Tag Archives: flowers

12 Edible & Medicinal Flowers to Add to Your Garden

Early in my gardening career I made the decision that I wasn’t going to “waste space” in my meager garden on flowers. Foolishly I thought that all they were good for was looking pretty. Slightly older and wiser me knows that flowers are for so much more than looks. Flowers are key to a productive garden. Some varieties are loved by pollinators, others draw in beneficial insects, and some even help repel unwanted pests! 

However if you’re a super practical gardener with some serious space restrictions you can get even more benefits out of your flower plantings. These varieties of flowers provide all the typical advantages and are either edible or medicinal. 

Edible Flowers


Short Stuff Sunflowers

While sunflower seeds are an obvious edible benefit to growing sunflowers few people know that most of the plant can be eaten at different stages. Sunflower sprouts and very young plants are wonderful tossed into salads. The petals are a bit bitter but can also be used sparingly in salads. Young stalks can be peeled and used like celery, the leaves can be cooked like greens, and the unopened buds can be used like artichokes.

Bachelor’s Buttons

Polka Dot Bachelor’s Buttons

Bachelor’s buttons are a great way to add a lot of beauty to any dish. They can be eaten fresh in salads or used as a garnish. They’ve even been used to adorn cakes. They also hold their color well when dried and make an excellent natural food dye.

Breadseed Poppys

Hungarian Blue Breadseed Poppys

The only part of this flower that’s edible is the seeds. Breadseed poppy pods are filled with poppy seeds that are great for baking. If you love lemon poppy seed muffins this might be the right flower for you!


Helen Mt. Johnny-Jump-Ups

Like bachelor’s buttons, johnny-jump-ups make a tasty addition to salads or add a touch of natural beauty as a garnish. They can have a mild wintergreen flavor.


Outhouse Hollyhocks

This one usually surprises people but hollyhocks are entirely edible! The roots, leaves, and flowers can all be eaten though it’s typically just the young leaves and flowers that are eaten fresh. They’re actually related to the mallow plant and the entire plant has a variety of medicinal uses.


Jewel Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums are hard not to love. Their bright orange flowers and lilly pad like leaves add a bit of charm to even the most organized vegetable garden. They’re also delicious and the flowers and leaves make wonderful salads.

Medicinal Flowers


Echinacea Purpurea

Echinacea is a beautiful perennial flower and a potent medicinal. It’s frequently used to strengthen the immune system.


German Chamomile

A lovely little flower that makes a wonderfully relaxing tea, chamomile really deserves a spot in every garden. It’s easy to grow and easy to use. It has an apple-like flavor and fragrance and is also anit-innflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-spasmodic.


Though it looks much like chamomile, feverfew is a seperate medicinal herb and as the name suggests has long been used to treat fevers. More recently a study published in the British medical journal Lancet reported that 2-3 fresh leaves of feverfew eaten daily over a period of time reduced the severity and frequency of migraines.


Resina Calendula

Another powerful medicinal, calendula is frequently used in salves and lotion to help heal skin irritations. However it also makes a tasty tea and has anti-innflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.


Wild Bergamot

Bergamot is often used to make tea and was used by several Native American tribes as a carminative. It’s also a favorite of hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies making it definitely worth adding to your garden.


English Munstead Lavender

Generally thought of as a calming medicinal herb (try making some tea) lavender is also a tasty culinary herb. It can be used to flavor beverages, breads, cookies and more. 

If your space and time are limited it can be really important to get the most out of every square in of garden space. Thankfully there’s no reason to give up the beauty of flowers to do that. These varieties can help you grow a productive garden by providing you with food, medicine, and food for pollinators and beneficial insects as well.

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Planning a Pollinator Garden

By Jordan Charbonneau, photos by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly on Bergamot (Bee Balm)

Thankfully it seems people are coming around to the idea that our pollinators are in trouble. Wildflower packets and seeds bombs are “in” right now. While they may provide some relief, saving our precious bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects is going to take a little more than tossing a seed bomb into an empty garden bed.

Pollinators need food sources all season long from very early in the spring to late in the fall. In many areas native wildflower and meadow species have been replaced by monoculture lawns and select ornamental flowers. While this isn’t the only reason our pollinators are dying it certainly is a contributing factor. If you truly want to help pollinators it’s important to learn to plan a garden that offers an abundance of food sources all summer.


Figuring out how to have a garden that’s always in bloom can be a bit tricky. You’ll need to plan your plantings to maximize your garden’s potential.

