The language of flowers . . . UC Master Gardeners Janice Encinger and Iris Craig have been doing their research! They prepared this for our Valentine's Day newspaper column in the Napa Valley Register, and here it is again, with pictures.
Valentine's Day will soon be here. What do we give our favorite valentine? In American culture, the gifts of choice are often candy (chocolate preferred), cards and flowers. For flowers, of course, a bouquet of red roses symbolizes love.
Since antiquity, flowers have been part of major life events such as births, graduations, weddings, illnesses and death. Throughout Europe, Asia and the Middle East, flowers are used to communicate. The earliest evidence of floral symbolism is in excavated graves near Mt. Carmel in present-day Israel. These fossilized impressions from 12,000 BC show people lying on, and covered with, leaves—possibly healing herbs— and flower petals.
Aztecs carried small floral bouquets to signify high rank. Victorians relied on nosegays, also called tussie-mussies, which were small aromatic bouquets wrapped in a doily, tied with ribbon and worn on the wrist. They served to mask body aromas and unpleasant street smells.
The Aztecs used flowers to represent opposing sides in their ritual flower wars. In ancient Persia, people conveyed feelings of love and antipathy with flowers.
Hanakatoba is the ancient Japanese art of assigning meaning to flowers. Romans linked their gods to plants and flowers. When Apollo pursued Daphne, her father saves her by turning her into a laurel tree. Apollo in his grief declares, “With your leaves, my victors shall wreath their brows.” Daphne is the symbol for immortality, while the laurel symbolizes victory.
In medieval and Renaissance paintings and sculpture, plants tell hidden stories. The flowers in a painting may reveal the sentiments of the artist. A white lily in a painting of the Annunciation represents virginity; the golden anthers (the part of a stamen that contains the pollen) tell of the Virgin Mary's radiant soul.
During the 19th century, the study of botany increased. Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species and Fertilisation of Orchids. The sexual structure and insect pollinators of orchids were his interest.
During the Victorian era, plant explorers gathered specimens from around the world and brought them to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, for study. The demand for new species sent plant hunters to little-known countries. Improved glasshouses helped protect the new species. The Victorian garden design, an extension of the house, was formal, with separate “rooms” for growing kitchen vegetables, brightly colored bedding plants, fruit trees and hedges. The inclusion of fishponds and tiger lilies reflected the influence of Chinese design on the garden.
In those days, with communication between men and women constrained by cultural mores, flowers were sent to describe one's feelings. Women wore flowers in their hair and around their waist and carried tussie-mussies close to their heart if they loved the sender.
In the early 20th century, several dictionaries were published to explain the meaning of flowers. Some of these works were small enough to fit in the palm of a young lady's hand. Receiving yellow roses, a symbol of friendship, would have been a crushing blow to someone expecting red roses. Every bouquet had its intended message. To the recipient, pansies might indicate that the sender was thinking of her. A bouquet of heliotrope conveyed devotion, whereas deep red roses denoted utmost love.
To create your own tussie-mussie, select flowers that express your sentiments. Remove leaves from stems, except for needed leaves. Keep flowers in water while you work. Place one larger flower in the center for the tussie-mussie “heart.” Add flowers and herbs to send individual messages. Place larger leaves around the outside to form a base.
To add a doily, cut a hole large enough to accommodate the bouquet. Secure stems with floral tape. Carefully place all the stems through the doily. Tie a beautiful ribbon at the base. Make sure to add a card clarifying the meanings.
In his book Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll gives credit to the Tiger-lily in the Garden of Live Flowers.
Alice approaches Tiger-lily and says, “I wish you could talk!”
“We can talk,” said the Tiger-lily, “when there's anybody worth talking to.”
Alice replies, “And can all the flowers talk?”
“As well as you can,” said the Tiger-lily, “and a great deal louder.”
What flowers are in your garden? Do you have rosemary (for remembrance), red tulips (ardent love), violets (modest worth) or orchids (refined beauty)? Next Valentine's Day, think of sending flowers that tell how you feel.
What do the blue chicory flowers blooming in meadows and vineyards, the pansies in your window box and the honey-scented blossoms on your lemon tree have in common? You can eat them.
A stroll around your winter garden, nearby vineyard or neighborhood might reveal surprising edible flowers to cheer, nourish, flavor and decorate winter plates.
But just because blossoms are pretty does not mean you can eat them. Some flowers are poisonous. Identify any flowers you plan to eat or serve and make sure no sprays or chemicals have been used on them.
By the time you read this, nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) may be gone, but in early December the blossoms in navel-orange, taxi-yellow and vermillion blossoms are still flourishing at the edges of my garden. The honey-tinged heat and color of nasturtium blossoms provide contrast in citrus salads and in salads with deep-green arugula or miners' lettuce. Both the petals and the leaves have a peppery flavor, making a milder garnish for guests who don't like spice.
