Flower and vegetable garden

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Tips for planting and making raised flower beds

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When my husband and I built and installed our first raised beds, my thought was to build them to grow edibles—not about making raised flower beds. However, I did plant flowers around the edges for ornamental reasons. But then I realized how much the pollinators love the blooms (and how much that benefits the herbs and veggies) and THEN I realized that since the flowers were in a raised bed where I harvested edibles, I could harvest some blooms, as well.

Rather than sacrificing flowers in my ornamental gardens for a vase, it’s nice to have flowers to pick that were grown specifically with summer bouquets in mind, which is why I’ve allowed fun annuals, like cosmos and zinnias and sunflowers to take over one whole raised bed.

I’ve gathered a few tips for making raised flower beds

There is no one superior raised bed design that is specifically suited for flowers. I decided to use one of the first raised beds that were built for edibles, which are very basic rectangular structures.

Materials and soil
I like to use untreated wood for all my raised beds. I usually fill the new garden with a mix of the best-quality soil I can find from a local supplier (I used triple mix for mine) and top-dress it with organic compost.

A simple raised bed design
The design of this particular raised bed is pretty simple: Cut two boards that are 1” x 5.25” x 8 feet in half for the ends and use four 1” x 5.25” x 8-foot boards for the two longer sides, stacking them two high. Use outdoor screws to attach the boards to 4×4 posts that will anchor the raised beds in the ground. You may also want to add a couple of stakes to the sides if you live in a cold climate as the boards can heave over time.

A simple raised bed design that will work for food or flowers. Illustration by Matt Filion

Planting flowers
Some flower seeds, such as sunflowers, you can sow as soon as the ground thaws (check your seed packet for instructions). I usually start a few types of flowers indoors to give them a head start.

When planting, be sure to stake long-stemmed beauties as early as possible so that flowers don’t flop in a strong wind or from the weight of their blooms.

I planted a couple of bags of gladiolus bulbs last year and the squirrels ate or dug up every last one. This year, I plan to place a simple cover made of 1x2s and screen overtop of my beds until the bulbs really take root.

Feed your flowers
Flowers need food, so use an organic fertilizer (especially if you’re growing the flowers around food) regularly to help them along.

My favourite no-fail annuals include zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers. This year, I’ve added craspedia to my list (they’re the yellow lovelies that are in the folder below). And while daylilies can really take over a space, I have a few patches that I snip from for bouquets. Dahlias are also gorgeous in arrangements, though some are way too heavy for vases!

Gathering blooms for bouquets
When cutting blooms for vases, snip them first thing in the morning and place them immediately in a bucket of cool water. Strip away the bottom leaves as they’ll rot underwater in a vase and re-snip the ends underwater before placing in a vase.

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Flowers in the vegetable garden can reduce pest problems and improve biodiversity. Here are six of my favorite flowers to grow for healthy garden crops.

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I love pollinators and pretty flowers, too, so many years ago I started growing flowers in all of my vegetable beds. I liked the way it looked, and I felt happy growing food for me and food for the bees and butterflies.

However, I didn’t anticipate the power of bringing habitat for beneficial insects right into the places where I needed them.

Ladybugs were devouring aphids on the calendula, while the kale and broccoli nearby were pest-free. Beneficial braconid wasps covered the sweet alyssum and patrolled nearby crop plants. I was instantly hooked on this practice of integration!

Why Use Flowers in the Vegetable Garden?

Many experts encourage gardeners to plant a border of flowers around the perimeter of the garden. I do this, but I also encourage you to plant the following flowers among the crops. This can attract beneficial insects directly to where they’re needed.

That’s because in the permaculture garden, this practice integrates different aspects of the garden to make the overall ecosystem more biodiverse, efficient, and low maintenance.

Learn about bumble bees and several facts about their life cycle that you didn’t know!

This integration increases the chance that beneficial insects will locate pests on your crops and keep things in balance.

Read more about permaculture design.

Further, it’s not only the above-ground pests that flowers can help with. Flowers also help to maintain a healthy garden ecology by holding the soil in place (less erosion) and by feeding the beneficial soil organisms when their roots die back.

See: How to Prevent Soil Erosion in Gardens and On Farms

How to Use Flowers in the Vegetable Garden

I use annual flowers in the vegetable garden. Although many annuals self-sow in following years, each year they can be sown anew within the garden wherever it makes the most sense for that particular year’s arrangement of crops.

Rows of flowers can be alternated with rows of vegetables, or every couple of rows. Sprinkle flower seeds in the spring when the rest of the garden is being planted. Flowers used in this way are considered a living mulch.

Read more about using living mulches in the permaculture garden.

How you alternate your flowers and vegetables depends on many things such as the size of the bed, crop selection, and the types of flowers you choose. The height of the crops and the flowers, as well as sun exposure all play a part.

In a 3-foot-wide garden bed, there are typically three rows of crops. Here are some examples for a bed with the long side facing south (northern hemisphere):

Example 1: Tomatoes are grown as the tallest crop in a bed. To do this, plant tomatoes along the north side of the bed, with medium-height flowers in the middle, and a shorter crop, like carrots, in the southern-most row.

Example 2: Lettuce is the primary crop of a bed. Plant lettuce in the middle row, with shorter flowers in the southern-most row, and a taller or similarly sized crop behind it on the north side, such as radishes. Or plant taller flowers behind it on the north side, with a similarly sized crop in front of it on the south side, such as onions.

Would you like to learn more about using flowers in the vegetable garden to improve biodiversity, reduce maintenance, and increase yield?

You’ll find loads of information just like this in my award-winning book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.

My 6 Favorite Flowers in the Vegetable Garden

Although there are quite a few flowers that can benefit the vegetable garden, the following are my favorites because they are annuals, which means that I can rearrange them every year to correspond with the crops I intend to grow.

All of these flowers work well in the edible landscape, too. Get more edible landscaping tips here!

