It’s long been a fairly stringent rule that in the case of edibles, you should keep annuals and perennials separate: Plant annuals with annuals and plant perennials apart from annuals in separate beds. Why?
It may seem like a waste to cede valuable productive land over to plants that don’t offer something to eat, but just because you can’t consume a plant doesn’t mean it won’t play a valuable role in your vegetable garden, whether that role is functional or largely decorative. In the functional realm, many nonedible flowers lure pollinators and other beneficial insects to the garden, and these insects end up pollinating your edible crops and performing other valuable work, including deterring pests, that ultimately boosts crop yields.
While growing nonvegetable plants may complicate the look of your garden, making it less neat and tidy, the practices of mixed planting and companion planting benefit from this complexity, as it masks crops from potential pests. As interest in pollinator gardens, perennial and native gardens, cutting gardens, medicinal herb gardens, and dye gardens grows, there can be a melding of all these concepts and ideas into one abundant garden space that supports creatures both above- and belowground while also providing resources for us gardeners. It can all be one.
Perennial and Annual Pairs
In my garden, a few perennial herbs and flowers mingle among the annuals year after year. I’m not claiming the following are true companions in the sense of benefiting one plant by reducing pests or disease, but they have grown together successfully and beautifully.
SAGE + BROCCOLI
Folk wisdom considers sage a companion for plants in the mustard family such as arugula, kale, and broccoli. The strong scent of sage may confuse cabbageworm moths that like to lay eggs on mustard-family crops.
ECHINACEA + TOMATOES
I love the bright blooms of echinacea (coneflower) that come back each summer. The color complements the green tomato plants and brightens up the bed until the fruit starts to mature. Bees also love echinacea.
VERONICA + SQUASH
I first found veronica when I was looking for an in-bloom plant that bees might love. In the garden center, the display of veronica plants was literally shaking with bee activity, and it’s been that way in my garden, too. Veronica is a good partner for squash, which needs ample pollination from bees.
STRAWBERRIES + LETTUCE
Strawberries grow a strong root system, so they pair well with lettuce, which is lightly rooted. These spring berries and greens also go together in the kitchen and make a great combo in planting containers.
THYME + PEPPERS
Low-growing thyme can develop well underneath peppers, shading the soil and perhaps deterring some pests with its scent. Growing peppers above thyme also makes good use of space.
By Kelly Smith Trimble
Photography by Derek Trimble
Excerpted from The Creative Vegetable Gardener: 60 Ways to Cultivate Joy, Playfulness, and Beauty Along with a Bounty of Food (Storey 2023)
Buy the book and enjoy more of these creative gardening ideas!