Every quarter I deliver the local church newsletter to about 150 homes and I noticed on this occasion that three homes have either: removed, taped or nailed up their letterbox and placed notices saying that they want no contact with anyone. This saddened me: humans like plants need companionship, we need to socialise and we need to be, and feel, a part of a community. So it is with plants.
Companion planting has a long history. The peoples of America, long before the arrival of Europeans, discovered that you can grow squash, sweetcorn and beans together in a process known as the “three sisters”. The squash helps control weeds, the sweetcorn provides support for the beans and the beans take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that then feeds the squash and maize.
Nasturtiums are grown alongside cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower. The leaves act as a distraction or sacrifice plant with the butterfly caterpillar preferring the nasturtium leaves to your brassicas. Onions are regularly planted with carrots; the scent of the onion hiding the scent of the carrot and so deterring the carrot root fly from damaging your crop.
Research has also shown that having a clear row of cabbages, with no other plant around, increases the chances of the cabbage root fly laying eggs at the base of the plant infecting, in this trial, some 36% of the crop. When the cabbages were grown through clover the insect had to make a number of landings before finding the cabbage and infection rates in the study dropped to 7%. The clover would also provide nitrogen to the brassica and could be dug in as a green manure. There is nothing easier for a pest than a row of the same vegetable lined out, easy to find and move along. If you grow in this way then barrier netting will need to be used.
The smell from the foliage of a clump of marigolds can deter aphids; the simple flower structure also attract nectar feeding hoverflies, the larvae of which feed on aphids. The same is true of herbs. Pots of basil in the greenhouse repels whitefly protecting your tomatoes and aubergines. Coriander, chives and dill help repel aphids. Growing the old favourite herbs of rosemary, sage and thyme amongst your vegetables will repel problem moths and flies.
A hedge or line of cordon fruit trees can provide shelter from the weather creating a micro-climate within your garden, allowing for more tender plants to be grown.
We trust in the companionship of our staff and volunteers. Individuals come to us not only to garden but to also socialise, make new friends, share experiences and laugh. We help some come to understand that the world is not a scary place to remove yourself from but one in which every individual is valued and makes a positive contribution. I am still contemplating how to get this message across to those households that have closed themselves off from the rest of us.
Mike I’Anson April 2017