There is so much emphasis these days on growing our food that flowers are sometimes forgotten or pushed to the background on our properties. But consider this: flowers are one of the many organic ways of achieving a delicious edible garden that delivers fresh produce all growing season long.
Many varieties are not only beautiful to look at but also make the perfect neighbors in the veggie patch. Lisa Mason Ziegler, author of Vegetables Love Flowers: Companion Planting for Beauty and Bounty, offers some great tips on the process of interplanting.
She recommends designating two small spaces in the vegetable garden for growing annual flowers. The blooms will attract pollinators to the area, who will more than likely also make their way over to the vegetable crops.
A selection of annual flowers will bloom steadily from spring to fall, and if you continuously cut the blooms as new ones begin to appear, you’ll have a fresh supply of color in the garden and at the dining room table throughout the summer!
Similar to many fruits and vegetables, these colorful blooms are happiest in hot, all-day sun. When conditions are too shady, zinnias will produce fewer flowers, grow leggy, and be prone to mildew. They’re great in containers and will attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, and some beneficial insects to the garden. Better yet, they are deer resistant! Seeds can be started indoors for an early start, or sow them directly into the garden after the last frost. There are many varieties available; choose the kind that makes you happy – harvest when all of the flower petals are open. Tomatoes and squash grow very happily alongside zinnias.
Gorgeous, cascading clumps of nasturtiums are the perfect flower for borders, containers, and even ground cover. Bright orange, red, and yellow, these flowers love full sun and are the ideal attractor for essential pollinators such as bumblebees and hummingbirds. Trimming dead and faded flowers will prolong the blooming period, although gardeners typically enjoy them throughout the entire summer and fall. Start seeds indoors for an early start, but be warned they grow very quickly! Beans and peppers love having these beauties nearby. It’s important to note that both the leaves and flowers of nasturtiums are also edible, and make a great addition to summer salads.
Butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and other beneficial insects will come rushing to the garden when marigolds are part of the mix. Extremely rich in pollen and nectar, these are some of the earliest blooming flowers of the season. They attract aphids, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing when growing alongside edible crops; marigolds will often act as a distraction to the unwanted pests. Also deer resistant, these flowers are excellent in containers and prefer at least six hours of sun a day. Start seeds indoors for an early start and to reap all of the benefits earlier in the season. Beans enjoy this flower’s company, as do tomatoes. Marigolds have been found to repel whiteflies and kill bad nematodes, keeping our beloved food safe from unwanted garden pests.
A successful tomato plant can often be a sign of greater things in life; mainly, one’s gardening abilities. People take tomatoes seriously, and that’s why snapdragons are the perfect addition to a vegetable garden. These flowers are an absolute favorite of bumblebees, which are essential to strong tomato pollination. Plant them close to fast-growing, early radish seeds; once the radishes have been harvested, the snapdragons will take over their space and bring more pollinators in just on time for the tomatoes. Start seeds indoors to take advantage of the flower’s multiple benefits all season long. They require at least six hours of sunlight per day and will grow quite tall; support netting will be necessary. Harvest the blooms at least twice a week when the first few flowers on the bottom of the stem have opened. Blooms will last 7-10 days in a vase.
Bee Balm, or Monarda, makes an excellent garden buddy for all fruits and vegetables. Its flowers are adored by bumblebees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. A quick grower from seed to bloom, the Monarda hybrida is deer-resistant and extremely drought tolerant. They do well in at least six hours of sun a day and also seem to enjoy containers. Harvest the flowers anytime after its petals start to turn somewhat pink. Flowers will continue to open and will do well in a vase with fresh water for a week. The leaves and flowers of bee balm are also edible and make a great addition to teas or salads.