companion planting

Sarah discusses her top varieties for companion planting and the best ways to protect against pests and reduce diseases.

The longer I garden the more I feel passionate about making this place almost like a mini nature reserve, and what I want to do is encourage all our pollinators and all our insects and invertebrates here, rather than the opposite. So really, chemicals are banned, and when we have a problem, I want to try and learn about looking to plants to help out other plants so that chemicals just become completely unnecessary; I mean we’ve never used many here but that’s not good enough for me, and I think of the way we’re using plants with plants in companion planting in sort of three themes really.

The first is to help protect against insect infestation, so aphids or whatever. The second is to keep fungal diseases at bay, like mildew or rust. And the third is as a feed, to give them a tonic and a sort of pep. So I’ll just talk you through each of those three.

So the first one that I really love, I’m a great, passionate lover of Greece - I’m a Hellenophile – and what I love is sitting in a Greek taverna being surrounded by these little pompoms of basil, and that’s because these are thought to be anti-mozzie. They are an insect repellent, and so you’ll see them in every Greek taverna table in the summer. And similarly, we use the sweet Genovese basil underplanting all our tomatoes in the greenhouse. We combine it with Encarsia and biological control but they work together to mean we never need to resort to an insecticide. And similarly the nasturtium family attract the cabbage whites to lay their eggs on them rather than on the brassicas, and the calendula family attract (and all orange and yellow plants actually attract) in lacewings and ladybirds, and their larvae munch away at all the aphid family. As in fact do earwigs, so don’t hate your earwigs, love them.

Then moving on to the ones that are good against fungal diseases, so we use chives against mildew on our courgettes, and sweet peas, we make a chive tea sort of rotted down and then water it on liberally. You actually need to cut chives down when they start to flower, because all the intense flavour goes out of the leaf and it starts to get rust, so we call it our herb haircut and so you get this double bonus. One – the chives grow back really quickly and you get lovely fresh, green tasty chives, and two, you’ve got a natural fungicide to use in the garden and we underplant all our roses with salvias, these little small-leaved salvias like ‘Nachtvlinder’, ‘Cerro Potosi’ and ‘Royal Bumble’, oh and ‘Crystal Pink’ in the front there. So they, both these two things when they’re warm give off a sulphurous-like aroma which must have some kind of fungicide in it, as does sulphur because they keep them really really pretty healthy.

And the final thing that we use plants to help plants with, are feeds, and we use really quite a lot of comfrey here, just rotted down to make a rather stinky, revolting juice which we then feed things that like potash like our tomatoes. It’s just like your homegrown Tomorite, and also our sweet peas. And then finally the good old stingers are very rich in nitrogen so they’re really good for getting leafy growth – combine the two and you’ve got leaf, fruit and root. And so overall, all these things play such an active role in the garden here, and most of them look really lovely too, so it’s just, you don’t suffer and your garden is a healthier and more exciting and more multi-layered place that you can look at not just for its’ prettiness but also for all the lovely mini things that you find in it. I love that.

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