Integrating Flowers into your Vegetable Garden
Flowers are a fantastic way to attract pollinators to your vegetable garden, and they also aid in repelling pests and encouraging healthy growth of your vegetables. Crops like cucumbers, for example, should be planted with flowers to ensure the production of fruit.
Moreover, many flowers are medicinal, or edible, and can be used in salads or baking.
Here are some flowers that will benefit your harvest this year:
Grow sunflowers with corn, cucumbers, and tomatoes. The Haudenosaunee people planted sunflowers with corn, because ants herd aphids on to sunflowers, keeping them off of other plants.
Plant marigolds everywhere!
Marigolds are a wonder-drug of the companion plant world, invoking the saying “plant them everywhere in your garden”. French marigolds (T. patula) produce a pesticidal chemical from their roots, so strong it lasts years after they are gone. Mexican marigolds (T. erecta) do the same, but are so strong they will inhibit the growth of some more tender herbs.
Stinking Roger (T. minuta) has also been found effective against certain perennial weeds.
Marigolds also have a strong enough scent to deter white butterflies from cabbage crops, whose larvae greatly damage harvests; the scent does this by confusing and repelling the butterflies.
Calendula is an effective anti-fungal agent: it can be used to treat conditions like athletes’ foot, with calendula foot baths. It is also antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. It makes a lovely tea, and the petals are also edible (a great addition to salads). It has a mildly similar effect to its distant cousin, the marigold, in companion planting.
Borage has hundreds of attractive, edible violet and blue flowers. The bees go wild for them, and the flowers never stop coming once they start. It is a fabulous companion plant to strawberries, as well as tomatoes and squash, deterring pests such as the tomato hornworm. The leaves and stalks are also edible, and have a fresh, cucumber-like flavour. It self-seeds prolifically, and seeds can also be used to make oil.
Nasturtium flowers pack a strong cress flavour, and the unopened flower buds can be pickled as a spicy alternative to capers. Nasturtiums attract predatory insects, such as ladybugs, and they also effectively deter cucumber pests. They are great companions to most of the major groups of plants in your garden, as well as being edible, healthy, and beautiful.
Pansy flowers attract ants, and the plants also aid in the growth of all plants in the onion family (alliums).
Lupins are a legume, meaning they host mycorrhizal bacteria on their roots that fix nitrogen in the soil. While they shouldn’t be planted with nightshades (tomatoes, eggplants, tobacco, potatoes), they are good companions to brassicas (cabbages, kales), as well as lettuce, strawberries, rosemary, and cucumbers.
Both are “trap crops,” that deter pests from plants such as roses and squash. Like lupins, these should not be planted with nightshades.
Nigella is a gorgeous flower that attracts pollinators, and also produces the spice black cumin from the seeds.
This is broadly defined as the carrot family. Many plants in this family attract predatory insects and repel pests.
Poppies attract bees and butterflies while they bloom, and can be used for medicine in a survival situation. Many perfectly legal cultivars of Papaver somniferum—the opium poppy—contain up to 20% morphine, which can be easily extracted with a tea infusion of the dried pods, or through scratching the pods and extracting the dried latex. It should be noted that while growing P. somniferum is perfectly legal in most countries, extracting opiates from them is usually illegal.
Chamomile attracts pollinators, and is medicinal to both plants and humans. Make chamomile tea infusions to water your plants when they are ailing, or for yourself when you need to relax.
Many other varieties of flower will benefit your garden, simply because they attract all sorts of insects to your garden to pollinate your crops, and they also beautify the space with their sights and smells.
Happy planting and planning!
The classic book on this topic is:
Carrots Love Tomatoes, and Roses Love Garlic: The Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening
Find it: Canada / USA / Europe
Top Right Image: A Cultivated Nest