Companion plants

by Adam Pasco

Organic gardeners usually refer to companion plants as those deterring pests in some way. Tagetes planted alongside tomatoes and crops is a good example...

Limnanthes (poached egg plant) and chivesIs it only the more experienced who can really be successful organic gardeners? Well, it's certainly true that the more you know about gardening the more practical experience you have behind you to learn from, and that helps you take steps to avoid problems actually occurring rather than having to deal with them when they arrive.

But with such a wealth of good gardening advice now available from web sites and magazines, books, television, and even gardening events like Gardeners' World Live, hard-earned experience is now widely shared so those new to gardening can avoid pitfalls and be almost guaranteed success.

Of course nothing beats personal experience, and that's the fun of gardening. The more things you grow, and the greater your experience, the more you have to talk about and share with others. That's why it's great that so many people take the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas with others by posting comments on these blogs.

The more you garden the better a gardener you become - trying new things, growing new plants, and of course experience problems that you can learn from. After all, no two years are alike are they? When I first started getting interested in gardening organically I read a great deal about companion planting, and always keep this in mind when developing my veg plot. Put simply, companion plants are any plants that provide a benefit to their neighbours.

Broadly speaking this could include providing shelter from strong winds, support to help them climb, or shade from harsh sun. Organic gardeners usually refer to companion plants as those deterring pests in some way. Tagetes planted alongside tomatoes and crops is a good example, where the strong pungent scent of the tagetes foliage helps mask the scent of the crop from pests that search out their desired food crop by smell.

Many years ago I sowed these cheerful poached egg plants (Limnanthes douglasii) along the base of my path, under the fan-trained fruit trees. As flowers open through May, in partnership with chives, they'll provide welcome pollen to adult hoverflies. My hope is that hoverflies are attracted to my garden to breed, laying their eggs on surrounding fruit trees and crops. Eggs hatch into larvae with a good appetite for eating aphids and pests, so keeping pests under control without me needing to do a thing ... apart from enjoying these charming little flowers.

When flowering is over I let this hardy annual die down naturally, releasing seed back onto the soil where it will germinate to form plants that will flower next year. And so the cycle continues. All I had to do, many years ago now, was sow the poached egg plants in the first place. And I pass on this 'tried and tested' advice in the hope that others will sow and grow this cheap and cheerful annual, and keep pests at bay in the bargain.

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Talkback: Companion plants
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Gardeners' World Web User 26/05/2009 at 10:12

Comfrey is also very good for early nectar. Even the allegedly less invasive types have good early flowers. Another hardy annual I let seed everywhere is love in a mist which comes back year after year. Ground lilac also is good source of nectar for butterflies and bees.

Gardeners' World Web User 26/05/2009 at 14:30

I am a absolute beginner at growing any kind of anything, my mum recently gave me some iceberg lettace to plant up, they were doing really well but now I notice the bottom leaves are going really soft and when I lifted them found little worms I have removed the leaves with the little blighters but is there anything else I should be doing.

Gardeners' World Web User 27/05/2009 at 08:25

The poached egg plant also keeps down the weeds. I have great swathes of it in my garden and even bindweed can be defeated if you cover the ground with this very beautiful and very prolific annual.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/05/2009 at 20:28

I keep meaning to sow this and haven't done so yet, but have lots of other flowers on the allotment: foxgloves, comfrey, wallflowers, alliums. One thing I find very helpful is keeping a gardening diary. Although, as you say, each year is different, it can be useful to look back and see what did well (or not so well).

Gardeners' World Web User 29/05/2009 at 07:05

I have always grown French Marigolds and Poached Egg Plants as companions but 3years ago I bought a new favourite at a car boot sale. It is Nicandra, also called "Shoo Fly" and it really works! Planted in the greenhouse with my tomato plants it can grow very tall if I let it or keep it in a pot. Either way I have had no white fly etc on tomatoes or peppers and bonus is a pretty violet blue flower.

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