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Edibles Love Ornamentals (and the Feeling Is Mutual)

Regardless of whether you’re primarily an ornamental or an edibles gardener, it’s a good idea to plant both flowers and vegetables (or herbs) to promote beneficial effects for you and your garden.

bean flower

If You’re a Vegetable Gardener:

Adding a variety of different-colored flowers will attract numerous pollinators and good predators to your vegetable crops, increasing your harvest. Bees simply love sunflowers and are some of the best for transferring pollen from one flower to another. Yarrow can attract parasitic wasps, dramatically reducing your tomato worm and cucumber head count. Lavender not only attracts parasitic wasps, but it will also grab the attention of damsel bugs. These delicate-winged beauties feed on many eggs and larvae, such as the Colorado potato beetle’s, that otherwise would grow up to cause damage to your vegetables. Damsels also like worms, especially cabbage worms and cutworms.

What flowers might be well suited as a border to your vegetable garden? Four o’clocks and white geraniums seem to attract and kill Japanese beetles, helping to keep your raspberry canes and grape vines happy and productive. Four o’clocks, along with fuchsia and impatiens, attract hummingbirds to the garden. These wonders of nature like to feed on aphids, flying ants, mosquitoes and insect eggs, helping to protect your tomatoes and peppers.

Meanwhile, the pungent aroma of marigolds, especially the heirloom varieties, deter rabbits. And a caveat: If you’re looking to keep deer away, whatever you do, don’t plant hostas. We learned that one the hard way.

If You’re an Ornamental Gardener

Keep in mind that many of the pests that will damage a vegetable garden will also cause trouble in an ornamental bed. Planting edibles can help attract the right kind of visitors. For example, dill will attract ladybugs, considered to be one of the best for keeping out pests. Dill also feeds the caterpillars of swallowtail butterflies, perfect if you want to develop a wildlife garden. The caterpillars may very well destroy the dill in the process, but many consider it well worth it.

Edibles can also add interest to a formerly ornamental-only garden. The tall okra plant is often grown solely for its beautiful white flowers (shown) and interesting leaves. Scarlett Runner beans have gorgeous lush greenery and beautiful red flowers that attract hummingbirds. In both instances, vegetables are a wonderful bonus!

okra flower

If you’re just looking to tuck a few veggies into your flower beds, let me suggest two: Sweet potatoes are relatives of morning glories and produce wonderful green leaves ever so slightly tinged with purple. They will cover the ground and then grow up as well, masking the fact that they are producing nutrition storehouses below. Carrots can add interest with their delicate fern-like tops, which stay green well after the first frost.
Mixing vegetables, herbs and flowers can have beneficial effects for all.


Gardening Jones is a master gardener and garden writer from Pennsylvania.