The following selections are also especially good at:

  • attracting beneficial insects
  • holding the soil in place

They are edible and aren’t too tall.

I reserve tall flowers and perennial flowers for the outskirts of the garden, which I do not cover in this article. See: How to Grow Perennial Sunflowers.

Wanna know what weeds I let grow in my garden? See my article 5 Weeds You Want in your Garden.

Calendula flowers are growing with peppers, chard, and other garden crops.

1. Calendula (Calendula Officinalis)

Calendula might just be my favorite annual flower to grow in the vegetable garden, but don’t tell the other flowers!

This annual herb with a cheerful, yellow, daisy-like flower can grow 18-24 inches tall. It exudes a sticky sap that traps pests like aphids and whiteflies, and keeps them off of nearby crops.

It attracts many types of pollinators and beneficial insects like ladybugs, hoverflies, and green lacewings who enjoy not only the flower nectar, but also the buffet of their favorite pests.

Calendula can even be grown like a cover crop over the winter to hold the soil in place.

For more information about calendula, see my article 7 Reasons to Grow Calendula or buy calendula seeds.

California poppies in the garden.

2. California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

I recently planted perennial flowers in the front yard flower garden that were going to take a year to establish and develop flowers. In the interim, I sowed California poppy in the empty spaces of the bed because it is quick to bloom.

I was fascinated by the deep roots of this plant that mine the clay soil and soften it, as well as the bright yellow flowers that tell you when it’s going to rain by closing up. (They also close up at night).

The lacy foliage is a favorite of beneficial insects.

For all of these reasons, I started sowing it in my vegetable garden and enjoyed the beauty and healthy vegetable harvests.

It will grow to about 12 inches.

Buy California poppy seeds.

Chamomile growing in the vegetable garden.

Photo by Dana via Flickr

3. German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla or Matricaria recutita)

These cute-as-a-button dainty flowers with their lacy foliage attract pollinators and beneficial insects.

Growing to about 12 inches, chamomile is a prairie plant that has deep roots which dredge up nutrients. When the season is finished, cut the plant back to allow the nutrient-rich plant matter to fertilize the soil.

Buy Chamomile seeds.

Flowering cilantro growing in the strawberry bed.

4. Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

It seems everyone has a strong opinion about the taste of this herb—either you love it or hate it.

Whether or not you enjoy eating cilantro, it can still be a useful herb in the garden. That’s because its strong scent will actually repel pests.

As a member of the carrot family, its roots reach deep into the soil, loosening as it goes (nature’s free tilling service!). Read more about the no-till garden here. Also as a member of the carrot family, the flower and lacy foliage attract a wide number of beneficial insects.

Cilantro/Coriander will grow to two feet tall. Although this is at the tall end of flowers for the vegetable garden, I find that its upright growth habit allows sunlight to get through to shorter crops around it.

Buy cilantro seeds.

Yellow nasturtiums growing with trellised sweet potatoes.

5. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)

Nasturtium is an annual herb that has peppery leaves and flowers. Giving off a strong scent, it repels pests.

Its dense, low growing habit (12-18 inches) makes it an excellent living mulch as it covers the soil underneath taller crops, and feeds the soil as it dies back.

The showy flowers and foliage are a favorite in the edible landscape.

Buy nasturtium seeds.

Sweet alyssum growing with Swiss chard.

6. Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)

Sweet alyssum is a low-growing plant that is popularly grown in landscape borders. It has a pleasant scent.

Although there are many colors to choose from, the white flowers attract the most beneficial insects. I have never seen so many hoverflies as when I’ve planted sweet alyssum in the garden!

It is effective as a living mulch because its shallow roots hold the soil in place.

My favorite way to grow it is in the edible landscape with Swiss chard. Find out more about this winning edible landscape combination!

Buy sweet alyssum seeds.

What to do at the end of the garden season with flowers in the vegetable garden?

Using flowers in the vegetable garden is a really great idea, but you might be wondering how to clean up your garden beds at the end of the season.

For one thing, you can improve the ecology of your garden by leaving the roots of the flower plants intact. Cut them off at the base, rather than pulling up the spent plants, when you’re cleaning up at the end of the season.

The plant matter can be chopped and dropped in place to act as a mulch. Roots left intact will decay and feed the soil life, becoming rich soil. For more soil improvement ideas, see these articles:

  • 7 Ways to Improve Soil Quality
  • 9 Organic Amendments that Improve Soil Structure and Texture

The Following Spring

The following spring, these old roots may still be present when you’re ready to plant.

No worries, simply adjust your planting a little to the left or right to avoid the root. Your row might not be the straightest line, but the plants sown directly next to the old root will reap the benefits of the biological activity and richness of the decaying root.

READ NEXT:

  • How to Develop the Permaculture Homestead in Phases
  • 5 Reasons to Grow Chives
  • Does Your Permaculture Garden Need Daffodils?

Do you grow flowers in the vegetable garden? What are your favorites?

Which shrubs to grow in raised beds

What should you grow in a raised bed? There are lots of great plants to choose from, that will then provide interest, colour and structure throughout the rest of the year.

Evergreens

All evergreen shrubs will provide a brilliant backdrop of colour throughout the year, but particularly in winter. Any evergreen can be grown in a container – as long as the container is large enough – and conifers are one of the obvious choices.

Conifers are available in a huge range of colours, shapes and sizes – and you can even celebrate Christmas outdoors with a suitable potted Christmas tree adorned with outdoor lights! When looking for conifers, make sure you choose carefully, selecting varieties that won’t grow taller than you want. Growing them in containers will reduce their growth rate and their overall height.

But, it’s not only conifers, you can go for any evergreen shrub.

Winter-flowering shrubs

There are several winter-flowering shrubs that will provide extra colour during the dull, winter months. These include Hamamelis (witch hazel), Mahonia (evergreen), Sarcococca (winter box, evergreen), Viburnum x bodnantense, Viburnum farreri and Viburnum tinus (evergreen). These shrubs are also very highly scented (except Viburnum tinus, which has a mild scent), so make sure you grow them close to the house where you can benefit from their delicious smells whenever it’s mild enough to open a window.

