost any garden. Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) offers a long season of bluish purple spikes of flowers. Its leaves make for a wonderful liquorice flavored tea and its flowers are used in savory and sweet dishes alike. Agastache varieties we enjoy are ‘Tutti Fruiti’, ‘Rosy Giant’ and ‘Coronado’. Their foliage is especially fragrant like licorice and is intoxicating when brushed against.
Artichoke is one of our favorite edible flowers, and the beauty of the plants offers a delightful departure from the fine or lacy textures of a typical cutting garden with its bold, silver leaves. We like the more unusual varieties such as the ‘Violetta’ and the ‘Purple Globe’. If you allow the flowers to mature, you will be rewarded with long lasting purple thistles on scapes up to 6’ tall, which will tower over the rest of the bed and will provide a valuable nectar source for bees - and make spectacular cut flowers!
- Try something new
We love edible flowers but don’t forget their seeds! Cumin is the seed of Nigella sativa. Nigella is a genus more commonly associated with the cottage garden plant, Love in a Mist, and this delightful edible is no less showy.
Breadseed Poppies (Papaver somniferum) are some of the showiest and easiest plants to grow and we love to collect their seed. Be mindful that the flowers grow to be quite tall (sometimes up to 5’!) and come in many shades of pink, white, red, maroon and often feature silky, satiny textures to the petals. The foliage is also an attractive sea foam green. Allow seed heads to mature, and you have an abundance of poppy seeds for all of your various baking needs.
One of our more fun additions to the edible cutting garden is the Edible Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum coronarium). This annual plant is an open explosion of lovely white, yellow, orange or red flowers and can grow to a possible 3’ x 3’, so give it some space. The petals are the only parts of the flowers that should be eaten, and the foliage is commonly used in Asian cooking as a braising green.
Reprinted with permission from The Beautiful Edible Garden: Design A Stylish Outdoor Space Using Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs by Leslie Bennett and Stefani Bittner, copyright © 2013. Published byTen Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group.