I have always been fascinated by beautiful ornamental vegetables, especially ones maturing in the autumn. Their colours are deep and glossy with earthy tones and lush textures, they look painterly arranged in a basket and make fantastic gifts for foodie friends and family. They are even more attractive when arranged as an edible bouquet.
Members of the brassica group come in all shapes and colours with good strong leaves and stems. Different varieties of kale, small vibrant cauliflowers and later in the season sprouting broccoli make for striking ingredients for an edible bouquet. Herbs with long stems and woody branches add aroma and texture. Shrubby rosemary, thyme, sage and winter savory are the great seasonal choices and have strong stems and long-lasting foliage. And garden grown parsley, with its robust stems and leaves can be a great addition.
While edible flowers are less abundant in autumn and winter, many beautiful violas are grown in the colder months and can be used in an edible bouquet, choose those with longer stems, or lengthen a small bundle of short-stemmed flowers with florist wire and stem tape. Root vegetables, such as carrots and beetroots, are best used upside down, using their leafy tops as the stem, showing off the attractive earthy colours of their roots. Use onions and garlic the same way, they work especially well when they still have a length of stem attached.
Leafy vegetables, with adequately sturdy leaves for arranging, such as cos lettuces, chard, chicory and endive, have a huge range of leaf colouring and variegation, especially if you grow your own from seed. Some produce with large fruits, such as aubergines, chillies and peppers, are easy to secure with wire or a wooden skewer to help fit into a bouquet. But do try to avoid using softer fruits that bruise easily.
How to create your own edible bouquet
For this edible bouquet Bea used chard, black Tuscan kale (cavolo nero), green curly kale, small red cos lettuce, Witloof chicory (Belgian endive), flat leaf parsley, rosemary, thyme, green and purple sage, lime-green Romanesco cauliflower, purple sprouting broccoli stems and aubergine.
1 Choose your edible bouquet’s ingredients
Leafy vegetables and herbs need to be well hydrated before arranging, so pick the day before and stand the stems in a jug of water for an hour or overnight before you arrange your bouquet.
2 Sort the bouquet into mini bunches
Creating a few smaller bunches of individual vegetables and herbs will make it easier to assemble the bouquet later. Tape together these mini bunches with florist tape to avoid bruising the stems.
3 Add additional support
Vegetables without a stem to hold will need support, either by securing florist wire or inserting a long wooden skewer into their sturdy base about 3cm deep. I added these to my aubergine, cauliflower, lettuce and endive.
4 Forming your edible bouquet
Once you are ready to bunch your vegetables together, then treat the leafy stems as foliage background for the bouquet and the larger heads of fruits and vegetables as focal points to place in a few well-placed spots in the bouquet. It is best to place the larger produce in the middle where they are well supported by the rest of the ingredients.
5 Securing the bouquet
While adding your vegetables, be sure to turn your bouquet every so often to check it has a good balance on all sides. Tie it with twine when finished. Keep it somewhere cool in fresh water or hydrate the leaves with a mister until you are ready to gift it.
6 Your bouquets’s final touch
For a complementing rustic finish, use a hessian sheet for wrapping your bouquet and tie it with a toning hessian ribbon.
Extending the mix
The choices of colour combinations for edible bouquets are endless, and you can easily boost your vegetable selection by adding a few ingredients to your gift bouquet from a farm shop, farmers’ market or supermarket. Aim to keep your choices as seasonal as possible for maximum appeal and choice.
Bea Andrews is the founder of Botanika, a floral design studio in West Sussex, find out more at botanikafloral.co.uk