Annuals, perennials and vegetables can share garden space.
Gardeners with small properties don't have to choose between growing annuals, perennials and vegetables. They can grow all three by planting them in the same garden space. Many vegetables can grow in succession with or alongside flowers.
Vegetables that mature early easily partner with later-maturing flowers. Spring-flowering bulbs or cool-season annuals can be replaced with heat-loving vegetables happy to sublet available space. Some annuals, perennials and vegetables grow together in lovely combinations all summer long.
Most vegetables are sun worshippers and should be paired with annuals and perennials that also prefer full sun. Gardeners lacking full sun can still grow leafy vegetables such as kale, lettuce, mustard greens, spinach and Swiss chard and herbs, including cilantro, mint and parsley, in part shade.
Plants with uninhibited ambition such as gourds and squash can be trained to grow over arbors or pergolas or along fences. Fruits dangle from their vines decoratively and are easy to harvest. Other vining vegetables like pole beans and peas can also clamor up arbors, trellises or obelisks.
Most leafy green vegetables are cool-season plants, growing best in spring. Plant lettuce and radish seeds over late-emerging perennials such as balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides). Besides growing a salad, these plants serve as plant markers for slow-to-wake perennials, saving them from accidental injury from hoes and shovels.
Tomatoes and peppers are two of the most popular vegetables grown by gardeners and are easy to fit into perennial borders. Some tomatoes grow in smaller, bushy forms; others grow like vines. Tomatoes are available in wide variety of fruit forms -- cherry, plum and beefsteak, just to name a few -- and colors from pink, rose and purple to yellow, orange and red. The easiest tomato plants to combine with flowers are compact varieties.
Peppers are an ideal option for filling vacancies left by spring-flowering bulbs. Their fruit in vibrant shades adds as much color to the border as flowering perennials.
One of the most ornamental edible plants is Swiss chard. Bright Lights boasts broad, crinkly, dark green leaves with brightly colored stalks in pink, gold, red or white. Swiss chard can be harvested all summer and well into fall.
It couldn't be simpler to tuck herbs in flower beds. Growing quickly from seed, basil growing beside other sun lovers can be harvested whenever a recipe calls for it. Rosemary also thrives in the sun but prefers drier soil. Plant it near sedum, yarrow (Achillea sp.) or other drought-tolerant perennials. Sage and thyme are lovely edging the border.
Don't be afraid to try new combinations. If you like to eat it, grow it. If you love those flowers, plant them. When in doubt, choose compact varieties of vegetables. They are the easiest to integrate into beds and borders.
* Diana Stoll is a horticulturist, garden writer and speaker. She blogs at gardenwithdiana.com.