Calendulas (Calendula officinalis) look like bright, full daisies in a palette of pale yellow, apricot and bright orange. They grow through most of our Napa Valley winters. Calendula is an annual and generously self-sows every year, so leave a flower or two to go to seed. After the first rains, expanding circles of little calendula seedlings are already greening up the areas in my garden where calendulas grew last year. In a few months, their neon-orange flowers will be the first to bloom in profusion as winter turns to spring.
Calendula petals may be sprinkled in salads, ice cream, soups or risotto. If you have several plants to choose from, taste to see which you prefer.
All members of the viola family are edible and bloom bravely through all but the iciest weather. Fresh-faced pansies, fragrant violets (Violata odorata) and blue and yellow Johnny-jump-ups don't just provide vivid color for garden beds and pots. They also contribute blossoms for confetti-colored butter logs to melt on biscuits. Or arrange them in two-dimensional bouquets to decorate special desserts.
With blue or white star-shaped blossoms, borage (Borago officinalis) can grow in shady spots. Its cucumber-flavored blossoms can be frozen in ice cubes or used to garnish salads or sorbet.
Herb blossoms are all edible, so consider using the delicate white flowers on lemon verbena and perky chives as well as peach, pear, plum and almond blossoms.
Always check to make sure flowers are edible. While you might think fragrant sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) blossoms should be edible, they are not. This kind of sweet pea is poisonous and should be eaten with your eyes only.
On the other hand, sugar snap peas, shelling peasand other edible peas have blossoms and shoots that can be safely consumed. Eating pea blossoms is for those who spurn delayed gratification and live for the moment, or for those who do not like to eat their peas. On the other hand, gardeners who hope to ultimately harvest peas will have to forgo all but the first blossoms.
Citrus blossoms are edible, but taste them to make sure you like the flavor. Some are bitter. As a general rule, the sweeter the fragrance, the sweeter the flavor. Use blossoms to infuse cream for ice cream or whipped cream or use to scent lemonade.
All types of dianthus are edible, including ‘Sweet William' blossoms, carnations and pinks. Ranging in color from pure white to almost black, dianthus blossoms give artistic cooks many beautiful colors to choose from. Taste the flowers and remove the bottom white part of the petal if it seems bitter. Steep in syrups or mix into butters. Frost cakes, then lay a stencil over the cake and sprinkle shredded flower petals to fill the outline.
Edible flowers can expand your kitchen choices. Check this site https://whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/EdibleFlowersMain.htm for a list of edible flowers. Tulips, begonias,chrysanthemums and gladiolas can make surprising contributions your meals. Learn which flowers are safe to eat and teach your children well.
Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a workshop on “Rose Pruning” on Saturday, January 7, from 10 a.m. to noon, at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Certified rosarian Lynne Andresen and other Master Gardener rose enthusiasts will demonstrate and explain proper pruning techniques and review rose types, common rose disorders and routine maintenance. Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
I bet that if you are reading this column you have already eaten edible flowers. Artichokes, broccoli and cauliflower—all common California-grown vegetables—are actually immature flowers. Perhaps you have tasted nasturtiums, a spicy addition to salads, or a favorite cook has prepared stuffed squash blossoms for you.
Many common flowers are edible. Growing some in your vegetable patch can brighten your meals as well as your garden.
Many plants produce edible flowers. I discovered a comprehensive list on Colorado State University Extension's web site (www.ext.colostate.edu). A short list of edible flowers includes roses, daylilies, most perennial herb blossoms and chrysanthemums. As these plants are not generally grown in the vegetable patch, I am going to suggest some easy-to-grow edible flowers that you can include among your vegetable.
Before eating any flower, be sure you know what it is. A number of common garden plants have toxic flowers that should not be eaten. When eating a flower for the first time, you may not know if you or your guests will have an allergic reaction to the new food. Introduce new flowers in small doses.
Note that a flower may be edible but not tasty. This is especially true of plants that have many varieties, such as roses. All rose petals are edible, but some taste better than others.
March is a great time to add cool-season flowers to the vegetable patch. Nasturtiums are annuals that grow best from seed and flourish in our spring weather. Sow them now in average soil; if the soil is too rich they won't bloom. Keep them well-watered. When the weather gets hot, they do better in some shade and may stop growing. Both leaves and flowers are edible. The types with variegated leaves are particularly attractive in salads.
Calendulas are also easy to start from seed and have done well in my garden with little attention. Even during summer, some plants usually survive and bloom. Because this plant self-sows readily, I have had continuous plants in my garden for several years. Only the petals are edible. Use them as a confetti-like garnish for salads, frittatas and rice dishes.
Violas, pansies and Johnny-jump-ups are wonderful cool-weather edible flowers. They come in a large variety of colors and color combinations, and nurseries carry many types for transplanting in early spring. Plant them in moist, rich soil and partial shade. They will tolerate light frosts; I have had good luck growing them in winter. When the weather gets hot they will fade away. Their flavor is mild, but they add great visual appeal to desserts and salads.
