Bright Flow­ers, Boun­ti­ful Veg­eta­bles Thrive To­gether

“Com­pan­ion plant­ing” of­fers more than color and tex­ture

Times of the Islands - - Home & Garden -

In a gar­den, few things are as lovely as white pen­tas grow­ing next to yel­low lan­tanas grow­ing next to blue asters. Ex­cept per­haps in­ter­spers­ing green beans and red toma­toes. Be­sides adding color, tex­ture and in­ter­est, “com­pan­ion plant­ing” veg­eta­bles with flow­er­ing plants ac­tu­ally of­fers myr­iad ben­e­fits.

“Flow­er­ing plants help at­tract pol­li­na­tors such as bum­ble­bees, car­pen­ter bees and but­ter­flies,” ex­plains Roy Beck­ford, Ph.D. He is county ex­ten­sion di­rec­tor at the Univer­sity of Flor­ida’s In­sti­tute of Food and Agri­cul­ture Sci­ences, or UF/ IFAS, of­fice in Lee County.

Veg­eta­bles to con­sider for com­pan­ion plant­ing in­clude let­tuce, pep­pers, toma­toes, eg­g­plant, herbs, wa­ter­mel­ons, squashes, cucumbers, beans and peas. Dianthus, lilies, hy­acinths and irises are good choices to add as flow­er­ing plants. They of­fer great color and also pro­vide scent.

“In­cor­po­rat­ing aro­matic plants is the ba­sis for aro­matic gar­dens,” Beck­ford adds. Such gar­dens are “de­signed to ig­nite the senses.” Many herbs also add scent and color. Cer­tain herbs, in­clud­ing basil and rose­mary, can help re­pel in­sects such as mos­qui­toes and flies.

“I added laven­der to my gar­den to help keep the pesky bugs at bay,” notes An­gela Mur­phy of Cape Coral.

She has a flower and veg­etable gar­den in her back­yard, with peas, green beans, toma­toes— and red zin­nias and yel­low lan­tanas.

Mur­phy says, “I also wanted to add a lit­tle color to my veg­etable gar­den, so I added flow­ers.” She en­joys cook­ing with laven­der and says she may add rose­mary to her gar­den to help ward off mos­qui­toes.

She grows bay leaves in pots near her front door. Be­sides be­ing a great herb for cook­ing, it can re­pel cock­roaches, moths and other pests. “I ac­tu­ally keep dried bay leaves in my cup­boards to ward off the bugs,” ex­plains Mur­phy.

There are other plants that keep bugs and big­ger pests at bay. “Plant­ing pep­per­mint, rose­mary or marigold around veg­etable crops can re­pel some bugs, and even other crit­ters like mice and rats,” Beck­ford notes.

To keep pests away from any gar­den, try a “di­ver­sion plot.” Beck­ford says, “Grow­ing some crops, such as amaranth,

can es­tab­lish a di­ver­sion plot where pests will go in­stead of on ac­tual food crops.” How­ever, once the di­ver­sion plot is full of the pest it has to be har­vested and re­moved, or used as green ma­nure in the com­post bin.

When it comes to com­pan­ion plant­ing, the height of plants should also be taken into ac­count. Tall plants and climb­ing plants can help add shade, and some plants ac­tu­ally thrive when grown to­gether. “One ex­am­ple of this is corn and beans, as the beans climb up the corn plant and can help with shad­ing,” adds Beck­ford.

Plants such as broc­coli and cab­bage are “heavy feed­ers” of cer­tain soil nu­tri­ents, such as ni­tro­gen. Thus they re­quire co-crops, such as beans and peas, to help re­place ni­tro­gen in the soil.

Low-ly­ing plants, in­clud­ing sweet pota­toes, can grow in small places and will of­fer ground cover. “The ground cover can as­sist with wa­ter sav­ings or mois­ture re­ten­tion … a good source of potas­sium-rich tu­bers while other crops, or flow­er­ing plants, grow above the vines,” Beck­ford ex­plains.

Of course, the “right plant” in any given sit­u­a­tion de­pends on the type of soil—sandy, silty, clay-like, loamy, peaty or chalk- like—and whether or not the plant needs a lot of sun or can tol­er­ate shade. Also im­por­tant are drainage and wa­ter­ing needs of the plant, and what other types of plants grow well with it.

Com­pan­ion gar­den­ing is be­com­ing more and more pop­u­lar. Many of the gar­den­ers at the Com­mu­nity Gar­den of Lakes Park in Fort My­ers choose to mix veg­eta­bles with flow­ers. Each of the lo­cal gar­den­ers rents a 4-foot-by-8-foot raised bed, in a fencedin area of the Com­mu­nity Gar­den, for $60 a year. (Cur­rently, how­ever, there is a wait­ing list to rent a raised bed.)

Classes to as­sist gar­den­ers are taught by ex­ten­sion agents and lo­cal grow­ers at the Com­mu­nity Gar­den. And ex­cess food is of­ten given to a lo­cal food bank.

Lakes Park is also home to the 18-acre Botanic Gar­den and the Chil­dren’s Dis­cov­ery Gar­den, where more won­der­ful plants can be en­joyed. Vol­un­teers are al­ways wel­come to help main­tain the grounds of the Com­mu­nity Gar­den and the Chil­dren’s Dis­cov­ery Gar­den.

Ann Marie O’Phe­lan is a South­west Flor­ida res­i­dent and reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia.

The in­ter­spers­ing of flow­ers and veg­gies in the gar­den beds at Fort My­ers’ Com­mu­nity Gar­den of Lakes Park has many ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing at­tract­ing pol­li­na­tors.

These flow­ers help re­pel in­sects and at­tract pol­li­na­tors to “com­pan­ion” gar­den beds at the Com­mu­nity Gar­den of Lakes Park. They also pro­vide lovely aro­mas.

Lovely flow­ers and veg­gies are grouped to­gether in col­lec­tive beds at the Com­mu­nity Gar­den of Lakes Park. And many of the gar­den­ers also add a lit­tle whimsy.

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