They look good, work hard, and taste delicious!
In the last few monthly columns I’ve written, we’ve been discussing the benefits of attracting pollinators to the landscape using native trees, shrubs and perennials, and into the vegetable garden with companion plants. Now that the weather has turned and we’ve all got the vim and vigor to get out into the garden, let’s talk about four powerhouse annuals that attract pollinators and beneficial insects, make terrific garden companions, and are edible to boot!
How do Borage jelly, Calendula Paella, Nasturtium salad, and Blueberry-Hyssop ice cream sound? Yum! I asked local herb enthusiast, Marge Koenecke, from Hickory Grove Farm, how she uses these plants. Below are her comments intermingled with my own:
Borage (pictured above) is an annual herb with a true blue flower; easy to start from seed (direct sow), and has a tendency to self-seed.
IN THE GARDEN: plant with tomatoes to attract beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps that will take care of tomato hornworms. Borage also attracts bumblebees, native bees, and honey bees.
IN THE KITCHEN: the edible flower has a cucumber flavor; add to salads; freeze in ice cube trays and add to lemonade.
Calendula, also known as pot marigold, is another self-seeding annual herb for the sunny garden. The pretty yellow and orange blossoms make great cut flowers.
IN THE GARDEN: plant them with cole crops, especially collards. Calendula repel aphids and attract beneficials. At the end of the season, take dried seed heads and scatter seeds to ensure a good crop for next year.
IN THE KITCHEN: Calendula has wonderful healing properties for skin, especially as an oil or salve. It’s often used for insect bites. In addition to its medicinal qualities, the petals are edible and can be added as a flourish to paellas, salads, and used to make flower & herb butter.
Nasturtiums are another annual easy to grow from seed. Soak seeds overnight before planting. They take awhile to germinate - just when you're ready to give up is when they pop up through the ground.
IN THE GARDEN: look for vining varieties of this pollinator plant to interplant with zucchini and other squashes. Nasturtiums deter squash bugs and the moth that lays eggs for the squash vine borer.
IN THE KITCHEN: Both the flowers and leaves are edible and have a mild peppery flavor, so they are fun to add to salads. I even came across a recipe for Nasturtium pesto using the leaves and stems. Need to try that!
Anise hyssop is one of the best pollinator plants for the garden. The bees love this herb! Anise hyssop is not always reliably hardy but usually sows itself around the garden.
IN THE GARDEN: As a member of the mint family, Hyssop has a wonderful fragrance. This quality makes it deer and rabbit resistant. In addition to attracting beneficial insects, it also attracts cabbage moths, so use Anise hyssop as a trap crop, planting it away from cabbage plants.
IN THE KITCHEN: As its name suggests, the flowers have a mild licorice flavor. Use the flowers to toss into salads, make vinegars, herb butters and herbal tea.
This is just a small sampling of the many ways these plants can be used. If you’d like to learn more about how to use these edible pollinator powerhouses, join me and Marge Koenecke in a virtual garden discussion on Wednesday, June 8 at 6:30 pm. Happy gardening!
In My Garden . . .
It was dusk and had just rained - a sweet, summer kind of rain. She walked through the beautiful, lush gardens. There was music playing in the background, and the breeze carried waves of distant conversation. Yet she walked, her long gown trailing over sopping ground, her fingers running through tall grasses, stopping only to smell the flowers. Such is my memory of a scene from the 1992 version of 'Howards End'. It was the lovely garden and the peaceful smile on Mrs. Wilcox's face that has and will stay with me for a long time. In her garden . . . she found peace and contentment.
From those pages of fictional England where 'even the air smells delicious', I find myself in my favorite spot in my house, and a few moments of quiet. It's a cold, rainy day in May which happens to be my 'off' day. I settle in with the long-awaited magazine, In Her Garden, and enter into another world of beautiful photos and essays. It's just what I need at this moment. A phrase catches my eye as it's woven through the pages: 'In my garden . . . ' and each author, in turn, shares what she finds in her garden. . . immense peace, inspiration, connection with nature, freedom, growth, memories . . .
I find it pretty amazing that such a place can provide a universal balm to the soul. It's incredible, really. If you've been following along, you may have noticed that my blogs have been pretty heavy lately. I find writing as a type of therapy, to sort things out, work through them as thoughts flow from heart through pen to paper, in this case, keyboard. The garden provides this for me as well. A walk down the Hellebore path, pulling a handful of chickweed, planting a few sweet pea seeds . . . it all does wonders for the spirit. In my garden . . . I find refreshment and restoration.
How can the garden, or even bigger than that - nature, offer such healing and solace? Nature is amazing - from the very smallest creature, to the mightiest oak, to the miracle of life contained within a seed, and the intricacy of a spider web - It's all amazing. There are scientific studies that show the mood-lifting benefits of digging in the soil, and I'm sure there are other studies that indicate the healing power of nature. But I have a theory of my own. Maybe it's being surrounded by beauty that refreshes, maybe it's the calming color of green that restores. Maybe, but I believe that through nature, we have an intimate connection with the Creator himself. God, maker of all things, is our true source of peace, inspiration, freedom, and joy. Through his creation, he offers us a place to just be for awhile. He shares with us the joy of watching things grow. He uses nature to nurture us. Even the psalmist says "He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul." (Psalm 23:2-3).
One my favorite things about the garden is that it's a place to be creative. This, too, is a gift from our heavenly Maker, who created the very first garden. Made in his image, we have been given the gift of creativity. We create tidy rows in the vegetable garden, combine colors in the flower garden, and arrange trees, shrubs, and perennials in our landscapes. We create spaces for gathering, spaces for kids to play, and spaces to start and end our day in. In the garden, we can creatively express ourselves, and this too, can be healing. "At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source." - Rachel Naomi Remen, MD.
The rain has stopped for now, and the garden calls, so into the garden I go for some plant therapy. In my garden. . . what do you find there?
Hi, I'm Tracy - horticulturist, beauty-seeker, Word-lover, and blessed to be the owner of Bella Botanica. I also love to write about plants, gardening, and about my faith journey. Thanks for reading!