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Flowers with Vegetables: Beauty and the Eats

At the final meeting of the season for the Old Ottawa South Garden Club (OOSGC), Master Gardener Judith Cox gave a presentation on how to grow flowers and vegetables together, companion planting for beauty and food. From childhood, Judith has worked in gardens. Gardening has become a source of pleasure and Judith is happy to share her knowledge, experience and enthusiasm through presentations and helping with Master Gardeners’ advice clinics.

Video – Vegetables and Flowers

Preparing your Vegetable Garden

Judith started by talking about how to build a vegetable garden by giving attention to the soil, sun, water and maintenance. Having good and safe soil for growing vegetables and other edibles can be helped by knowing how the property was used and trying to ensure that chemicals, including salts, do not damage the soil or the safety of produce (see www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/resource/soillabs.htm). The soil pH can affect how well certain plants can thrive. Testing kits are available and distilled water should be used for accurate results. The importance of compost for a well-balanced soil as well as several soil additives to adjust soil pH were mentioned.

While sunny locations are ideal for many vegetables and flowers, lower light levels are fine for many plants and some techniques can be used to enhance success. In her sunny garden, Judith enjoys planting sunflowers to create a great backdrop for various vegetables and herbs. She plants lovage, whose flowers attract bees and have a lovely fragrance. She tolerates a few dandelions, since their early flowers bring bees to the garden and the greens can be added to salads.  Partial shade is fine for many leafy greens and root vegetables, and extends the growing season for lettuces. In shade, Judith grows lettuces with begonias and pansies. These flowers, along with violets and sicely are sweet and flavourful. To raise plants so that they can get more light, planters can be used that have good drainage and are food safe, with no treated wood.

Watering

Judith talked about the importance of water in the garden for various plants, animals, including pollinators and shared some techniques for creating ecosystems. She recommended using water from rain barrels and said that water softeners should be by-passed. When people are away or to make watering easier, she suggested grouping pots together, doing team gardening with a neighbour, or other arrangements.
Pruning maintenance, fertilizer maintenance and pest control were discussed. Frequent pruning not only makes herb plants sturdier but provides tasty, tender leaves. Judith recommended working compost into the soil when planting as well as weekly watering with compost tea or diluted fish emulsions.

Pest Control

For pest control, Judith suggests using the habits of the pests against them. For example, portions of old hoses can be set out where earwigs and slugs will seek refuge after their nightly foraging. In the morning, they can be knocked off into soapy water.
Judith appreciates heritage plants for their flavours, colours and shapes, but she also recognizes the advantages of recent hybrids. She discussed some of her favourite fruits, vegetables and companion flowers including a blueberry tomato, and some less common edible plants. For example, marigolds are useful to have since they attract parasitic wasps that attack pests but they also attract pollinators. Their scent deters squirrels and other animals. They are excellent companion plants to tomatoes; they have attractive flowers; and their petals can be separated and sprinkled in salads.

Judith recommended hardy thornless roses such as John Davis roses, to attract pollinators to the vegetable garden, and later produce rose hips for jams and jellies. Okra has hibiscus-like flowers before fruiting. Purple podded pole beans are decorative, take up limited space in the garden, and produce tasty beans.

Judith concluded her talk with information on services provided by Master Gardeners, including their website at mgottawa.ca and helpline at mgoc_helpline@yahoo.ca.