By Susan Wilhelm, Extension Master Gardener
At the time Vegetables Love Flowers: Companion Planting for Beauty and Bounty was published in 2018, author Lisa Mason Zeigler had been operating a commercial cut -flower farm in Newport News, Virginia, for 19 years. Her cut flower beds are interspersed among her vegetable beds. She does not use pesticides. Instead, she has worked over time to build a garden eco-system which relies on natural processes to grow strong, healthy vegetable plants and gorgeous flowers for cutting.
Vegetables Love Flowers starts with a short history of how Zeigler moved from being a novice vegetable gardener who occasionally relied on pesticides to one who works with nature to build healthy soils and to attract pollinators and beneficial insects to her garden. She credits the Master Gardener program for teaching her about soil microorganisms and how they support healthy plants, as well as building her awareness of how actions taken in an individual garden can have broader consequences.
The book goes on to explain in detail the benefits of including flowers in an organic vegetable garden and effective ways to do so. Later sections cover pollinators and beneficial insects, and garden mechanics such as building healthy soil and alternative pest controls.
Each section of Vegetables Love Flowers is full of practical information. For example, Zeigler suggests designating two planting areas for flowers in the vegetable garden, timing the planting so that one area will be blooming while the other is being planted or growing.
She also recommends planting cool-season annual flowers such as Calendula officinalis (pot marigolds) alongside cool-season vegetables to provide food for early pollinators and describes how adding a native plant hedge near her garden greatly increased the number of pollinators and beneficial insects. General harvesting tips address strategies for obtaining the most blemish-free blooms, encouraging new flower growth, and avoiding common mistakes. Sample planting plans in the appendix are an additional resource.
Because her focus is growing annual flowers for the cut-flower market, Zeigler only grows varieties that are heavy bloomers, with long stems and stiff necks that will hold up well in a vase. She highlights a number of these flowers, grouped by growing season, indicating for each when to plant, growing and harvesting tips, and her favorite varieties.
She also includes information on the plant’s hardiness zone, sunlight requirements, height, number of days to bloom, whether it is appropriate for growing in containers, and the beneficial insects the gardener might see on the plant. Separately, she mentions several flowers she does not plant as, in her experience, these flowers are magnets for harmful pests she does not want in her garden.
In Vegetables Love Flowers, Zeigler describes what she has learned and observed in her garden over many years. She is upfront that creating an ecologically balanced garden takes time, that there will be challenges along the way, but that the rewards are worth it.
Vegetables Love Flowers is available at the Arlington Public Library and national booksellers.