Companion planting: nature needs nurture

Joanna Cruddas

Whether you think of it as companion planting or companionable gardening, how we plan and plant our gardens is important. Nurturing nature is the key to a healthy environment, says Joanna Cruddas.

Like people, not all plants are happy living beside each other. Carefully placed however, one plant can help another by putting suitable nutrients in the soil.

A tall plant can provide shade, a bushy one might offer protection from wind. Some flowers will attract beneficial insects for their neighbours; others can act as a decoy to keep destructive aphids away.

Here are some ways to get the right plant in the right place:

 

Make thyme for herbs

herbs

Dot spearmint and peppermint around your garden to repel ants. But watch out, it can be invasive. Growing all varieties of mint in pots keeps them in check.

Companion planting mint with parsley or lettuce is a bad idea. However, parsley is beneficial to asparagus and some say that if it is grown under roses their scent will increase.

Basil and tomatoes make good partners in the garden and the kitchen. There is also some evidence that growing basil around tomatoes improves their flavour.

Garlic has antifungal properties and aphids don’t like its strong smell. Their flowers and seed heads are decorative.

Planting garlic around roses may help prevent black spot and other fungal diseases, as well as keep greenfly away.

Carrot fly does not like the smell of rosemary or the allium family. Grow chives alongside carrots or plant out leeks in the same row as carrots.

An added bonus: the carrot scent may confuse leek moth and keep it at bay. Placing rosemary cuttings alongside carrots and leeks will help protect both vegetables.

 

Outsmart aphids

nasturtiums

The reds, yellows and oranges of nasturtiums brighten up any part of the garden.

Aphids love them and they can be used as a ‘trap crop’ to protect other plants. Black flies will settle in abundance on the underside of their leaves.

Nasturtium flowers are edible and look beautiful added to a green salad. These plants do self-seed prolifically and can spread all over the garden. Pull out unwanted seedlings as they appear.

 

Perfect pollinators 

foxgloves

It’s as important to attract pollinators as it is to deter aphids. Single open flowers are easier for pollinators to land on and feed from than double flowers. Multi-petals can make the pollen difficult to access.

Purple and yellow are popular colours. Lavender, foxgloves and daffodils are loved by bees and easy to grow. They are a joy in the flower garden or amongst vegetables and last well as cut flowers.

Calendula (English marigolds) are highly attractive to pollinating insects. Plant them between courgettes or under climbing beans to encourage pollination.

 

The multitasker

sunflowers

I once saw six-foot sunflowers surrounding a greenhouse. 

They were providing shade for tomatoes, pollen for insects, flowers in many colours and later seeds for next year’s flowers or, depending who gets there first, food for birds, animals or humans.

Stuck for a last minute Christmas present? A packet of sunflower seeds will bring a smile on the day, and a halo of brightness later in the year.

 

Joanna Cruddas lives in London and gardens at her plot in Fulham Palace Meadows Allotments, on her balcony, and in her window boxes. She is the author of The Three-Year Allotment Notebook with photographs by Edwina Sassoon.