Most keen gardeners have heard of companion planting but not all of them fully understand the principles behind it. There is however no great mystery; companion planting is simply a natural method of cultivation which involves grouping plants together in a beneficial way. It is a mixed growing method that provides greater biodiversity which in turn means more stability for the plants and more resilience in difficult conditions.

Away from the formal garden, in nature plants tend to grow in communities with different species existing happy side by side unlike the rigid conformity that we all tend to impose on our kitchen gardens where there is normally single row crop culture. It is just in such an environment that companion planting can provide added benefits to vegetables, fruit, herbs and indeed cutting flowers for the house.

Many flowering plants, such as the daisy family for example, will attract predatory insects including ladybirds or hoverflies which in turn will devour pesky aphids. In addition the smell produced by certain plants can also be a deterrent. Plants with aromatic oils, in particular, can play an important part in determining which insects visit the garden. Hemp for example may be used to repel the cabbage white butterfly and strongly smelling flowers such as basil, thyme, lemon balm and mint confuse the garden pests by scent alone.

This said bees love the fragrance of herbs and can be attracted to settle near rows of runner beans that need pollinating to ensure that the flowers set and produce a good crop. Some plants such as nasturtiums encourage aphids, diverting them away from more important crops and mixing crops such as sweet corn and squash disorientates some pests preventing them laying their eggs due to the pattern of mixed foliage.

Simple sowing and planting a wide range of plants is the best way to guarantee the health of the garden as it helps to provide a diverse habitat for a wide range of insects leaving nature to then sort out the good from the bad. A garden alive with buzzing bees, butterflies and other insects feels alive in the way that a garden controlled with pesticides never will.