Monday, March 30, 2009

Pretty with a Purpose

I love having flowers in amongst the vegetables.  They're like little surprises, splashes of beauty in the beds, and make me smile every time I visit the garden. But the flowers aren't there just for my enjoyment.  They have an important job to do, namely, to attract beneficial insects to the garden.  Anyone who's grown anything worth eating knows that there are hoards of other critters who'd be plenty willing to eat it!  It's amazing how the aphids find the fava beans every year, or how the bean beetles appear on the poor bean plants so fast that it seems like they just come with them! It's enough to make you want to reach for the industrial pesticides!  Well, . . . almost.  After all, isn't it those same nasty pesticides you're trying to avoid by growing your own veg? Before you start spraying, remember this: for each one of those insect pests munching on your vegetables there's another creature that wants to eat IT!  I remember last year I nearly reached for the pyrethrin spray to deal with the hundreds of aphids munching away on the fava beans. I'm glad I didn't because within a few days the lady bugs had moved in and made short work of the aphids.  And we had an amazing (and delicious) harvest of fava beans, no chemicals necessary! 

Nature is all about balance, and if your plants are healthy (from growing in good fertile soil) they can tolerate a few munches from the pests until the predators arrive.  The insect predators need more than just their prey insects as food however.  They also need pollen and nectar, which they get from flowers, and a water source. That's not a bird bath I have in the garden, it's a bug bath!  The stones are there so that the little guys can drink without falling in and drowning.  There are a couple of wonderful articles here and here that list many types of beneficial insects and the flowers that attract them. The flowers that I routinely add to my garden are lobelia (this is one of my absolute favorites flowers anyway), calendula (which are not only pretty, but edible!), marigolds (natural source of pyrethrin and great companion plant for tomatoes), poached egg plant, fennel, agastache, nasturtiums (also edible), gilia, and cosmos.  And the next time you reach down to pull out that dandelion, don't! Dandelions are really great early nectar sources for all kinds of insect friends, including honey bees!  There really is quite a selection of beautiful flowers you can grow in your garden to attract beneficial insects, so find a little bit of extra space in your vegetable plot for them.  You and your vegetables will be glad you did!  


Anna said...

What a wonderful blog to find for my daughter! We discovered you at Your blog will be a highlight to read as she learns to grow and harvest her garden. You can visit her adventures at

We might be referring to your blog in the future as she studies. You have some terrific info!

Keep up the love of gardening!
Leslie from VA
(Anna's Momma)

Jeannine from Pittsburgh said...

Hi Leslie and Anna,

Thank you so much for the wonderful comment! I'm so glad you enjoy my blog, and I'm excited to read about your gardening adventures!