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Edible gardens for people and pollinators

Raised bed gardens in a grassy area along bordered by trees and buildings.
The gardens for residents at Lake Minnetonka Shores, Spring Park, MN

If you’re like most gardeners, you want to use your land as efficiently as possible, while growing plants you love and want to eat and that support pollinators. I have the great pleasure of working with the resident gardeners at Lake Minnetonka Shores in Spring Park, Minn., in a program we call "Garden Time."

Lake Minnetonka Shores (LMS) is a senior living community with levels of care and assistance as well as a slew of services and amenities for the residents including a massive raised bed garden on the landscaped grounds.

I became acquainted with LMS when my mother-in-law lived there. Her friends quickly found out I was a horticulture educator and would bring me their houseplants to diagnose. Eventually, I started having houseplant clinics twice a year and, over time, added educational presentations, an annual seed-starting lab, and garden time in the raised bed garden.

Feeding people and pollinators

Plants that provide nectar and pollen for bees, and are tasty for people in rows in a garden.
The UMN Edible Garden for People and Pollinators: plants provide nectar and pollen for bees, and are tasty for people.

LMS staff are great to work with and each year they provide me with space to plant a demonstration garden. For two years, I planted my Flowers for Pollinators annual flower trials there. This year I opted for an edible garden for people and pollinators where I could show a selection of plants that offer treats for both people and pollinators.

I tried to avoid some of the usual edibles. For example, I planted cinnamon basil and Sweet Dani lemon basil instead of my usual go-to Genovese sweet basil. And I planted daylilies (the buds are edible) and Lemon Gem marigolds (the flowers are edible and a good pollen source for small bees and syrphid flies).

As you visit your local garden center and look for plants for your garden, containers, and window boxes, consider choosing edibles that feed your taste buds and pollinators as well!

Plant list

Plant name Scientific name Flavor profile
Everbearing strawberries Fragaria spp. Sweet fruit through the summer.
Happy Returns daylily Hemerocallis 'Happy Returns' Buds taste like a cross between green peas and asparagus.
Lemon Gem marigold Tagetes 'Lemon Gem' Flowers taste slightly lemony and flowery.
Red Stem Malabar spinach Basella alba 'Rubra' Leaves are meaty and, though not related, do taste like spinach. Vine (requires trellis).
Burpee hybrid zucchini summer squash Cucurbita pepo 'Burpee hybrid' Squash flowers can be stuffed and fried. Fruit can be added to stir fry, hotdishes, pasta dishes, sandwiches, salads and relish trays.
Lemon thyme Thymus citriodorus Leaves have a spicy, lemony flavor.
French thyme Thymus vulgaris Leaves have a spicy, strong flavor.
Summer savory Satureja hortensis Leaves have a hot, peppery flavor.
Sweet marjoram Origanum majorana Leaves and flowers have a perfumy flavor similar to oregano.
Cinnamon basil Ocimum basilicum 'Cinnamon' Leaves have basil-cinnamon flavor.
Sweet Dani lemon basil Ocimum basilicum 'Sweet Dani' Leaves have lemony basil flavor.
Grapefruit mint Mentha x piperita 'Grapefruit' Leaves have a minty flavor.
Sunset mix heirloom sweet Italian peppers Capsicum annuum  'Sunset Mix' Fruit is sweet and mild.
Lemon Drop heirloom hot pepper Capsicum annuum 'Lemon Drop' Fruit is spicy, hot.
Bachelor buttons Centaurea cyanus Flower petals have a pleasant, grassy taste.
Alaska Mix heirloom nasturtiums Tropaeolum majus 'Alaska Mix' Flowers and leaves have a peppery taste.
Garlic chives Allium tuberosum Leaves have a garlic flavor; use flowers as garnish for soups, salads, meats.
Berggarten sage Salvia officinalis 'Berggarten' Leaves have a strong sage flavor.

Author: Julie Weisenhorn, Extension educator, horticulture

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