Visitors to my garden are usually somewhat surprised to see flowers planted among my tomatoes and eggplants. Anyone who knows me knows that, maybe more than anything else, I am a very practical girl. Upon first sight, rambling borders of nasturtiums or billowing clouds of borage flowers may look fanciful. But this is me we're talking about here. Believe me, the flowers in my vegetable garden are working hard. (And looking good doing it!)
I'm a big believer in companion planting. While many people think of the old "carrots love tomatoes" type of companion planting, there's also a lot to be said for including certain annuals and flowering herbs in your vegetable garden. Here are my top three, and why they deserve a place in your garden.
If you've had troubles with flea beetles in your garden (a sure sign is that your eggplant leaves are riddled with dozens of tiny little round holes) you need to plant nasturtiums in your garden. Nasturtiums act as a "trap crop" for the flea beetles, meaning the beetles will find them first, and spend their time munching the nasturtiums instead of going after your eggplant. Nasturtiums also act as a trap crop for aphids, which can be a real pest in the vegetable garden. I like to plant a border of nasturtiums around my raised beds, or simply add a row of nasturtiums here and there within the garden.
Nasturtiums are also very pretty plants, with cute round leaves. They bloom in many colors, including creamy white, pale yellow, dark red, and orange. Both the blooms and leaves are edible, adding a peppery flavor to salads and sandwiches. However, if you're using nasturtiums as a trap crop, it's best to avoid harvesting too often (after all, we want to make sure there's plenty for your insect pests so they don't start going after your veggies!)
Borage Borage is an herb with edible blossoms and leaves that has a cucumber-like flavor. It's bright blue blossoms look stunning in any garden, so they're worth growing for that reason alone. However, they are real workhorses. If you plant them near tomatoes, they will deter tomato hornworms. If you've had hornworms devour your tomato plants in the past, you will definitely want to try planting borage. Almost as a bonus, bumblebees and other pollinators love the blossoms, so if you've been noticing that you're having a hard time getting insects to pollinate your squashes or pumpkins, plant a row of borage nearby -- the bees will come for the borage, and then, doing what bees do, they'll find your squash blossoms and take care of the pollinating for you as well.
Marigold Research on the pest-deterring effect of planting marigolds (Tagetes) in the vegetable garden has shown that you have to plant a lot of marigold plants to really make a difference. Of course, many gardeners (myself included) believe that even planting a row, or bordering a bed with marigolds, helps ward off pests and invite beneficial insects to the garden. In my own experience, marigolds help deter bean beetles, flea beetles, and cabbage moths (who just seem not to like them at all!). They have a very distinct, and fairly strong, smell, so the theory is that the scent of the marigolds confuses some insects, and masks the smell of the plants they'd normally attack. The way I see it, it's worth a try. If nothing else, they'll add a pop of color to your vegetable garden.
Marigolds are available in cream, yellow, orange, and reddish-orange, and a variety of sizes from small, bushy marigolds to tall ones that are perfect for cutting for bouquets.
Flowers definitely deserve a place in the vegetable garden. They're not just taking up space looking pretty -- they're busy protecting your plants from pests. That's all the reason I need to plant them in my garden!