By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Recent rains have brought on an explosion of flowering perennials. The moist soil and cool temps make for outstanding planting conditions, not only for large specimen trees, shrubs, and evergreens, but for perennials, too.
As Mother’s Day means the start of another year of gardening for many of us, our commonly edible garden plants will be going into the ground any time now. Surprisingly, there are a number of perennials that not only are pretty, but can produce harvests of edible goodness.
Here is a listing of some edible perennials that may surprise you. All are available now at Watters Garden Center.
Panda bears enjoy munching on bamboo shoots, but they aren’t the only creatures that enjoy them. I like to grow bamboo in a container on the back deck. It’s beautiful and edible. When early shoots appear in mid-spring they are tender and delicious. Conveniently, bamboo grows quickly and prolifically under the right conditions, so you may grow as much or as little as you like.
With brightly colored flowers on top of stalks that can grow up to three feet tall, and floppy leaves circling the base, a lily usually is considered an ornamental contribution to a landscape. But did you know it also is edible? Enjoy the shoots, some of the spring tubers, the flower buds, and the blossoms.
The dahlia plant is small, no more than a foot high, and grows well in compact spaces and easily blends into spicy container gardens. Its petals and small tubers are unique edibles. Experiment with different varieties to discover their different flavors.
While roses are pretty to look at and sweet to smell, they also can be delicious to taste. Used in many Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines, roses make sweet floral preserves and vibrant garnishes. Here are 12 recipes for using rose leaves, hips ,and flowers from Mother Earth News.
On the list of classic garden plants, hosta, is an easy to grow perennial with a wide range of varieties. I really enjoy hostas with variegated leaves to spruce up the shade garden. Break off the edible young shoots from the clumps in the center of the plant. There is some debate as to whether all species of hostas are edible, but the ‘Sagae’ variety was originally used as edible and is safe for sampling.
Elderberry is a large perennial shrub grown for its textured foliage, lovely summer flowers, and deep purple fruits,. Flowers and berries are edible, though the berries do need to be cooked sufficiently to prevent tummy upset. Jams, jellies, syrups, and herbal remedies are all favorites from elderberry. Birds are drawn to elderberry shrubs as much as we are, which is excellent if you are interested in attracting birds as beneficial garden helpers.
The pads are intimidating to use because of their tiny spines, but which are easily removed by scraping with a knife. The pads are cooked and added over meat and fish. Prickly Pear Pad Recipes. The plum-shaped fruit, called Indian figs, prickly pears, or tunas, ripens in late September. The outside becomes bright red and the insides turn a fiery orange, making a colorful fine syrup, preserves, or jelly. In some parts of Mexico the tunas are fermented to produce a heady liquor.
A honeysuckle will quickly cover a wall or fence with a cascade of color and fragrance. It’s also an abundance of edible blossoms, and as an extra surprise, the blue-berried variety actually produces a blueberry-like fruit! Grow honeysuckle where you can water it well while it establishes and keep its fast growing tendencies from taking over.
Lady’s leek is grown as an ornamental for it’s bright bursts of small flowers. The name gives it away as an edible as leeks are part of the garlic family. Use the delicate flowers, onion-like stalks, or garlic-like bulbs in your edible garden recipes.
This local native grows wild at all elevations of Arizona. Flowers (petals only) and fruit are edible. Other parts of the plant contain saponin, which is poisonous; even javalinas won’t eat this spiky plant. The flowers have a crunchy, fresh flavor.
Perennials to Avoid
There are some flowers that should not be eaten. This list is of local non-edibles only: azalea, crocus, daffodil, foxglove, oleander, rhododendron, jack-in-the-pulpit, lily of the valley, and wisteria.
Until next week, enjoy this perfect planting weather.
Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at WattersGardenCenter.com or FB.com/WattersGardenCenter .