Winter is a great time to take stock of your garden, browse plant catalogues and make plans for the forthcoming year.
Flowers and vegetables are sometimes planted separately but whether you have a small courtyard, potager or full sized allotment there are many reasons why combining them together can be incredibly beneficial.
Many plants help each other when planted together, either by improving growth, deterring predators or attracting pollinators.
Basil, marigolds and nasturtium are great companions to tomatoes and beans. Their strong scent confuses aphids. Tansy has the same effect on ants and onions can even fool carrot fly.
The flavour of tomatoes can be improved by planting with basil. borage is advantageous to strawberries, whereas sunflowers can support climbers or provide shade.
Red clover, mustard and phacelia are great nitrogen-rich green manures, which suppress weeds. Dig in as a soil fertilizer to benefit your whole plot or leave a little to flower for the bees.
Sweet peas planted near runner beans will attract pollinators. Angelica, cosmos and fennel attract ladybirds; these natural aphid predators munch up to 5000 a year so leave a patch of nettles for them to lay their eggs.
Flowers attract pollinators
Planting pollen and nectar-rich flowers not only is an attractive addition to your kitchen garden but an essential one to attract pollinators to fertilise veg flowers and help produce a bumper crop.
Introduce herbs, wildflowers and single-headed flowers such as zinnia, poached egg plants (Limnanthes douglasii), phacelia, cosmos, lavender and yarrow which bees and hoverflies love.
Equally many fruit and vegetables sport pollinator enticing nectar-rich flowers such as beans, peas, courgettes, tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries and apples.
Some plants can help control pests for you without the need for chemicals, which can kill helpful insects such as bees.
French marigolds, petunias, rosemary, mint and basil have pungent smells, which deters whitefly and midges; these are very useful planted by tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers. Marigold roots also repel unwanted nemotodes.
Lavender is an excellent natural pest repellant and deters whitefly, moths and fleas; whilst nasturtiums can be used as a sacrificial crop to lure away cabbage white butterfly from your crops and save broad beans from blackfly.
Not only will flowers look divine in your kitchen garden but many actually have the additional bonus of being edible and make attractive garnishes!
The flowers and leaves of nasturtium can both be used in salads. The seeds are also an alternative to capers.
Borage flowers look exquisite frozen in ice cubes; a cool addition to summer drinks.
Calendula, alliums from garlic to chives, cornflowers, chamomile and chicory have excellent edible flowers, as do lavender, roses, pansies and violets.
Even weeds can play their part; dandelions and more invasive plants like red clover and self-heal can be eaten in moderation.
There is nothing more satisfying than picking a bunch of homegrown flowers. So many flowers thrive in a veg patch so you really can go to town on colour and varieties.
Dahlias have seen a meteoric return to popularity these past few years. These cherished cut flowers boast a vast choice of varieties. My personal favourites are Raspberry Ripple, Mick’s Peppermint, on-trend Café Au Lait and Bishop’s Children.
Swathes of cosmos are perfect gap fillers; a low maintenance plant that continuously flowers from late summer through to first frosts.
Add spring bulbs such as narcissus, tulips and alliums while mid-season gladioli, foxgloves and hollyhocks all provide statuesque height. And of course no vegetable garden would be complete without sunflowers. Last season I fell in love with the amber hues of ‘Velvet Queen’ and ‘Red Sun.’
Let your imagination run wild this winter while planning next year’s garden. Flowers and vegetables benefit each other in so many ways so enjoy their colourful, edible combos.