Wise Pairings: Best Flowers to Plant with Vegetables

Plant a profusion of pollen- and nectar-rich flowers among your edible plants to naturally control pests, boost pollination and provide pretty pops of color. Here, learn some of the best flowers to plant with vegetables and get tips for arranging your space.

| February/March 2015

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. Plus, giving beneficial insects supplemental food sources of pollen and nectar throughout the season means they’ll stick around for when pests show up.

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.

Integrating 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.

1/20/2018 11:26:51 AM

I added heirloom Hollyhocks for visual height appeal, and the insects love them. I let nasturtiums rambling around my winter squash vines. Of course marigolds form bushes everywhere in the garden, too. I have violas that volunteer in every color imaginable: I always called them Johnny-jump-ups—i think they are the same thing! I mix runner beans among my pole beans and they are gorgeous. ‘This year i am planning more trellised combos: morning glories and matt’s Wild Cherry tomato for one, and also morning glories with Mexican Gherkins or other round cukes.

1/19/2018 11:27:55 AM

Something else I would add is Verbena. It grows wild where I live and works well in the garden. The native Coreopsis is also abundant here and I let it grow wild in the garden removing the plants that are in a bad location. Purple Basil has naturalized itself in my garden space and I have to chop hundreds of plants as weeds it re-seeds itself so readily. I do leave as many as I can for both looks and the flowers. I have always included Marigolds in my garden and have added Echinacea, culinary sage which blooms nicely for me, Salvia which is a member of the same family of plants, and sweet Basil which I let go to bloom. I do pinch back some of the Basil so it will fill out and bloom later in the season.

1/19/2018 8:24:21 AM

I love this article, thanks so much for the list of other flowers to grow with veggies. In my garden, I've planted marigolds and nasturtiums. The nasturtiums do beautifully alongside my cucumber vines.

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