Flowers In A Garden |

flowers in a garden

Flower Garden / January 16, 2017

California Edible LandscapeAs you plant flowers in the vegetable garden, play with colors and textures as the author does in her beautiful central California edible landscape.

Photo by Rosalind Creasy

In the 1970s, when I was a budding landscape designer newly exciting about strategizing the best flowers to plant with vegetables, I attended the garden opening of one of my clients. As I walked around anonymously, wine glass in hand, I overheard many guests exclaiming, “Do you see that? She put flowers in the vegetable garden!”

In the United States, segregating vegetables from flowers still seems like such a hard-and-fast rule that when I lecture on edible landscaping, one of the first things I mention is that I’ve checked the Constitution, and planting flowers in a vegetable garden is not forbidden. Not only can you put flowers in with vegetables, you should.

I admit that, in the ’70s, I first intermixed my flowers and vegetables because I was gardening in the front yard of my suburban home and hoped the neighbors wouldn’t notice or complain as long as the veggies were surrounded by flowers. Soon, however, I discovered I had fewer pest problems, I saw more and more birds, and my crops were thriving.

It turns out that flowers are an essential ingredient in establishing a healthy garden because they attract beneficial insects and birds, which control pests and pollinate crops. Most gardeners understand this on some level. They may even know that pollen and nectar are food for insects, and that seed heads provide food for birds. What some may not realize is just how many of our wild meadows and native plants have disappeared under acres of lawn, inedible shrubs and industrial agriculture’s fields of monocultures, leaving fewer food sources for beneficial critters. With bees and other pollinators under a chemical siege these days and their populations in drastic decline, offering chemical-free food sources and safe havens is crucial.Flower and Vegetable Pots Plus, giving beneficial insects supplemental food sources of pollen and nectar throughout the season means they’ll stick around for when pests show up.

As you plant flowers in the vegetable garden, play with colors and textures as the author does in her beautiful central California edible landscape.
Photo by Rosalind Creasy

Short on space? Pack pretty pots with flower and vegetable companions on your patio.
Photo by Rosalind Creasy

The height of perfection: Here, shorter feverfew plants play a foreground role to taller zinnias and peppers.
Photo by Rosalind Creasy

The display gardens at Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, give prominence to plenty of flowers.
Photo by Rosalind Creasy

In choosing the best flowers to plant with vegetables, pair tall crops with shorter flowers. These runner beans are surrounded by marigolds and zinnias.
Photo by Rosalind Creasy

Heirloom Vegetables and GardensIn this lovely display, basil plants are central, and are surrounded by multicolored portulaca.
Photo by Rosalind Creasy

The colors of Dark Red Blizzard Geranium and Gold Dawn Squash contrast in this edible landscape.
Photo by Rosalind Creasy

When creating your edible landscape, tuck petite flowers between plants. Here, bright violas peek up through the big, silver-purple leaves of these cabbages.
Photo by Rosalind Creasy

When mixing flowers and vegetables, use contrasting colors, such as bright green summer squash, orange marigolds and purple basil.
Photo by Rosalind Creasy

Envision an Integrated Edible Landscape

One of the cornerstones of edible landscaping is that gardens should be beautiful as well as bountiful. Mixing flowers and vegetables so that both are an integral part of the garden’s design is another key. Let’s say you have a shady backyard, so you decide to put a vegetable garden in the sunny front yard. Many folks would install a rectangular bed or wooden boxes, and plant long rows of vegetables, maybe placing a few marigolds in the corners, or planting a separate flower border. In either case, the gardener will have added plants offering a bit of much-needed pollen and nectar.

Seed Savers Exchange GardensIntegrating an abundance of flowers among the vegetables, however, would impart visual grace while also helping beneficial insects accomplish more. Plentiful food sources will allow the insects to healthily reproduce. Plus, most of their larvae have limited mobility. For example, if a female lady beetle or green lacewing lays her eggs next to the aphids on your violas, the slow-moving, carnivorous larvae won’t be able to easily crawl all the way across the yard to also help manage the aphids chowing down on your broccoli.

In addition to bringing in more “good guys” to munch pests, flowers will give you more control because they can act as a useful barrier — a physical barrier as opposed to the chemical barriers created in non-organic systems. The hornworms on your tomato plant, for instance, won’t readily migrate to a neighboring tomato plant if there’s a tall, “stinky” marigold blocking the way.

Create Cool Combos of Flowers and Vegetables

To begin establishing your edible landscape, you should plant flowers with a variety of colors and textures, different sizes and shapes, and an overall appealing aesthetic. After you’ve shed the notion that flowers and vegetables must be separated, a surprising number of crop-and-flower combinations will naturally emerge, especially if you keep in mind the following six guidelines.

1. Stagger sizes. Pay attention to the eventual height and width of each flower and food plant (check seed packets and nursery tags), and place them accordingly. Tall plants, for the most part, belong in back. They’ll still be visible, but they won’t block the smaller plants from view or from sunshine. A good rule is to put the taller plants on the north and east sides of your garden, and the shorter ones on the south and west sides.

2. Consider proportions. A 6-foot-tall sunflower planted next to an 18-inch-tall cabbage would look lopsided. Instead, place plants of graduated heights from tallest to shortest so your eye will travel naturally from one location to the next.

3. Experiment with complementary colors. Use the hues of your edibles — red tomatoes and peppers, yellow squash flowers, purple cabbage and basil — as a starting point. Look for flowers that will highlight those shades, such as bright yellows or soft purples, or choose a hue on the opposite side of the color wheel to provide an unexpected pop. For foliage, experiment with different shades of green to give your landscape more depth.

4. Play with textures and shapes. Pair a sprawling squash with more upright basils. Partner thick-leaved plants with those that don delicate leaves. Surround a straight-edged tipi of runner beans with a bed of rounded dwarf marigolds.

5. Plant for all seasons. Grow plants with a range of different blooming times so something will always be in flower from early spring to late fall. Not only will this mean a feast of colors to enjoy all year, but, more importantly, it will yield a steady source of pollen and nectar for beneficial insects.

Tall Crops with Shorter Flowers Basil Plants Dark Red Blizzard Geranium Violas and Cabbage