Why Plants Need Buddies
My newly established garden next to our renovated farmhouse did not get a lot of attention from my side. Between packing, moving and taking care of kids, there was little time to care for a garden. However, as you can see in the picture, the garden thrives wonderfully. Yes, there has been a lot of rain in Provence this year, but after four years of practicing a certain way of planting, known as companion planting, I am sure, that this way of gardening works, even if there are not many scientific studies to support it. And although I always try to support my claims with relevant research, in my newly established garden and in the garden in our previous home, I can see results even without them. So what is companion planting? Is it some new fancy way of gardening?
Not at all. Companion planting was practiced in various forms by the indigenous peoples of the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans. These peoples domesticated squash 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, then maize, then common beans, forming the three sisters agricultural technique. The cornstalk served as a trellis for the beans to climb, and the beans fixed nitrogen, benefiting the maize.
Companion planting in gardening and agriculture is the planting of different crops in proximity for any of a number of different reasons, including pest control, pollination, providing habitat for beneficial creatures, maximizing use of space, and to otherwise increase crop productivity.
My preferred combinations for companion planting
After five seasons of this way of planting, these combinations of plants seem to do well together. There are numerous planting manuals on the internet where you can find several combinations. I outline here what worked for my Provencal garden so you might want to check what works in your garden depending on the region where you live.
Tomatoes and basil: basil enhances the taste of tomatoes
Zucchini and borage: borage attracts bees, which pollinate zucchini blooms. I use borage as a nice addition to summer drinks such as water kefir.
Strawberries and spring onions: smell of onions help protect strawberries from critters
My favorite plant used in companion planting is Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus). It is a food plant of some caterpillars which feed primarily on members of the cabbage family (brassicas) and planting them around brassicas protects the food crops from damage, as eggs of the pests are preferentially laid on the nasturtium. Although difficult to pronounce in English, in French this plant is called 'Capucine' (and many girls in France are named after this beautiful and helpful flower). I use its leaves as a peppery addition to salads and its flowers as a garnish as they have loads of vitamin C. Herb spreads can be made with a combination of homemade mayonnaise and nasturtium flowers. Nasturtium seeds can be used as a substitute for capers, Just pick the nasturtium seeds while they’re still green and haven’t hardened. Put them in a glass bottle or jar and cover them with vinegar. You can use them after three days of soaking in the vinegar. They don’t need refrigeration. Nasturtiums are easy to plant, in fact, my kids planted the ones seen in the picture in the early spring. Seeds are big, easy to handle and almost always germinate.