All you need is a little space
by Zada Clarke
Carrie Mae Smith
My home garden is absolute chaos. Clematis flowers play tug-a-war with the peas, their vines intertwining up the fence. Sunflowers as big as my head blossom right out of the middle of squash thickets, and I often pick a giant frilly light green leaf, thinking it’s bolted lettuce until I follow the stalk up and find that it’s sprouted a fuchsia-petaled poppy Home gardens are usually separated into three categories: herbs, flowers, and vegetables. Each one has its purpose, but if garden space is limited, or you just don’t have the energy to transplant the mass of borage that has popped up in the middle of your arugula rows, you are not left with an ultimatum of whether to have either produce or eye-appeal. Don’t cross one out.
Most of the time gardeners overlook mixing plant categories, a method known as “companion planting.” Instead of using outside fertilizers and toxic sprays, plants that are not usually seen together can actually benefit one another and provide a garden with a bounty of produce that is just as big as its aesthetic appeal.
Flowers attract pollinators and insects that are crucial in any vegetable’s growth–a pea blossom looks spectacular, but it isn’t until it has been pollinated that it actually produces a pea. Horticulturists believe that mixing flowers, vegetables, and herbs together in the same garden confuses unwanted critters and prevents them from nibbling away at your plants. For example, when planting cabbage or broccoli, plant rosemary close by, because it repels cabbage moths.
“Spatial interaction” refers to the plant’s ability to beneficially interact with the species planted in its perimeter. Shade is a major factor in where we plant different plants. Some like full exposure, while others are better left in the dark. If you plant higher sun-loving plants, like sunflowers, right over squash, then both plants get the best of both worlds.
However, not all flowers and veggies can grow together harmoniously. Choose plants that will either grow in sync or sequentially and have staggered harvest periods.
For example, if you plant peas next to melons or sunflowers, the peas will be ready to harvest early summer, and then will be replaced by the late summer plants. Let any garden flourish. Allow the pea tendrils to curl and flirt with the tomato stalks, and enjoy the ruffled kale leaves that frame the marigold blossoms. Often, we forget that gardens are our empty canvases, a place to mix-and-match colors and textures. You need not sacrifice produce for pretty. Nature is chaotic and once we let go of restraint over the plants, we see the beautiful mess it creates.