* in a sunbeam, picture by daughter Elise. Ah , so dear to my heart. I come from a long line of lovers and inherited the gardening gene. I’ve passed it on to my younger daughter, Elise, my right arm in the garden, but all of my children are fans to some degree. And now, the little people, the grandbabies are our new crop of apprentices. My five yr old grandson is of some actual help. The same cannot be said of the two yr olds. (*Pic of grandbaby by Elise)
My main recommendation when it comes to gardening is to use a lot of compost and natural mulch, like well rotted hay or straw, even leaves, in your vegetable and flower beds. Healthy plants better resist insects and disease. Earth worms are a gardener’s best friend and thrive in natural mulch, humus-enriched soil. Avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides or you’ll kill the worms and other beneficial insects. I’ve even gone on worm finds and introduced more into the gardens, plus bought them from a reputable online source. Yes, I’m nuts over worms as are my grandbabies now from my enthusiasm. (*Pic of nasturtiums by my mom)
My primary focus in gardening is our vegetable, perennial & annual flower, and herb beds. I’m particularly fond of heirloom and old fashioned cottage garden plants. Some of these vintage varieties involve saving seed and ordering from specialty catalogues. Those herbs and flowers that attract butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, and honey bees are of special interest. I strive to provide a wildlife sanctuary of sorts. The American love of a chemically dependent green lawn is the opposite of what beneficial insects and wildlife require, and plants for that matter. Think wildflowers and herbs. Rejoice in the butterflies and hummers that will follow.
We rotate annual our garden vegetables as well as practicing companion planting. There are time honored combinations we’ve tried as well as making some of our own discoveries. Nasturtiums and radishes planted closely around the cucurbit family (also commonly referred to as the cucumber, gourd, melon, or pumpkin family) help to deter the squash vine borer and cucumber beetles which are deadly to the plants. This family is our most trouble prone, so gets the greatest attention when it comes to companion planting.
Radishes are also a good companion for lettuce, spinach, and carrots. If I were to choose one companion plant it would be radishes and the second, nasturtiums, but there are many excellent choices and we’re learning more all the time about effective combinations.
I interplant garlic with roses and have beneficial effects in warding off some of the pests and diseases that attack them. *I prefer the old time roses and David Austen varieties that combine the best of the old with the repeat bloom of the new. My favorite rose is Abraham Darby by David Austen. (*Pic of Abraham Darby Rose by Elise)
Tomatoes grow more robustly when planted near basil. Peppers also like it. Sweet marjoram, which reseeds itself for us, is another beneficial herb to interplant with vegetables and flowers. Mint helps deter cabbage worms. Pumpkins and squash better survive when rotated from their usual spots. This year we tucked a pumpkin in among the massive, native clematis vine growing along the backyard fence that we refer to as ‘the beast.’ The borers didn’t find it, plus ‘the beast’ helped cradle the orange globes.
We’ve observed that old fashioned sunflowers with multiple heads (planted by birds from the birdseed variety) grow the most vigorously. Sunflowers attract masses of goldfinches, a favorite songbird, and when planted in and around corn, reduce army worms in the ears. Marigolds are an excellent companion plant for vegetable and flowers to help ward off Japanese beetles. Borage enriches the soil, attracts honey bees, and is another good companion for squash. Onions planted near carrots help repel the carrot fly. Chamomile is another good companion plant but use it sparingly.
Encourage beneficial insects to make their home in your garden and experiment with companion planting. Avoid monochromatic schemes and think variety. And Happy gardening! (If spring ever returns to these snowy realms.)
Images of our garden, goldfinch, and grandbaby taken by my daughter Elise and mom, Pat Churchman. Hummingbird is a royalty free image.