We know you’re just dying to grab a bunch of blossoms from your garden and make up a glorious bouquet. But before you start snipping any which way, consider what you should be planting and what varieties work well side-by-side says Newport News, VA-based Lisa Mason Ziegler, owner of The Gardener’s Workshop, an organic market farm and author of the new book Vegetables Love Flowers: Companion Planting for Beauty and Bounty. We asked Lisa how to design a showcase cutting garden, and which plants make the best BFFs.
What’s the best way to introduce flowers that are both beneficial as companions, and also can provide gorgeous cuttings for display inside?
The most productive cutting gardens are fairly small in square footage, with the flowers planted in one spot creating an island of blooms. This helps the pollinators and beneficial insects and creatures find the flowers and makes for the easiest tending and harvesting. Once in the garden, these guys will share their benefits with the surrounding vegetables.
Harvesting the flowers will keep the garden full of fresh flowers and buds all season, exactly what the gardener and garden residents want. The results: A fresh bouquet on the kitchen table with extras to share with family and friends.
Can gardeners plant perennial flowers as companions, or are annuals better? What are your favorite varieties to incorporate together with veggies?
Grouping plants with similar needs together tends to simplify garden chores. Most vegetable gardens are made up of annuals, which are a good choice for the cutting garden. Annuals produce more over a longer period of time, which makes them a good value. My favorite annual flowers that attract pollinators and make knockout bouquets are zinnias, sunflowers, and lemon basil for fragrant foliage. The color and variety choices seem endless, and keep the garden changing and exciting.
What if gardeners have established flowerbeds, and want to introduce some veggies or herbs? What’s the best way to get started?
Tucking pockets of vegetables and herb plants is an excellent use of space. Be sure the plantings are accessible from the pathway for easy harvesting.
Leaf lettuces are quick growers and are also beautiful. They’re low-growing, so are great in the front of the border and they quickly regrow. Harvest the outermost mature leaves and they will keep growing for a continuous harvest. Lemon basil is an excellent choice to edge a bed. Passersby that brush up against the foliage will encounter the dreamy lemon fragrance.
What varieties of cut flowers do well in part-shade?
As a longtime shade gardener, I learned that really getting the soil in shape pays off in spades. Because the trees that are creating the shade also have as many roots in the soil as there are branches overhead, it’s tough for a plant to thrive. Soil health improvements can make a big difference in squeezing a sun-loving plant into shady conditions. Flowers that bloom in the spring are good choices, because the trees aren’t leaved out while they are preparing to bloom. Some that do well are poppies, pot marigolds, and snapdragons.
As the trees leaf out, it becomes more challenging. If you get six hours of sun, black-eyed Susans, cosmos, and basil for fragrant foliage will perform well. Flowers may not reproduce as quickly or abundantly as in full sun.
Photos: by Bob Schamerhorn