Article written by Nicola Martin
It’s a beautiful thing. Bees flitting across cornflowers and thyme before pollinating your vegetables, white butterfly feasting on nasturtiums and herbs, not your brassicas, and neat rows of leeks, carrots and lettuce all thriving alongside each other.
Turns out nature has its own rules for gardening, and while they’re not always hard and fast, experimenting with a few of them could see your garden flourish, relatively pest and disease free, without the use of chemicals.
The rules are also known as companion planting. For the uninitiated it can seem a daunting prospect requiring a degree in horticulture to decipher all tables, charts and lists available on the internet.
An easier way to think of companion planting is simply, the grouping together of plants in a way that helps them grow better. It can also be helpful to consider those that make nice companions on our dinner plate, often also make nice companions in the garden. Plants are a little like people, some just gel better than others.
Companion planting can work in any size garden with companions generally falling into three different categories. Those plants that deter pests, think white butterflies and aphids on your brassicas. Those that fix nitrogen to the soil, the good stuff that helps enrich your soil to make your vegetables flourish and those that attract beneficial insects, think honey bees and ladybirds.
Here are a few basics to get you started:
Even the smallest vegetable garden will benefit from a few flowers. Let nasturtiums wander through your patch. They’ll sacrifice themselves to aphids, white flies and white butterflies, the bonus being their tender young leaves and flowers also make a pretty peppery addition to your salads. Dot a few marigolds in the corners of your patch or alongside your tomatoes to help stave off pests and add a cornflower or two, bees love the blue flowers and you can also scatter them through your salads.
Basil, thyme, rosemary, dill and parsley are all great additions to your garden. Herbs are expensive to buy from the supermarket but easy to grow from seed and bees love them when they’re in flower. Plant basil alongside your tomatoes, it’s said to improve the yield and flavour. Regardless you can quickly pick the two together for an amazing bruschetta topping. Try planting a few herbs alongside your brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauli or kale). It can also repel white butterfly.
Peas, beans and corn
If your looking to save a bit of space, plant corn, peas and beans together. They get on well and you can let the peas and beans climb up the corn stalks. Just keep them away from garlic or onions. Peas and beans also take relatively quickly from seed making them economical to grow and they are great nitrogen fixers, meaning they return some of the good stuff to the soil when they finished producing, enriching your garden.
Dot a zucchini alongside your corn at the front of your garden and let it spill over the sides. It plays nicely with most plants, just keep it away from your potatoes.
You can also plant a cucumber on the edge of your garden and let it wander over the sides or it may crawl up your corn too. They also do well alongside beans and corn.
There are so many varieties now and they’re superfast to grow from seed. Plant them under your tomatoes alongside your basil to offer them a bit of shade and pick off leaves as they grow for your salads rather than pulling out the whole plant.
Leeks, carrots, radishes, onions, spinach and beetroot
Leeks and carrots are particularly happy companions, helping to repel carrot fly. Alternate rows of them. They will also grow well alongside lettuces, radishes, onions, spinach and beetroot. Beetroot also does well when planted alongside your broccoli or cauli, dot a few beetroot seeds around your broccoli or caulis, it doesn’t need a huge amount of sun and will take well in a bit of shade. You can also scatter your onions throughout your garden just keep them away from your peas and beans, they deter aphids.
Tomatoes, peppers, chillis and eggplants
These plants will all do well together. Just keep your tomatoes well away from potatoes, strawberries or fennel (which incidentally is best planted in isolation as it doesn’t gel well with many plants at all). These plants are heat lovers though so make sure you leave enough space so they’re not shading each other. With the basil alongside you’ve got the base of a delicious parimigiana.
Potatoes do well beside corn, spinach, peas, beans or cabbages. Just don’t plant them beside tomatoes, pumpkins, melons or cucumbers. You can also plant them to the side of your garden in large bags or bins, topping up their green foliage with soil as it continues to grow towards the surface saving space and saving digging for your dinner. Once they’ve grown just remove layers of soil to reveal dinner.
These will happily meander through your garden, but they do need a lot of space so again plant them at the edges. They get along with most other offerings in your patch just keep them away from your potatoes.
Overall, go for diversity in your garden rather than neat rows of vegetables. Experiment. The rules are not all hard and fast, they’re simply guides. Intersperse herbs and flowers to attract or detract insects and combine fast growing plants with those that are slower or like a bit of shade. When it comes time to harvest the result will also feel more like foraging for your dinner.
Download our handy McGregor's guide to companion planting.... Companion Planting Guide.pdf22 February 2019