Given that part of my job involves providing customer support for our Garden Planner, I really must hang my head in shame at my lack of planning this year. You see I got a bit carried away planting shallots last autumn, and now I’ve got no room for leeks. Yet leeks are my most dependable winter vegetable and I simply can’t do without them! I’ve also been given some scorzonera seeds, which I really, really want to grow, but every inch of my veg patch is accounted for. Where will they go?
The obvious solution was staring right at me. A little over a year ago I created a new garden bed for the benefit of wildlife and to help boost pollination in my nearby vegetable beds. The shrubs and perennials have yet to bulk out and fill the gaps; all that bare soil looks naked and exposed.
Although the bed was not created with edibles in mind, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be incorporated – and not just for the overflow from my veg patch either. So here’s my shortlist of five must-grow 'flowerbedibles'...
1. Asparagus for Screening
For the back of the border, the lofty, ferny foliage of asparagus is a natural fit. They’ll form a screen that will sway and rustle in the breeze, while forming a neutral backdrop to your planting.
Light, sandy soil is a must for these plants, so if you garden on clay a raised bed is the simplest solution. Fill it with a gritty, free-draining soil mix.
2. Parsley for Edging
Most herbs work well in a border of mixed flowers and edibles, but the best types for well-behaved edging are the curled-leaf varieties of parsley. They form neat, compact mounds that don’t flop about too much and are easily kept in check with pruning shears.
If you’d prefer to soften a hard path or bed edging of brick or concrete, the flat-leaf varieties will swoon voluptuously over the edges.
3. Blueberries for Autumn Colour
Blueberries are not only attractive when studded with their little blue pearls, they have cute bell-shaped white flowers too. Their piece de resistance however is their eye-catching autumn foliage in a blaze of orange, yellow or red.
The usual advice is to avoid planting vegetables under trees and shrubs, which will compete for light, water and nutrients. Having said that, it is possible to make this work. Pay careful attention to feeding the soil and never let it dry out. Grow shade-tolerant plants in the shadow of larger crops such as these.
Remember that blueberries require an acidic soil, so if your garden bed successfully grows rhododendrons or heathers, blueberries will fit right in without any need to adjust soil pH. Netting will almost certainly be needed to safeguard the berries from hungry birds.
4. Globe Artichokes for Height and Impact
These statuesque plants are real garden stars, towering up to 1.5m (5 feet) high and crowned with edible flower buds. If you choose not to harvest the buds, they’ll open into fuzzy thistle-like flowers that are loved by bees and butterflies.
Don’t underestimate how much space this regal vegetable will take up. Each plant will need a minimum of 90cm (3ft) to itself.
5. Squashes for Ground Cover
Whether your preference is for pumpkins, squashes or courgettes, these sprawling plants fill gaps fast. Some varieties are more vigorous than others, with vines extending anything up to 3.5m (12ft). It’s possible to control the directions vines grow by pegging them down with U-shaped pegs. They can also be trained up an obelisk, trellis or arch, helping to save space and providing a focal point in the border.
Their broad leaves do a stellar job of suppressing weeds and can look very architectural. Variegated varieties are available. The bright yellow flowers are attractive, while the fruits are available in shades of orange, yellow, blue and green, with striped, spotted and splodged patterns too!
Growing Flowers and Vegetables Together
If you’ve ever tried to grow edibles in a flowerbed before, you’ll know that it can come as a bit of a shock to see how poorly crops grow in average garden soil. Crops in borders need as much attention lavished on them as those in dedicated vegetable beds – perhaps more – which means plenty of nutrition and regular mulching with compost or other organic matter. Some pruning and possibly tying in will be necessary to prevent vigorous plants from bullying smaller, less robust ones.
Alternatively, grow your edibles in containers within your bed. This means you can customise the growing medium for the crop. It also makes it easy to move them if the space you have chosen turns out to be less than ideal. Remember, though, that containers tend to be higher maintenance.
Another option is temporary raised beds, which is a useful way to grow if the soil is very impoverished or drains poorly. You can make raised beds out of almost anything – offcuts of wood, bricks, even old compost sacks with the bottom cut open. It doesn’t need to be particularly attractive if the surrounding planting will disguise it. Once the plant is spent simply remove the edging and rake the growing mix out into the soil.
Strict crop rotation is harder to achieve in a flowerbed, so don’t get too hung up about it. Just be sure not to follow one crop with another from the same crop family to help prevent nutrient depletion and passing on diseases.
What are your favourite crops to grow in flowerbeds? Let us know by leaving a comment below!