Rosemary adds a dramatic aspect to the garden.
June is time to plant beautifuls and edibles
Read More In The Garden
Tree peonies from Stephen Hedlund’s garden grace his hair studio on Gulf Road.
June means more than roses here on the Point, as many gardeners are busy planting tasty things to eat. My cottage garden has a variety of veggies on the go, in the good company of marigolds, nasturtiums and zinnias for added color and interest. I need the beauty of flowers included with edibles, as my raised beds of vegetables are a prominent feature in the landscape.
Companion planting has many aspects and it means different things to different gardeners. From an artistic viewpoint, it’s satisfying to see marigolds near burgundy beets. But for many organic gardeners, flowers in the veggie bed serve a greater purpose than just making a pretty picture. One practical aspect of companion planting centers on natural pest control, a keystone of the organic garden.
Companion planting is widely employed in the tomato patch. Basil and tomatoes are a twosome in many dishes, so gardeners naturally plant these sun lovers together. They flourish together too, as basil’s pungent aroma repels many tomato pests. I like to include some colorful, edible nasturtiums in the mix, not just for good looks but to discourage whitefly and aphids. I tuck in some chives, onion and garlic as well, as their powerful aromas aid basil in repelling harmful insects. Adding some lettuces produces an instant salad garden, with no need for pesticides.
There are many ways of combining certain plants to discourage pests that are easy to implement in your veggie patch. For example, carrots often fall prey to carrot fly, but a gardening friend suggested flanking rows of carrots with heavy scented chives, garlic, sage and rosemary to repel this pest.
This year I’m interplanting nasturtiums around cucumbers to foil cucumber’s enemy, the aphid, and thyme near my cabbages in the hopes of discouraging the evil cabbage worm. Adding a bright patch of marigolds anywhere in the garden can slow down an attack from harmful soil organisms such as nematodes.
Companion planting can be implemented for positive results, not merely for repulsion of pests. Planting flowers alongside vegetables definitely improves the aesthetics of the garden, but the color and perfume of the blooms also attract many beneficial insects, a delightful side effect.
Many crops including berries, melons and cucumbers require pollination for successful production but sometimes fall short of attracting pollinators. An adjacent planting of nectar-rich flowers such as zinnias, sweet peas, sunflowers or larkspur will summon the bumblebees to assist in bringing in the harvest.
Flowers can also protect certain crops by masking them from marauders. Last year I planted zinnias around my strawberry pot and succeeded in foiling the birds. The raccoons, however, merely found it amusing.
Companion planting aimed at space saving is invaluable in a small garden such as mine. Yields can be increased by interplanting a shallow rooted crop such as lettuce at the base of young tomato plants. The tomato plants, growing larger and taller in the heat of summer, become an umbrella for the tender greens beneath them. It’s a time-honored tradition to plant a row of fast growing radishes between rows of slow growing crops such as beets. These schemes are both simple and effective.
For centuries, Native Americans have taken the space-saving aspect of companion planting to a new level of sophistication by interplanting the Three Sisters of Life – pole beans, corn and squashes. These early gardeners discovered that the Three Sisters’ good companionship produced a reliable and life-sustaining crop that provided a balanced diet and complete protein source.
In the Three Sisters scheme, pole beans, corn and squash are planted together on mounds. As they grow, the bean vines climb up the corn plants, stabilizing and protecting the stalks from high winds. Underneath, the vines and leaves of the squash suppress weeds and preserve precious moisture on the ground, while the gaudy squash blossoms attract pollinating insects. Crops of spiny squashes are included, as they tend to keep predators away from tasty young beans and corn.
After harvest, this sustainable planting combination serves to enrich the soil. The spent vines, leaves and stalks are plowed back into the ground, turning to rich compost bolstered by the nitrogen stored in the bean roots.
Further investigation into the many aspects of companion planting reveals a dizzying amount of information available in books and online. A useful introduction may be found at www.companionplanting.net.
Trying one or two simple companion planting schemes might improve a garden’s yield, while adding some novelty to the veggie patch. It’s so easy to sow some nasturtium seeds around the base of cucumber hills. Remember, a colorful punch of flower power never hurts – unless you’re an aphid and then watch out!
(Jody Hackleman is vice president of the Point Roberts Garden Club. She has a small cottage garden on the Point where she grows ornamentals and edibles in peaceful coexistence.)