You can also grow Jasminum nudiflorum (winter jasmine) and winter-flowering Clematis cirrhosa to decorate walls and fences.

Berries and stems

Don’t forget plants that have other interesting features during winter. There are numerous shrubs that have winter berries, such as pyracantha (evergreen), cotoneaster (some are evergreen) and, of course, the traditional Christmas holly (evergreen).

And make the most of colourful stems, such as dogwoods and Rubus thibetanus, and shrubs with twisted and contorted stems, such as Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ and Salix ‘Erythroflexuosa’.

Winter-flowering heathers

To make the most of your containers and to ensure maximum colour, you can underplant these shrubs with evergreen winter-flowering heathers, ivy and ajuga, which will also trail over the sides.

Autumn, winter and spring bedding plants will also add extra colour and interest for many months.

The best composts for raised bed shrubs

As shrubs are long-term plants, it is far better to plant them in loam-based Levington John Innes No 3 compost or a multi-purpose compost with added John Innes, such as Levington Multi Purpose Compost with added John Innes.

Composts containing loam are heavier than multi-purpose composts, so the containers are less likely to blow over in strong winds. They also hold more nutrients and are generally the best bet for all trees, shrubs and perennial plants.

Wise Pairings: Best Flowers to Plant with Vegetables

In addition to bringing in more “good guys” to munch pests, flowers will give you more control because they can act as a useful barrier — a physical barrier as opposed to the chemical barriers created in non-organic systems. The hornworms on your tomato plant, for instance, won’t readily migrate to a neighboring tomato plant if there’s a tall, “stinky” marigold blocking the way.

Create Cool Combos of Flowers and Vegetables

To begin establishing your edible landscape, you should plant flowers with a variety of colors and textures, different sizes and shapes, and an overall appealing aesthetic. After you’ve shed the notion that flowers and vegetables must be separated, a surprising number of crop-and-flower combinations will naturally emerge, especially if you keep in mind the following six guidelines.

1. Stagger sizes. Pay attention to the eventual height and width of each flower and food plant (check seed packets and nursery tags), and place them accordingly. Tall plants, for the most part, belong in back. They’ll still be visible, but they won’t block the smaller plants from view or from sunshine. A good rule is to put the taller plants on the north and east sides of your garden, and the shorter ones on the south and west sides.

2. Consider proportions. A 6-foot-tall sunflower planted next to an 18-inch-tall cabbage would look lopsided. Instead, place plants of graduated heights from tallest to shortest so your eye will travel naturally from one location to the next.

3. Experiment with complementary colors. Use the hues of your edibles — red tomatoes and peppers, yellow squash flowers, purple cabbage and basil — as a starting point. Look for flowers that will highlight those shades, such as bright yellows or soft purples, or choose a hue on the opposite side of the color wheel to provide an unexpected pop. For foliage, experiment with different shades of green to give your landscape more depth.

4. Play with textures and shapes. Pair a sprawling squash with more upright basils. Partner thick-leaved plants with those that don delicate leaves. Surround a straight-edged tipi of runner beans with a bed of rounded dwarf marigolds.

5. Plant for all seasons. Grow plants with a range of different blooming times so something will always be in flower from early spring to late fall. Not only will this mean a feast of colors to enjoy all year, but, more importantly, it will yield a steady source of pollen and nectar for beneficial insects.

6. View your garden holistically. An ideal landscape draws you in with its diversity, and also with repeating elements, whether those elements are plants, shapes, types of containers or beds, colors, or textures. Browse gardening magazines, books and websites for landscapes you like, and substitute some of your favorite edibles for some of the ornamentals. An article on foliage plants might show a container of ornamental coleus, and that same composition may work just as well if you swap in some crimson chard or curly, chartreuse kale. A feature on flowering vines might inspire you to add scarlet runner beans to the mix.

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Pick the Best Blooms

Choosing the right flowers for your space is at once simple and complex. It’s simple because there’s a lot of research out there about flowers that attract birds, bees, butterflies and beneficial insects. It’s complex because dozens of flowers appear on those lists, and pinpointing the ones that will work best in your climate and with your vegetables and your overall garden design may take some time.

Keep in mind that different insects are attracted to different flower characteristics, such as color, scent and blossom shape. The more diverse range of flowers you offer them, the more diverse the insect population in your garden will be. Try some plants in the daisy (Asteraceae) family, such as black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, cosmos, marigolds, sunflowers and zinnias. Also consider the parsley (Apiaceae) family, especially carrots, cilantro, dill and parsley; the mustard (Brassicaceae) family, including nasturtiums and sweet alyssum; and the mint (Lamiaceae) family, with basil, sage, Victoria salvia and, of course, mint. For a much more comprehensive list of insect-coaxing flowers, see The Best Plants to Attract Beneficial Insects and Bees.

Plants native to your area will naturally attract the insects and birds vital to your ecosystem, so seek out native plants. Try heirloom flowers, too, as they’re often packed with nectar and pollen, and some are wonderfully fragrant. If choosing modern hybrids, look for varieties with those same characteristics. For more flower choices, see 10 of the Best Flowers to Plant with Vegetables.

After you’ve enticed plenty of beneficial insects and birds to your garden, you’ll want to keep them there. To do so, first place shallow water sources, such as small birdbaths, around your garden. Second, allow flowers to grow and spread to provide shelter. Third, don’t be too quick to clean things up. Let a few of your herbs, such as basil and parsley, and vegetables, such as broccoli and lettuce, mature to their flowering stage to attract insects. Finally, trust nature to keep things in balance rather than jumping in with controls and chemicals. Be patient, allowing the interactions among flowers, insects and crops time to play out.