When the weather turns warm, try some flowers that can take the heat. Marigolds are edible but many do not taste very good. However, the Signet marigold (Tagetes signata), also known as Gem marigold, has tasty, citrus-flavored flowers. Some named varieties are ‘Lemon Gem,' ‘Tangerine Gem' and ‘Red Gem.'
You will likely need to start these marigolds from seed, as transplants are not always available. Start seeds now in a pot for transplanting in late April or May, or wait until the soil is warm and start them directly in the ground. The plant grows into a one-foot-tall mound covered with half-inch to one-inch flowers. Give it ordinary garden soil, full sun and adequate water, and it will bloom well into fall. I think the lemony flavor of the blossoms complements fish dishes, and I have used the flowers to garnish tomato platters and lemon cookies.
Another summer plant to try in the cooler parts of the Napa Valley is runner beans. A relative of snap beans, runner beans have much showier blossoms with a mild beany taste. Most varieties are vining types and should be grown on some kind of trellis. Plant from seed in full sun after the soil warms. The plants will produce flowers and beans in a couple of months. As long the temperatures stay in the 80s, they will thrive. Because of their crunchy texture, the blossoms are great to top soups and as a garnish for bean dishes.
Once you start using flowers in your food, don't be surprised if your guests start taking pictures. Your edible flowers will turn an ordinary dish into an extraordinarily beautiful one.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners (http://napamg.ucanr.edu) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on top navigation - Garden Questions?
- Author: Denise Seghesio Levine
In the coldest days of winter we can all use a little splash of color in the garden. This month your nursery or garden center should have plenty of bedding plants to fill the bill. Look for upright, colorful primroses in bold, primary colors; mischievous-faced pansies in yellows and blues; and delicate Iceland poppies in translucent salmon, pink, white and yellow.
The word primula is the Latin feminine diminutive of primus, meaning first (prime), and is applied to flowers that are among the first to open in spring.
Primroses (Primula vulgaris) do well in Napa Valley, bringing color to our grayest season. They thrive in the winter chill. While many varieties of primrose bloom through spring and summer, the English, Chinese and fairy primroses are especially good choices for winter.
The flower stalks of primroses shoot up from low, ground-hugging rosettes of thick green leaves. Whether the stocky English variety or the more ethereal-looking fairy type, most primroses bloom for weeks.
Primroses will grow in shady, damp parts of the garden that might thwart other flowers. Try them on the north side of the house or under deciduous trees. They appreciate sun in the spring but do better in shade when the summer heat hits.
Primulas prefer slightly acid soil rich in organic compost or leaf mulch. Most varieties require well-drained soil, but there are exceptions: Helodoxa, Bulleyana and Beesiana will grow in relatively wet soil, and Florindae and japonica will even thrive in wet, boggy spots.
When you buy primroses, choose plants that still have unopened blossoms. These will grow vigorously when you set them out in well-dug soil amended with compost or leaf mulch. Primroses are easy to transplant, but beware: some gardeners develop itchy dermatitis after transplanting primroses. Pull out the gloves for this chore.
Space primulas six to eight inches apart, and plant so that the crown is even with the soil. Mulch and water well. Primulas are usually pest free, although slugs and snails can do some damage.
Perky-faced pansies (Viola tricolor) in a multitude of colors make wonderful bedding and container plants for winter. Pansies and their cousins, violets and violas, are perennials but are normally grown as annuals or biennials because they tend to get leggy after one season.
Pansy "faces" are made up of five flat petals: two top, two side and one lower petal. Typically, each flower exhibits two or three colors. The side and bottom petals often have contrasting veins radiating from the center of the bloom, teasing the imagination into seeing perky little faces. For gardens designed to delight youngsters, pansies, violets and violas are essential components. They create magical habitats and memories that last.
Pansies grow successfully in a well-drained, sunny spot. Bring home six-packs or flats and plant them directly in the garden. Pansies normally grow about nine inches high with most blossoms measuring two to three inches across.
Pansies look great planted in mass in a bed, or in flower pots or containers on porches and decks where you can see their cheery faces up close. Never overwater pansies, but if rain is not keeping the ground moist, give them a good soak once a week.
As for Iceland poppies (Papaver nudicaule), they do best in cool weather. They grow about a foot tall with cream, white, pink, red, salmon, orange or rose-colored papery petals on tall, leafless stems.
Plant Iceland poppies carefully as their roots do not appreciate being disturbed. Make sure the crown is just slightly below the soil surface to avoid rot. Water weekly if rain is scarce.
Iceland poppies make wonderful cut flowers, and a handful can make a whimsical bouquet. Your poppies will bloom more prolifically if you pick them often. Iceland poppies will stop blooming when the weather gets hot, so enjoy the winter color and their frilly blossoms indoors and out.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners (http://napamg.ucanr.edu) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4221, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions?