Are you one of those gardeners that believe the best way to grow fresh produce is in long rows? Why not save your back and your sanity by placing your veggies and herbs right into your flowerbeds! We asked award-winning veggie gardening guru Niki Jabbour, author of The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, Groundbreaking Food Gardens, and the upcoming Veggie Remix for her best tips about garden BFFs.
When did you start mixing things up and what are the advantages of growing veggies with flowers?
My vegetable garden is a raised bed garden, which is a more efficient way to grow food than in long rows. Raised beds offer so many benefits to food (and flower!) gardeners: They warm up early in spring, offer excellent drainage, allow intensive planting, and don’t suffer from compacted soil as I never walk on them. Plus, raised beds make it easy to extend the growing season in autumn with a mini hoop tunnel. I first started mixing food and flowers in my beds and borders about 15 years ago, mainly so I could have some cut flowers in my veggie beds. Now, I grow flowers in my veggie beds to attract pollinators and beneficial insects. Since I began including flowers in my food gardens, pest populations have dropped dramatically, and my yield has increased because more of my cucumber, pumpkin, and squash flowers get pollinated. Better pollination, better harvest.
Which flowers deter pests when they’re planted next to veggies?
Pairing flowers with food plants has many benefits; first of all, it looks fantastic! But, the flowers will also attract more bees to pollinate your vegetables and more beneficial insects to reduce pest populations. My favorite flowers for the vegetable garden include nasturtiums, cosmos, sunflowers, calendula, zinnias, catmint, and sweet alyssum. Sweet alyssum in particular is excellent for attracting non-stinging, parasitic wasps that feed on many soft-bodied insects like aphids, and I like to plant it around my tomatoes and peppers.
How do you pair flowers and veggies?
I consider plant height, flower and foliage color, and bloom time when mixing flowers and vegetables in ornamental gardens and containers, as well as vegetable beds. This is especially important when pairing flowers and edibles in containers, window boxes, and planters. I love to use tall veggies like corn, amaranth, or kale as the focal point in a big pot and then underplant with million bells, petunias, Profusion zinnias, and bidens. I love the frilly textures of food plants like Russian Frills or Bear Necessities kale, as well as the bold colors of Amaranth tricolor and Raspberry Ripple sorrel. My absolute favorite edible for ornamental gardens and containers is Peppermint Swiss chard. It has deep green foliage and electric pink and white striped stems – dazzling, and pairs well with most ornamentals.
What should beginners grow in their flowerbeds to get started?
The best edibles for flowerbeds include easy-to-grow crops like Swiss chard, kale, bush beans, cherry tomatoes, and herbs like curly parsley, oregano, sage, and thyme. If space allows, you can even use existing arbors, trellises and fences to grow vining food plants with your flowers. Veggies that climb include pole beans, cucumbers, squash, peas and cucamelons.
What are your fave garden BFF combos? Share your photos with us!
All photos courtesy of Niki Jabbour, SavvyGardening.com