The veg growers guide to growing flowers

I love flowers, but they’re not really my forte.  When time is stretched I tend to focus on things we can eat. Some flowers are edible, but they hardly constitute a meal. Plus the last time I tried a nasturtium I had to wash it down with a large glass of wine (well that was my excuse, anyway.)

I certainly wouldn’t win any prizes at the Chelsea Flower Show – or any other show for that matter.  Yet flowers are such a valuable presence on the allotment or veg patch, that I always try to include a few idiot-proof ones among the beetroot and kale, or anywhere there’s space.

So if like me, you don’t really know your antirrhinums from your zinnias,  here is my veg-growers guide to flowers, including which ones to grow, and why they are an essential part of any plot.

Five reasons to grow flowers on your allotment

1. They’re beautiful.

At risk of stating the obvious, flowers really are prozac for the eyes. I am always amazed at how even the most stunning work of art can never reproduce the colours found in nature. Enough of that, what about practicality?

2. Pollination.

Flowers attract pollinating insects, which are vital for many crops to produce fruit. So more flowers, means more food.

3. Friends with benefits.

Flowers can be used as companion plants for fending off unwanted bugs, or sacrificing themselves for the greater good of other crops. Like bodyguards, or Jesus. Kind of.

4. Free gifts.

No need to splash out on a crappy bunch of  supermarket carnations the next time you need a bouquet in a hurry. Just pick your own. And pick some for yourself too.

5. Childs Play.

Flowers are great for planting with kids. And it keeps their fingers away from your precious veg – and those bloody fidget spinners. (Well, maybe for 10 minutes.)

For all their beauty and uses, flowers can seem like a bit of minefield to anyone who is a) under the age of 75  b) doesn’t speak Latin and c) mainly grows fruit and veg. Fear not here is a fail proof* list.  (*slug invasions permitting.)

Eight flowers to grow on the allotment or veg patch

1. Marigolds 

Dead easy to grow and good companion plants for loads of crops as their scent deters many annoying insects. What’s more, chemicals in the roots of marigolds can help suppress nematodes (microscopic worms that invade plant roots.)

2. Nasturtiums

Possibly the easiest of all flowers to grow. So easy, you may end up having to pull a few up.

As well as adding bursts of red and orange to an otherwise green canvas, nasturtiums’ pungent scent repels many insects, including whitefly.  These hotly coloured flowers also attract blackfly, a common problem for beans. So plant nasturtiums as a sacrificial offering among your legumes and hopefully the bugs will leave your beans alone.

And for their final trick, nasturtiums are rich in mustard oils. This makes them highly attractive to the cabbage white butterfly, whose caterpillars can polish off an entire bed of brassicas overnight. Plant nasturtiums among your kale and broccoli and hopefully these greedy pests will leave the more valuable crops alone.

3. Sweet peas

If you can grow peas (anyone can) you can grow sweet peas. Just provide them with longer sticks to grow up as they get quite tall. Or stick a few in with your climbing beans. Cut the flowers regularly so they keep producing blooms. They smell awesome (as the kids would say) and are of course good for attracting beneficial insects.

4. Sunflowers

Summer on a sturdy stem, what’s not to love? And you can grow them as supports for climbing beans to twirl up, instead of bamboo canes. Sunflowers are a doddle to grow (protect them from slugs when young) and ideal for growing with kids. You could get all educational and teach them about germination, then engage them in some measuring activities. Or just let them argue over whose is the tallest.  Expect tears.

5. Posh sunflowers

Like the normal ones, only in on-trend colours like almost black and red velvet. Though not as far as I know, French Grey. (You’ll have to ask Farrow and Ball for those.)

6. Wildflowers

Fabulous if you don’t have time for fussy annuals / don’t have a clue what an annual is. Just grab a jumbo-sized bag of wildflower mix and scatter it over a scrappy bit of soil. Then wait for the bees and butterflies to follow, who in their everyday pursuit of nectar will accidentally pollinate your crops. Bingo.

7. Poached egg plant

As the name suggests, these look like poached eggs on stems (don’t try eating them.) Hoverflies love them, and unlike wasps (those evil-eyed black and yellow bastards) hoverflies are lovely creatures who help get rid of aphids, and nobody wants those, least of all your tomato plants.

8. Yarrow

Easy to grow from seed and useful for attracting beneficial insects like tiny predatory wasps, lacewings, hoverflies and ladybirds.

Right, I’m off to prune my rose garden, lady garden, snip a few slugs in half.

Feel free to share your own floral secret weapons below…..

About Becky Dickinson

Mum of three. Writer, blogger, grower. Trying to keep my head above the compost heap.

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Comments

  1. I’ve got 2,4,5,6 covered and 8 outside my allotment shed. I’d also add Foxgloves (which as well as being beautiful pollinators are a good companion to potatoes… BUT obviously not child friendly). Also the California Poppy (Eschscholzia) provides good summer long brightness if you toss a few seeds into paths and corners beside raised beds.

    • Hello – I love foxgloves too, though I don’t have any at the moment (might wait until the kids are older and less likely to eat them!) I’m hoping some poppies will pop up in the wildflower mix, but perhaps I should sprinkle some extra seeds in case. Thanks!

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