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Summer-blooming garnishes that go straight from the flower bed to a salad or sandwich.

A hint of unfamiliar flavor or a sprinkling of unexpected color can make even simple foods suddenly special. Shown and discussed here are five plants with edible flowers that you can use to give foods eye appeal.

In most cases, their flavor is minimal; mainly they add a refreshing crisp texture and startling color. Sprinkle them over salads or sandwiches, or arrange them on trays of appetizers, cheeses, or desserts.

All are easy, vigorous growers that can produce a lot in little space. Seeds or plants are common at most nurseries or from herb specialists.

Bee balm (Monarda didyma). Red to coral flowers grow in whorls along 2- to 4-foot stems; pink-, lavender,- and white-flowered forms are also sold. In most climates, this perennial grows back each spring; in hot-summer, warm-winter areas, it may need replanting every few years. Give it full sun (inland, some shade). The mint-scented leaves can be used for tea or mild flavoring.

Borage. Sow seeds in pockets between other flowers, vegetables, or shrubs. Shown at left, this 3-foot-tall, sun-loving annual blooms quickly from seeds, continuing until frosts. New plants usually volunteer with warm spring weather; unwanted seedlings are easily removed.

Chives. Usually grown for their ankle-high onion-like leaves, this plant has 3/4-inch lavender flowers with mild onion flavor. Flowers that are old or bloom in hot weather may be too papery to eat, but still look attractive. For an ample supply, plant a dozen or more clumps from 3- or 4-inch pots or sow seeds. Plant in sun or partial shade.

Nasturtiums. Yellow, orange, and red flowers vary from mild to peppery, depending on weather and care. Near the coast, you can grow them almost year-round. Plants dry up in hot weather, so inland, wait until cool fall weather to sow if you don't already have plants established.

Pineapple sage. Half-inch-long scarlet tubes attract bees and hummingbirds. The leaves are also attractive and profuse, with a pineapple-mint flavor. Depending on your climate, bloom may start in winter, spring, or summer and continue until cold weather--often a total of nine months in mild-winter California.

Plant from 3- or 4-inch pots. In one season, foliage can reach 6 feet. If it doesn't die back on its own, cut it to the ground in winter or spring. In mild-winter climates, it will grow denser and slightly wider each year. In cold-winter climates, protect roots with a thick mulch or move it indoors in winter; hard frost may kill it.
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Date:Jun 1, 1985
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