Separate Beds for Vegetables and Flowers?

You may get better vegetable pollination when flowers are grown in a separate bed. Photo: urbanpollinators.blogspot.com

Two generations of gardeners have been raised on the concept that you can attract beneficial pollinating insects to vegetable beds by companion planting: placing flowering plants rich in pollen and nectar in among the vegetables. Plant a marigold, calendula or phacelia, etc. here and there among the vegetables and this will draw in pollinators like bees, butterflies and hoverflies that will then visit and pollinate flowering vegetables with less attractive flowers like cukes, squash, and melons. At least, that’s what we were told.

It’s a great idea in theory, but many gardeners are not finding they get a lot of pollinating insect visits when they put this into application. Apparently, just the occasional flowering plant isn’t enough of a magnet to draw in the number of pollinators you’d really need. You want masses of flowers.

Flowers in one bed, veggies in another. Photo: www.westcoastseeds.com

That’s why the latest trend is to place the flowering plants in a separate bed right next to the vegetable garden: in other words, put in a flower garden! This pulls in many more insects (you’ll never have seen so many butterflies, for example!) This is now being done in many home and public gardens and the results are quite amazing. The flower bed buzzes with insects, so much so that this causes traffic jams, pushing some pollinators to look elsewhere while waiting for their turn … and that elsewhere will likely be the vegetable beds right next door. 

This is the method now being used with great success in the Idea Garden in Longwood Gardens (Kennett Square, Pennsylvania). A long rectilinear cut flower bed cuts through the center of its vegetable beds, assuring plenty of pollinators for needy vegetable plants on either side. 

With more and more gardeners complaining they’re just not getting pollinator traffic they used to, often obliging them to hand pollinate their veggies, this is certainly a method you might want to explore.

30 Flowers to Try

Among the many flowering plants that you could put in a pollinator-friendly flower bed are the following:

Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia), an easy-to-grow annual, attracts plenty of pollinators. Photo: www.crocus.co.uk
  1. Anise hyssop (Agastache spp.)
  2. Aster (Aster spp., Symphotrichum spp., Eurybia spp., etc.)
  3. Bachelor’s buttons or cornflower (Centaurea cyanus and others)
  4. Bee balm or bergamot (Monarda spp.)
  5. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.)
  6. Blazing star (Liatris spp.)
  7. Borage (Borago officinalis)
  8. Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum)
  9. Butterfly weed (Asclepias spp.)
  10. Calendula or pot marigold (Calendula officinalis)
  11. Celosia or cock’s comb (Celosia spp.)
  12. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
  13. Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.)
  14. Cosmos (Cosmos spp.) 
  15. Echinacea or purple coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
  16. False Queen Anne’s lace (Ammi majus)
  17. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
  18. Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
  19. Lantana (Lantana spp.)
  20. Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
  21. Lupin (Lupinus spp.)
  22. Marigold (Tagetes spp.)
  23. Phacelia (Phacelia spp.)
  24. Phlox (Phlox spp.)
  25. Scabiosa or pincushion flower (Scabiosa spp.)
  26. Stonecrop (Sedum spp.)
  27. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
  28. Tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
  29. Yarrow (Achillea spp.)
  30. Zinnia (Zinnia spp.)

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

2 comments on “Separate Beds for Vegetables and Flowers?

  1. Pingback: Lacy Phacelia: Possibly the Best Plant for Pollinators! – Laidback Gardener

  2. Mixing vegetables with flowers still seems odd to me. That is not how I was taught to do it. Of course, I did not grow many flowers anyway. There were no flowers for cutting in the space that was dedicated to vegetable production. Neighbors grew marigolds to repel insects from tomatoes. I never bothered because I never had any problems with the tomatoes getting damaged by insects.

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