I’d like to say that I had an “Aha!” moment when I realized how effectively and elegantly all of this worked. Actually, though, it took a while before I finally understood that, when it comes to flora, what we compartmentalize as “edible” and “ornamental” are in fact an interconnected system, and if you take out the flowers, you’ve removed a critical part. Growing flowers and vegetables together isn’t just a pleasing way to garden — it’s an essential way to garden.

10 of the Best Flowers to Plant with Vegetables

I usually choose heirloom annuals because they’re versatile and add substance and height to my plantings. Many popular modern flower varieties are short, so they only work well in front of a border. Plus, some modern varieties — sunflowers, for example — have actually been bred for decreased pollen production so they won’t shed on your tablecloth. (What a terrible breeding project, from the bees’ perspective!) While heirloom flowers tend to work wonderfully in edible landscapes, they’re not always conveniently available at the nearest big-box store. Thankfully, several mail-order sources offer heirloom varieties (see Flower Seed Sources), and these plants are usually easy to grow from seed.

So where should you start? After 40-plus years of creating and evaluating edible landscaping combos, I recommend these common flowering plants that provide pollen and nectar for beneficials, plus a few suggested edible companions for each.

Alyssum. These plants spread along the ground and produce hundreds of tiny flowers that bloom all season. Combine the purple and pink varieties with eggplants and purple varieties of basil, bush beans, lettuce and sprouting broccoli. The white varieties will give a frilly setting for stiff, dark kales, chards, bok choys and red-leafed beets, and fill in nicely between chives, leeks, onions and shallots.

Calendulas. Orange, yellow and apricot calendula flowers brighten cool-season vegetable beds filled with beets, broccoli, bush peas, cabbage, carrots, collards, lettuce, kale and parsnips. The tall heirloom varieties grow to 18 inches and are less prone to mildew than the 6-inch dwarf varieties. Bonus: You can save calendula petals for use in teas and natural body care products.

Coreopsis. This endearing plant is a perennial native to the North American prairie that furnishes a seasonful of sunny yellow flowers held well above its foliage. I give these flowering plants a permanent home near the edge of trellises built for beans, cucumbers and tomatoes. Again, I gravitate toward the tall, native variety sold as Coreopsis grandiflora, which I typically stake. The shorter varieties work well in small areas near basil, endive, eggplants, kale, peppers and other short edibles.

Cosmos. There are two common types of cosmos: Cosmos bipinnatus, the familiar pink and white varieties, such as the old-time ‘Sensation’ mix, and C. sulphureus, which comes in orange, red and yellow. Both attract beneficials and, if you let the flowers go to seed, flocks of yellow finches. I combine the 4-foot-tall ‘Sensation’ cosmos with artichokes and cardoons, and plant the 2- to 3-foot-tall sulphureus varieties, such as ‘Diablo,’ in front of tomatoes and okra, and next to trellises of cucumbers and beans.

Echinacea. A native plant prized for its healing properties and a favorite with bees, this perennial forms clumps of upright leaves and pink-purple, daisy-like blooms off and on all summer. The plant can grow to 4 feet tall and comes in numerous varieties. I plant echinacea at the end of mixed vegetable-and-herb beds, and combine the plants with tall herbs, such as dill, fennel, lovage and sage.

Marigolds. These annual flowers come in shades of yellow, orange and reddish-brown, and bloom from spring through fall. The tall, older varieties grow to 4 feet, and I use these in front of a trellis full of tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and other climbers. The dwarf marigold varieties range from 6 to 18 inches, and these are ideal for creating a compact flowering hedge to border a bed of bush beans or peppers, for interspersing among kale and other greens, and for surrounding a squash plant or two. My favorite dwarf marigolds are the ‘Gem’ series, which have fine, citrus-smelling foliage and small edible flowers.

Sage. The stately sages, such as ‘Victoria’ and other non-edible natives, bear spikes of either red or blue flowers that are especially enticing to bees and hummingbirds. Varieties range from 18 inches to 3 feet tall. While some are perennial, some native sages common to home gardens are often treated as annuals. Interplant them with okra, tall pepper varieties and shorter tomato varieties.

Sunflowers. These cheerful, towering plants attract many beneficials and several varieties offer edible seeds for you, too. Some varieties reach 8 feet and pair well with a patch of corn or behind a planting of large winter squash. The dwarf varieties can be used behind large zucchini plants or a bed of bush beans or soybeans. When choosing varieties, skip any that have been bred to produce little or no pollen.

Violas. You can really paint your garden with this family of edible, cool-season annual flowers. Violas come in a pleasing palette of purples, blues and yellows, and their whiskered, up-facing, flat blooms make perfect fillers among members of the cabbage family. They can also accent a geometric bed of lettuces and shine in colorful containers.

Zinnias. Butterflies adore the blooms of this family of annual flowers, which come in an array of sizes and colors, making them suitable for almost any vegetable combination. Try the dwarf ‘Mexican’ varieties in a bed of chiles, and pair the tall, pastel varieties with artichokes, Brussels sprouts or fennel. Edge a planting of edamame with a mix of dwarf zinnias, and combine these petite varieties in a large container with a mix of basil plants.

Plan Your Plot

Map out your garden with effective edible-landscaping combos using our Grow Plannerapp, which we’ve just released in an updated version with a sleek, new design. This app, now available for iPhone and iPad, puts growing guides, crop spacing requirements, planting dates for your exact location, and more planning tools right at your fingertips.

Flower Seed Sources

• MOTHER’s Seed and Plant Finder
• Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
• Burpee
• Renee’s Garden Seeds
• Seed Savers Exchange
• Select Seeds

Ros Creasy has been cultivating stunning plant combos for 40 years. She coined the term “edible landscaping,” which is now common lingo in the gardening world, and even penned the book Edible Landscaping.

Four flowers for the vegetable garden

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Find our full disclosure here.

