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Sometimes it's hard to tell the vegetables from the flowers

From Gene Logsdon

Garden Farm Skills

Our potatoes are growing this year better than ever. Everything is growing better this year, after two years that would try any gardener’s soul. When the potato plants started blooming a couple of weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see the patch turn into something of a flower garden. (See photos of the patch and a closeup of one potato blossom.)

It got me to thinking about the usual dichotomy we adhere to as garden farmers. Over here are the vegetables, over there the flowers. I don’t have any problem with that; roses are showier than potato blossoms. But maybe I think that way more because of cultural prejudice than fact. When you remember that potato blossoms are a byproduct of one of human society’s favorite foods, a byproduct that comes without any extra work on the gardener’s part, and compare that effortlessness to all the attention one must pay to a rose garden, which plant really is the most beautiful, all things considered? The only thing better would be roses that sported potatoes on their roots.

Sometimes vegetable and flower become literally one and the same. Squash flowers make a delightful food, fried in batter. Violets and nasturtiums can spice up salads. Dandelion buds, right before they unfold into flowers, are the best part of a plate of wilted dandelions to my taste.

But it is the philosophical question that intrigues me. I may be mistaken but I don’t think any garden writer has waxed eloquent about the beauty of a potato flower. All vegetables have in fact quite beautiful flowers but mostly they are smaller that those blooms we honor in the flower garden. Small equals not showy. But if you look at these small flowers through a magnifying glass or the closeup lens of a camera, oh my. Even bean blossoms are quite spectacular. Or if a great many un-showy blooms grow together, oh my again. A bed of thyme in bloom. A field of clover blossoms.

Methinks (when posing as a philosopher, a writer can get away with weird words like ‘methinks’) that the contented gardener is the one who can find a bean blossom or a potato flower as beautiful as a rose. Methinks that the human tendency to have the biggest or the rarest or the most striking of, in this case, flower, is at the root (drat those puns) of our discontent. A child, as yet uninfluenced by human culture, will be enraptured by tiny flowers, like a tomato blossom, if it is pointed out to them by an adult who is also enraptured by it. Even a homely corn tassel is a thing of beauty if you study it closely, and when you think of the succulent ear of roasted corn that will come from that tassel, even orchids are among the also-rans.


Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.

Gene is author of The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land), The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life, and just released: Small-Scale Grain Raising, Second Edition: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers.

Gene’s Posts

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