If you’re thinking you don’t need to bother with flowers in your vegetable garden, especially if you have a small space, you may be surprised by the many benefits they offer you.
Flowers play multiple beneficial roles in EVERY garden, especially if you want an abundant harvest of fruit and vegetables. Did you know that with the right choices, you can increase your harvests, save money, reduce weeds and pests, get free fertiliser and plants, and much more? If not, dig in!
Powerful Reasons Why You Should Grow Flowers
Growing a food garden without flowers is an uphill battle. If you want fruit and vegetables, you need flowers too!
My compact kitchen garden has some flowering plants year round because I’ve designed it that way. So I’m going to share 13 compelling reasons why I think you should grow at least a few flowers in your vegetable garden.
1. Use as Companion Plants
Flowering companion plants are ‘friends’ with benefits! They offer neighbouring plants, or you as a gardener, some kind of useful ‘service.’ For example, tall flowering shrubs provide shade to sun-sensitive ground covers and strong smelling flowers may camouflage vulnerable crops nearby.
Flowering herbs are some of the best companions to grow in amongst your vegetables and fruit. Let’s just look at one example I mention in my Book, GUIDE TO USING KITCHEN HERBS FOR HEALTH:
“Chamomile has anti-fungal and antibacterial properties, and this may be one of the reasons it benefits other plants in the garden. No serious diseases are known to affect this healthy flowering herb. While the fresh flowers are very aromatic, they have a very bitter flavour because they contain a volatile oil, a bitter extractive and some tannic acid. This could explain why pests don’t find them all that attractive to munch on!”
“Chamomile also has a reputation for behaving like a nurse plant, helping to encourage other plants to increase their essential oil content and thus their flavour and aroma. Ailing plants seem to revive. It reportedly helps improve growth, resistance to pests and disease and increase harvests.”
2. Improve Pollination and Harvests
Flowers attract honeybees and other important pollinators like butterflies, wasps, birds and native bees. Studies show that when bees pollinate even self-fertile crops, the yield significantly increases. If you struggle to get a good harvest with your fruiting crops like eggplant, citrus, berries or zucchini, then sow flowers! As these insects collect the pollen, they will distribute it to nearby vegetables or fruit, improving pollination rates and increasing your harvest.
Deep throated flowers also hold water or dew drops as a reservoir. The longer these pollinators stay in your garden visiting flowers to eat and drink, the greater chances of improved pollination for your edible crops.
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3. Nutritious Edible Food
What’s more attractive than pretty petals in a salad or edible flowers as a garnish on your plate? Grown organically, edible blooms not only taste good but also add vital nutrients to your diet. With so many colours and varieties to choose from, you can increase the diversity of phytonutrients you eat. A few to try are sweet nasturtiums, cheerful calendula, blue borage, pretty pansies and violas. Make sure you clearly identify flowers before eating, grow them without chemicals and wash well.
Sunflowers, coriander and chia flowers are all sources of protein-rich seeds that are easy to grow in many warm climates.
In this mini workshop, I share some of the wonderful edible blooms you can grow, pick and use in your kitchen and garden.
4. Help Manage Weeds
When used as a ground cover or space filler, flowering plants can shade soil and out-compete weeds. Some flowers are very effective as they are fast growing and don’t allow weeds to take hold. I use many flowers as a living carpet in my garden and when designing kitchen gardens for my clients. Try nasturtiums, sweet Alice (alyssum) and native violets.
5. Free Fertiliser
Did you know that legume plants (from the pea and bean family) that bear flowers can all ‘fix nitrogen’ in your soil? They can help to fertilise your plants for free! These legumes add nitrogen via a beneficial relationship with rhizobia bacteria, converting nitrogen into a form other plants can use. Pretty cool hey? These include Peas, Beans and Sweet Peas, Lupins, Lucerne/Alfalfa, Wynn’s Cassia, Barrel Medic, Wisteria and Clover. Working with nature by growing a few of these flowering species can help reduce the cost of fertilising.
Grown as a cover crop and then chopped and dropped as mulch, you can also use the leaves, stems and flowers as organic matter to help build healthy soil. I use nasturtiums this way, as well as some of the crops mentioned above.
6. Pest and Disease Management
Flowers work in a number of ways to help you manage pests and diseases. Maintaining a predator to pest balance in your garden is vital for healthy productive fruit and vegetables. Flowers can:
1) Attract beneficial predator insects as an ‘insectary’ or food source which means less work for you! e.g. Various species of ladybirds and their larvae will feed on pollen, nectar and also on aphids, scale and powdery mildew.
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2) Act as a sacrificial trap crop to lure pests and make it easier to remove them. e.g. Nasturtiums attract butterflies and moths that attack cabbage family crops, distracting them from your more valuable vegetables.
3) Produce chemicals to repel insects from attacking a plant’s leaves, flowers, roots and fruit. Nasturtiums and some varieties of marigolds can be used to fumigate the soil as a natural deterrent to harmful root knot nematodes. I’ve used this strategy very successfully, with no need for chemicals. Their strongly scented flowers and foliage can also help repel insects above the ground.
Growing a few flowers is a pretty cheap and easy solution for a whole host of potential pest problems. Even if you only include a few pots with annual blooms and the odd perennial flowering shrub, you should see improvements.
Learn more: Imitate Nature for Higher Yields and Less Pests
7. Medicinal and Health Benefits
Many flowers, such as those from edible herbs, can provide a variety of health benefits from the nutrient compounds they contain. Nasturtiums for example, contain a powerful antibiotic and can be used to boost the body’s immune system.
