Thursday, March 26, 2009

My New Herb Garden

Is there nothing more promising than a new garden, ready to be planted? Dreams of lush flowers, the air filled with the scent of herbs and robust vegetables ready for the dinner table... We all know that by July those dreams may be dashed, but in late March everything seems possible.

This garden is the result of 6 years of dreaming and planning. Having moved into this house with a small garden running along the side of the house, I struggled to make it work. It was filled with lemon balm and the first few years I affectionately called it my lemon balm garden. And although I love lemon balm, I would like some other things there also. So lemon balm plants went to the Garden Club sale, the store, friends and anyone who would take it....and still there was lemon balm. But after a year or two of diligent removal and new plantings, the form of an herb garden began to take shape. But there wasn't enough room in the narrow strips on either side of an old, lopsided brick path to include all I wanted. And the vegetables always overflowed, with pumpkin and squash vines taking up the path and winding around other plants, tomatoes running into the currant bushes that were there, and the sage growing large and overshadowing everything around it.

But the final blow was the vole, or what seemed like a large family of voles. My first indication several years ago was the echinacea. Big, beautiful echinacea in bloom suddenly was tilting to one side. When I went out to see what was happening, I pulled at it and up the whole stalk came, with no roots at all on the plant or in the ground. After much internet research I found this was probably the work of a vole and the next year, almost the entire garden was eaten from below ground. The vole war started, and after trying all the organic remedies I resorted to poison, which still only worked minimally. So last year I planted in cages I made out of chicken wire and decided that was it....I was giving up on reforming this garden and a new one was warranted.

So after close to a year of plans, discussions, hiring and work my beautiful garden is finished (many thanks to Lisa Bailey of BayLeaf Studios in Maynard, MA, Steve Jackson of Stonewalls by Jackson in Lancaster, MA and Miller Fence in Worcester, MA).

But we finished just as the first snow and freezing weather started, leaving me a blank landscape to start with in the Spring. I heeled in existing plants I wanted to replant and hopefully they have made it through the winter.

So the winter months were spent on dreaming and planning....what to plant, where, how many, how to work around the shade areas and slope by the stairs....all the fun stuff.

I plan to post my progress this season in the blog. Any ideas, suggestions and comments are welcome!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Herbal Companion Planting

So I'm not very good at blogging. I think of all sorts of things to write about, but never actually sit down and do it. So I'll keep trying and see if I can get into the swing of this!

A customer who is planning her herb garden contacted me recently looking for a listing of herb companion planting. No problem I thought, I have lots of information on companion planting. But in looking at it more closely, I realized all the information I had related to companion planting with vegetables and I really didn't have anything that specifically addressed herbs.

Intrigued, I decided to make up my own. What a good winter project, that turned out to be more difficult than it sounds. There really wasn't a lot of good information in my own personal herb book library or on the internet, so I picked out what I could and then headed to the library at Tower Hill Botanic Garden. I went through all kinds of herb books, and developed my own list.

So what is companion planting? Simply speaking, it is putting plants together that benefit each other or keeping those apart that don't. Mother Nature does this on her own but we can mimic it in our own gardens. Companion planting sets up a kind of large scale symbiosis between the plants in your garden, and can do everything from provide insect control, climbing support, control competition, and provide soil conditioning. Some plants even release chemicals that are helpful to other plants, or on the other hand, toxic to other plants.

Going a little further, companion planting also includes not planting together plants that are susceptible to the same insects or diseases and putting together plants that like the same growing conditions but occupy different soil strata. For example, planting African marigolds and narcissus together. The bulbs are planted deep so the marigolds can be planted on top and the marigold repels nematodes that attack the bulb.

According to Anna Carr in Good Neighbors: Companion Planting for Gardeners, companion planting is a mix of folk wisdom, fairy tale or scientific proof, usually a little of all three.

I found this all fascinating. If you would like to read further about companion planting, some books I like are Herbs in the Garden, The Art of Intermingling by Rob Proctor and David Macke, Roses Love Garlic, Secrets of Companion Planting with Flowers by Louise Riotte (which has a great list of herbs as they related to insect control), and Good Neighbors: Companion Planting for Gardeners by Anna Carr.

And I will continue working on my list so if you have any good herbal companion planting thoughts, please pass them along!

So here's the list of things to plant together with their dislikes and other information such as pest control. I included vegetable information as well because if you're like me, I interplant my vegetables and herbs together so find this helpful.

