Blur the lines between your vegetable and flower gardens to add beauty and taste to your outdoor spaces.
Photos via Teresa O’Connor
It’s not really a new concept to mix ornamental plants into your edible garden plan. Centuries ago, an early kitchen garden would probably have included edible blossoms, such as calendula, violets and roses, which are now often relegated to flower beds. Even today, I like to mix flowers and foods in my cottage style garden.
I find many edibles are beautiful in themselves, but they are particularly attractive when mixed with different flowers of all types. Above is a neighbor’s garden where blue-gray cabbages provide an elegant background to these hot pink dahlias. In between, a cherry tomato has self-seeded itself and is ready to produce fruit.
Below is a cheerful raised bed spotted at my local independent garden center, which has red lettuces, pole beans and onions growing alongside marigolds, petunias and sweet alyssum. I was also surprised to find Spanish lavender growing in this bed, as this plant prefers more arid soil than lettuces, beans and onions. Personally, I would have grown this plant in a separate area with more drought-tolerant plants.
Good reasons to mix it up with a vegetable and flower garden
There are many reasons to mix up flowers and foods in your edible garden plan. First off, flowers attract more pollinators and beneficial insects, such as butterflies and bees.
These pollinators are critically important for healthy vegetable development. “Every third bite of food you take, thank a bee or other pollinator,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s article “Why We Need Bees: Nature’s Tiny Workers Put Food on our Tables.”
Some flowering plants help protect edible food gardens. Several herbs and flowers have a scent that keep insects away from vegetable plants. Borage is said to repel cabbage worms and tomato hornworms, according to garden book author and television personality P. Allen Smith. Best of all, borage’s star-shaped flowers are edible, and have a slight cucumber taste.
Nasturtiums and sunflowers often act like aphid magnets, attracting the pests away from other plants. Chamomile is sometimes nicknamed the “plant doctor,” because the herb is said to improve the health of neighboring plants.
But perhaps the best reason to mix foods and flowers is that they create beautiful gardens.
A few things to keep in mind for your vegetable and flower garden:
- Select flowers that grow well without chemical pesticides and fungicides. You don’t want to spray any plants near your food crops.
- Grow flowers that thrive in the same growing conditions as your edibles. For most vegetables, like corn and tomatoes, that means at least 6 hours of direct sun. Also try shade-tolerant veggies, such as lettuces, which grow nicely alongside pansies and violets in partial sun.
- Look at your vegetables in ornamental ways. Consider the colors, shapes and textures so you can mix them effectively with your favorite flowers, as my friend Rhonda did in her California garden. She grows corn, onions and lettuces near her poppies and irises.
- Don’t forget edible flowers, such as borage, violets and nasturtiums. You’ll find they grow well in your edible garden plan too.
Have fun mixing flowers and foods in your garden! Once you get started, you’ll wonder why anyone would want to keep these plants apart.