As you plant all those fun, delicious edibles in your garden — heirloom tomatoes, pickling cucumbers, an assortment of herbs, and so on — consider adding a few flowers to the mix, as well. There are mutual benefits that can be gained by opening your traditional vegetable garden up to plants you can’t necessarily eat.
1. Natural pest control
Believe it or not, ornamental blooms can be used as natural pest control in the garden. A common sight in raised beds is the marigold. The scent of these blooms is said to repel pests both above and below the soil. You can also plant flowers as sneaky trap crops. For example, not only are the leaves and flowers of nasturtiums edible, they can also be used as trap crops for aphids and repel various other pests, like whitefly, cucumber beetles and squash bugs.
2. Attract beneficial insects
Food and flowers can also work together to create a balanced garden ecosystem. Attracting beneficial insects will help take care of the bad guys that dare to intrude upon your hard work. Plants like hyssop, for example, attract the two-spotted stink bug, which feeds on the Colorado potato beetle larvae. If you’ve ever had a problem with these pests, like I have, you need to eliminate them before they completely strip your plants. Other beneficial insects include predatory wasps and flies.
3. Lure pollinators
You also want to attract the pollinators. If you plant flowers, like zinnias, heirloom sunflowers and cosmos, the pollinators they attract will pollinate your tomato flowers, squash blossoms, cucumber flowers and more! Plant zinnias, poppies, heirloom varieties of sunflowers and nasturtiums to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Other plants that attract pollinators include:
4. Seasonal bouquets
Consider adding a cut flower section to your raised bed—one that you can harvest the flowers from, just as you would a ripe tomato or fresh zucchini. Create bouquets to take to the hosts of a summer barbecue or better yet, plunk them in your own vase on your patio or kitchen table.
Flowers also add lots of ornamental interest to a garden, plain and simple. Sow a few seeds along the inner edges of your raised beds and include a few that will lightly trail over the sides.
Tara Nolan is a garden writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Toronto Star, Reader’s Digest and Canadian Living and on websites, like Design*Sponge. In March 2016 she appeared in a television show called Garden Wisdom on WNED Buffalo as an edibles expert.
Tara Nolan is a co-founder, with three other garden writers, of Savvy Gardening and was the award-winning web editor of Canadian Gardening magazine’s website for six years.
Tara has written her first gardening book, Raised Bed Revolution for Cool Springs Press, which was released May 1, 2016.
Tara does work for the Toronto Botanical Garden and the Canadian Garden Council (as a social media advisor), and volunteers for the Royal Botanical Garden. She also is a member of GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators.