On Tuesday afternoons in the summer and for Group Visits Kathy's floral cakes are regularly available depending on the season. Kathy also offers a full edible flower demonstration for Group Visits.
People may not know it, but many gardeners have a rich feast of Edible Flowers in their garden during the Summer months. If they grow one scented rose, a lavender plant, a thyme or mint, borage, rosemary or daylily, then they have the making of drinks, cakes, salads, savoury dishes and floral drinks…and all so simple.
Edible flowers can be found in many places in my garden with walls, trees and pergolas festooned with over 40 rambling and climbing roses; all in bloom sometime in May, June or July. They make rich pickings for the rose petal butter which fills my rose petal cakes when groups visit in June.
Meanwhile, the herbaceous borders are filled with fragrant white and lilac Hesperis matronalis (dames violet or sweet rocket), violas, borage and cornflowers, all excellent for scattering on a fruit salad or green salad or summer drinks while slightly later gaudy day lilies and yellow evening primroses flaunt their wares and are tasty additions to stir fries and pasta dishes. The wild flower meadow has been bountiful with sorrel, elderflowers and dog roses, the scent is glorious when the evenings are warm and still. In the container courtyard, I have wonderful combinations of lavender, thymes and dianthus. Their flowers are full of flavour and excellent in so many ways from roulades and cakes to savoury dishes. I also have courgettes and runner beans in pots…..all there to be cropped at will, flowers as well as vegetables, fragrant and fresh, no chemicals, no air miles.
I have been growing and eating these plants for years as from childhood my mother would crystallise primroses and violets for our Easter Cake. Ten years ago, whilst writing my book called ‘Edible Flowers’, I researched old recipe books in the British Library to discover ways we used flowers in the past. I came across many ideas which were common place in the seventeenth century but are now largely forgotten. They loved to use rose petals, clove scented dianthus, cowslips, marigolds (Calendula officinalis), violets, daisies, etc. Rosemary flowers were another of their great favourites. These were all growing in Europe, while from the New World of the Americas came evening primrose, nasturtiums, sunflowers, dahlias, petunias and impatiens and from the East came peonies, water lilies, chrysanthemums and hibiscus to name just a few.
With cultural exchange what a rich list of flowers can now be used in the twenty first century. The choice is so great that I thought that instead of scattering them around the garden I would have a special Edible Flower Border dedicated to them. We have a 14m long border filled with the most scented shrub roses I could find, including Rosarie de L’Hay, Gertrude Jekyll, Harlow Carr, Gentle Hermione etc. Around the front I planted a fringe of white, pink and blue lavenders, edged with dianthus and thymes. Further back, amongst the roses, pineapple mint, bronze fennel, sages, hyssop and rosemary can all be found with sunflowers, evening primrose, sweet cicely, hesperis, phlox, begonias, dahlias, daylilies, cornflowers and marigolds vying for space as well. Different chives, sweet woodruff, cowslips fill the back seats with primroses and violets joining them in the autumn.
This great joyous border sits right beside the orchard trees of apples, pears, plums and gages and so is an extension of the idea of utility planting. I make jellies and jams in the autumn from this produce. Why not have a pantry next door of living edible flowers for the summer; all good for flavouring oils, vinegars and jellies.
Lavender and apple jelly is one of my favourites, but then I love lavender and lemon drizzle cake, lavender flapjacks, lavender and gin ice cream, and rose geranium roulade. There are so many ideas to try, sweet as well as savoury. Stuffed thyme mushrooms are full of flavour; roasted red peppers with sweet cicely has to be one of the best. But then lavender chicken is great too, and so is a simple salad with beetroots and nasturtiums! Or how about a cool Pimms on a hot day with borage or mint flowers…. Cheers!!!
There was a special insert into BBC's Gardener's World when Sarah Raven came to visit and talk about my edible flower border and the use of the flowers in the kitchen! I have given various demonstrations involving edible flowers at Hampton Court RHS Flower Show. I am giving several demonstrations here to my Group Visitors this summer. They work best for groups between 15-25 people. My groups then enjoy the floral cakes and floral salads as a speciality tea to enjoy on the lawn as they linger to chatter and enjoy the country garden atmsosphere. Two recent editions have been rosewater and strawberry jam sponge cake with fresh cream beaten with rosewater and caster sugar; so light and so tasty. The other has been a chocolate cake with rose water cream and black cherries topped with a fudgy chocolate icing.
If you want to attend but arenot part of a group, either get some friends together and make a special party, or come on one of my Tuesday afternoons but let me know first so that I can find time to talk about the subject.
Kathy Brown’s book Edible Flowers was reprinted in hardback price £8.99, then recently in paperback at £5.99. It has been described as the seminal reference book for the home cook. Signed copies of both formats are available on garden open days or by emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org. Kathy's floral recipe cards are also available on visits to the garden.