In the gardens of my childhood, there were always pots of geraniums, petunias, and sweet alyssum, as well as beds of cosmos, sunflowers, and nasturtiums, but there was no room for flowers in our vegetable garden. That traditional plot was a rectangular-shaped space and reserved for long, tidy rows of beans, peas, potatoes, and beets. Happily, (and in large part thanks to my fellow Savvy expert, Jessica!) flowers now play an important role in my food garden. They entice pollinators and beneficial insects, as well as provide an endless parade of blooms for the vase. Here are four flowers for the vegetable garden:

Four flowers for the vegetable garden:

Sunflowers – No vegetable garden is complete without a few cheerful sunflowers, whether the massive stalks of ‘Russian Giant’, bee-friendly blooms of ‘Lemon Queen’, or the knee-high flowers of ‘Musicbox’. If you’re into the more unusual shades, try ‘Prado Red’, a deep hued sunflower with chocolate and mahogany flowers or the pollen-less, but spectacular ‘Strawberry Blonde’, a hybrid with soft yellow tips and burgundy centers.

Cheerful sunflowers entice bees, butterflies and good buggies!

Related Post – Gorgeous sunflowers

Cosmos – Cosmos are easy to grow and incredibly floriferous, with each plant yielding hundreds of cheerful daisy-like flowers from mid summer until frost. The well-branched plants grow two to five feet tall, depending on the variety, and are popular with bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. ‘Sensation Mix’ is a classic combination of white, light pink, and magenta, with large four-inch wide flowers. Stick to the single flowering cosmos if you wish to lure good bugs and pollinators, as the frilly varieties, like ‘Double Click’ are not as appealing to these creatures.

Zinnias – Pick a colour, any colour and you’re sure to find a zinnia flower to match (ok, maybe not black or true blue, but virtually any other colour including lime green!). In my opinion, zinnias are among the top annual flowers for the vegetable garden. Some cultivars bear small, button-like blooms, while others produce show-worthy four to five-inch wide flowers. Butterflies will flock to the blossoms, which also make long-lasting cut flowers. ‘Apricot Blush’ is a large flowering cultivar with densely petalled double blooms that fall in the range of apricot-pink to salmon-blush. Or, attract attention with the quirky quilled petals of cactus zinnias. The four to six inch flowers come in bright orange, red, pink, yellow, and white and are borne on sturdy, four-foot tall plants.

Who doesn’t love the beautiful blooms of zinnias! They’re a favourite of butterflies and bees.

Nasturtiums – Nasturtiums are ridiculously easy to grow, extremely vigorous, and bloom their heads off for months. Their palette includes all the warm shades – yellows, oranges, reds, and crimson-pink – as well as tones of white with newer introductions like ‘Buttercream. Top picks include ‘Vanilla Berry’, a unique nasturtium with ivory flowers highlighted by bright strawberry splotches, ‘Cherries Jubilee’, a trendy choice with doubled rosy pink flowers, and ‘Alaska’ which offers a one-two punch to a rainbow vegetable garden as the variegated cream and green leaves are as eye-catching as the bright red, yellow, and orange blooms.

What are your go-to flowers for the vegetable garden?

Planting flowers in the vegetable garden will deter pests and add beauty. Learn more in this video about the benefits of companion planting with flowers—and discover the best flowers to grow.

Attract Beneficial Insects

Grow flowers such as calendula (marigolds) in or near to your vegetable garden to attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies (syrphid flies) that feed on pests.

Foil Pests

Growing flowers amongst veggies creates a mosaic of colors, textures and aromas that will literally throw many insects off the scent. Some flowers, for instance marigolds, will repel pests like whitefly while at the same time attracting beneficial insects.

Suppress Weeds

If a bed will be empty for a time between crops, sow a flowering cover crop such as buckwheat or phacelia. The flowers will attract pest-gobbling bugs while the foliage smothers weeds. Many cover crops will also help improve soil structure and fertility.

Low-growing, non-invasive flowers with wide leaves or dense foliage—for instance, marigolds or poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii)—sown between rows of vegetables can also help to keep weeds to a minimum.

Annuals, Biennials and Perennials

Annual flowers complete their life cycle within a year, while biennials grow in the first year, and flower in the second. They can be grown alongside veggies, separately in a dedicated bed, or even as a mini wildflower meadow.

Hardy annuals can often be sown in the fall. Rake soil to a fine tilth them scatter the seeds and rake them in. In subsequent years, many annual and biennial flowers, such as poppies, foxgloves, cornflowers and calendula, will self-seed so you won’t need to sow them again.

Perennial flowers die down in winter but resprout each year. They’re a great choice for growing in borders near the vegetable garden to draw in pest predators and pollinators such as bees, butterflies and moths.

Excellent perennial flowers to grow include helenium, astrantia, monarda, penstemons and hollyhocks. Many perennial herbs such as oregano also have flowers that are beneficial insects love.

Plan Your Flowers

Remember to make space for flowers when planning where you’re going to grow vegetables.

Our online Garden Planner includes a selection of suitable flowers.

  • Once you’re in the Garden Planner, click on the ‘Information’ button of a flower in the selection bar to discover why that plant is useful, suggested companions, and full growing instructions.
  • Click on the flower to select it then drop it into your plan, using the corner handles to expand or contract the block as necessary. The handy Plant List shows you when all the plants in your plan can be sown, harvested…or simply admired!

Try the Garden Planner for free for 7 days—ample time to plan a garden!

Don’t Forget These Companion Flowers For Autumn!

Some flowers have an important role in the garden beyond bringing colour and joy. They are also particularly attractive to bees and butterflies which we need to pollinate our vegetable crops. Some are also good companions as they help deter unwanted pests that can cause damage to our vegetable crops.

Here are 7 of the best companion flowers for Autumn:

1. Nasturtiums


Plant near your brassicas. Attracts beneficial insects especially hoverflies whose offspring (larvae) eat aphids. (Adult hoverflies feed on pollen and nectar.) Popular to our range: Nasturtium Empress of India, Nasturtium Jewel Double Dwarf, Nasturtium Peach Melba, Nasturtium Tip Top, Nasturtium Trailing Mixed Colours.

