Flowers from Vegetables

flower of an Italian dandelion

Whenever possible I let vegetables go to flower, sometimes to save the seed, but more often to share the bounty with insects and birds. The usefulness comes in two waves: the first being the pollinators attracted to the flowers, and once the flowers go to seed the birds will move in. Of course this means that I’m “wasting space” and making my garden “unproductive” but the rewards outweigh any inconvenience.

New gardeners are often surprised to see what amazing flowers different vegetables make. People with no connection to food plants whatsoever may not even know that vegetables make flowers, so it’s fun to show them a carrot flower, a squash blossom, a bean flower.

My new favorite garden flower comes off an old Italian chicory plant left to go riot. I’m not sure which chicory it is, but it’s one of thoseĀ  long-leaved, bitter greens beloved in Italy and sold by Franchi seeds. It’s easy to grow, pest proof, and we like the strong, bitter flavor. The flowers, though, are amazing. The greens send up narrow stalks 8′ tall or more (approx. 2.5 meters) and the stalks are covered from top to bottom with beautiful periwinkle blue flowers which are about 2″ (5cm) across– classic chicory flowers.

The bees adore these flowers. What’s more, this plant has been blossoming continuously for months now–at least 3 months. Unfortunately I didn’t mark down when it started, but it’s been at least 3 months by now, maybe 4. It’s given me lots of joy.

In our yard the flower stalks have interwoven with grape and bean vines, adding a lot of color to a corner of our patio. The situation is impossible to to photograph, because the flowers are both high and low and tangled up with everything, but trust me, in person it’s charming in its wild way.

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12 Comments

  1. I love those flowers! My raddichio I bought from Franchi made those same flowers. Maybe the seeds I got were the same ones. i was a little thrown off by the packet photos, as it showed a variety of raddichio like veggies, some green, others purple and cabbage like, but all it grew were these soft-leaved green and very bitter plants that my bunny and dad loved. Paper wasps also liked to sleep in it, much to my dismay the three times I got stung when I was minding my own business.. I love how they were bright and pretty in the mornings, then would close up by the afternoon.

    • They also re-seed very easily, I only planted them once and got lovely little volunteers easily the following years. :)

    • Yes, that sounds exactly like my plants–long green leaves, flowers which open and close. Strange about those seeds! Mix up at the Franchi plant? Or in a variety pack of chicories maybe only this one was viable for some reason? And paper wasps! yikes.

  2. I grow red-stemmed Italian dandelions with those same flowers. Our tortoises love to eat the leaves and the flowers. The people are trying to remember to eat them. I, too, let them go full cycle for the bees. Such a pretty sight.

  3. Thanks for solving a garden mystery!
    I planted some escarole a while back in the fall and figured the snails got all of them. I guess I missed one or two in the chaos.

  4. We’ve let our purple-sprouting broccoli go to flower (and it’s almost gone to seed) this year. I had no idea of what the plant looked like in flower and, as an article I read recently in Taproot magazine said, there’s a whole other half of plants’ life cycle that we just don’t usually see. The bees have been loving these flowers too, although we’ve scoffed a few ourselves (yummy in a salad!)

  5. I love chicory – it grows on the roadsides here. It looks like someone landscaped the side of the road.

  6. Chicory along the roadside is beautiful. An unusual & beautiful shade of blue. Unless disturbed by a drought, they bloom all summer until a hard frost.

  7. My favorite so far has been artichoke. I let some go to flower so my little girl and her friends could see what they look like. They are stunning! The purple is almost florescent and the bees LOVE them. It’s so fun to watch them burrow down into the flower and disappear then pop back up covered in pollen!

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