The backyard vegetable garden can be enhanced by many colorful, annual flowers, which in many cases, are actually useful herbs. These attractive, easy to grow plants add brilliant colors, attract many good insects, while some may even help repel harmful bugs. Most are edible and add a gourmet touch to kitchen recipes.
There are a multitude of choices for gardeners to choose from depending on what is desired. Three, possible good choices which have plenty of potential for the home gardener are: borage, nasturtiums and okra.
Borage is an ancient plant, originating in the Mediterranean region. One nice feature about borage is it practically takes care of itself once it germinates. Borage will bloom early in the summer; it’s brilliant sky blue flowers attract many pollinators, honeybees and bumblebees in particular. So many bees will visit the plant, that is often called the “bee plant”. Often, honeybee hives are located in fields of borage ; borage honey is highly regarded as some of the world’s best.
Borage is normally started from easily obtained seeds and planted directly in the soil, although it can be started earlier inside in pots. Peat or bio-degradable, pots which can be planted directly in the soil, are best. The plant doesn’t like to be be transplanted, although it can be done early on in the seedling growth stage and with care. Borage also does just fine in container gardening.
The first package of seeds just may be the last one. The plant readily re-seeds itself, and the following year, new plants will grow when the weather warms. The young seedlings can be transplanted to where they are wanted but this needs to be done early and with care. The mature plant can be a a foot tall and will bloom early in the season and continue blooming throughout the season
The attractive blue flowers can be candied and used as a decoration of cakes and pastry. Traditionally, the flowers were placed in water, frozen, and the ice-cubes used in cocktail drinks. The leaves have a cucumber like taste and can be used in salads; dried they can be used to brew a relaxing tea.
Among many gardeners, borage is well respected as a companion plant tomatoes. Some claim the borage plant improves the flavor of the tomato.
Colorful nasturtiums are another good choice to add color, attract good insects and are edible. Like borage, nasturtiums are easy to grow, low maintenance plants which almost thrive on neglect and do even well even in partial shade. The seeds are readily available in almost all garden supply stores and plants can be available at garden nurseries.
In many northern areas the plant will not re-seed, but the large black seeds are easily collected, stored for the winter and re-planted the following season. Both the flowers and the leaves are edible and have a somewhat peppery taste. Many kitchen chefs use the leaves and flowers in specialty salads.
Nasturtiums can be sown directly in the soil or started indoors for earlier blooms. The plants do well in container gardening and are an excellent choice for hanging baskets. It is an excellent money saver plant; it enjoys poor soil, low moisture and no fertilizer.
In companion planting, nasturtiums have a good reputation for deterring aphids in the garden and can be planted with cabbages, radishes, and broccoli. Nasturtiums also help repel the cucumber beetle and the squash vine borer. It is a great choice for brilliant color to have in a vegetable garden.
Okra is another annual flowering herb plant which will brighten up any garden area with it’s hibiscus like flowers. The flowers soon form an edible pod which is used in southern Cajun cooking in such dishes as gumbo’s; it can be fried, pickled and dried for use as a thickening agent similar to corn starch or flour.. Okra is highly nutritious and a great choice for a weight loss program and has a reputation for other medicinal purposes.
Okra is readily available as seed. The plants require no special attention, however they are very frost sensitive. Earlier flowers and fruit can be obtained by planting the seed indoors and treated similar to a tomato plant. The flowers attract many beneficial insects and it has a reputation for being toxic to Japanese Beetles. The beetles are attracted to the large yellow flowers, when the beetles eat the leaves, the toxins present kill them. An added benefit for crafters is the pods can be dried and used in arts and craft projects.
Okra, at least in the northern climates, can be used in container planting and moved around to where needed for it’s attractiveness or for it’s ability to lure Japanese beetles. In warmer climates the plant can be five or six feet tall. Seeds can be saved year after year from heirloom varieties..
There are a wide range of other plants which can present many opportunities and possibilities in the vegetable garden. Other plants which can also be considered and which have multiple purposes are: basil, calendula, and dill.
Vegetables garden can be much more than tomatoes, peppers, beans and lettuce. The annual flower herbs can add to the bio-diversity and beauty of the home garden. They add a magical enhancement and a sense of tranquility while quietly working behind the scenes helping the more traditional vegetables. A vegetable garden mixed with flowering annual herbs is a good garden practice and makes for a more tranquil appearance, even with it’s vibrancy.