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Winter Flowers In The Veggie Garden

Winter veggies need full sun, and that can be a tall order for small or high-density properties. But if you have such a patch, or can make a plan with containers, why not create a beautiful and productive space by adding edible winter flowers or those that act as companion plants? We will now take a look at winter flowers in the veggie garden!

The flowers that immediately come to mind are pansies, violas, calendula and nasturtiums, but there are many more. For instance, cornflowers, carnations and poppies provide nectar for the bees, chamomile stimulates growth, lavender and petunias are pest repellents, and other flowers with edible petals include rose-scented geranium, Bellis perennis (English daisy) and snapdragons. Also look out for day-length neutral sunflowers that come in bumper seed packs. They might take a little longer to germinate but will attract bees when in flower at the beginning of spring. 

Don’t forget about flowering herbs. Dill is a cool-season herb with large heads of yellow flowers that act as an insect trap, as do nasturtiums. If left to flower at the end of winter, Asian greens such as Mizuna and Tatsoi throw up delicate yellow flowers that also attract bees, and the flowers are edible.

5 edible flowers

When using flowers, keep the dish simple so that the delicate taste of the flower is not overpowered.

Rose-scented geranium

Geraniums (Pelargonium species) have very fragrant leaves and flowers. Although the edible mauve flowers only appear in summer, the leaves can be used in winter to flavour biscuits and cakes, or made into a strong infusion for flavouring sauces, custards and jellies. Freeze the leaves in ice cubes and add to drinks. This frost-tolerant geranium grows 80cm high and wide, and does best in full sun in well-draining soil. The aromatic leaves also deter pests.

Pansies and violas

Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) and violas (Viola cornuta) may have edible flowers but it’s the visual effect that’s even more pleasing. Being smaller, the viola flowers are a more delicate garnish while the pansy flowers crystallise very well and can be eaten as sweets or used to decorate ice cream. Both need full sun in winter and semi-shade in summer. Plant in fertile well-composted
soil and water regularly.

Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums are an all-year-round flower that literally ticks all the boxes. The petals and young leaves are peppery and edible, it is a trap crop for aphids, a fuss-free groundcover or pot plant, and even has some medicinal properties. It is a tonic herb and a tea made from the leaves and flowers can help boost the immune system. Plant it in full sun and water regularly but don’t fertilise otherwise it grows and forgets to flower.

Snapdragons

The snapdragon (Antirrhinum) is an easy growing winter annual that is also excellent as a cut flower. The double-flowered varieties tend to have more delicate petals, a fruitier scent, and a sweeter flavour. Use the flowers as a garnish or sugar them and add as a topping for desserts. They like sunshine but not intense heat, so flower best in winter and early spring. Plant in fertile soil and provide plenty of water during the dry winter season.

Carnations

Carnations with a spicy sweet fragrance will impart that flavour to syrups, drinks and even wine. Why not use them as a garnish for creamy desserts? They are also long-lasting cut flowers. To grow successfully, carnations should get at least four hours of sunshine a day and be grown in soil that drains well. Before sowing, loosen the soil and add compost for extra fertility. Shallow sow the seed, spacing plants 30cm apart. Keep the soil moist during germination. Water the seedlings regularly for the first few weeks to establish their root systems. Once established, water when the topsoil is dry.

READ MORE: Learn more about edible flowers here

Best for bees

Cornflowers

These old-fashioned cut and cottage flowers appear in a wonderful range of shades and colours, from white to pale pink, purple and blues. Ideal varieties for the veggie garden are the compact types that grow 30 to 45cm high, making them good border plants. They grow best in full sun in soil that drains well. Keep the soil moist.

Calendula

Calendula officinalis is a sun-loving winter annual. This plant also attracts butterflies and other beneficial insects such as lady birds, lacewings and hoverflies. Calendula grows in most soil types as well as in pots. Pinch out the tops to stop the plants becoming straggly and remove dead flowers to encourage more blooms. Make an infusion of the petals to treat fungal infections. Cut off the bitter white portion at the base of the petal where it was attached to the flower.

Poppies

Iceland poppies and red Flanders poppies will make your veggie garden pop with colour and attract the pollen seekers. All poppies require full sun and will grow in almost any kind of soil that drains well. Space plants 20 – 25cm apart because if they are too close together, there is often inadequate air flow and they are more susceptible to pests and fungal diseases. For strong growing plants, fertilise with a liquid feed once a month. Once they start to flower remove dead flowering stems at ground level, to extend the flowering time.

Good Companions

Chamomile

Matricaria recutita was always referred to as the plant doctor by herb doyenne Margaret Roberts. She found that everything that grew next to it grew well and was pest free. It is a frost-hardy annual that grows in sun or semi-shade, in soil that drains well. The small, white daisy-like flowers attract bees too and can be infused as a soothing tea that relieves stress and aids sleep. Sip it just before going to bed.

Petunias

Petunias may be a surprise addition, but can be planted as a colourful and fragrant pest-repellent companion for broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and lettuce. In summer rainfall areas, petunias do best as a winter and spring flower. They thrive in full sun, in well drained soil and with regular watering. To keep up their flower power, feed once a month with a liquid fertiliser. Feed their veggie companions at the same time for strong growing veggies.

Lavender

Lavender’s aromatic foliage makes it difficult for pests that rely on their sense of smell to find their favourite vegetable. Using lavender as a border for beds, to line pathways, or nearby a susceptible crop, should have a good deterrent effect. The bonus is that the flowers attract pollinators and can be used in a myriad of ways; to perfume the home, as cut flowers, as a stress relieving tea and even in baking. Plant in full sun to partial shade in soil that drains well and water regularly until it is well established. Trim after flowering.

READ MORE: Learn about companion planting combos

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