Add some pop to your garden
Whoever said flowerbeds were only for flowers is really missing out.
Limiting your veggie garden to tomatoes and zucchini is such a drag, too. Consider the idea that amongst the rows of green, you can integrate plants that feed your eyes and attract pollinators while you wait for the bounty to ripen.
The goal for my garden is to not only feed my body, but also to nurture my soul, and flowers and other ornamental plants accomplish that goal as much as edible plants do.
And that’s why I’m on a campaign to desegregate garden spaces.
There’s really no reason why you can’t have pretty ornamentals tucked into your summer vegetable garden, or delicious edible plants tucked in between gorgeous flowering plants. But for some reason, many gardeners keep veggies with veggies and flowers with flowers, and never the twain shall meet.
Not only is incorporating the edible with the look-but-don’t-eat efficient for gardeners with small spaces, it can help attract pollinators, give you more variety and provide a little intrigue when you realize that bright pop of color is something that doesn’t belong, but it does. Surprise!
If it helps you to transition over more easily into a less-segregated garden, you can always plant edible flowers. Nasturtium blooms are peppery-tasting, lush additions to any garden, whether they grow among other flowers or with carrots and squash. Borage’s star-shaped blue flowers give a bit of twinkle to the garden and taste a little bit like sweet cucumbers, and you won’t find a bee that doesn’t love the blooms.
Those pollinators are all the more likely to make a pit stop at your vegetables that need their attention if you attract them to the garden bed with flowers.
The biggest thing to consider when co-mingling your edible garden with ornamental plants is to think about what makes the candidates happy and determine if you can make both of them thrive in the same space. That means keeping watering needs in mind. Putting a water hog like a tomato plant next to a native xeriscape plant that doesn’t like wet feet is a mistake. The same goes for the amount of light — don’t put shade-loving plants with those that need full sun.
Also, I find it is best to either plant vegetable gardens with annuals or with seeds. You don’t want to be digging up perennials every year when you’re cleaning out the vegetable garden. Those are best left undisturbed unless they need divided, which is not a yearly chore. Flowers that are easy to grow from seed and can brighten your garden include zinnias, marigolds and calendula.
Think about complementary colors (all the way back to art class, right?) and use those to help determine how to really integrate some zing into your garden bed. Have some sunny orange marigolds blooming to their hearts’ content? Why not plant some electric pink chard next to them and create a circus of color? Or a nice purple-tinged kale next to some coreopsis? The possibilities are so much more when you consider the combinations of edibles and ornamental plants.
Be cognizant of the pesticides you use on certain plants if they are located in close proximity to the edible varieties you planted. For example, you wouldn’t want to be eating lettuce planted right next to a rose bush you doused with a systemic insecticide, applied through the soil or watering, which permeates the entire plant. Remember that other growing plants in the vicinity likely absorbed those chemicals and aren’t meant for ingesting.
Also, be aware if you save seeds that there are closely-related cousins of flowers that are traditional vegetables grown in the garden. Take, for example, carrots. Queen Anne’s Lace is a close relative and can cross-pollinate with carrots. Incidentally, it’s also called wild carrot, so that’s a hint that you might not want to plant them too close together if you’re going to let the carrots go to seed and collect them the following season. This will not affect your crop of carrots if you’re going to just dig them up this year and eat them.