Monday, 1 May 2017

Robbing the Flower Fields.....

Flowers. No matter who you are it's impossible to be unresponsive to the beauty of a flower, and to be able to combine flowers and food is an extraordinary phenomenon that can lead to a really emotional connection with what it is being eaten. Part of my and Incredible Edible Bristol's remit, if you like, is creating both beautiful and productive spaces across the city of Bristol, and use of edible flowers is vital to meeting that. So imagine my delight when I was asked, with Incredible Edible Bristol, to put together two small raised beds in the new Grow Zone at RHS Malvern; one that speaks of the city centre Urban Food Trail and one that supports the more beautiful side of what we do, in showing beautiful blooms that we use, either as edible flowers or to attract pollinators, and all of which are British grown.

So fast forward a few weeks and I had a chat with Jan Billington of Maddocks Farm Organics who grows the most stunning array of edible flowers, some which are instantly recognisable as such but some which are a surprise, such as Wisteria which tastes like peas, who said she was more than happy for me to pop along and raid her flower fields. Well that is not an every day offer now is it folks, so yesterday, with our amazing volunteer coordinator Hannah, off we doodled to have a look.
Now I am a long time fan of Jan. Anyone who creates an organic flower farm on overgrown Devon fields, and grows not just a huge range of edible flowers but also looks after the land and the soil to high organic principles, is inevitably going to be a hero. And oh my.......when I say the farm is beautiful what I mean is the farm is heart rendingly beautiful. Not only are all the plants stunning, healthy and pest free, but the farm is buzzing with life. We saw three different species if bees in one polytunnel alone. Swallows were swooping and buzzards flying. A gigantic bug hotel sits by a pond teaming with life. Swathes of plants are there for pollinators alone. And of course by supporting those pollinators, Jan is supporting the blossoming and blooming of the flowers that make her business sustainable both for people and planet.

Often we see edible flowers as a by product. We might grow Tagetes for example as companion planting and then pick a few flowers to zing up a salad. We might grow Borage for the bees and then fling a few flowers into a salad or a gin and tonic. We all grow violas as part of bedding or hanging basket schemes. Our Wisterias are dripping in glorious flower. But instead of looking at these flowers as incidental perhaps we should begin to look at them as a great way of bringing beauty into the vegetable garden and treating them as a really important part of our salad offering. A salad with mustards, sweet cicely and chervil leaves and flowers, borage flowers, calendula petals, violas and primroses, wild rocket with its flowers attached and bells blooms, is far more exciting than a sad bit of iceberg, and tastes amazing, with different bursts of flavour appearing with each mouthful. Plus of course the more flowers we grow, the more pollinators we attract.

So perhaps let's take inspiration from Jan and l add beauty to our veg patches with more flowers that we grow to eat whilst marvelling at Jan at Maddocks Farm and the many ways we see people farming beautiful British flowers.
Alliums just beginning to open ready for use.

Beautiful calendulas flooring their socks off in the polytunnels and making a grey day bright.

White borage, sweet and full of nectar as well as being covered with bees, which annoyingly weren't in the mood for posing!

Jan grows an amazing array of tulips, and the petals are used to adorn wedding cakes amongst other things.

Two to three inches of local, organic manure is spread on the beds each year, feeding the flora and fauna in the soil that are vital for good organic growth.


  1. I never think about tulips being edible - do they taste nice? I read recently that Red Valerian is edible too (although maybe just the leaves).

    1. Tulips taste a little bit like sweet cucumber-very subtle taste. I'm not sure about Valerian but can find out-I have never heard it is and Jan doesn't grow it which says it might not be the flowers that are edible!