Plants with advantages!
Text and photo: Udkansk
What a wonderful time we are in right now. The garden has truly awakened from its long winter slumber, and everything is turning green around us. We've been busy getting the garden furniture out, sowing summer flowers and kitchen herbs, bringing in winter-stored plants to sprout, and enjoying watching our relatively new garden become more beautiful each year.
The garden has always been an experimental ground for me, where I try out new things. Of course, things go wrong and don't turn out as intended, but that's precisely what keeps my green plant-loving heart going. I find it so exciting to be both a participant and spectator in my own little nature show out in the garden.
Every year I make new discoveries, become wiser about what works and what needs adjusting. One of the things that currently interests me a lot is how I can make the garden's plants and animals into collaborators for a more beautiful and healthier garden. For example, I enjoy watching the blue tit that I fed during the winter sitting and eating aphids off the new rose shoots. It's nothing short of fantastic, and it gives me a feeling of natural connectedness that I highly value in a stressed everyday life.
Last year, I experimented with plants that can benefit greatly from each other's company. Maybe not in a symbiotic sense, but at a level where at least one plant benefits from the other's presence.
One companion planting I tried last year, which worked excellently, was to place roses side by side with sage. Roses are notoriously known to be susceptible to various fungal attacks. This could be black spot, powdery mildew or rust, which settle on the rose leaves, making them look sad before falling off.
I have previously struggled with fungal attacks on my roses, but with the help of sage, I didn't have a single spot on them last year. Maybe it was just the year, but I put my trust in the sage.
Sage releases sulphur from their leaves as they are heated by the sun. If you buy fungicides, you will be able to read on the package that one of the main ingredients is sulphur. Pesticides for gardening are becoming less popular with our increasing environmental awareness, so here you get it quite naturally by making the roses neighbours to the sage plants. Besides the practical purpose, the small, lipped flowers match the pompous roses perfectly in colour and shape.
I used the small-leaved sage types, also known as blackcurrant sage 'salvia microphylla Greggii'.
Blackcurrant sage is a perennial shrub that blooms incredibly beautifully and for a long time. Blackcurrant sage thrives excellently in pots, but place it somewhat protected during the winter. In addition to their beauty and beneficial effect, blackcurrant sage is also edible. Both leaves and flowers are wonderful for desserts and in salads, where they taste heavenly of blackcurrant. Really an underrated plant!
A few varieties of blackcurrant sage that I can warmly recommend are: Nachtvlinder, Hot Lips, and Cerro Potosi.
The classic with the many abilities
There are many other good plants that not only look beautiful but also add something extra to the garden beyond pomp and splendour. One such plant could be the old classic "tagetes" - or marigold, as it is also called in English.
Tagetes has been a little out of the garden scene in the past decade, as many claimed it was a poor taste in gardens. Today, the picture looks a little different, as plant developers have created many new varieties that better fit the plant trends that are currently running. I must admit that the old varieties were a bit too communal for me, but the new tall single-flowered varieties are wonderful.
Although tagetes still suffers from the expression "love, love not," the plant has phenomenal properties in the garden.
Tagetes is primarily known for its soil-improving properties, as the plant secretes a substance that suppresses harmful nematodes (microscopic worms that feed on plant roots). Some nematodes are good beneficial insects, while others are pesky pests that live on plant roots and are therefore difficult to control.
Harmful nematodes can occur if the same type of plant is grown for a long time in the same soil. This could be in the vegetable garden if crop rotation is not practiced. Tagetes is therefore an excellent companion plant, and as a bonus, the single-flowered varieties attract a host of useful pollinating insects to the garden.
I have been told by several knowledgeable gardening acquaintances that pests like carrot flies, onion flies, and aphids do not like the smell of marigold flowers. I have never investigated the matter myself, but perhaps some of you have had the same experiences?
Tagetes is very easy to sow from seed, which can be done right now. I would recommend pre-sowing them rather than sowing them directly in the ground. I usually plant them in the garden around Constitution Day, as the chance of frost is over by then.
Varieties I can recommend, all of which are single-flowered and relatively tall: Alumia Vanilla Cream, Lemon Gem, Ursula, or Disco Red.
No more mosquitos
Inside the greenhouse, I also experimented with plants that could do something extra besides being edible or looking beautiful.
Scented geraniums are one of the ones I fell in love with. In English, they are called "mosquito plants" because mosquitoes do not like the scent of the plant's very aromatic leaves. There are hundreds if not thousands of different scented geraniums, and in addition to their fantastic ornamental value and delicious addition to salads, they keep the mosquitoes away. I have about ten quite large specimens out in the greenhouse, and I don't recall getting a single bite out there all last year, even though we had the greenhouse door and windows wide open from June to September.
Scented geraniums cannot tolerate frost, but they are a perennial plant that survives the winter indoors in a south-facing window. When spring returns, they receive a vigorous pruning to avoid lanky growth, and every other year, they are repotted. From mid-April, all my geraniums come back out to the greenhouse and decorate out there until autumn.
If I were to recommend a small selection of my favourite varieties, it would be: Lady Plymouth (rose scent), Angels Perfume Hybrid (strong citrus), and Lavender Lindy (lavender scent).
The old buddy system
One last plant buddy system I want to highlight may be a familiar companionship to many, but still worth highlighting again. It is the queen of the greenhouse, the tomato, and the beloved herb, basil.
Two plants that really belong in the greenhouse because they love the warmth, humidity and have the same soil requirements. In addition to their similar growth requirements, they add an extra touch to each other, namely taste. When basil is planted in the same capillary box or close to tomatoes, it emits aroma that supposedly affects the taste notes of tomatoes.
In addition to taste, the two plants also complement each other aesthetically. As the tomato plant grows, the lower leaves are removed to provide light and air to the first tomato shoots. Gradually, the tomato plant becomes a bit leggy and bare at the bottom, and this space is beautifully filled by the dark green or red foliage of the basil plant.
There are so many fantastic plant companions in the world, so if you know of any worth highlighting, please leave a comment.
I hope you all enjoy the warmth, light, and birdsong and have a lovely May in your gardens.
Om Udkansk v/ Nanna & Frederik
Nanna and Frederik are a couple living in Northern Denmark. They post content about plants, nature and garden on their Instagram profile ‘Udkansk’. Furthermore, they are ambassadors for the Greenhouse Forum where they share their garden life and experiences in their Juliana Grand Oase greenhouse.Get to know Udkansk v/ Nanna & Frederik
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