Start Plants Early

Butterfly Weed

For many hobby gardeners flowers get planted when all danger of frost is past. Unfortunately many pollinators are active early and need flowers as soon as it’s warm enough to move around. If you don’t start flowers ahead of time there won’t be any flowers when they need them most.

The easiest way to start flowers early is to start them indoors. The Southern Exposure Beginner’s Growing Guide is a great resource and can help you get a jump on the season.

Another great way to have early blooms is to plant perennial flower varieties like Butterfly Weed or self-seeding varieties. These are often sooner to bloom than the annuals.

Succession Planting

Some families may already practice succession planting in their home vegetable garden. Just like it’s better for families to have summer squash spread throughout the season than a ton all at once pollinators do better if you’re plants’ bloom times are staggered too.

To help pollinators with this problem it’s simple to start flowers in small batches, every two-four weeks depending on the variety so that they’re not all blooming at the same time. This can be done indoors in seedling trays or direct sowing in the garden.

For example single stem sunflowers generally only have pollen for about two weeks. To extend your harvest you can sow batches every two weeks. Just take into account your chosen variety’s “days to harvest” to ensure all of your plantings will bloom before fall frosts.

Selecting Varieties

Everyone has trouble picking out seeds. There’s so many varieties and so little time and space! For your pollinator garden there’s a few special considerations to help you narrow down your list.

Bloom Period

Typically flowers are selected for their looks and smell but for your pollinator garden you’ll want to consider when varieties flower, what time of day they flower, and how long they flower.

Some plant varieties offer much longer blooming periods than others. Often these varieties are favorites for cut flower growers but they can also be helpful for pollinators. Some great long blooming flowers include Cosmos, Zinnias, Bergamot, and Poppies.

Sadly moths are often forgotten in the pollinator conversation. Moths are beautiful and absolutely play a necessary part in the ecosystem. To give them a helping hand plant varieties like Four O’Clocks or Evening Scented Primrose which bloom in the evening.

Native Wildflowers

Another consideration when planting for pollinators is to be sure and include native species. Those free promotional wildflower seed packets are great but they may not include varieties that are essential to the survival of your local pollinators.

Native wildflowers are also well adapted to your local climate meaning that they can do well with much less watering and maintenance. They’re great for pollinators, the environment, and you! What’s not to love?

Some of my favorite native wildflowers from Southern Exposure include the Appalachian native Lemon Bergamot, the aptly named Butterfly Weed, and Texas native Red Drummond Phlox.

Dual Purpose Flowers


If you’re like me your garden is all about practically. While helping pollinators is obviously important to having a successful farm I still like to squeeze extra productivity where possible. I often pick varieties of flowers that are edible, medicinal, or can be used for dye. If you’re all about making the most of your garden space check out these varieties.

Edible Medicinal Dye
Bachelor’s Button Anise-Hyssop Coreopsis
Bread Seed Poppy Bergamot (Bee Balm) Hopi Dye Sunflower
Grain Amaranth Calendula
Johnny-Jump-Up Chamomile
Mexican Mint Marigold Echinacea
Nasturtium Feverfew
Red Clover Hyssop
Sunflowers Lavender

Other Ideas

Aside from a carefully planned flower garden there are several ways to incorporate more blooms into your property.

Save Seed

You may think that plants like lettuce and radishes offer little benefits to pollinators because they’re harvested before they flower. However if you choose to save seed they’ll flower before you harvest your seeds.

Cover Crop

Never leave soil bare! Not only does it contribute to nutrient depletion and erosion it’s also a waste of valuable space. If you’re letting a section of garden rest for the season consider a cover crop like alfalfa or clover which fix nitrogen in your soil and flower for long periods. When you finish with an early crop like radishes, arugula, or peas consider quick to flower, cover crops like Buckwheat.

Leave Un-mowed Areas

If you have a larger property than you use for gardens a great way to help pollinators and many other native species is simply to leave areas natural. Without constant mowing many native species will flourish.

Sometimes all the world’s problems can be a bit overwhelming but small actions can really make a big difference. Following these tips can help you create a beautiful garden that will give pollinators a helping hand. With a little extra effort you’ll be helping moths, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators and beneficial insects.

What’s your favorite flower variety?

Vertical Gardening: The Beginners Guide to Trellising Plants

by Jordan Charbonneau, photos by Ira Wallace

Traditional wooden vegetable garden trellising at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

In my dreams of a picturesque garden there are always trellises. They may bring to mind quaint little fairy tale cottages, but trellises aren’t just for their good looks. There are so many plants that can be grown on a trellis and so many reasons to grow them that way.