2. Marigold


They make great companions for beets & carrots as well as attracting beneficial insects.

Popular to our range: Marigold Boy O Boy, Marigold Carmen, Marigold Dwarf Double Mixed, Marigold Kee’s Orange, Marigold Lemon Gem

3. Lavender


You will not only attract bees and other nectar seeking insects, but they love being next to cabbages, silverbeet and most herbs. You’ll find the scent also deters some pestsPopular to our range: Lavender English Dwarf, Lavender Hidcote Blue Strain

4. Calendula


The roots of Calendula plants have been known to work with soil fungi to clean contaminated soil.Popular to our range: Calendula Lemon Daisy, Calendula Pacific Beauty Mixed

5. Borage


If planted near your brassicas it is reputed to deter cabbage moths. Borage is also a bee magnet.

6. Chamomile


As well as making a nice tea, this flowering herb loves to have cabbages as neighbours. Chamomile also attracts beneficial insects like hoverflies and predatory wasps whose offspring eat aphids and other pests

7. Alyssum


It will attract nectar feeding pollinators of all kinds, including delicate green lacewings whose offspring voraciously feed on aphids.Popular to our range: Alyssum Carpet of Snow, Alyssum Aphrodite, Alyssum Royal Carpet

Looking for other Autumn flowers seeds to sow? to view our ‘What vegetable seeds to sow this Autumn’ page for inspiration and ideas.

Visit our Bee and Butterfly attracting page for a full range of pollinator friendly flower mixes.

A vegetable garden without blooms is like a cocktail without a garnish. Flowers aren’t essential in a vegetable garden, but they sure make it better. From a practical stand point flowers work to attract pollinators and add the unexpected to your garden’s design. Plus by combining ornamentals and edibles you’ll maximize your available space.

If you want to mix and mingle vegetables and flowers with success remember, as with all bedfellows, to choose plants with the same growing requirements. Typically vegetables require at least 6 hours of sun each day. There are exceptions such as lettuce, parsley and spinach that will tolerate light shade. Vegetables also need well-draining soil and consistent moisture. There is a huge selection of blooming plants that like full sun as well and benefit from a similar watering routine as their edible companions but always check the plant tags to make sure.

Below are nine plants from my Proven Winners® Platinum Collection that will add the maraschino cherry and twist of lime to your vegetable garden.

‘Cat’s Meow’ Nepeta


Catmint is an excellent companion plant to help keep away flea beetles, aphids, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, ants, and weevils. I also place bowls of the dried blooms on the kitchen counter to deter ants. ‘Cat’s Meow’ will cover itself with blue flowers without much attention from you.
Perennial zones 3 – 8; full sun; upright habit; 17 to 20 inches tall.

Dark Knight™„¢ Lobularia


This low growing plant is an excellent choice to use as edging or mix among salad greens. The fragrant, deep lavender flowers are favored by butterflies and honey bees.
Annual; full sun to partial shade; mounding; 4 to 6 inches.

Supertunia® Pretty Much Picasso®® Petunia


Petunias are a helpful pest control plant that repel asparagus beetles, leafhoppers, aphids and tomato worms. These flowers are a delightful blend of hot pink and chartreuse – a real conversation starter.
Annual except in zones 10 and 11; full sun; trailing habit; 8 – 12 inches tall.

Senorita Rosalita®® Cleome


This cleome is thornless with sterile flowers that don’t produce seeds, which means it won’t spread. The lavender pink blossoms are produced on upright stems. It’s a great plant for mixing with bold-leaved vegetables such as squash.
Annual except in zones 8 – 11; full sun; upright habit; 24 to 48 inches tall.

Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum®® Petunia


These hearty petunias will produce mounds of bubblegum pink blooms even during periods of heat and drought. I like to plant them where they will spill over edges and into garden paths.
Annual; full sun; mounding habit; 16 to 24 inches tall.

Luscious®® Bananarama Lantana


Butterflies and hummingbirds will gravitate to the clusters of yellow flowers. This is a great plant to take the attention off of a heat weary vegetable garden because it really kicks into high gear during hot weather.
Annual except in zones 10 – 11; full sun; mounding habit; 18 to 30 inches tall.

Supertunia® Black Cherry Petunia


Smoky red blooms shaped like a gramophone horn send out a clarion call to honey bees and other nectar seeking beneficials. The color is lovely when paired with purple basil.
Annual; full sun; mounding and trailing habit; 8 to 12 inches tall; trails to 24 inches.

Lo & Behold® ‘Lilac Chip’ Buddleia


The pollinators love the fragrant, lavender blooms that appear from spring until fall. ‘Lilac Chip’ is non-invasive so it won’t spread through your vegetable garden.
Shrub zones 5 – 9; full sun; mounding habit; 2 feet tall.

My Monet® Sunset Weigela

My Monet® has a compact habit (18 inches tall) that makes it perfect for edging vegetable beds or planting in a container. The foliage transforms from chartreuse to purple to sunset orange as the seasons change.
Shrub zones 5 – 8; full sun; mounding habit; 12 to 18 inches tall.

Top 10 Reasons To Grow Your Own Garden

I tell you, with prices going through the roof and stories everywhere about food safety recalls, this is the year to grow your own vegetables, spices and herbs. If it’s something you’ve always considered — or maybe you did it in the past – here’s why you should consider it again in 2012.

1. Great tasting food! Nothing tastes quite like fresh, homegrown vegetables and herbs. Every recipe suddenly comes to life and the flavor just explodes in your mouth. There’s no “sitting-on-the-shelf” flavor, and you just can’t compare the flavor. And if it tastes good, you and your family are much more likely to eat the vital foods your body needs.

2. Safer food. If I could actually read, I would be alarmed at all the stories about recalls on spinach, lettuce, tomatoes and more. By growing your own food, there are no worries about contamination from the farms, manufacturing plants or during delivery. If it’s in your backyard, it’s safe!

