Companion planting is about the interactions of different plants growing in close proximity. The science of companion planting is in its infancy: we are only just beginning to discover and to understand how many interesting and useful interactions there are between plants and animals and the environment in which they live.
Today’s garden trend is to compartmentalise the gardens – vegetable patch, rose garden, flower garden, herb garden – but for the best companion effects flowers and herbs need to be cultivated amongst vegetables and fruit.
The cultivated area doesn’t need to look like a farmyard; with careful planning the gardened area can be very attractive.
Examples of companion planting include chives growing under roses, with the chives helping the roses to resist black spot and increasing their perfume, and onions that fail to flourish if planted with beans. Nasturtium is reputed to be a food source of some caterpillars which feed on members of the cabbage family: eggs of the pests are preferentially laid on the nasturtium, on which they hatch and feed. The smell of marigolds is claimed to deter aphids from feeding on neighbouring plants: the flowers attract hoverflies in search of nectar, the larvae of which are predators of aphids.
The biggest concern for the survival of our indigenous flora on the Garden Route is development. Developers’ greed and lack of concern for the environment has left many pristine areas a wasteland. We can only help nature along if we create heavens for wildlife: plant right and be aware of the consequences of pesticides and soil degradation.Last year’s visit to some open gardens in the UK was an eye opener. Many of the principles of companion planting were present many centuries ago in cottage gardens in England. Now British gardeners have again embraced the concept of companion planting and natural gardening in a big way. Native plants are thriving in meadow gardens, providing food and shelter for wildlife, at the same time feeding the soil. These ‘corridors’ promote diversity of plant and insect life.
Probably the most important thing is to be good companions ourselves, to help nature along. In order for our plants to thrive we need to have a little more knowledge and understanding of the plants’ requirements, the garden’s different microclimate and soil structure, and the adverse effect of insecticides and pesticides.