There’s a bit of fabulous chaos happening in the gardening world. Beans are happily climbing with clematis. Herbs are cohabitating with echinacea. Food is growing with flowers.
It used to be that vegetable gardens were stuck in an out-of-sight corner of the backyard.
Flower gardens occupied the high profile spaces around our homes.
Not any more. Plants are busting out of their traditional roles and growing together - wherever
- in harmony.
“We’ve been boxing things up too much,” said horticulturalist Erica Shaffer, “ Why do we have
to have a perennial garden, or vegetable garden? Why can’t we just GARDEN?”
This isn’t a new idea. For centuries the French have had formal decorative and functional
potager vegetable gardens. In medieval times, wealthy Englishmen added herbs and flowers to
their kitchen gardens.
Interplanting flowers and vegetable does more than pretty-up the veggie patch. Integrating
flowers into your vegetable gardens or growing vegetables in with your flower borders can be
fun and beneficial.
“Flowers bring in the pollinators and beneficial insects,” said Shaffer.
Pollinating insects like butterflies and bees are crucial for vegetable development. With
squash, for instance, you can have lush vines and leaves topped off with stellar large flowers,
but if those flowers aren’t pollinated, no squash will develop. Beneficial insects are also
important because they target and organically control many pests, like the tomato hornworm for
Shaffer also says adding flowers and herbs to your garden, repels some pests.
“While I have yet to see a nose on any insect,” Shaffer said, “Mixing flowers and herbs up with
vegetables, confuses critters.” Different smells camouflage each other and fewer pests are
drawn to your garden, she said.
As interest in growing our own food increases, many gardeners are adding vegetables to their
borders and flower gardens.
Vegetable plants rival ornamental plants in their beauty. Delicate white snap pea blossoms sit
on top butterfly-shaped leaves as wispy tendrils curl and dance. There’s added benefit in that
pea tendrils are edible and an attractive addition to salads.
Exotic looking kale with tall, sturdy, yet ruffled leaves could substitute for elephant ear or
banana in a landscape. Yet, you can’t add elephant ear to a stir-fry. Kale is jammed packed
with vitamins and minerals. Dill or fennel foliage is feathery and delicate. Fine foliage herbs
are comparable in texture to ornamental grass and would be perfectly at home in a perennial
While some veggie plants are easily seen as decorative, Shaffer says beauty is in the eye of
the beholder with some veggie plants.
“If you’re still harvesting tomatoes in September from a plant in your front yard,” said
Shaffer, “ maybe you won’t judge the plant so harshly if it’s beginning to look a little
There are things to consider when adding vegetables to flower gardens. Shaffer said she would
think about how many rabbits are in your neighborhood. Planting vegetable among ornamentals
provides more hiding space for rabbits making it easier for them to wipe out your
It is also necessary to match vegetable and ornamental plants with the same growing
requirements. Vegetables need six or more hours of sun and they need good soil.
If you aren’t interested in sequentially planting vegetables in your flower beds, choose
vegetables with a long growing season. Peas and some leafy greens, while attractive during the
cool seasons of spring and fall, don’t handle heat. That might be fine in a perennial bed that
fills out in summer, but if you need summer interest, beans, corn or melons have longer growing
To keep things pretty while growing flower and food together, Shaffer suggests pondering some
classic landscape design rules. Cluster plants in multiples of three or five and vary height
and textures of the plants your choosing.
Remember that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. So just garden. If growing food is
the most important thing to you, express yourself and go nuts with veggie plants in your
landscape. If flowers are your thing, train morning glories up your cornstalks. The most
beautiful thing of all is finding your personal vision in the garden. Chaotic or not.