Angelica: Nettle. Dislikes Dill
Anise: Cilantro -plant together for faster germination
Basil: Marigold, Parsley, Tomatoes. Dislikes Rue. Deters flies, mosquitoes, aphids, white fly, controls tomato worm (1 basil plant to 3 tomato plants)
Bergamot (Monarda/Bee Balm): Attracts honey bees
Borage: Tomatoes, Squash, Strawberries, said to increase strawberry crop. Controls tomato worm. Adds potassium, calcium & minerals to soil.
Caraway: Avoid Dill, fennel, carrot. Plant throughout the garden to loosen the soil.
Catnip: Eggplant, collards. Deters flea beetle, ants, attracts bees
Chamomile: Mint, Roses. Plant cabbages & onions to improve chamomile flavor. Improves health of plants grown close to it.
Comfrey: Strawberries. Rich in potassium, nitrogen & phosphates. Great in compost/compost tea
Cilantro (Coriander): Anise, Chervil, Dill (plant with Anise for faster germination). Deters aphids
Chervil: Cilantro, Dill, Anise. Deters aphids, attracts bees .
Chives: Parsley, Roses, Tomato, Carrots. Deters aphids, black spot on roses
Dead Nettle: Potatoes. Deters potato bug
Dill: Dislikes Lavender, Fennel, Caraway, Angelica. Dill & Fennel can cross-pollinate, attracts honey bees
Fennel: Most plants dislike this herb, don’t grow in vegetable garden. Deters fleas.
Feverfew: Roses, attracts aphids away from roses
Flax: Carrots,Potatoes. Deters Potato Bug
Garlic: Roses, raspberries, tomato, fruit trees. Deters Japanese beetle, aphids
Horehound: Tomatoe, horseradish. Deters potato bug, blister beetle
Henbit: General insect repellent
Hyssop: Cabbage, grapes, collards, broccoli, brussel sprouts. Dislikes radishes. Deters cabbage moth
Lamb Quarters: Marigolds, pansies. Deters Leaf miner, attracts lady beetle. Soil improver.
Lavender: Deters Moths -- combine with southernwood, wormwood and rosemary in an anti-moth sachet
Lemon Balm: Most plants, improves tomatoes, attracts nees
Lovage: Improves health & flavor of most plants near it. Dislikes rhubarb.
Marjoram: Sage, Nettle, Pepper. Repels most insects, attracts bees
Marigolds: Plant throughout the garden. Deters Mexican bean beetles, nematodes, others
Mint: Chamomile, Salad Burnet, Nettle, Tomato, Cabbage. Dislikes parsley. Deters white cabbage moth, aphids, flea beetles ants, mosquitoes, mice
Nasturium: Marigold, Savory, Cucumber. Deters cucumber beetle (sow in cucumber hills when plant)
Nettle: Mint, Sage, Marjoram, Angelica, Valerian. Deters Slugs, Snails
Oregano: Cabbage, cucumber, grapes. Deters Cucumber beetle, cabbage butterfly
Parsley: Chives, Roses, Onion, Tomato. Dislikes Mint. Deters Rose beetles, carrot flies, asparagus beetles
Pennyroyal: Roses, broccoli, cabbage. Deters ants, flies, fleas, mosquitoes. Helps roses, attracts bees.
Roses: Tansy, Rue, Pennyroyal, Parsley, Garlic, Chives, Chamomile. Dislikes Boxwood.
Rosemary: Sage, Collards, Cabbage. Deters cabbage moth, bean beetles, carrot fly
Rue: Roses, Strawberries, Raspberries. Dislikes Basil, Sage. Deters flies, Japanese beetles, dogs & cats
Sage: Rosemary, Nettle. Dislikes Rue & Onions.
Salad Burnet: Mint, Thyme
Savory: Onion, beans
Tansy: Roses, Raspberries, Squash. Dislikes Collards. Good all-round insect repellant. Concentrates potassium in soil.
Tarragon: All purpose beneficial garden helper
Thyme: Hyssop, Salad Burnet, Lettuce, Cabbage family. Deters cabbage maggots & worms, flea beetles. Said to help sick plants recover.
Valerian: Nettle. Stimulates phosphorous activity in soil, good for compost. Attracts earthworms.
Wormwood: Dislikes most vegetables. Deters Black flea beetles, mosquitoes, most animals
Yarrow: Aromatic herbs. Increases essential oil content & aromatic quality