In an organic garden, it is important to integrate, not to segregate. Growing flowers in your vegetable garden is one way to make sure you create thriving and productive ecosystems. You definitely do not have to keep flowers in a separate ornamental bed. Flowers should be integrated into food producing systems.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at exactly how and where you should include flowers in your vegetable garden. And examine the benefits of integrating them in these different ways.
Flowers as Companion Plants in Your Vegetable Garden
Individual flowers, first of all, should be considered as useful companion plants for common crops. On this site, you will find a lot more information that will help you to understand companion planting. And information to help you plan an integrated polyculture design.
The key things to understand about companion planting is that its goals are to create diverse ecosystems, which are far more complex, resilient and productive than mono-culture plantings. And to increase the yield you can successfully obtain in your organic garden.
Many flowering plants make excellent companion crops. They can potentially improve environmental conditions by providing shade or ground cover for other plants close by. Another service flowers might provide is dynamic accumulation – nitrogen fixing plants are of course one common example. Flowers can of course bring in the bees, and many other pollinators. Some will repel, confuse or distract pest species. And many will also attract other beneficial insects – those that help keep down the numbers of insect pests.
Beautiful flowering plants can be included in guilds of helpful plants around specific plants of a specific crop, or dotted throughout a vegetable garden. They won’t only bring the benefits to the other plants mentioned above – they can also enhance the visual appeal of your food producing garden.
Flowers for Yields in Your Vegetable Garden
One other important thing to remember is that flowers are not only useful as companion plants. Many flowers can also deliver useful edible yields in their own right. Nasturtiums, borage, and many other plants are very useful in a range of culinary applications.
And it is also important to note that many flowers also have other uses. Even those that are not edible can have a range of uses. They can be medicinal, for example. Or they can have a fragrance or other properties that makes them useful for DIY natural cleaning or beauty products. Of course, growing flowers in your vegetable garden can also mean that you will have a good supply of cut flowers to beautify and bring nature into your home.
Of course, many plants cultivated as primary edible crops and herbs also have beautiful flowers. And when it comes to a number of fruits, vegetables and herbs, the flowers of the plants constitute an additional benefit, and provide additional yields.
Growing Flowers as Living Mulches Between Crops
Flowers can also form part of the overall layout and design of a planting scheme. One way to integrate flowering plants is to use them as living mulches between your main crops. Low growing flowers can often make great living mulches. These living mulches can suppress grass or weed growth. And they can help preserve moisture in the soil. Of course, they also bring many of the benefits mentioned above.
Living mulches of flowering plants can be mowed or chopped and dropped, or left in place through the growing season. As long as the right plants are chosen, they should not compete too excessively with the crops you are trying to grow.
Growing Flowers as Cover Crops
Flowers can also be integrated into cover crops which can fill gaps in the planting schedule and protect the soil over the winter months, or at other times of year when there is a gap after harvesting one crop and before planting another.
Protecting and covering the soil is always crucial in an organic garden. You should typically avoid leaving large areas of bare soil whenever possible. Since this will help keep the soil ecosystem functioning as it should. Letting cover crops go to flower and set seed can also mean that plants will self seed, and pop up the following year in your garden. While this is not always desired, sometimes it can be beneficial in a range of different ways.
Growing Flowers as Living Bed Edging for Your Vegetable Garden
Flowers won’t just find a place within the growing areas themselves. It can also be beneficial to use flowering plants as bed edging around your vegetable beds or vegetable plot. Living bed edging is an interesting option to consider. Flowering shrubs like lavender or flowering herbs like thyme, for example, could make great edging in a sunny spot.
Beds in a vegetable garden or growing areas in a vegetable plot can also be divided by pathways. And those paths can also be a place to grow some flowers. Some flowering plants can be used to create total ground cover – a kind of flowering lawn that can withstand some foot traffic. Or where paving slabs or stones are used, flowers can be placed in gaps between the pavers for a beautiful and beneficial effect.
Flowers can always be wonderful in your garden. But as you plan and plant your vegetable garden, it is important to give some thought to exactly how, where and when you will include them. The solutions can all bring benefits. But it is important to choose the right options for your specific situation and where you live.
Choosing Flowers for Your Vegetable Garden
How, where and when exactly you place flowers in your vegetable garden will, of course, determine the best flowering plants to grow. Sometimes annuals are best. These can fit in with annual crop rotation schemes and planting schedules. At other times, the benefits of perennial flowers will be hard to beat.
Remember, even if you cannot fit flowers in anywhere else, you could consider placing a few beautiful options in containers close to where you are growing your main edible crops. Even when isolated in their own containers, flowers can often bring in beneficial wildlife, perhaps repel pest species, and bring a range of other benefits.
Which flowers do you grow in your vegetable garden? And how have you integrated them into your design and planting? Share your comments, experiences and suggestions below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.