Building diversity with companion plants
By Emily Murphy, author of Grow What You Love
The secret to growing a thriving vegetable garden is to follow nature. Grow companion plants and edible flowers to build diversity into your garden.
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.
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!
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 (corinander, oregano, basil, etc.)
Grow What You Love Book
The Grow What You Love Book written by me, Emily Murphy, is a food centric garden book featuring the stars of both the garden and the kitchen. It includes recipes, how-to tips for starting or fine-tuning an existing garden, plus loads of ideas for companion planting and building diversity into gardens — because when you grow what you love, you’ll discover you’re growing more than a garden.
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.
In the book you’ll find greater detail and planting design ideas, including helpful (and inspirational) illustrations and photos. I hope you enjoy it and find ways to grow what you love!
Emily is an expert gardener and author of Grow What You Love. 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.
She spent her childhood in the far reaches of Northern California between her grandmother’s homestead in the Sonoma foothills and her hometown, a tiny college town near the Oregon border. She discovered that food was just as easy to find and grow in both places, it just meant thinking about it a little differently.
Lovely Greens is giving away a new copy of Emily’s book, Grow What You Love. Enter for a chance to win it by leaving a comment! Tell us why you’d like the book and you’ll get a second chance to win if you share your favourite companion plants and edible flowers.
The winner will be announced in the comments below and in the Lovely Greens Newsletter (Subscribe in the website footer) on Friday, March 30th. Giveaway open to those in the United States, Canada, European Union, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Isle of Man, and Channel Islands.
Update: The winner of the book is Eva Tombs! Congratulations 🙂