Strange (Garden) Bedfellows

Pairing these unlikely produce combinations in the garden could mean averting future disaster.

by Cyn Cady

Greenhorn Acres: Strange Garden Bedfellows - Photo by Cyn Cady ( 

Who’s up for a heaping plate of strawberry-onion surprise? A disgusting combination on the plate, planting strawberries and onions together in the garden plot is a match made in heaven. And even though peas tossed with butter and thinly sliced red onion is delicious, planting them together can stunt both plants. Weird, right? But it just goes to show you, there’s someone for everyone.

As I explore the world of synergistic planting, I’m learning that “companion plant” doesn’t just mean that asparagus fern in your kitchen window that you talk to when no one else will listen, it’s the importance of combining … or separating … plants that can help or hinder each other’s growth.

And then there’s the bug thing: Some plants or combinations of plants help to repel those evil plant-eating bugs that we all know and hate. It’s fairly common knowledge that marigolds help keep aphids away (even though I mostly like them because they are cute and orange and look and taste awesome in salads), but aromatic herbs like basil and mint are not only kryptonite to Evil Garden Bugs, they may also attract the Superhero Garden Bugs, who will come to the rescue and save the Vegetable Universe.

OK, maybe I’ve been reading too many comic books again. But you get the point.

Greenhorn Acres: Strange Garden Bedfellows - Photo by Cyn Cady ( 

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Clearly, synergistic companion plantings are yet another important thing to consider when laying out my spring veggie garden. I can’t keep everything in my head; there’s no room in there, what with all the other junk I have accumulated, which includes, strangely, details of a seventh grade science experiment involving cilantro. But, of course, my favorite gardening tool—the Internet—is right there close at hand with charts that even my overloaded brain can quickly grasp at a glance: beets and bush beans, yes; beans and garlic, no … you get the idea.

While in some cases there seems to be some actual soil chemistry involved, sometimes it’s just the nature of the plant: Shade-loving lettuces can snuggle up under the protective parasol of a zucchini leaf.

So I’ve got onions set between my strawberry rows, my turnips are hand-in-hand with bush peas, and borders of marigolds and nasturtiums are everywhere as a barrier against pests. I’m ready to jump in with fertilizers, organic homemade insecticidal soap, and blasts from the hose as needed to help keep things going, but I’m hoping by carefully controlling the planting arrangements, I can avoid the kind of disaster that occurs at weddings when someone accidentally seats Aunt Jennifer next to Cousin James, and the next thing you know, a massive food fight breaks out, chairs and tables are upended, and someone does a face-plant into the wedding cake.

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