Flowers in your vegetable garden – try mixing it up!

Gardening

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Seems like people either grow food, or grow flowers. If they do grow both, we’ve been conditioned to grow them separately; we have the vegetable garden, or the flower garden. Try mixing them up! Flowers aren’t just pretty, they perform a few very important roles even in the most serious of vegetable gardens. You are no less of a vegetable gardener if you have a few rows of Zinnias or a few Marigolds mixed in.

We tend to think of a flower garden as something more permanent. Every year, many of the flowers come back, but our vegetable gardens die, and are torn down at the end of the season, so we can start afresh in the spring.

Most flower gardens are made up of perennials, and sometimes biennials. Perennials are the ones that come back in the spring, not because they have re-seeded themselves (although some perennials will self seed, such as Brown Eyed Susans) but because their roots remain alive but dormant throughout the winter under the snow. Sometimes when perusing the gardening catalogues, you will read something such as “perennial to zone 4,” which means that for us, here in zone 5, it should overwinter without much difficulty. Some of the plants that we think of as annuals, are considered perennials in warmer zones, like zone 7 or 8. Some of the more common perennials in our area are: Iris, Brown Eyed Susans, Hydrangea, Bleeding Heart, Daisies, some Poppies, Coneflowers or Echinacea. Annuals are the ones that don’t come back in the spring. They may self seed, if you leave the stalks and give them a bit of room, but their roots will not survive under the snow and regrow in the spring. Some flowers and plants ride that line between perennial and annual in our zone, and will often overwinter with a bit of help through mulching. Some of the popular annuals in our area are: Pansies, Geraniums, Marigolds, Impatiens, Calendula, and Petunias. There are also all the native Ontario wildflowers that come back because they self seed, such as Bee Balm or Bergamont, and Wild Asters.

There are things in our vegetable or food gardens that we expect to come back year after year, such as raspberries, strawberries, and rhubarb. We can add perennial flowers into the area where we grow food. Some of our herbs return every year. Sage, parsley, and chives all overwinter very easily in our zone. Just like you remember where you’ve planted your chives and parsley, you will remember where the perennial flowers are to come up.

There are many benefits to growing flowers in with your food. Flowers attract pollinators, and many beneficial insects. Biodiversity should always be our goal. Birds are more likely to be attracted to your garden if there is a diversity of insects. Drawing birds to your garden is beneficial if you are suddenly inundated with an unwanted type of insect, such as the tomato hornworm. Flowers will attract insects such as parasitic wasps, that are harmless to people, but prey mercilessly on some of the nastier bugs that we don’t want in our garden, like tomato hornworms.

You can start seeds for perennial and annual flowers early, either indoors or outside in jugs if you’re trying winter sowing. Some seeds need cold stratification, and should be planted directly outside in the fall or winter, or started in jugs if you’re winter sowing. You can direct sow many annual flowers, interspersing rows of flowers and vegetables, but many flowers serve to repel nasty insects, so it’s good if you can start some early so they’re ready to go right alongside the plants you plant out into the garden. Many herbs can repel pests, so consider interspersing your herbs throughout your garden. Many flowers are edible too: Nasturtiums, Borage, Anise Hyssop, Begonia, Bergamot, Borage, Marigolds, Pansies, and Violets are just a few of the many. We have been conditioned to think of flowers as decoration, but they are much more.

And what about growing something in the flower garden that is edible such as some Swiss Chard with colourful stalks, some deep purple frilly Kale, or an herb like Dill with its tall reaching yellow flowers? Many herbs are beautiful as well as tasty.

What are you growing? Let me know: joselyn@ndtimes.ca

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