Planting flowers as companion plants in your vegetable garden creates a welcoming environment for pollinators, adds beauty, and is a great addition to your table. It is well known that pollinators; like honey bees and bumble bees, cannot resist a nice, flower full of nectar. Flowers add color and scent to your garden. Also, they are in vogue for your table - not just for the center piece; but, because they are delicious! Considering all of these benefits, it is the year to give companion flowers a try in your garden. (Below is a picture of our Buckwheat in flower providing protection and attracting pollinators to our fields.)
Pollinators; a variety of insects that carry pollen from one plant to another, help vegetables grow by fertilizing the flower which then forms the vegetable. Flowers attract pollinators searching for juicy nectar. Flowers also attract insects that inhibit pests. A good example is the Lady Bug that eats aphids and lays its eggs on the underside of leaves where food is abundant for their larva. Here is a National Geographic link to pictures of lady bugs in the act of pollinating.
It is important to choose a variety of flowers to attract pollinators to your garden. Consider flower height, flowering season, and compatibility to surrounding vegetables, color and scent when choosing your vegetable companions. It is important to plant some tall flowers and early blooming varieties to attract pollinators early. Bees divide and establish their hives in early spring. You want them to notice your garden. Here are pictures of companion plantings from "At Home".
Also, most vegetables continue to bloom and produce for many weeks. Choose flowers that continually bloom throughout the season or several varieties that bloom consecutively within the season. This helps to keep a fresh supply of nectar to continually attract pollinators. Many articles have been written to aide in your selection of specific flowers that compliment each vegetable. Here is a printable link to a companion planting guide from "Mother Earth News" flowers as companion plants .
Flowers add color and scent to your garden. The marigold has long been thought to repel insect pests. Marigolds come in a variety of colors and heights and tend to grow as a small bush rather that sprawl out all over your garden. Artfully and beneficially including flowers into your vegetable garden takes a bit of planning. A good place to start might be within your current landscaping. Opt for a few companion plants and vegetables instead of your usual annual flowers this spring. Maybe try a few Brussels sprout plants with marigolds in between along your walkway. The Brussels sprout plants are large, all green, and unusual and, the bushy marigold is bright in color. We did this one season when we had a large dinner planned at our farm and it was
lovely with the added benefit of being delicious.
Lastly, it is in vogue to eat flowers! Flowers are great for the vase; but, they have a variety of interesting tastes: nutty, bitter, sour, and sweet. Dried they make lovely, healthful teas. If you are uncertain, you can add just a few petals to your salad for color. For more advanced techniques with flowers enjoy this video Cooking with flowers France Agroalimentaire.
When we first moved to our farm, we learned that you can eat dandelions. We dipped them in egg and flour and lightly fried them. They were good. We since have learned that many of our weeds are edible and quite tasty. Trying new ingredients makes your family dinners more interesting. It is fun for young families to experiment and learn together about the different tastes of edible flowers and how to grow them. Here is a link to a chart matching edible flowers and tastes from About.com/Home cooking. The Tree Hugger site has a quick reference and some well advised safety tips on edible flowers in this article called 42 Flowers that You Can Eat by Melissa Breyer.
Try planting flowers as companions to your vegetables this season. Try planting your vegetables in your flowering landscape. It takes a bit of planning, research, and artful design to create a beautiful, tasty garden. However, the added benefits can be a better, longer harvest season, beauty, mesmerizing scents and fun experimenting with unique culinary uses for the flowers themselves. Just be sure to not eat them all. After all you originally planted them as companions for your vegetables and pollinator food!