3. Better health. Tilling the soil, planting, weeding, watering and harvesting gets you outdoors, breathing fresh air and burning a few calories while you’re at it. It’s also a great way to relax and get the stress out of your mind. While you’re working up a sweat, you also know fresh-grown food is packed with nutrients, high in fiber and low in calories.

4. Nutrient-packed veggies. Studies prove that organically grown food has more much-needed vitamins and minerals than vegetables grown with synthetic pesticides. A backyard garden starts with highly nourished soil, which means more nourishment for the plants and, ultimately, our bodies.

5. Less food waste. Did you know the average household throws out more than $600 of produce a year? That’s nuts! Of course, you’re more likely to throw out a mushy, store-bought tomato than one you nurtured in your garden. When something is “yours,” you probably won’t take it for granted. Plus, when it’s fresh, it tastes better, so it won’t go bad sitting in the vegetable bin.

6. Less environmental impact. Believe it or not, a garden in your backyard helps the planet. Growing food without pesticides and herbicides cuts down on air and water pollution, and less fossil fuel, as there is no need to transport vegetables from across the nation or even around the world.

7. A sense of pride. Planting seeds, nurturing them and watching them grow under your care gives you a feeling of accomplishment that’s hard to explain. It’s fun work that helps you nourish your family and maintain your health. Caring for plants is also a great way to teach kids about nature and give them a great sense of pride!

8. Save energy. Did you know today’s farms use more energy than any other single industry? Amazing but true. Farms eat up 12 percent of the country’s total energy supply. But you can make a difference. Growing your own food helps cut down on overall energy use.

9. Fight soil erosion. Today’s farmers face the worst soil erosion in history — more than 3 billion tons of topsoil every year! Every crop grown in the backyard rather than on a commercial farm helps reduce this very real problem.

10. Save money! It goes without saying that we could all “squirrel away” a few extra dollars in these tough times. Growing your own is a great way to do that. Studies show that for every $1 you spend on seeds, gardening tools and time, you get back nearly $2 in fresh produce! That’s what I call more bang for your buck!

8 Surprising Health Benefits of Gardening

According to the World Health Organization, good health means more than just the absence of bad health symptoms. It means the presence of positive emotions, quality of life, sense of community and happiness. (WHO 1948)

So if you’ve been living life with a little voice in your head whispering, ‘Psst! You should start a garden,’ it’s for good reason.

The health benefits of outdoor gardening–including backyard gardening and community gardening–range from increased nutrients in your diet to staving off chronic diseases.

Here are eight surprising health benefits of gardening.

1. Home Grown Self-Esteem

Gardening brings a sense of accomplishment as well.

Maybe you’re someone who has always felt his or her thumb to be conspicuously not-green. But after tilling, planting, nurturing and harvesting plants, you might see a slightly different person in the mirror. A person who can grow things. A person a little more in tune with the earth. A gardener, whose thumb does seem to emit a shade of green after all!

It always feels good to accomplish new tasks, and if you can grow a garden, what can’t you do?

2. Gardening for Heart Health

The garden is full of things that respond to caring hands.

You’re burning calories and strengthening your heart when you’re out in the garden. You do know that, right?

According to WebMD, ‘Activities such as gardening, do-it-yourself projects and housework may be as good as formal exercise when it comes to reducing the risk for heart attack and stroke.’ Heart health: Now that’s quite a bonus.

3. Gardening Reduces Stress

A Dutch study asked two groups of people to complete a stressful task and concluded that gardening for 30 minutes after said task resulted in lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone associated with stress. Had a rough day? Get in your garden and let the stress melt away.

Stress is a HUGE health risk, so this benefit of gardening is a big deal, folks.

4. Happiness in the Dirt

How does a dynamic, beautiful landscape that you know intimately, that you are in fact responsible for creating, make you feel? Probably pretty happy.

There’s also a scientific reason that gardening makes you happy. Studies suggest that inhaling M. vaccae, a healthy bacteria that lives in soil, can increase levels of serotonin and reduce anxiety. According to Discover Magazine, ‘you get a dose just by taking a walk in the wild or rooting around in the garden’ and this ‘could help elicit a jolly state of mind.’

5. You’ll Sleep Better

Research at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that the light activity associated with gardening can help you sleep better at night.

Sleep is so vital to good health; this is a benefit you shouldn’t ignore.

6. Improved Hand Strength

Using your hands helps to retain coordination, strength and more.

All that digging, planting, and pulling does more than produce plants. Gardening activities will increase your hand strength. What a great way to keep your hands and fingers as strong as possible for as long as possible.

7. Gardening for Family Health

Gardening can be a solo activity, or an opportunity for bonding with your family and friends. The happiness and stress relief that gardening provides is a great thing to share with loved ones. Also, gardening has special benefits for kids. Early exposure to dirt has been linked to all kinds of long-term health benefits, from reducing allergies to autoimmune diseases.

8. Growing Vegetables for Financial Health

Growing your vegetables means you don’t have to buy them.

There are definitely ways that gardening might actually be costly, but if you do it right, you can save a lot of money on food by growing your own. To save the most cash by growing your own produce, grow vegetables that are expensive to buy and vegetables that you can easily store or preserve by canning, freezing, dehydrating, or pickling.

April is coming to a close, but it’s not too late to start a garden. Instead of starting from seed, you can buy some baby plants. For some advice on starting your first garden, check out these tips.

At UNC REX, we love gardening so much that we keep an herb garden where we grow herbs used in our award-winning cuisine.

Plus, planting bee-friendly flowers near your vegetables also supports struggling pollinator populations and biodiversity. You can also plant flowers specifically to attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and other desirable species.

Ready to get started? Before you order your seeds, here are five tips that Saska says are important to keep in mind when selecting flower varieties for your vegetable patch.

