We are all planting as many veggies as we can, but there is no reason to dig out the roses!
It is not an either-or-option, because you can have both; food for the body (veggies) and food for the soul (flowers).
French kitchen gardeners have always combined roses with the vegetables and herbs in their family potager.
It is a productive and companionable mix because rose blooms attract pollinators, especially bees, which are needed to pollinate the vegetables.
Roses and vegetables share the same growing requirements; full sun, shelter from strong, cold winds, and level, fertile soil that drains well. Raised beds are particularly suitable because of the good drainage.
Their water requirements are also compatible; both need regular watering that reaches the roots of the plants. That means that neither like root competition, soil that completely dries out, or where the roots stand in water.
Five ways to combine veggies and roses
Make a veggie border
If roses are planted close together, make or extend the border in front of them and plant compact veggies that won’t block the sun.
In previous years I recommended planting winter annuals like pansies, violas, and Namaqualand daisies, but this year these can be substituted with Bright Lights Swiss chard, red and green leaf lettuce, low growing kale varieties, baby cabbage, and parsley.
Bearing in mind that pansies, violas, and calendula have edible petals, why not add them to the mix for some cheerful colour.
Quick tips for brassica’s
- Watch out for aphids and spray with Ludwig’s Insect Spray
- Feed with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser to boost growth
- Cover the heads of cauliflower with the leaves to ensure a white head, also known as the curd.
- Give cabbage space to grow. Plant at least 30cm apart.
- Plant compact curly- leaved kale rather that the traditional variety that grows very tall. The low growing kale can be harvested like spinach, by removing the outer leaves.
Fill the spaces, in-between roses
Where roses are planted further apart, especially upright hybrid-tea or spire roses, it is possible to grow veggies in between them. For instance, broccoli loves the fertile, moist soil in the rose bed and if you time it right, there will be space for the broccoli heads to develop in July when the roses are pruned.
Bush garden peas are another good option and they add nitrogen to the soil which will benefits the roses.
Use the space under standard roses
The easiest option is to plant under standard roses because you can plant larger vegetables, like cabbage, cauliflower, kale and even Brussel sprouts as well as the leafy greens.
Don’t plant too close to the rose because there needs to be space for water and fertiliser to reach the roots.
In spring, you can start with beetroot, carrots, onions and radishes and move onto dwarf peppers, chillies and even brinjals. I would not recommend tomatoes because even the determinate varieties take up a lot of space and will over-grow the roses. They may also attract pests like white fly and aphids.
Make an entrance with rose-covered arches
Traditional vegetable gardens can be one-dimensional. The French knew what they were doing when they included rose-covered archways and obelisks to add another dimension to their potagers.
Climbing roses are always a feature and the modern climbing roses flower throughout summer and into winter, always providing colour, pickable blooms and pollen for the bees.
Climbing roses are generally hardier and more disease resistant than bush roses. Their greater leaf mass produces an extensive root system that is less affected by dry periods and when watering is restored the rose responds immediately.
To make a rose archway plant a climbing rose on either side of the arch. As new canes grow they need to be lightly tied onto the upright of the arch and eventually over the actual arch. Once there, the new growth will arch downwards and can be trimmed if necessary.
The miniature climbers (Midinette) are also ideal for arches. The miniaturization is in the blooms and leaf size but not necessarily the height, which may be between 1.5 to 3m high. In addition to the various Midinette colours, other suitable roses are ‘Perfumed Breeze‘, ‘Starry Eyed’, ‘Rosy Cheeks’ and ‘Sunshine Sally’.
Use roses as a supporting act.
Why not use roses to provide a colourful backdrop to your veggie garden, like the shrub rose ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ which can be trained as a pillar rose or onto a trellis.
In winter, kale, lettuce, spinach and home-sown rocket can be grown at the feet of the roses so that both they and the roses have full access to sun, water and fertiliser.
Do’s and don’ts
Monthly fertilising with Vigorosa will especially benefit leafy greens and fruiting vegetables like brinjals and peppers.
Pest control is important. Aphids, as well as red spider and leaf eating beetles, can be a scourge for both roses and veggies. Organic insecticides like Ludwig’s Insect Spray can be used equally safely on the roses and the vegetables. The canola oil has a smothering effect and the garlic acts as an insect repellent. The natural pyrethrum kills on contact, but it does not have any residual action, making it safe for use on edibles.