Beautify Your Veggie Patch
Plant an Attractive Vegetable Garden
If your vegetable garden consists of long, straight rows of crops surrounded by mulch or bare soil, you may be missing out on some of its potential health benefits. Aesthetic beauty is healing, especially in the form of flowers and art.
The French have long understood vegetable gardens can be places of beauty. They located their traditional potagers, or kitchen gardens, outside their kitchen windows and included vertical structures, flowers, and artistic plant groupings designed for aesthetic appeal. Read on to learn why prioritizing beauty in your garden is practical, and discover ways to beautify your veggie patch with flowers and DIY artistic elements.
The Case for Beauty in the Vegetable Garden
Veggie gardeners tend to be practical. We grow useful plants and focus more on function than form.
But it’s time to banish the pervasive, utilitarian idea that a veggie patch should be a rectangular plot with perfectly spaced rows of crops.
It may seem like the most practical way to garden, but it’s not.
By prioritizing beauty in your garden, you actually increase veggie yields and minimize pest damage.
That’s because the features that are eye-catching to us – colorful flowers and pleasing herbs – attract, feed, and provide shelter to pollinators and beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, ground beetles, and beneficial wasps, which eat pest insects.http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/beneficial-borders
In one study, farmers reduced cereal-leaf beetle damage in winter wheat fields by 62 percent by planting flower strips within rows of wheat.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26311668
In another study, farmers increased mango harvests by 40 percent when they planted native flowers nearby.http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/316na3_en.pdf
That’s right: Beauty is healing and practical! Give yourself permission to design your vegetable garden as you would an outdoor room, and include elements to optimize its aesthetic appeal.
Flowers are a surefire way to dress up a veggie plot, but some flowers work better than others. First, decide whether you want to plant annuals or perennials. There are pros and cons to each. Perennials renew themselves for more than two years, which can decrease future labor and provide an anchor in a garden design. (An anchor plant stays in place, giving you a backdrop to design around.) Moreover, they usually grow stronger and more beautiful as they age.
Annuals provide other benefits. While many perennials have relatively short bloom seasons, most annuals bloom all season long, providing non-stop beauty for you and lots of pollen and nectar for pollinators. Moreover, when you plant annuals, there’s no need to commit a portion of your veggie plot to one type of flower for multiple years.http://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/perennials/perennial-flowers-by-season/#page=1
If you’re unsure which to plant, plant annual flowers in the veggie beds and perennial flowers in nearby beds or containers. (Keep reading for DIY container ideas.)
When choosing flowers for your veggie patch, consider going native. Many native flowering plants are beautiful and require less maintenance because they evolved to grow in your climate. Moreover, there are about 4,000 different species of bees, and by planting native flowers, you provide food for the ones in your area. Visit the Xerces Society to find pollinator-friendly plant lists for each region.
Some flowers may offer more benefits for the garden than others, but don’t hesitate to plant flowers just because you think they’re pretty. Remember, beauty is the goal here. However, avoid planting flowers that will take over your veggie patch. Some flowers can be invasive depending on your climate. For example, St. John’s wort and comfrey are attractive and useful, but they can be hard to get rid of. If you’re unsure about a plant, check the Invasive Plant Atlas at invasive.org before planting it.http://www.invasiveplantatlas.org/images.html
How to Plant Flowers in a Veggie Patch
Once you embrace the idea that flowers and veggies can comingle, it’s easy to integrate flowers into a vegetable garden. Try one of these methods:
- Border the Beds
Dedicate a few inches on every side of your veggie beds to flowers.
- Cover the Ground
Plant low-growing flowers such as marigolds around larger vegetables such as tomatoes. They’ll serve as beautiful living mulch that keeps weeds out. (Marigolds also repel root-rot nematodes.)
- Interweave Rows
Alternate rows of veggies with rows of flowers for lines of color.
- Plant in Patterns
Forget about rows and think in patterns. Alternate flowers and crops in concentric circles, or get creative with geometric designs. Check out formal French potager designs for ideas.http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/4666/formality-and-surprise-in-a-garden-design
- Plant in Drifts
Loosely intersperse randomly shaped groupings of veggies and flowers in beds to create the feel of an English country garden and provide splashes of color amidst food crops.
- Go Vertical
Vertical elements in the garden draw the eye upward and provide visual intrigue. To create a wall of color, edge the north side of your bed with stakes and lattice work, and alternate peas, beans, or cucumbers with nasturtiums. Or plant a row of tall flowers, such as cup flowers. Just avoid shading your sun-loving veggies.
- Use Containers
Add pots of your favorite annuals or perennials to the garden wherever you can squeeze them in.
Once you’ve dressed up the garden with flowers, it’s time to add artwork. Garden art doesn’t have to be grand or complicated. Even small elements add appeal and intrigue. And art can be functional, doubling as containers for plants, water sources for pollinators, or seating for guests.
But don’t hesitate to add art just because it’s pleasing. Remember, aesthetic beauty is healing. The more appealing your garden is to you, the more you’ll want to work in it. And a well-tended garden is healthier and more productive.
Adding beauty to the vegetable garden brings benefits beyond the ones mentioned above. By focusing more on aesthetics, you get to know yourself better – your unique tastes, preferences, and sensibilities. In that way, your vegetable garden becomes a creative expression of who you are. And because a garden is always a work-in-progress, you have endless opportunities to transform it into a more uplifting and healing place to visit and work in. (That’s a good thing because we veggie gardeners spend a lot of time in the garden!) As a bonus, once your garden is bursting with colorful flowers and art, pollinators and beneficial insects will be happier there too.