Pay Attention to Bloom Time

Evgeny Ivanov / EyeEmGetty Images

In order for companion planting with flowers to work, you have to select flowers that will bloom at the same time as your veggie crops. If the type you planted doesn’t blossom until two weeks after your peas finish flowering, your peas are out of luck.

Seed packets will tell you how soon flowers will bloom after planting so that you can sync up your planting schedule. However, it’s a good idea to plant a variety of flowers to ensure that you’ve got continuous blooms throughout the entire growing season.

Consider Flower Shape

Tongho58Getty Images

The flowers that attract hummingbirds are not the same as those that attract bees or beneficial wasps. The flower’s shape makes it easier or harder for different species to access the nectar and pollen. To attract bees and other pollinators, Saska recommends choosing flowers with a composite shape, like zinnias, cosmos, daisies, sunflowers, and purple coneflower.

Space Them Out

WillowpixGetty Images

Sprinkle flowers throughout the garden rather than planting them in one clump. How you do it is really up to you. You can plant a row of veggies followed by a row of flowers, or you can interspace them within the same row. Consider getting strategic and using flowers to break up a row to indicate where your sweet peppers end and your hot peppers begin. Or, plant flowers to form a border around the outside of the bed.

Think About Height

Antonia Gruber / EyeEmGetty Images

You don’t want your flowers competing with your veggies for sunlight, so choose mostly low-growing flowers. However, some crops (like lettuces) might benefit from a little shade during the summer months, so occasionally it makes sense to go with a taller variety.

Start Simple

rviard/Getty

Saska recommends that beginners start by working with annual flowers because they’re grow easily and produce lots of blooms. You also don’t have to worry about them coming up in the same spot every year if you want to change your garden design. (Get started with these annual flowers you can easily grow from seed.)

However, native perennials are one of the best ways to attract native bees, so don’t omit them from your yard entirely. The Xerces Society offers a great region-by-region guide to pollinator-friendly plants (mainly perennials) and includes information on bloom time, height, and watering needs.

Why you should plant flowers in your vegetable garden

Pink zinnias growing beside tomato and squash plants. | Photo by Bob Schamerhorn

Vegetable gardens are often arranged in orderly rows, where staked tomatoes are carefully spaced beside straight lines of cucumber and carrot plants. Each vegetable has its assigned place. And because of this traditional design, it may not even occur to some gardeners to throw a few flowers — edible or otherwise — into the mix.

Yet flowers, planted throughout or near a vegetable garden, can be beneficial in several ways.

“Basically, it’s the company that flowers keep. Flowers attract pollinators and beneficial insects. That’s the bottom line,” said Lisa Mason Ziegler, author of the 2018 book Vegetables Love Flowers: Companion Planting for Beauty and Bounty.

Pollinators are animals — often insects, but not always — that move pollen from one part of a flower to another, fertilizing it. Without this process, many plants can’t make fruit or seeds.

While many edible plants, such as tomatoes, are self-pollinating, there are also many pollinator-reliant crops, including onions, berries, melons, pumpkins, squash, zucchini and cucumbers.

In addition to attracting more pollinators to your vegetable garden, flowers can attract insects that can aid in pest control, such as ladybugs, spiders, ground beetles and predatory wasps.

But that’s not all.

Flowers can also make your vegetable patch more aesthetically pleasing, according to Erin Schanen, a gardener from southeastern Wisconsin who writes about her experiences in her blog, The Impatient Gardener.

“It helps make the vegetable garden a really nice place to be,” said Schanen of adding flowers and herbs in with her vegetables. “When I first started growing vegetables, which was 15 years ago now, I just assumed that things needed to be in these really distinct rows and everything had their area. But there’s no reason you have to plant like that. Now I try to grow a mix of things. I try to make it really pretty.”

Types of flowers to grow with vegetables

When it comes to selecting what flowers to grow with vegetables, Ziegler steers away from listing specific species or varieties because she worries that a list might discourage some gardeners who can’t find those specific plants at local nurseries.

“All flowers can be beneficial to vegetables,” Ziegler said. “Really you can grow any flower. The key is providing blooms from early spring consistently all through the season up until frost.”


Though a wide variety of flowers can attract pollinators and beneficial insects, when growing flowers in vegetable beds, both Schanen and Ziegler tend to select annual varieties because they die off each winter — like vegetables — leaving the garden a fresh slate for the spring. In addition, many types of annual flowers stay in bloom longer than perennials, attracting pollinators for more of the season.

“We’re talking about cool season hardy annuals for spring blooming, like snapdragons and poppies,” Ziegler said, “and then warm season tender annuals for summer, like zinnias, sunflowers and cockscombs.”

Another way to keep flowers constantly blooming in your garden is by planting a cutting garden that you harvest on a regular basis, Ziegler said. When flowers are cut from these plants, they produce more flowers. In addition, you have a constant supply for flower arrangements and bouquets.

“If you’ve never grown a cutting garden before, you just don’t know what a superstar you’re about to become with the people who live close to you,” Zeigler said.

For Schanen, flowers that can be easily grown from seed are ideal.

“That way, if I have a hole , I can just plunk some flower seeds in there,” Schanen said.

Easy to grow from seed, nasturtium is one of Schanen’s go-to flowers to combine with vegetables. Usually with bright red, orange and yellow blossoms, this flower attracts a variety of pollinators and is edible, with a peppery taste. Its leaves are edible, too.

“They also have a kind of a unique benefit in that they can sometimes be called a trap crop, which means they’ll pull problem insects like aphids away from your other plants,” Schanen said. “They’ll be attracted to the flowers first and not be attracted to your vegetables.”

Schanen also likes to add edible marigolds to her vegetable beds. More specifically, she grows signet marigolds, which have yellow, orange and golden blossoms and a citrusy aroma.

“Those help keep critters away,” Schanen said. “They help keep things like rabbits away. It doesn’t make your garden rabbit-proof, but it helps. And they’re great for pollinators.”

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