Companion Gardening

My husband likes to do companion gardening.

For anyone who might not know, companion gardening involves planting two or more plant species together in order to create a beneficial situation for both.

A number of different goals can be accomplished with companion planting. Some plants, like Marigolds, are offensive to insects, so they can be planted to repel insects that might damage a crop. Other plants, like Nasturtiums, attract insects, slugs, and other pests, luring them away from a more desirable crop.

You can also plant crops that grow and thrive together, such as corn, beans and squash. Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb. Beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot by providing nitrogen to the following year’s corn. Bean vines also help stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash vines become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, thereby improving the overall crops chances of survival in dry years. Spiny squash plants also help discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans. The large amount of crop residue from this planting combination can be incorporated back into the soil at the end of the season, to build up the organic matter and improve its structure.

I also do companion gardening in my garden areas, but my method is nontraditional. Rather than plant with compatible plants, my “companions” are four-legged animals who keep me company while I garden.

Barn UNraising 018My most faithful garden companion over the years has been my cat, Rikki-Tikki-Tabby (Rikki, for short). He follows me around and often sits on or near me as I work. Many times I have to work one-handed because he will lightly “bite” me or grab my arm if I stop petting him so I pet him with one hand and garden with the other. This can make gardening a challenge, but is it beneficial to us both in that we enjoy each other’s company. What better way to enjoy a garden than to sit among pretty plants with a purring cat on my lap?

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Tesla occasionally joins me, but not as often as Rikki does. Mostly she likes to hang out with us when we are sitting at our patio table on the front porch.




My third garden companion is my dog, Danny. Years ago, my son and I used to enjoy looking at the small animals in Soldan’s, a pet supply store in a nearby town. One day we went to Soldan’s while my husband shopped at a nearby hardware store. (Animals are more interesting than hardware.) We didn’t know that once a month or so, the local June 2013 034Animal Shelter brought in cats and dogs needing homes. Volunteers would let customers pick up and hold cats, or they’d walk dogs through the store–all in the hope of getting the pets adopted by soft-hearted people like us. Unaware that THIS was the day the Animal Shelter brought in pets, I was stooping down to look at the ferrets in a cage when a black head suddenly thrust into my lap. I gave the little dog lots of lovings before the volunteer pulled him away. As long as I was in the store, Danny kept finding me and pulling the volunteer over to me. So my husband secretly adopted him for me, figuring it was a match made in heaven. Danny is extremely devoted to me, and is never far from me. He cries if he can’t be near me.

I also do indirect companion gardening. Rikki and Tesla are indoor/outdoor cats, but most of our cats are not allowed outside. They are indoors cats only. However, they also loved to be near us, so they will sit in whatever windows are nearest and watch while we work. The cat in the window in the picture below is Timmy.

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While I think the traditional method of Companion Gardening is a very good thing, I must say that I prefer my nontraditional method best. But that’s just me.

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His, Mine, and Ours

When my son was little, we had more grassy lawn, but there were some parts of the yard that he never played in, so we turned them into garden. Gradually, we turned more and more of our yard into garden and now we have lots to weed and very little to mow.

My husband (EJ) and I have our own gardens that we each claim as “mine.” Of course, there is some overlap–I help him care for his garden, especially when his back is hurting, and I let him plant things in my parts of the gardens if he wants. Basically, what makes them “his” or “mine” is who has creative control over that part of the garden.

I love that my husband and I are compatible and work well together, while also giving each other creative independence. This is true both inside and outside the house. If one of us has a strong “vision” for a room or part of the yard, the other gives that one creative control. We give each other advice or suggestions or help, but the one who has creative control has the final say. We always end up liking what the other one is doing, even though we might have some misgivings at first.

We have different goals, philosophy, and methods of gardening. Although I like a wilder garden, I also like beauty so I garden with a desire to make my garden look nice. My garden areas are those seen by people driving or walking by. Most of my garden areas are shady so I have planted hostas, ferns, astilbe, lilies of the valley, various ground covers, and other shade-loving plants there. I am able to get a few plants to grow that prefer more sun–like roses and day lilies. I have a sunny place, in which I have planted sunflowers and herbs.

My husband has creative control over the back yard, which is sunnier. He prefers to grow veggies, fruits, and berries, most of which need more sun. He cares more about function than form and loves to “re-purpose.” He will plant stuff wherever they get the necessary conditions, even if it looks like an odd place to put them. He will put up old pieces of wire or fencing to protect or help the tender plants climb, even if they aren’t “pretty.” He makes container gardens using tubs or rotting logs and likes to do “companion gardening,” pairing compatible plants together.

Although we have “His” and “Mine” gardens and our gardening approach is different in some ways, we each appreciate and enjoy the other’s differences and garden areas. And, really, we see the whole yard as “Ours.”

The Art of Gardening

When I was younger, I was sort of a perfectionist, very concerned about doing things “right.” I would feel bad if someone who “knew better” told me I was doing something the wrong way.  I have become less of a perfectionist over the years. Experience has taught me that it’s an joyless burden trying to please everyone all the time.

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