Want some ideas for your own organic vegetable garden? My local botanical garden, Tower Hill Botanic Garden, in Boylston, MA, knows how to do a vegetable garden. It is not a dull display of green plants. Instead their vegetable garden is lush, imaginative, colorful, and, yes, organic. This year’s theme is “The Art of Growing Up” and highlights the supports used in a vegetable garden. But I wasn’t here for the supports. Rather I came for the bees and some organic tips.
The Basics of Organic Vegetable Gardening
First of all, let’s talk organic. Dawn Davies, the head gardener for the vegetable garden, outlines their organic methods. I liked their easy (and free!) mulch choice.
- No chemicals, of course.
- No tilling (tilling will ruin your soil structure).
- They add about 1-3″ of compost every spring and fall.
- They use mulch throughout (which will retain water, keep weeds away, and add organic matter to the soil.) Their mulch of choice is organic grass clippings, collected from the mowing of their grounds. Davies adds the grass clippings to the garden the same day they are cut, otherwise they start to break down and become slimy. In addition they use shredded leaf mulch. Yet she does not like woody mulches, as they can steal nitrogen from the plants as the chips break down.
As a result, the plants are incredibly healthy, lush, and productive.
Why You Want Flowers in Your Vegetable Garden
A good vegetable garden has flowers as well as vegetables–lots of flowers. Tower Hill does this so well. Flowers do a couple of things for the vegetable gardener. In addition to providing beauty and making it a more pleasant place to work, flowers attract pollinators to the garden, ensuring the next batch of fruit and vegetables. Flowers will also attract beneficial insects, which fight insect pests. (See my post How to Keep the Pests Away for more information on this.) Finally (but perhaps most noteworthy), good bee flowers will feed our bees and pollinators.
The Best Bee Flowers
As you know, I am always seeking out the favorite bee flowers. Tower Hill’s Vegetable Garden has lots of flowers that are good for the bees and pollinators. But which are the bee favorites? Most noteworthy, Davies recommended five plants and some were new to me.
- Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum) What a darling. My camera and I scared away the bees on this plant, but the bees were loving these delicate flowers. The leaves of ‘Jewels of Opar’ are edible and high in vitamin C. The small pink flowers turn into ruby seed pods. Great for containers and cut flowers. A tender perennial usually grown as an annual. Grow in full sun or part shade. Blooms through the summer until the fall frost. Finally, Jewels of Opar can be directly sown in the garden. Botanical Interests sells these uncommon seeds. I will be planting this plant next year, without a doubt.
- Blue Thimble Flower ‘Super Bee’ (Gillia capitata) This flower grew next to some borage (always a great flower for the bees). The bees were actually ignoring the borage, but busy on the Blue Thimble. Wow! A native to California, Blue Thimble forms a low, multi-branching annual about 12″ tall by 12” across with ferny green foliage. Throughout Spring and Summer, pollinators love the scented, spherical blue flowers. In addition Blue Thimble is drought tolerant, best in full sun.
- Basil ‘Summerlong’(Ocimum basilicum) is a compact basil, at around 10″. Basil in general is a good bee flower, but it has a fault. Most basils will stop producing new leaves once it flowers. (Because of this, gardeners are taught to pinch off the flowers to maintain a steady supply of leaves–but then no food for the bees.) ‘Summerlong’ solves this dilemma by still producing new leaves while flowering. And like its name, ‘Summerlong’ goes all season long. Because of its compact shape, this would be a great edging plant in the garden. Another basil variety to look for is ‘Aristotle’.
- Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) Another basil to seek out. Considered sacred in India, Holy Basil (also called Tulsi) is thought to combat stress and other medical concerns for people. The plants are very fragrant. Bees love it; they collect an unusual red color pollen from the plants. Because Holy Basil has health benefits for people, you have to wonder if perhaps the plant provides health benefits for the bees as well. Not considered a culinary herb, but Holy Basil makes a delicious tea with a fruity clove, anise-like aroma. Try growing it indoors for fresh leaves throughout the winter. Botanical Interests sells Holy Basil seeds as well as other basils.
- Sunflower (Helianthus annus) Last but not least, sunflowers are famously good for the bees. Check out my post Every Bee Loves a Sunflower for more information on this great flower. There are many varieties to choose from, but you want to avoid the pollen-less varieties as these offer no food for the bees. For many sunflower seed choices, check out Botanical Interests.
More Tower Hill Vegetable Garden Photos
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