The 10 Best Flowers for a Potager Garden
As many of you know, I am very much inspired by potager gardens. A potager garden is basically the French term for a kitchen garden but it greatly emphasizes mixing flowers, herbs, and vegetables all together. This idea truly encompasses my garden philosophy, and the way my mind looks at a space before designing and planting. In all honesty, whether or not you fully embrace the theories of companion planting, I have really seen proof that mixing flowers, herbs, colors, veggies, and textures all together just creates a better garden. There seem to be more beneficial insects, soil health is increased through crop rotation and variety, pollinators flutter from flower to flower and increase the levels of pollination in your space….the benefits are remarkable. Because of that, I’ve assembled this list of my favorite flowers to include in your very own potager garden. Now, please remember that I’m no expert, but I’ve created this list based on my experience and taking into consideraton the other factors listed below.
Budget friendly-self seeding or easy propagation. These plants give you a lot of bang for your buck. Once you buy once, you shouldn’t need to buy again.
Ability to attract pollinators
Aesthetics-Gotta add some beautiful visuals to the garden
Utility– How else would this flower be useful? Is it edible? Does it have an herbal/medicinal use? Does it protect from bad bugs?
Curious where to buy seeds?
You can see a list of my favorite, trusted seed sources → Where I Buy Seeds
Top 10 Flowers For a Potager Garden
Calendula (calendula officinalis)
This wonderful flower gets top scores for beauty and utility. You can see how stunning they can be from the picture, but calendula can also be used for other purposes. The flowers are often picked and dried for storage. Once dried, petals can be infused into oil to make healing salves, lip balm, creams, etc. The petals can also be sprinkled onto salads as they are edible! Their usefulness does not even stop there. Calendula is a wonderful companion plant for vegetables because it attracts pollinators with its luscious blooms and seems to repel bad insects. For example, I grew cabbages with calendula this past year and had more flawless cabbages than ever before. Maybe it’s a fluke, maybe not, but why not grow it anyway.
Tips: For me, calendula liked cooler weather. Mine seemed to fade as soon as the hot summer temps started. I would recommend sowing in Fall and Spring. In regards to budget, calendula is an avid self seeding flower, but you can also collect the seeds yourself (it is very easy) and save for the following season. No need to purchase more!
Borage (Borago Oficinalis)
Oh Borage!!! Now it seems I can’t get rid of you. In all seriousness, borage self seeds everywhere, so you’ll never have to buy it again! Although it is notoriously easy to grow, I think borage gets the most points for attracting bees. Out of all my plants in the garden, you will find the most bees on the borage or the lavender—hands down! I also think borage gets bonus points for being blue too. In the world of flowers, the color blue is somewhat rare and I love adding it to my garden!
Start borage seeds in Spring and it should grow through the summer. The flowers are edible and taste a little like cucumbers! I like to throw them in salads or in my water glass for a refreshing infusion.
Well, if any flower gets an award for versatility, it’s the nasturtium. Pretty much all parts of this plant are edible (I’ll go into that in a second), but the flowers come in the widest varieties of colors and bees love it. Did you know nasturtiums also come with different growth habits? Some are are trailing nasturtiums, which means they grow long and vine-like, while others grow as mounds or bushes. I personally love the look of nasturtiums tumbling down the sides of raised beds.
As a companion plant, nasturtiums are more of a trap crop, meaning they lure the insects to themselves so they don’t feed on your vegetables. In fact, planting nasturtiums with cabbage can lure the dreaded cabbage caterpillar to eat the nasturtiums instead of the cabbages.
Again, nasturtiums a) self seed everywhere and b) have large seeds that are really easy to collect if you’d rather save them yourself. In fact, nasturtium seeds are edible and also can be transformed into “poor man’s capers.” You can google lots of recipes for both fermenting and pickling nasturtium seeds, but I’ve tried this one and thought they were pretty yummy. I find that they have a wasabi/horseradish flavor. In addition to be able to eat the seeds, nasturtium flowers AND leaves are edible—often thrown into salads.
Tips: nasturtiums are not frost tolerant. I have found that they literally turn to mush after a hard frost. They grow fine the rest of the year, so try and sow seeds in Spring.
High points for utility. Chamomile makes the greatest tea. These adorable daisy-like flowers have the sweetest smell and can be used both fresh and dried for tea. I’ve received a lot of questions about growing chamomile, so I did a video on how I grow, harvest and dry it. You can watch that here:
In addition to being delicious, chamomile attracts ladybugs like no other! I have found many ladybugs, in all stages of life (larvae, pupae, adult, etc.) residing on my chamomile plants. As we all know, ladybugs eat the dreaded aphids. Lots of people purchase large numbers of ladybugs at nurseries as a form of pest control….why not grow chamomile and attract your own colony?
