Planting a vegetable garden with a wide variety of annual and perennial herbs, flowers and vegetables provides a dynamic visual display and enhances the health of crops. Some herbs and flowers are natural pest deterrents. Others attract important pollinators. Some vegetables even encourage one another's productivity. Complimentary plants promote the vegetable garden's beauty and yield.
Water and Light Considerations
When deciding where to plant herbs, vegetables and flowers, consider water and light requirements. For instance, herbs like lavender that thrive in dry climates may not succeed in the same ground as tomatoes that need plenty of water to fruit. And sun-loving plants such as basil should be planted south of tall garden plants such as corn and sunflowers or the taller plants will shade the herb, inhibiting its growth. One rule of thumb is to choose plants as garden companions that originate in the same climate. For instance, try a Mediterranean herb garden of oregano, rosemary and thyme, or an Italian kitchen garden of basil, tomatoes, marigolds and eggplant.
Pests: Attracting and Deterring
Nasturtiums lining beds of cabbage deter rabbits, who hate the flower's taste. Heavily scented herbs such as chamomile and tansy planted near crucifers like broccoli and cauliflower can repel pests such as moths who would otherwise damage them. Scented marigolds planted near tomatoes excrete a chemical from their roots that can discourage tomato pests. Roses and garlic are another classic complimentary combination, as are carrots and onions.
On the other hand, brightly colored flowers such as zinnia, sunflower, 4-o'clocks and echinacea attract bees, butterflies, birds and other pollinators important to the production of vegetables. Creatively mixing annual and perennial flowers with vegetables can attract many "good pests" to the garden and create a healthy miniature ecosystem.
Natural Trellises and Weed Control
Use tall plants such as corn and sunflowers as natural trellises for vining climbers such as pole beans and vining spinach. Consider planting ground creepers such as pumpkins and melons beneath vertical-growers like corn to inhibit weed production. In general, low-growing perennial herbs like thyme inhibit weed growth while providing additional beauty and culinary utility. Just be certain to keep perennial herbs under control, so they don't encroach on your vegetables' territory.
When mixing herbs, flowers and vegetables, consider also their visual appeal. The feathery foliage of cosmos is a beautiful complement to wispy asparagus, and its bright flowers mask the vegetable patch when it has gone out of season. Arugula is a seasonal favorite that looks smart beside snap peas, another early-season favorite--and both can be replaced with later season crops, when they are finished producing. Even spring bulbs like tulip and iris can be mixed into the vegetable garden, but consider marking their spots well, so that you don't accidentally dig them up at the end of the season. Taking note of attractive combinations provides additional ideas with which to experiment.