1. Home

Discuss in my forum

Flowers for the Vegetable Garden

Edible Flowers, Cutting Flowers and Flowers to Deter Pests

By

Even if you have limited space in your vegetable garden, including a few flowers is a smart idea. Besides how quickly they can dress up a pedestrian vegetable patch, companion and interplanting offers benefits for all the plants, not the least of which is enticing more bees and pollinators into the vegetable garden. Many vegetable plants have flowers that aren't showy enough to attract their attention, even if they are high in nectar. Some bright blue, yellow and white flowers will fix that problem.

There are also many studies about which plants are good for repelling pests and which attract beneficial insects. There's a lot of argument on this point and don't expect a few well chosen plants to put an end to your garden problems. However it's worth experimenting; you may just get the edge. And if the flowers themselves are edible, you have the best of both worlds.

But even without companion benefits, the vegetable garden is a great place to plant flowers intended for cutting. You can snip them at the same time you're selecting vegetables for dinner. Here are some great choices to add a new dimension to your vegetable garden.

1. Borage

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Borage (Borago officinalis) grows into a wide gangly plant that is lovely in a cottage garden, but can be somewhat messy in more formal borders. However it's an herb that is right at home in a vegetable garden. The brilliant blue flowers are a beacon for bees and a delight for gardeners. Both the leaves and the flowers are edible, with a subtle cool cucumber flavor. The plants are fast growing and can be direct seeded. After that, they tend to reseed themselves, so you'll have an ample supply.

You'll notice that some flowers are pink and some blue. That can be caused by light, temperature and other external conditions. But one theory it that the color changes as the flowers age and lose their pollen. Presumably the blue color tells pollinators that the flower is not longer worth their effort. Pulmonaria, which is in the same family, does the same thing.

2. Calendula

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Calendula, or pot marigold,(Calendula officinalis) are in the daisy family and are not related to the marigolds in the genus Tagetes. Pot marigolds are considered an edible flower, although they can have a predominately bitter flavor. It's their brilliant golden orange color that lights up dishes. In the garden, calendula is a mixed blessing. It repels some pests, like asparagus beetles and tomato hornworm, but it also attracts a few others, like aphids. Don't let that deter you. You can use it as a trap crop, putting it on the other side of the garden from plants, like peas, that are often attacked by aphids.

3. Cosmos

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Few flowers grow as easily and bloom as profusely as the annual cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus). For the vegetable garden, choose the white or bright orange varieties, like ‛Cosmic Orange' featured here. They will attract bees and maybe even better, lacewings. These insects may look delicate, but they are voracious eaters, vacuuming up all manner of soft bodied insects, including aphids, scale and thrips.Thrips are considered a beneficial insect and making them at home in your garden will prevent pest insects from becoming a problem.

4. Lavender

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

You don't need find an excuse to plant lavender (Lavandula sp. and cultivars) anywhere, but that heavenly fragrance we all love so much is a repellent for several pests of the garden and the gardener. You probably know that deer avoid it, but there are other insects and animals that also steer clear. At the top of the list is ticks. Lavender won't ensure that you won't get bit, but it should cut down on the amount of ticks in the area. Moths, like those pesky green cabbage moths, find the scent offensive. And even mice will find somewhere else to snack.

5. Marigold

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Marigolds (Tagetes sp.) don't get the respect they deserve. They deter pests both above the ground and below. Ring your garden with marigold plants and rabbits will think twice before crossing the line. Confuse Mexican bean beetles by interplanting them with your bean plants. They have been credited with repelling squash bugs, thrips, tomato hornworms and whitefles. They even exude a chemical that kills root nematodes in the soil. If nematodes are a problem, you'll need to plant your marigolds a year in advance and leave the roots in the soil, at the end of the season.

6. Nasturtium

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Cheerful nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) prefer cooler temperatures and continue blooming well into the fall. They are favored by aphids and make a great trap crop. But they are also one of the more delicious edible flowers (and leaves), so don't sacrifice them all. Nasturtiums also offer some protection from squash bugs and beetles. Nasturtium seeds are large and easy to collect for replanting next season. Many will probably seed on their own. Or perhaps you'd like to try turning them into nasturtium capers.

7. Sunflowers

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Sunflowers (Helianthus) are a perfect compliment for the vegetable garden. They make great trellises for climbing plants and they have lots of nectar to attract pollinators. Unfortunately they also tend to attract squirrels, which can be a problem if you are growing them to save the seeds. However a coarse leaved vegetable, like squash, planted beneath them, will go a long way toward deterring animals.

8. Sweet Pea

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Old fashioned, scented sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) are not edible by humans, but many other creatures find them delicious. If you have difficulty keeping them around in your flower garden, growing them in the protected enclosure of your vegetable garden is a great alternative. Vegetable gardens are great places to put all kinds of cut flowers, since you don't have to worry about empty spaces looking unkempt. Growing sweet peas with tall edible peas and pole beans is a great way to squeeze them into the garden and get the benefit of attracting more pollinators to your beans.

9. Zinnia

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Nectar rich zinnia (Zinnia elegans) flowers are magnets for bees and other pollinators. They are also listed as popular with hummingbirds. The paler, pastel varieties seem to be attractive to Japanese beetles and can be tried as a trap crop, although I'm always hesitant to try anything that attracts Japanese beetles. And, as with sweet peas, planting zinnias in the vegetable garden gives you the opportunity to use them as cut flowers without leaving large gaps in your flower garden.

  1. About.com
  2. Home
  3. Gardening
  4. Vegetable Gardening, Herbs, Fruits & More
  5. Vegetables
  6. Flowers for the Vegetable Garden

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.