What zinnias lack in budget and utility points, I think they seriously make up for in beauty and attracting pollinators. Without a doubt, butterflies and bees LOVE zinnias. I’m not saying you can’t save seeds, I just haven’t left the flowers long enough to dry out for collecting seeds because I’m always yanking out the zinnias once summer ends and powdery mildew starts to set in. Therefore, I end up just buying new zinnia seeds each year. They don’t tend to self seed easily.
Zinnias flourish in summer, and made my list of 10 Heat-Loving Flowers & Vegetables To Grow From Seed, so start your seeds in late spring and you are good to go. Remember how I mentioned wanting to have a supply of pollinator flowers in the heat of summer? Well, zinnias are one of the blooms that will survive out triple digit heat and keep bringing the bees to the veggie garden. They also make gorgeous cut flowers!
Okay, this one might skirt the “budget friendly” criteria just a little bit, but I have been propagating lavender from cuttings for a while, so I still consider it a plant that will let me get more free plants! My biggest tip: don’t try and start from seed. Lavender is notoriously difficult to germinate and grows very slowly. Get yourself a starter plant and then propagate from there. I’m hoping to do a video and/or post on plant propagation soon.
Also, does anything compare to the smell of lavender??? I think not my friends. It is one of the most calming and luxurious scents out there. Not only that, but lavender can be used for culinary purposes as well—just make sure you research what varieties are best for cooking. Using the wrong variety could mean your food will taste “soapy” and not be palatable. My neighbor makes the best lavender lemonade and I love drying the flowers and making sachets for the bathroom or linen closet.
Maybe most importantly, bees go bonkers for lavender. It gives borage some serious competition and is one of the top reasons it made this list.
A companion planting winner! Marigolds have a distinct scent that is said to repel a variety of insects. Most famous for being planted with tomatoes, marigolds are also wonderful planted with peppers and basil. It is believed that they can help deter root knot nematodes, beetles, and hornworms. In the past I have planted my marigolds WITH my vegetable companions, with success, but I recently read about using them as a “cover flower” in areas prone to root nematodes to keep the soil healthy. It was recommended to plant marigolds AFTER pulling out your summer vegetables to allow the soil to rejuvenate and keep harmful nematodes away until the following season. Really interesting perspective, and I might try it!
Of course, marigolds are also wonderful for bees and pollinators and are one of the flowers that can handle Summer heat. So many good bugs enjoy buzzing around the bright colored flowers.
Gaillardia (AKA Blanket Flower)
Such a relaxed looking wildflower. I love how it sways in the breeze and adds a touch of informality to the garden. Gaillardia comes in different colors, but no matter what is great at luring pollinators to the garden. It also survives summer heat like a champ, so it’s another great option for a summer garden. I’ve noticed that Gaillardia also does well in the hottest areas of my yard with the worst soil, so I would suspect it might be a great candidate for those neglected corners of your yard with difficult, clay soil. Give it a try and let me know! As with the majority of the flowers on this list, Gaillardia self seeds easily. I am constantly spotting little babies popping up in our gravel paths or in the garden. I greatly appreciate it because it means less work for me!
In my personal experience, you can’t look at a sunflower and not smile. They are so cheery. Sunflowers attract many beneficial insects, can be used as cut flowers in vases, and the seeds that form in the middle are a wonderful food source for birds in the garden. Word of warning: sunflowers use a lot of the soil’s nutrients and don’t really make the best companion plants or cover crops for this reason. So, I admit, the main reasons for planting sunflowers in a potager would be for the aesthetics and creating a harmonious environment.
Fun fact: according the Guinness World Records, the tallest sunflower ever grown was 30 ft, 1 inch. it was grown in Germany by a man named Hans-Peter Schiffer. He has held this record TWICE!
To sow sunflowers: they like to be direct sowed when the soil has warmed and no danger of frost is present. You can find step-by-step instructions for growing sunflowers HERE.
Salvia is an extremely large genus of plants. It encompasses a wide variety of plants—from the drought tolerant perennials that we see hummingbirds drinking from, all the way to what we typically know as culinary sage (salvia officinalis). As gardeners we tend to not let our culinary sage flower, so it might seem odd to hear that they are part of the same family as some of the greatest pollinator plants ever! In our garden, we grow culinary sage for cooking, but we also have a variety of salvia called “Waverly” and a red variety that is similar to “hot lips” salvia. We frequently watch hummingbirds and bees feeding from the blooming salvias. Essentially, all the benefits of a hummingbird feeder without having to wash and fill!
Most salvias also are easily propagated. I’ve never collected seeds, but during the cooler months I have taken cuttings and rooted them in seed starting mix successfully. PS: an article on propogating plants will be coming soon!
NOTE: When it comes to choosing what is right for your garden, I would advise you to check your gardening zone and see if the plant might be compatible. You can find your garden zone HERE. I really like to write based on my experiences, so doing a little extra research online is a great way to ensure you are on the right track for your specific zone.
So there you have it! I hope you enjoyed this list, and found it helpful if you are starting to think about adding flowers to your garden.
Have you grown any of these flowers before? Do you have a favorite for the garden? Share in the comments below.