The Rewards of a Seedy Garden

Parsley flowers
Parsley flowers attract beneficial insects

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!

Three Heart lettuce, bolted
Three Heart lettuce almost ready to flower

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.

Cilantro (coriander) seeds
Dried cilantro (a.k.a. coriander) seeds

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


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3 thoughts on “The Rewards of a Seedy Garden”

  1. Broccoli, kale and carrots also produce some nice flowers that attract tons of bees and other pollinators.

    1. Thanks Richard; yes those are all outstanding too. I love broccoli flowers because all of the little buds we normally eat open into flowers if left unharvested. I was recently in a restaurant’s kitchen garden where I couldn’t figured out what some tall flowering plants were. I finally discovered that they were some very old carrots! The flowers looked much like parsley flowers, and the chef uses them in his dishes.

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