Why trellis?

Trellising saves resources.

Want to grow more vegetables in little spaces? Grow up! One of the easiest ways to make the best use of small garden spaces is by growing plants on trellises. Plants like pole beans are extremely productive and can be grown in narrow rows if trellised.

Trellised plants also use less water. Instead of watering an entire sprawling plant you can just water the base where the plants roots are located.

Trellises add structure.

Adding structure and height to a garden is often done to make gardens more beautiful. but there are other benefits too. Song birds will appreciate having places to land in your garden and they can help control insect populations.

Having the plants up off the ground also increases air flow and can help minimize plant diseases.

Trellises add shade.

Trellising plants can also help you add much needed summertime shade. A vining vegetable crop like cucumbers can be grown on a slanted trellis above a bed of a cool weather vegetable like lettuce, thereby helping you to grow a late season crop. Deciduous perennials (those that drop their leaves in the fall) can be grown on trellises on the southern side of houses to shade the home in the heat of summer and let the sun through in the winter. Some plants, like pole beans, gourds, and flowers like morning glories, have such long vines they can easily cover small structures (like teepees) making excellent summer forts for kids.

Trellised plants are easier to harvest.

Vegetables on trellises also tend to be easier to harvest. Instead of searching through a sprawling jungle of squash plants, you can easily spot them hanging from a trellis. Plus there’s little or no bending over. The fruits also tend to be cleaner and more uniform, perfect for market growers.

What can be trellised?

Decorative wrought iron trellis at Atlanta Botanical Garden


Many plants do well on a trellis and some require one. Below are some of the vegetables, flowers, and perennials that make ideal candidates for trellising.

Vegetables Flowers Perennials
Cucumbers Sweet Pea Hops
Pole Beans Morning Glory Hardy Kiwi
Peas Clematis Grapes
Melons Nasturtium
Indeterminate Tomatoes 



How do I make a trellis?

There are tons of trellis designs and it can be hard to choose. The major deciding factors will be your garden’s style, your budget, the materials you have on hand, and which plants you plan to trellis. Trellises can be whimsical, practical, or a mix of both. They can be shaped as arches, forts for children, or simple fences.

Use natural materials.

Many people choose to make simple teepees like these which can be made from bamboo, straight saplings, or branches, and held together with twine or wire. There are also many different shaped designs using the same materials.

Use fencing.

Cattle panel arch trellis at Heritage Farm

Hog panels or sections of wire fencing are another popular choice. Hog panels and sturdier fencing can be used two ways: as a fence or bent over as an arch.

Purchase or build trellises from lumber.

If you have money to purchase trellises or a knack for woodworking, there are designs for folding trellises that can be stored each season as well as more creative designs. You can also install large trellises in front houses or over patios.

Repurpose junk.

Some people also repurpose old junk into awesome trellises. Things like iron bed frames and gates, old umbrella frames, and old antennas are great for climbing plants.

When designing any trellis it’s important to think about what you’re growing. Is it a permanent trellis for a perennial that will be in the same spot for years or something you’ll want to rotate next year? You’ll also need to decide on the size. Obviously pea plants require smaller trellises than grape vines. Some plants, like pumpkins, melons, and larger squash varieties, will need sturdy trellises to support the immense weight of their fruit.

How do I trellis plants?

Some plants (including morning glories, beans, and cucumbers) are easy to trellis. Simply sew seeds next to a trellis and they’ll do the work. Some plants, like tomatoes, need a little help: they need to be manually trellised. You can use tomato-specific trellis methods like the “Florida Weave” which surrounds the plants with twine. Or use traditional trellises and attach plants with tomato clips or even old scraps of fabric. Just be sure that your method does not cut into the plant as it grows.

Tomato trellis of string weaving at Twin Oaks Community Farm

For some large-fruited plants like pumpkins, melons, and large squash varieties, you may need extra support. You can create small “hammocks” for each fruit from an old shirt or other stretchy material that can be tied off to the trellis as the vine cannot support the fruit’s mature weight.

If you’re ready for a super productive and beautiful garden this year it’s time to get some trellises ready! The best time to add trellises is before planting, not after, so don’t delay! It’s finally spring and setting up trellises is a great way to get out in the garden.

Want to know more about trellises? Check out these posts:

Ridge Gourds on Cattle Panel Trellising

Trellising with Bamboo

Easy Bamboo Bean Teepees

What plants have you grown on a trellis?