It is the ideal time of year to sit down and think about which seeds you will be sowing during the next few months. Rather than growing the same as last year, try something new for a change and take inspiration from the range of unusual garden seeds from around the world, available to browse at www.originaltouch.co.uk.
When planning your plot, give a thought to how you could include crop rotation and companion planting in the design. The many benefits have been known and practised for centuries, such as saving space and preventing pests as well as being attractive.
Nowadays, many gardeners dedicate their plots to either vegetables or flowers, but in the past, many crops would be mixed together, similar to a cottage garden. As well as looking attractive, the scent and colour of flowers and herbs grown with vegetables will attract beneficial insects essential for pollination and predatory insects to prevent pests. Many vegetables that we know today were originally grown for decoration and would not look out of place in flower and herb gardens, such as runner beans, tomatoes and artichokes. If you have space, it is worthwhile leaving a few vegetables in the ground to flower, such as the beautiful blue chicory. Rows of different coloured crops look very attractive such as cauliflower, chard and lettuce.
In vegetable plots, flowers can be grown as borders to distinguish different areas or in rows between other crops. Certain flowers and herbs are often nicknamed “wonder plants” due to their beneficial effect. Marigolds are a gardener’s favourite and can be grown alongside many plants. They emit a pesticidal chemical from their flowers, foliage and roots to repel pests and are particularly effective as a companion for tomatoes.
Companion planting is the practice of growing certain plants together that have a beneficial effect on each other. Next to cabbages, I like to grow nicandra, a tall purple flower to attract the hoverfly, a predatory insect that will hunt the whitefly pest. Nearby, nasturtium flowers will attract the cabbage white butterfly away from the cabbages. Nasturtium flowers are edible too so the plant has a dual purpose. Between rows of carrots, it is traditional to plant members of the onion family as the strong scent will confuse the carrot root fly. As well as onions, leeks and shallots, it is worthwhile growing a clump of chives as it can later be divided and replanted elsewhere. Other examples of ideal companions include tomatoes with basil, spinach with beans and strawberries with borage.
Bear in mind that some plants have a detrimental effect on each other and should not be grown together, perhaps because they will stunt growth, or are affected by the same disease. Examples include brassicas with strawberries, peas with onions and potatoes with tomatoes.
Another good reason for companion planting is to save space. This is particularly effective in small gardens. Low growing crops such as salad leaves and herbs can be planted between taller crops to deter weeds and conserve moisture. Many quick growing crops, such as radish and beetroot, can be planted every few weeks in succession to fill spaces as other crops as harvested. Native Americans grew 3 crops together called the Three Sisters; tall sweetcorn as a windbreak, beans to grow up the sweetcorn as a climbing structure and squash to trail beneath the plants.
To grow any of these varieties or just for advice, visit www.originaltouch.co.uk. Soon I will continue this theme with advice about crop rotation so that you have a productive plot all year.
Author and Speaker – Samantha Ford – 01673 866677
Samantha can be booked to give talks to groups on gardening and the history of our food by visiting www.sowwhat.co.uk