Food Garden Flowers

Do flowers belong in a food garden? They certainly do, and not only those with edible petals!

Many flowers double up as companion plants in the food garden. They attract pollinators (especially bees) or repel pests, protect tender vegetables, and act as a tonic for other plants. Don’t forget the aesthetic side as well. Why shouldn’t food gardens be beautiful and colourful? The French potager and the English cottage garden of yesteryear mixed herbs, flowers, veggies and fruit trees. The French in particular placed great emphasis on design, so that gardens were aesthetically appealing and productive. That approach makes just as much sense today, especially with water restrictions, less space for gardening, and the economic need to grow our own food. The line between flowers in the front garden and veggies at the back is blurring. The surprising thing is how many ‘ordinary’ garden flowers play a role as companion plants for vegetables – check out this list and be prepared to be amazed.
If you only plant half of these flowers, your cool-season veggie garden will be site for all the senses!

Did you know that nasturtiums and petunias can divert pests away from your brassicas? Aphids will go straight for the nasturtiums, and as soon as you notice an infestation, pull up the plants and throw them away. Nasturtium flowers and leaves are edible too, with a sharp, peppery taste that works well in salads. Petunias are a tasty treat for African bollworm (previously known as American bollworm), and planting petunias among your cabbages may divert the bollworm larvae so that they don’t bore into the heads of the cabbage

First-aid Flowers

German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) has a reputation as an effective ‘plant doctor’, having a remedial effect on neighbouring plants.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) works as a tonic on plants nearby, being particularly beneficial to aromatic herbs.

Climbing sweet peas trained up a trellis or obelisk provide partial shade for lettuce, spinach and mustards that bolt when it starts to warm up in spring

Good enough to eat

Bellis perennis (English daisy) has both edible leaves and flowers. Use the young leaves in salads and the flower buds and petals in sandwiches, soups and salads. The petals can be made into a tea that acts as a vitamin supplement. Bellis is best planted in May, in semi-shade. It produces small red, white or pink, button-like daisies. Use it to border vegetable beds, in between pavers, or in mixed containers with other salad vegetables.

Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) have a lovely, sweet perfume, and modern hybrids are more compact and bushy than the old-fashioned varieties. Use the fresh petals in desserts, to flavour syrups and icing for cakes, as well as in cool drinks. An old home remedy crushes fresh petals with cloves and clove oil for use as an insect repellent in cupboards. Plant them near vegetables that require pollinating, like broad beans and peas.

Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) hybrids and violas (Viola cornuta) are loved for their fragrance, colourful ‘faces’, and the fact that the petals can be used to garnish salads and desserts. The entire flower can be eaten, provided that no pesticides have been used. Violas are smaller plants that produce more flowers, while pansies produce big, showy flowers. Both are suitable for inter-planting between vegetables, as a flowering border, or in a mixed container with vegetables. They should receive full sun in winter and regular watering. Plants should not dry out completely, or be overwatered as they will rot.

Don’t forget to provide nectar for bees and other pollinators in winter.Nectar- or pollen-rich sources are alyssum, cornflowers, carnations, mustard and tatsoi flowers, gazanias, calendulas, chamomile and sweet peas. Plant in groups of three or five. Varying heights and textures add visual appeal.

Pretty and Lethal

Iceland poppies (Papaver nudicaule) are also delectable for hoverflies, which is bad news for aphids. Poppies grow easily from seed and their ground-hugging growth (15cm spread) with slender flower stems makes them unobtrusive companions among vegetables, especially salad greens and garden peas.

Honey-scented sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) attracts ladybirds, lacewings, predatory wasps and hoverflies, which all feast on aphids. Hoverfly larvae also target other pests. If planted densely between rows of broccoli, kale and lettuce, alyssum also acts as a living mulch that keeps aphids in check

The Gardener