Friends and enemies in the plant world

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My friend, Eilene, is a wizard when it comes to all things baking, sewing, cooking, a million other things – and, of course, I can’t leave out gardening.

She always seems to know what to do and not to do when it comes to planting, nurturing and canning – so I asked for her advice as to why some things just won’t grow in my garden no matter how hard I try.

The next day, she bestowed upon me a jewel in paper form – a copy of something her father gave her decades ago when, as a young wife and mother, she planted her own first garden.

This jewel is a newspaper clipping dating back to March 31, 1985. It was called “Garden Parade” and was written by a woman named Helena Street for the Omaha World-Herald.

“My dad gave this to me and I held onto it, because he said it was very important to follow the guide, as to what plants get a long and what plants don’t,” Eilene said. “Some plants are good friends and some plants are bitter enemies.”

As I looked through this fascinating 37-year-old planting guide, I immediately saw things I’d been doing wrong! It was incredible! These amazing nuggets of wisdom have guided Eilene through all these seasons of growing – and I’m going to pay attention to the secrets bestowed on her by her father.

That said, I couldn’t bear to not share some of these secrets with readers of this column because we should all have the same opportunities for success when it comes to the gardening adventures that are just around the corner.

For those of you who are Master Gardeners, I apologize for my astonishment and boring you to death with things you already know.

May I share words from Mrs. Street?

“Positive relationships are as important to plants as to people. In some cases, certain plants get along together for reasons that are purely physical. It is just good sense to sow lettuce to grow in the shade of tall sun-lovers such as tomato and sweet corn, where the protection will keep the lettuce from bolting.

“Wise gardeners plant fast-growing radishes in the same rows with carrots, parsley and parsnips that take forever to germinate. The radishes mark the rows for cultivation and are ready to pick by the time the others need thinning.

“In the same manner, quickies such as leaf lettuce, spinach and mustard greens may be planted with slower tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.

“Plants that are heavy feeders demand lots of nourishment and deplete soil of nutrients. These include beets, broccoli, cabbage, corn, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, melon, parsley, radish, spinach, squash and tomato. Plant them near or alternate them with such light eaters as carrot, onion, pepper, potato, Swiss chard and turnip.

“Broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, lettuce, peas and radish need lots of water. It is good gardening to plant them with cabbage, eggplant, onion and potato that can manage on less.

“However, select companions with regard to their chemical compatibility.”

Oh, yes, therein lays the secret – chemical compatibility.

In Eilene’s dad’s guide, there is a chart saying which vegetables like which and which vegetables are arch enemies.

A lot of them seem to get along, as I see.

However, here is Mrs. Street’s list for who can’t stand to be around who – so if you are making a “seating chart” for this year’s garden, here is who can’t sit together:

  • Beans and onions
  • Beets and pole beans
  • Anyone from the cabbage family and the crew of tomatoes, pole beans and strawberries
  • Carrots and dill
  • Sweet corn and the duo of Chinese cabbage and tomatoes
  • Cucumbers and sage
  • Onions and the team of beans and peas
  • Peas obviously hate onions, as well as garlic
  • Potatoes can’t be around tomatoes and squash

And guess what? It appears there are three typical vegetables we all plant that can pretty much get along with anyone – those are eggplant, lettuce and peppers. That must be why I never have issues with these.

In further reading this mystical document, I found that I’m actually doing something right – even if it has been without scientific reason or knowledge. I always plant my giant marigolds around the entire perimeter of my garden – for two reasons, I love marigolds and they also hide my weed sins from being seen by motorists on the street.

But Mrs. Street said back in 1985 that marigolds are an “aromatic species which contain a substance that can suppress or destroy deadly nematodes.” And they promote bees as well as butterflies – which is just good for the environment in general.

Thank goodness Eilene’s dad kept those words of wisdom so long ago and passed them on to Eilene who passed them on to me. Maybe some of the things I plant this year will actually not die right away just because I didn’t realize there are friends and enemies even in the plant world.


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