Spring planting tips from a gardening meteorologist...

Let’s begin by reviewing the current state of affairs weatherwise: isn’t it great to have true spring-like conditions (rather than torrid summer heat)? I sure wish I had planted lettuce, but usually the rapid onset of summer makes it a losing proposition.

Five day precipitation total over the D.C. metro region and surrounding areas. (NOAA)

I thought for sure we were heading down the drought trail but we’ve managed near normal precipitation this spring. On the other hand, despite the recent wet pattern (with the upper level low), I have not been impressed since most of the D.C. area has barely managed an inch of rain. For my garden on the Delaware shore, amounts have been even scanter as seen in the latest five day precipitation accumulation map (above). Well, it is better than nothing. Now on to the topic of the day...

How can you beat a garden that is both beautiful and edible?!

I spent many a year seeing just how many eye-catching plants I could cram into a space. I had no time for a vegetable garden, especially not the one I grew up with. Not sure if any of you shared my upbringing, but there was a very square plot that was designated the vegetable garden with straight row after row of string beans, carrots, beets, peas and anything else that caught mom’s fancy that year. Productive, yes…inspiring, no. So the idea of sullying my garden with that was a no go.

Then one day I was browsing through one of my many gardening magazines and saw this beautifully colored spray of foliage in one of the pictures. I thought it must be the latest coleus. However, the caption identified it as Swiss chard…an edible vegetable. Now that was an “aha” moment for me: the search was on for what other things I could sneak into my garden that not only looked good but could be added to my menu as well.

I love plants that are light and airy and move with the breeze. A couple of herbs that did great at filling that bill were dill and fennel. I love them both in clumps here and there. I got another surprise when I found the fennel with a good population of caterpillars on them. Instead of reaching for the spray, I am always curious about what denizens there are in my garden. It turns out they transform into graceful swallowtail butterflies. I was overjoyed to be a focus for these beauties and they are an annual treat in the garden. And I still got plenty of fennel bulbs for my kitchen, too.

I am a spice freak, so peppers like cayenne make a great addition to the hot spots in my garden. The green to red fruit is a lovely flash of color. I quickly found there were more peppers than I could handle or give away. That is when I learned about drying them! Just pop them in a 250 oven for two hours, then turn off and leave them in the oven overnight. They keep through the winter and are a great addition to everything. You can make your own sundried tomatoes that way too! Speaking of tomatoes, I love the vine ones for bringing another interesting focal point on a trellis in the sunniest spot in the garden. Pole beans can be fun for that too.

But by far my favorites are the edible flowers! In the spring there are the pansies and violas. Sprinkle those over a salad for a great look and taste. A little later in the season are nasturtiums. They make a great groundcover with non-stop blooms. The nice thing is that they are one of the few annuals that are easy to grow from seeds. I just soak in a bowl of water overnight and pop them in the ground the next day. They will keep your salads eye popping through the summer.

Another great edible is squash blossoms. Anybody that has grown squash know that there are way more fruits than needed so using the blossoms is a great treat. They make a really impressive hors d’oeuvres plate when stuffed with cream cheese or shrimp salad. Ok I am hungry now! I would love to hear other fun veggies to add to my garden if you have some to share.

Capital Weather Gang meteorologist David Streit is also an active gardener. He earned a certificate in landscape design from the USDA Graduate School and volunteered many years at the National Arboretum.