Mixing Flowers and Food in the Garden

Article written by Troy-Bilt brand ambassador Teresa O'Connor of Seasonal Wisdom
 
Planting flowers and food plants together has many benefits for gardeners. It's especially convenient for small gardens that don't have a lot of space. The flowers attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies to your garden, which is important for germination of your food plants. And it simply looks more attractive to mix the two types of plants in the garden. Besides, many edible plants are certainly good-looking enough for a prominent place in your yard, including colorful salad greens or flowering eggplants.
 
Keep in mind that many food plants have flowers themselves. In fact, you may already be eating flowers without realizing it. For instance, broccoli and artichoke are basically unopened flower buds, while tomato and pepper blossoms eventually grow into the foods we love in summer meals.

 

Here are seven tips for mixing flowers and food plants safely in your garden:
 
1. No sprays! Be safe. This idea only works well if you don't spray chemicals in your garden. That way you can avoid any chemicals getting on your edible plants or harming your pollinators. Learn to accept a little imperfection in your garden. The bees and butterflies will thank you, and you'll be able to harvest food without worries. 
 
Also, it's important to know how to recognize which plants are edible and which aren't, so there isn't any confusion. Do your homework, and know what's growing in your garden beds. Safety is your top concern.
 
2. Pair plants with similar growing conditions. It's easiest when you first consider whether the food and ornamental plants make good neighbors. Do they like the same growing conditions, soil types, sunlight requirements and temperatures? Are they compatible in other ways? Remember, you don't want anything too sharp or pokey, when you're harvesting food around them.
 
3. Consider containers. Not crazy about your garden's soil conditions? Consider growing flowers or food in containers of all types. I've even seen people use old canoes with drainage holes for growing marigolds and beans.
 
Just make sure you use potting soil, not ordinary garden soil, and have proper drainage in your containers. Keep in mind that you'll likely need to water more often than plants in the ground; probably daily in hot weather conditions.
 
4. Don't forget edible flowers! One good way to get started is to experiment with edible flowers in your food garden. Many edible flowers are easy to grow from seeds, such as calendula, nasturtiums, chamomile and borage. In fact, these flowers have all self-seeded for me. 
 
Others such as scented geraniums, elder flowers and roses are perennial plants that bring years of beauty. Always know whether the flowers are edible, and never eat any that were sprayed or not meant for human consumption.
 
5. Let 'em flower. Consider allowing your edible plants to flower at the end of the season to attract pollinators. I'll often let my thyme flower, and then use the blossoms in omelets, casseroles or soups. Bees love them too. These perennial herbs do fine with a clipping afterwards, preparing them for another season. 
 
My annual broccoli flowers are especially popular with the bees, and they have pretty yellow blossoms that add a wild, cottage garden look. You can see some examples in the photo above. Just remember that flowering will signal the end of production for these annual food plants, so it's best to wait until the end of the growing season. These broccoli flowers are done producing for the year, and I'll remove them once they stop flowering and plant another edible.
 
6. Spacing and rotating. Whether they are edible or ornamental plants, it's best to space them based on their eventual mature sizes. Use annuals as 'fillers' between your perennial plants.
 
Many gardeners rotate annual food plants annually, based on their plant families. This crop rotation helps to fight pest and pathogen problems. For example, you don't want to plant tomatoes or family members such as bell peppers, potatoes or eggplants in the same spot more than once every three years. 
 
By planting edibles near flowers, you're able to use more of your garden beds to grow food - especially some of the more popular ones like tomatoes. I'm growing four tomato plants in the accompanying article photo.
 
7. Start small. Your design doesn't have to be elaborate either. Maybe you line a flower bed with a row of Swiss chard so that the colorful plant stalks match a neighboring plant's blossoms. Perhaps you drape colorful nasturtiums in raised beds near your tomato plants. It could even be as easy as setting pots of arugula and flowering thyme near your roses. I've had good luck with dahlias, verbena, lantana, scented geraniums, nasturtium, borage and flowering herbs in my kitchen gardens over the years.
 
A Bonus Tip for Bunnies
What kind of flowers can be planted in a vegetable garden to keep away furry friends like bunnies? 
 
The experts at Rutgers University suggest annuals such as ageratum, campanula or impatiens. Perennials like yarrow, asters, dahlias and verbena also may bring relief. And don't forget shrubs and herbs like lantana, rosemary and Mexican sage are said to repel rabbits. 
 
If these flowers don't work, consider a good fence buried 3 to 6 inches below the soil surface.