It’s March and I suddenly want to be in the greenhouse. Although it has looked like spring, it hasn’t felt like spring, but now the sun is out and even my rickety panes take a little of the remaining chill off of the wind. Step inside, close your eyes, turn your face to the sun and soak in the long-lost warmth.
There are a load of seeds that need to be sown sharpish if my plot is going to be full and bountiful this year but as this month can be a little horticulturally overwhelming I have decided to kick off with a project: edible flowers. I always grow lots of flowers for cutting at the plot but this year I am making the majority edible, those that can have their petals plucked to be sprinkled on salads or crystallised for cake and pudding toppings.
It’s perhaps a slightly daft crop – decidedly non filling – but such a beautiful one, and I have found that if I have edible flowers to use I think a little bit harder about making dishes that reflect what is going on at the plot, rather than at the supermarket. Right now the only edible flowers I have are primroses, which are extremely delicate in flavour and have a teensy well of sweet nectar at the base of the flower.
They look rather beautiful I think in a salad of overwintered lettuce, avocado, and the tips of a perennial plant that was given to me as ‘garlic chives’ but looks nothing like any other garlic chives I have seen for sale since (and yet definitely of mild garlic). The ‘garlic chives’ die down each winter and pop up around now, and it is just these purple tips that are eaten. Within a few weeks they grow too big and coarse, so this really is a March salad crop. I made a sort of pesto of overwintered chervil, roasted almonds, parmesan, garlic and oil and strewed the flowers over the lot: a plate of early March.
And this is what I want later in the year too: dishes that are absolutely of their moment. I started off by sowing some old favourites, the edible flowers ones that do well for me every year and that I can’t imagine doing without. Three types of calendula: ruby-backed ‘Indian Prince’, multi-yellowed ‘Fruit Twist’ and plain old orange C. officinalis. The petals have a peppery flavour, and can be mashed up to create a kind of poor-man’s saffron, but they are prettiest of all sprinkled not mashed of course. Next some cornflowers: of no discernible flavour but edible and pretty. ‘Black Ball’ for deepest purple and ‘Blue Boy’ for brightest blue. And then a couple of nasturtiums, which goodness knows I do not need as they sow themselves perfectly excessively from the seeds left behind in the soil, but I like the dark red flowers and greyish green foliage of Nasturtium ‘Mahogany Jewel’ and so I threw a few more into the soil.
And now I need to make a list of others that need to be sown in the greenhouse. I know that I want dill, whose flowers can be sprinkled over cucumber salads just as happily as dill itself; borage – another cucumbery one, which might be particularly nice with the dill flowers; anchusa for bright blue flowers for ice cubes. All can be part of my next sowing, now the old dependable are underway. It will be a colourful year at the plot and in the kitchen, and it feels good to finally get it started.