There seems to be an unwritten rule that in the tidy urban or suburban garden lettuce shouldn’t be allowed to bolt or parsley let go to flower. Who wants a seedy garden? I do, for one.
If you don’t let your edibles flower and make seeds you are missing out on some great perks: free seeds, spices, and pest management.
The Beauty of Seeds
Landscaping with edibles sometimes involves shifting our ideas about what a garden should look like, especially the front yard. The first time I let my lettuce bolt I watched with fascination how it shot up several feet high in a vigorous tower, then quickly produced abundant tiny flowers. A passerby asked “What is that? It’s beautiful!”.
Before that experience I had no idea that lettuce produced flowers and seeds that could be collected and saved for my next lettuce crop. It felt empowering – free seeds!
Seeds with a Bonus – Stock Your Spice Rack
With some edibles, letting the plant set seeds provides an extra bonus. Cilantro and dill are popular herbs whose leaves are what most gardeners and cooks are after, but by letting them go to seed we get a second product for our kitchen – their seeds for cooking. Cilantro, also known as coriander, has small green fruits that are incredibly fragrant and citrusy. Try cooking them in a stir fry or with sauteed vegetables. They’re especially good in curried dishes. Let some of the fruits dry completely and grind with a mortar and pestle to use them in recipes.
Other seeds to save for cooking are fennel and lovage seeds. Store the seeds whole in small jars with lids. Recycled spice jars are perfect. And the next time you are in the grocery store make sure you check on how much money you’re saving by collecting your own spice seeds. Spices are expensive and they usually aren’t very fresh unless you buy from a specialty supplier.
Fight Garden Pests with Flowers
The flowers of many vegetables and herbs are highly attractive to pollinators and other beneficial insects. Parsley flowers are huge magnets for hover flies and tiny predators such as tachinid flies and parasitic wasps. Watch closely and you will see them going to work for you in the garden keeping pests under control. In fact, using certain plants to attract beneficial insects is a well-known strategy of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for organic gardening, instead of using pesticides.
Enjoy the full benefits of your edible landscape by letting it go to seed. You’ll become a convert, I promise!
Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke