Why should vegetable gardens be unattractive and boring? There's simply no excuse for it when there are so many beautiful flowers and herbs available. For those of us who tend to feel guilty if we plant anything "impractical" in the vegetable garden, here are two reasons why we should plant flowers:
1. Many flowers attract beneficial insects.
2. Some flowers are edible -- a very practical reason!
Beneficial insects are unbeatable for controlling bad bugs. A few years of reading Organic Gardening magazine convinced me to avoid pesticides and seek out safer alternatives. Not only are beneficial insects good for your garden, but they're also nice to have around when teaching children about nature.
If you have small children, consider planting only edible flowers in the vegetable garden, so they don't get confused about what's safe to eat. Other flowers can be planted in a border outside the vegetable garden. Be cautious and well-informed before eating any plant or flower. Some people have allergic reactions to certain flowers.
It's usually best to stick with annual flowers inside the vegetable garden, since you'll be rotating your crops every year. It's nice to have a special section for perennial flowers, maybe as part of the herb garden. Some herbs are perennials or biennials, so they need a permanent spot where they won't be disturbed by digging or rototilling.
Annual Flowers and Herbs
Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) -- Attracts hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) -- The flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects. The aromatic foliage supposedly repels aphids and tomato hornworms.
Calendula (Pot Marigold, Calendula officinalis) -- Edible, orange or yellow flower petals. Attracts bees, butterflies and hoverflies.
Cornflower (Centaurea sp.) -- Attracts lacewings, ladybugs, hoverflies, parasitic mini-wasps, bees and butterflies.
Cosmos -- Attracts lacewings, hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps.
Dill (Anethum graveolens) -- The leaves are used in recipes, and the umbel flowers attract lacewings, ladybugs, hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps. A favorite food of the Eastern black swallowtail butterfly. Can be used as a trap crop for aphids. Self-sows.
Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena) -- This self-sowing annual has beautiful, blue flowers in early summer, followed by ornamental seed pods. The seeds are edible and can be used in fruit salads and baked goods. Nigella sativa (Black Cumin) has spicy, pepper-flavored seeds.
Marigold (Tagetes sp.) -- The flowers attract butterflies and hoverflies, and the roots produce a secretion that kills root-eating nematodes in the soil. The flower petals are edible.
Zinnia (Zinnia elegans) -- A wonderful flower for attracting hummingbirds, hoverflies, parasitic wasps and butterflies.
Perennial Flowers and Herbs
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) -- Edible, licorice-flavored leaves for tea. Spikes of blue flowers attract bees, butterflies and beneficial insects. Blooms the first year from seed.
Basket of Gold (Alyssum saxatile) -- The bright yellow flowers bloom in May, providing an early food source for ladybugs and hoverflies.
Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum') -- Handsome bronze foliage. The flowers attract lacewings, ladybugs, hoverflies, parasitic mini-wasps and butterflies, and the foliage feeds swallowtail butterfly larvae. Freshly-ground fennel seeds are great for sausage and spagghetti sauce, and the leaves are used in fish dishes.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) -- Leaves and flower buds are used in recipes. Makes a nice edging. Deadhead to prevent excessive self-sowing. Attracts bees and butterflies like crazy.
Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum) -- The flowers attract bees and beneficial insects. The leaves have a nice, strong garlic flavor. Chives and garlic chives make good companion plants for roses because they repel aphids.
Hesperis (Dame's Rocket) -- Pretty purple or white flowers. The young leaves are edible. Attracts bees and butterflies.
Lavender 'Lady' (Lavandula angustifolia) -- A nice compact lavender for the herb garden. The flowers attract hoverflies and bees. The fragrant foliage is used in potpourri. Blooms the first year from seed.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) -- The lemon-flavored leaves make a good tea. The tiny flowers attract hoverflies, tachinid flies and parasitic mini-wasps.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) -- The umbel flowers attract hoverflies, tachinid flies and parasitic wasps. Parsley is a favorite food of Eastern black swallowtail butterfly larvae.
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) -- This perennial wildflower is sometimes listed as an herb because the roots are used in herbal medicine as an immune stimulant. The flowers attract bees and butterflies.
Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus) -- Lovely spikes of blue flowers in June and July. Attracts ladybugs, hoverflies, hummingbirds and bees.
Sage (Salvia sp.) -- There are many forms of sage, including culinary sage. They all attract bees and butterflies, and some species attract hummingbirds.
Viola -- I let these self-sow wherever they like. They don't disturb the vegetables, and the edible flowers make nice cake decorations.
Yarrow (Achillia sp.) -- Attracts ladybugs, hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps.