The good news is that if you like the idea of regularly
using flowers in your cooking, or being able to give bunches away to friends, it
is easy to grow a supply for yourself in just a few containers.

Here are six of the best edible flowers for containers and
small spaces.

1. Nasturtiums

Vertical veg man edible flowers: nasturtiums
Nasturtiums are good in salads and also pickled. Photograph: Mark Ridsdill Smith

The undisputed monarch of edible flowers is the nasturtium. It
adds a tasty, slightly spicy kick to salads, a pleasing crunch, and a gorgeous orange
or yellow colour. A couple of plants will provide you with a continuous stream
of flowers over a month or two.

And, as the famous Mrs Beaton said about them in the 1800s:
“When the beautiful blossoms, which may be employed with great
effect in garnishing dishes, are off, then the fruit may be pickled.”
Pickle the young green seeds in vinegar and they taste a bit like capers. The young leaves are tasty and pretty,
too, with a hot, mustardy kick – add them in moderation to salads.

Nasturtiums usually grow fairly easily. The biggest
challenge can be that cabbage white caterpillars and aphids love to eat them,
too. Pick caterpillars off and squish aphids as soon as you see them – or your
nasturtiums may disappear over night.

2. Borage

Vertical veg man edible flowers: borage
Borage flowers in ice cubes. Photograph: Mark Ridsdill Smith

I’m with the bees on this one: I love the bright blue
flowers of borage. The flowers can be added to summer drinks and fruit salads,
and you can make your ice cubes the object of culinary curiosity by adding
borage flowers. The young leaves are also supposed to be edible, though I
wouldn’t recommend them – I’ve tried eating them several times but have always
found them rather bristly. Nevertheless, I make sure I have at least one borage
plant in my container garden every year.

3. Pot marigolds (Calendula)

Vertical veg man edible flowers: pot marigold
Pot marigold are great among green salad leaves. Photograph: Mark Ridsdill Smith

These cheery orange flowers glow amongst the green salad
leaves in my container garden. Strip the golden orange petals off pot marigolds
to add colour and a mild tangerine bite to salads.

4. Courgette and squash flowers

Both courgette and squash flowers are delicious stuffed, or
added at the last minute to risottos, adding colour and flavour. You can deep
fry them to make tempura flowers, too. A chef who attended one of my food
growing workshops in London told me he had to pay around £2 for one courgette
flower. As one courgette plant may produce several dozen flowers, it can be a
valuable crop.

5. Violas

Violas do not have as much flavour as some flowers, but they
are special for their ability to keep producing a supply of flowers into late
autumn and even winter in warmer years, brightening up salads in the gloomiest
months.

6. Chives

Vertical veg man edible flowers: chives
Chive plants add elegant flavour. Photograph: Mark Ridsdill Smith

Chive flowers are an elegant way to add onion flavour to a
dish. They have a pleasing crunch, too. Bees love chive flowers and of course
the long thin leaves have many uses in the kitchen. An indispensible plant in
the container garden.

These are just six of my favourites. Other plants that make
good container crops and have tasty edible flowers include runner bean,
rosemary, sage, coriander, rocket, and the yellow flowers of Asian mustards
like pak choi and mizuna. Some of the other flowers you can eat are more surprising:
some fuscia flowers and tulips are edible.

As you know – as when eating anything new – you should
always double-check you have correctly identified the plant and that what you
are eating is safe to eat. Daylilies are edible, for example, but many other
lilies are most definitely not. Similarly, you can eat the flowers of your pea
crop, but not those of sweet peas.

Finally, a word of warning. Do check that others are happy
for you to eat their flowers before you tuck in. I caused considerable
consternation on a visit to my mother-in-law’s when I wandered into her garden,
plucked a daylily, popped it into my mouth and gave it an appreciative chew.
Apparently some people grow flowers to look at rather than to eat.

Mark is founder of Vertical Veg, a social
enterprise that inspires and supports food growing.

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