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I remember as a child (more than 60 years ago) my mother always planted some flowers scattered here and there throughout our huge 2-acre vegetable garden. At the time I thought it was simply because she wanted them for colorful cut flowers, especially the mixes of taller growing zinnias, marigolds and salvias. But now I know she also planted those flowers to attract pollinators and beneficial insects to help insure that our vegetables benefited from their presence, resulting in higher yields.
Perhaps Lisa Mason Ziegler, author of Vegetables Love Flowers: Companion Planting For Beauty And Bounty, describes it best as she writes, “I didn’t set out to fill my garden with pollinators, beneficial insects and other good things. You might say they all came as a welcome side effect of all-natural, cut-flower farming. I finally gave up messing with the ecosystem and instead gave it a hand up and helped it along. The result was a garden teeming with beautiful healthy plants producing abundance with little intervention from me, a garden just the way it was meant to be.”
Ziegler, who had always dreamed of growing cut flowers commercially, had already established a successful small vegetable farm. In 1998, she began adding flowers for cutting in with the vegetables, and very soon thereafter, her dream had blossomed into a flower-and-vegetable-companion-farming career. “It didn’t take long for my gardens to start filling up with some obvious good things beyond the flowers I was now planting,” she said, “As soon as the blooms began, it seemed the butterflies, bees and birds were everywhere. There among the flowers were creatures buzzing and flitting around just like you imagine nature at its best.
“I grew zinnias, sunflowers, snapdragons, sweet peas and other popular cut flowers,” she added, “They were much more than just pretty faces—they provided food and habitat for beneficials. While there are flowers that are especially attractive to specific groups of beneficial insects, the bottom line is just to grow flowers—any flowers! Don’t use pesticides and they will come. That is exactly what I did.”
Ziegler believes, “What brought the garden to life and kept it blooming over the long haul of the seasons was growing flowers for cutting and then harvesting the blossoms on a regular basis. Constant cutting keeps the garden continually producing fresh flowers. Fresh flowers keep all the beneficial insects happy in the garden. As it turns out, the life of a cutting garden is a perfect match for the life you wish to invite into the garden.
“This practice of harvesting flowers while harvesting vegetables brings another gift from the garden,” she concludes, “The day will come when there isn’t room for another bouquet in your home. This leads to a new reward—surprising and delighting family and friends with the colorful gift of fresh, homegrown flowers!”
Our 2020 Early Spring Catalog, pages 68 through 81, features quite an array of flowers in all colors, scents, shapes and sizes from which to choose your companion plantings in the vegetable garden next season. Remember to select early-, mid- and late-season blooming varieties so that you keep your pollinator and beneficial insects are well fed and happy for the entire growing season. Harvest vegetables and flowers often to keep your entire garden fresh and productive.