One of the newest trends in gardening is combining the plants you love to eat with the plants you love to look at. So many people have smaller lots these days that it’s simply a smart move to take advantage of all the space you do have—and besides, why should vegetable gardens be simply utilitarian? There is no reason why you must choose function over beauty, and plants fill both of those needs in the garden. So stop the separation and start the integration!
First Step: Just as with any other garden, make sure the plants you put in close proximity to each other have the same growing needs. Most vegetables will enjoy as much sun as you can give them, so think ahead and pair them with sun-loving annuals and perennials like sunflowers, salvias, zinnias and petunias. Some vegetables will take a little more shade and do just fine, so plant those with impatiens, hostas, ferns and caladiums. Look at the label on the plant to make sure you are making the best choice.
Second Step: Don’t feel like you have to plant everything in rows. That may make for easier and faster harvesting and maintenance, but in this garden we are going for integration and beauty. I sometimes like to make patterns with my mixed gardens—I’ll plant roses in each of the four corners with smaller herbs planted in circles around them, then I’ll add larger ornamental plants dotted through the bed, and finish by filling in with lower-growing flowers in alternating colors.
Third Step: Keep proportion in mind. Don’t use plants that are all one size or level in the garden; have pops of taller or larger plants along the way. But be careful that your larger plants don’t shade out your smaller ones, particularly if they are all sun-loving. This will result in your smaller sunny plants struggling for survival, and their flower or vegetable production will suffer. Remember, we want to keep the garden functional while providing beauty at the same time! Place those larger plants at the edges or corners of your garden, and then opt for medium and smaller growing plants to provide the interest throughout the bed.