If you think your vegetable garden must consist only of tidy rows of vegetables, think again. If you take a hint from the French, you will discover the joys and beauty of combining your vegetables with flowers and herbs to form a "potager," which is simply a garden with edibles and ornamental plants.
Banish the Idea of Rows
If you build raised beds that have lots of organic matter such as compost, your soil will be so rich it can support many more plants than possible in poorer soils. By intermixing vegetables and flowers randomly, you can create a very pretty garden area. For example, perhaps you'll want to plant a sunflower in the center of a hill of zucchini. If you plan it right and plant your sunflower beforehand, the sunflower's tall, strong stalk can serve as a support for vegetables such as cucumbers or pole beans.
Many Flowers Are Edible
In addition to adding beauty and interest to your vegetable garden, flowers can become an integral part of your veggie patch when you grow edible flowers. Examples of flowers that are safe to eat, and pretty, include violas, pansies, Johnny jump-ups, rose petals, nasturtiums, calendulas, carnations, chrysanthemums, corn flowers, dandelions, day lilies, English daisies and more. Always check to make certain that a flower is edible before you pop it into your mouth, and never use pesticides on plants whose flowers you plan to eat. For example, the flowers of snap peas and snow peas are edible, but sweet peas are not.
Don't Forget Flowering Herbs
Herbs are the spice of life and their flowers are often quite pretty in addition to being tasty additions to salads and as garnishes for other dishes. Herbs that you might enjoy growing for the culinary use of both their leaves and flowers include chives, angelica, anise hyssop, the scented basils such as Thai (anise-flavored) and lemon basil, bee balm, borage, burnet, chervil, chicory, chamomile, dill, fennel, lavender and many more.
Flowers Help Vegetables to Become Pollinated
The birds and the bees love flowers and are more attracted to a garden that contains lots of them. Of course, your vegetables will produce flowers of their own--squash, tomatoes, beans, eggplant, peppers and many others make flowers that are both attractive and that entice pollinators to "come hither" and do their job. But if you plant some flowers in early spring before your young vegetable plants make flowers, you will attract pollinators who will be on the lookout for other flowers as the season progresses.
Include Flowering Trees
If you have plenty of space and need a little shade for your lettuce, spinach, cilantro or other cooler-season plants, consider planting a flowering tree on one side of your vegetable garden. Dogwood, flowering almond or cherry, tulip trees, jacaranda, camellia, crepe myrtle and many others are possible choices. If you grow a lemon or orange tree, not only will you enjoy the sweet flowers, but later their fruit will provide another delicious addition to the area where you grow food. When the flowers drop from a flowering tree of any kind, you can rake them up and mulch your vegetable plants with the flowers, creating a pretty ground cover.