peonies shelburne

Stunningly beautiful peonies by Lake Champlain

Flowers are such a joy. They are the crowning glory of any garden large or small. I expectantly await them every Spring as if it was the first time I ever saw them. Still, you may ask, why write about flowers in a blog dedicated mainly to food?

In my opinion, flowers are barely one tiny step removed from the food that we put on our plates…in fact, sometimes they ARE the very food that we put on our plates. While it is true that there are many edible flowers (have you ever tried nasturtiums in your salad?) I like to think of flowers as the flamboyant beginning to vegetables, fruits and nuts. I realize that most of these foods do not sport showy blooms like more “decorative” plants do, but they all provide pollinators with a little landing pad full of tantalizing pollen. Bees, bumblebees, moths and butterflies all depend on them for their very survival and, as it turns out, we depend on these foraging insects for our survival as well. The flowers nourish the traveling insects while they pollinate fields and fields of essential human crops. An elegant cycle currently under siege from many diverse sources.

Consider the mighty almond: a crop completely reliant on the good health of working bees. Almonds are an essential ingredient in the diet of many Celiac patients. Almond butter, almond milk, almond flour, marzipan, innumerable baked goods and granolas…even cosmetics have almonds in them as an ingredient. Almond trees bloom almost in synchronicity each Spring. Bees have the opportunity to visit during the short period of time that their delicate blossoms are open. If that does not happen, the cycle is interrupted and our food supply suffers for it. The same scenario repeats itself with cherries, apples, peaches, plums…as well as any variety of heirloom vegetable subject to open pollination. One does not need to be a knowledgeable apiculture¬† expert to see that we are approaching an ecological crisis of epic proportions.

Obviously, not everyone can host a hive in their yard or tend to a large garden, yet there are many other important things you can do to both help plants and insects:

  • Weed only mechanically by hand. NEVER use glyphosates or other weed killers.
  • Do not spray insecticides. They kill all insects indiscriminately, even those beneficial to crops.
  • Create a backyard habitat with water, food and shelter for birds and insects.
  • Plant a large variety of wildflowers and heirloom vegetables anywhere that space might be available.

I see beauty in all flowers big or small and I enjoy a garden that is alive, thriving with bees, ladybugs, praying mantis and all kinds of fascinating animals. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I can share my backyard with these creatures while being surrounded by beautiful blooms. Whether you are a seasoned gardener or just look after a few pots on your deck, you have a role to play to ensure that the seed-flower-food cycle remains intact. If you can do nothing else, learn to appreciate the importance of wildflowers and respect the open spaces where you live.

Though peonies like the ones in the photograph are particularly flashy blooms, there is hidden elegance in a tiny bachelor’s button and in a subdued daisy. All flowers deserve a place in your garden and in your heart. Wildflowers play as important a role as any show worthy flower and together they pave the way for a resurgence of the bees and other insects so very essential to the health of the planet and the survival of humans.