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Tips on how to grow companion plants and edible flowers to build diversity into your garden. The secret to growing a thriving vegetable garden is to follow nature.
A quick look at any healthy, living system reveals a clamor of diversity: plants of different kinds keeping company while a mix of good bugs and bad ones busy themselves with the routine of daily living. You’ll find a variety of birds and most likely a host of creatures you don’t recognize — but they’re part of the puzzle too.
When a garden is designed as a slice of life, the rewards are greater than a colander of snap peas or a bumper crop of tomatoes. Your garden is your most immediate touch point with nature, a welcoming place to play and contemplate, and when you look to companion plants such as edible flowers to build diversity, you now have a greater variety of robust and aromatic ingredients to savor from garden-to-table.
When we build diversity into our gardens by way of edible flowers and companion plants (including herbs), we’re creating habitat. It’s now a mecca for birds, bees, and butterflies. It’s a place to play, contemplate, and share. And together our patchwork of gardens make a difference.
Companion Planting Basics
You may have heard it said that carrots love tomatoes but should never be planted with dill. Or that beets and mustards should never be planted side by side. I almost always grow basil near tomatoes because they improve their flavor (or so I’ve found). These theories may be true. It makes sense that there’s chemistry between plants, generally following along the lines of affection, tolerance, and dislike. However, I find it helpful to consider companion planting as a means for natural pest control, building soil ecosystems, and creating habitat for pollinators.
Grow bush or pole beans below sunflowers to naturally fix nitrogen in the soil. Inter-plant calendulas and onions with vegetables to confuse pests like carrots flies and cabbage white butterflies, throwing them off the scent of their preferred host plants. Place nasturtiums in the corners of beds or plots to lure aphids away from your more prized edibles, and embrace chaos. Or at least a little bit of chaos. You’ll soon find that cultivating diversity in your garden with companion planting makes caring for it easier and you get flowers!
Organic Gardening Ideas
- Plants to Grow in a Skincare Garden
- Easy to Grow Vegetables for Beginners
- Creating a Wildflower Meadow
Flowers for Growing & Eating
There are a host of edible flowers that double as fabulous companion plants. Chive flowers offer the same onion flavor as their leaves and are some of the first to bloom in spring, providing forage for early season bees. Grow sunflowers for their seeds. Leave some for the birds and put the rest away for a winter snack.
Nasturtiums produce bright, peppery blooms that toss beautifully into salads and are a favorite of bumble bees. (You’ll often see them crawling in only to fly out moments later weighed down with pollen.) Throw the leaves in with your greens and pickle the green seed pods — they’re perfect, homemade capers when you need them in a pinch.
And there’s more! The list of edible flowers that fill the role of companion plants is lengthy. Below are some of the edible flowers I find most versatile.
15 Edible Flowers for the Vegetable Garden
- Calendula (pot marigold)
- Bee Balm
- Pea & bean flowers
- Lemon balm
- Viola (pansy)
- Monarda or Bee balm
- Really herbs of any kind (coriander, oregano, basil, etc.)
About Emily Murphy
Emily is an expert gardener and author of Grow What You Love and Grow Now. She is a writer, photographer, and cook. She grew up gardening, studied ethnobotany, environmental science, and garden design. Many of her years have been dedicated to garden education, teaching and running school gardens and supporting community gleaning programs.