You can also use many flowers to make your own cosmetics and remedies. Calendula (Calendula Officinalis) petals can be used to make your own salves, lip balm and other body products.
8. Save Money on Cut Flowers
There’s no doubt that pretty perfumed petals bring sensory enjoyment. Who doesn’t love a fragrant rose or the heady perfume of flowers in a vase?
However, by growing your own scented flowers, you can avoid breathing in the chemicals from commercially grown poisoned petals. Having been in the flower industry for several years, I learned there are only a handful of organic flower growers! Ever stop to think how those beautiful buds you buy have been grown? You may be alarmed if you knew how many chemicals they’ve been sprayed with, so you can enjoy a bunch of unblemished blooms! Mmm … not such a sweet thought after all!
On the positive side, the pleasant aroma of fragrant blooms is also an ideal addition for those who appreciate a sensory garden. It’s incredibly uplifting to the soul to smell the sweet aroma of flowers as you wander about the garden. Strongly scented flowers are ideal for planting beside a seat or in a pot on an outdoor table.
Many blooms not only look gorgeous in your garden, but there are other benefits to bringing this beauty indoors. You save money and enjoy seasonal flowers in your home to help brighten up a room and bring a smile.
“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.” ~ Luther Burbank
Flowers never fail to make you feel happy and we can all do with a little brightness in our day. I often put a bunch of nasturtiums and herb flowers like coriander and parsley blossoms in a vase on the dining table as edible ingredients. Great for digestive enzymes too!
Some blooms like bergamot, salvia, cosmos, zinnia, coreopsis and marigolds can be used for long term enjoyment in dried flower arrangements. Rose petals, calendula, sweet pea and other fragrant dried petals are useful in potpourri as a natural air freshener.
9. As a Garden Design Feature
You can use flowers as a focal point in many creative ways. Choose climbing roses, jasmine, dipladenias or mandevilla vines that climb up a vertical structure to draw the eye up. Select trailing flowers like lobelia or ivy geraniums that cascade down in hanging baskets as a feature at eye level. Provide pops of colour in pots, grow at ground level in your garden or as a hedge, edge or interplant amongst your vegetables.
A pretty potager (ornamental kitchen garden) is an attractive way to grow fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers together. This is an example of how you can combine colourful flowers that provide multiple functions with an edible garden. This is one of my client’s front yards.
It’s a very compact space with dwarf fruit trees (at the back – will be espaliered up the wire trellis to save space), seasonal vegetables, perennials and herbs. The flowers have also been used as colourful edging to create an attractive focal point and soften hard raised bed edging. You can use flowers in a similar way in your garden.
10. Edible Flower Herb Teas
Enjoy the flavour and health benefits of making a herb tea with fresh or dried flowers such as bergamot, borage, chamomile and lemon balm. You can drink these on their own or add to other herbs.
11. Get Free Plants
When flowers are finished, the benefits might seem all over! However, if you allow the flower heads to dry fully, you can save the mature seeds to grow more of the same plants in your garden for free. You can also take cuttings from many flowering plants and propagate new plants. e.g. geraniums, salvias, pineapple sage and many perennials.
12. Provide Colour and Beauty
Every garden needs colour! A splash of beautiful blooms makes every space look better, and even more so if you only have a small balcony or courtyard. Beauty around you helps lift your mood and creates a more inviting environment in which to live. Even a pot of flowers on an outdoor table or a few planters along a balcony rail can really make a difference to your overall enjoyment.
13. Make Money or Grow Gifts
If you have an abundance of flowers, why not make a little extra money and sell or swap them? Enterprising home gardeners can sell seasonal flowers at markets or supply local florists. You can even grow edible flowers as microgreens.
I’m sure you can think of a friend who could do with a little boost right now. Giving a posy or bouquet of homegrown flowers as a gift always brightens someone’s day and just makes you feel good about sharing the beauty around.
With all these benefits, I hope you can see why you should grow flowers in your vegetable garden!
6 Tips for an Abundant Flower and Vegetable Garden
- Allow your herbs and vegetables to flower and set seed. While you are harvesting your food and waiting for the seeds to form, you are providing a nutritious banquet for pollinators and predator insects. e.g. Coriander, rocket, lettuce, broccoli, mustard, basils, mint, dill and parsley.
- Grow perennial flowers that bloom year after year and give long-lasting value. e.g. Salvias, Shasta daisies, Sages, Geraniums and bulbs.
- Include a few annual flowers for seasonal colour. e.g. Marigolds, impatiens, begonias, violas, petunias, cosmos, native violets and dianthus.
- Aim to have some flowering plants in your garden year-round as a source of nectar and pollen for insects.
- Interplant with fruiting crops to improve pollination.
- Before spring, sow seasonal flowers. By the time they bloom, beneficial predator insects like ladybirds, parasitic wasps and hoverflies, will turn up for a free feed. If you make this a seasonal habit, your garden will be a magnet for these helpful pest managers. When the new growth starts in spring, aphids and other pest insects turn up for a feeding frenzy. These beneficial predators will keep the populations in balance = less work for you. Just so long as you avoid chemicals in your garden. I reckon that’s a win-win!
Many trees, natives, shrubs and herbaceous plants also flower. So, with a little thoughtful planning, you may only need an extra pot or two here and there. I hope these tips encourage you to plant some flowers, work with nature and enjoy the bountiful rewards.
Related posts: 10 Top Tips to Create a Bee Friendly Garden
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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2017. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.
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