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One of Savvy Gardening’s favorite topics is the idea of planting edibles in your ornamental garden and vice versa. We like to call this concept Garden BFFs. Tara and Niki have even given talks on the subject, including at Canada Blooms. It’s not a new idea, as gardeners have been combining food and flowers in their gardens for years. There are also some fantastic books available on the subject, including Charlie Nardozzi’s Foodscaping (Cool Springs Press, 2015).
Edibles, particularly, those with eye-catching foliage, flowers, or fruits, can be incorporated into perennial gardens, flower beds or container gardens alongside traditional ornamental plants. This sneaky technique allows you to grow more food without digging up new gardens and adds layers of interest to your landscape. We even like to edge our flower and shrub beds with red (or mixed) lettuces, curly parsley, red-veined sorrel, bush basil, ‘Peppermint’ swiss chard, and other low-growing veggies and herbs.
Including flowers in your food garden is also a good idea. Not only does it look fabulous, it will attract beneficial and pollinating insects, boosting yield and helping to reduce insect pests. Certain flowers—marigolds, lavender, nasturtiums and petunias, for example—can even deter pests from your veggies or act as a trap crop, preventing pests like aphids, from reaching aphid-prone edibles like peppers.
To inspire you, we thought we’d share a few of our favourite combinations.
Flowers and food plants that truly deserve the title of ‘Garden BFFs’
Jessica says: “Many gardeners find themselves keeping corn out of the veggie patch because it takes up so much darn room. Corn is wind pollinated, so in order to develop a good crop of ears, you need to plant a substantial amount of it. Rather than planting corn in the vegetable garden—and gobbling up precious real estate—consider creating an eight- by ten-foot (or larger) garden bed dedicated only to growing corn. While this big block of corn plants might be more utilitarian than beautiful, there is a way to change that. One of my favorite combinations of edible and ornamental plants involves edging your bed of corn plants with a mixture of sunflowers and zinnias. These annual flowers beautify your corn patch and provide you with an endless supply of cut flowers. Plus, they support lots of pollinators, which means you’ll have better fruit set in your ‘real’ vegetable garden.”
Niki says: “In my 2,000-square-foot vegetable garden, I have a lot of Garden BFFs (tomatoes and sweet alyssum, carrots and nasturtiums, zinnias and cucumbers), but one of my favourite combinations is garlic and catmint. The catmint is Nepeta mussinii, which I grew from seed about eight years ago, and planted in low hedges and clumps around my veggie garden beds. It’s an extremely low-maintenance, drought tolerant, deer-resistant, non-invasive, pest-free perennial that blooms nonstop from May through October. Plus, it attracts butterflies, bees, beneficial insects, and makes a long-lasting cut flower in summer bouquets. What more could you possibly want in a plant? In this pairing, the casual, mounding growth of the catmint contrasts well against the rigid, formal stalks of the garlic.”
Tara says: “Each year, I love putting together containers filled with a vibrant mix of ornamentals. I have fun choosing flowers and foliage that go with the colour themes I’ve chosen. It was Paul Zammit, director of horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Garden, who first inspired me to start incorporating edibles into my ornamental pots. A few years ago, I was working on a video shoot with him for CanadianGardening.com, and I remember him talking about the texture of the ruffled parsley he added, and the fragrance of the rosemary if one happened to brush the pot on the way by.
Since then, when I’m shopping for my containers, I still hit the annuals area, but then I veer over to edibles and herbs to see what I can use. One of my favourite garden BFFs, lemongrass, has become a common herb that I use in my pots in place of a spike or dracaena. It gives the arrangement height, plus I can walk out the door and grab a fragrant stalk for the Thai chicken curry dish I like to make. And colourful kale has come in handy for my fall arrangements in a pinch!
My pots often contain an assortment of basil (African blue, Thai, ‘Purple Ruffles’), sage (pineapple!), stevia, mint (strawberry, spearmint, mojito) and, of course, lemongrass.”
What are your favourite garden BFFs? Leave a comment or share a photo below.