Flowers!  What I thought we were growing veggies!?!

By: Nikki Lynn, OSM/ VISTA @ the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Cumberland Plateau

This week at the Boys & Girls Club of the Cumberland Plateau, members planted flower seeds to be transplanted later into their Grow Appalachia community garden.  But aren’t we all about feeding people, why would those kids be planting flowers?

Flowers are an essential part of any garden and we shouldn’t ignore them.   Here are several reasons why the kids at the Boys & Girls Club are planting flowers with their vegetables this season, and why you should too!

First and foremost to attract pollinators!   Let’s face it vegetables don’t always have the prettiest biggest flowers, and if I were a bee I would miss them too.  But with the help of big luscious sunflowers, lovely smelling sweet pea, or vibrant zinnia planted among or even near your garden, how can a bee miss all of

Second reason for us to plant flowers with our veggies is to attract beneficial insects!   Yes, there are a lot of insects that are just not fun to deal with, but think about what it would be alike to have an army of Ladybugs defending your precious plants.  There are many flower varieties that attract beneficial insects to your garden to take care of unwanted pests.    Flowers from the aster family are especially good for attracting beneficial insects, such as Marigold, Chrysanthemum, Calendula, and Zinnia.

Another great reason to interplant flowers is to merely repel garden pest.   Thought this idea is highly debatable it’s worth a shot right?   Many insects do not like the fragrance that many flowers put off, such as Geraniums (Pelargonium) repel Japanese Beetles and Pot Marigolds repel Asparagus Beetles.

Another idea is, if you can’t repel a pest, throw it a sacrificial plant. This is often accomplished with another vegetable crop, such as surrounding cabbage with a trap crop of collards to draw the diamondback moth. The pest insect will congregate on the trap crop, which is eventually pulled and disposed of. The most famous flower trap crop is probably the use of nasturtiums to attract aphids. Nicotiana is also good for this.

In short, what all this interplanting is leading to is a very old gardening concept of biodiversity or planting a wide variety of things rather than a single, monocrop. Confuse insect pests by interplanting things they love with things they won’t touch. The symbiotic relationships between different plant species is still the subject of much study.

Also, another very important reason to plant flowers with your veggies is to keep people from judging the mess of your garden as much.  People will be too distracted by how lovely your flowers are to notice that your or say the kids that planted the beans didn’t do it in a very neat or straight line.    Also, if you are thinking about doing cut flowers like zinnia, planting them among stable things in your garden like tomatoes will keep the empty stalks from looking so sad when you go to cut flowers.

Interplanting vegetables, herbs and flowers is how the original cottage garden style evolved. Sectioning off gardens for specific types of plants was a luxury of the rich and leisured. Besides all of the benefits outlined above, if you are short of space or time, interplanting could be the answer to your gardening dilemma.  You can condense practical and beautiful!