Top Ten Attractive Companion Plants

I’ve been battling with the aphids in the last couple of weeks. Well, I say “battling” – I’m a vegan and I find it very hard to do any direct kind of pest control, preferring to leave nature to take care of the job… more of a permaculture holistic approach. But in the absence of predatory ladybirds, the aphids have been mounting attacks on my flowers, fruit and veg and I’ve had to take some sort of action. Companion planting.

English lavender

In the large vegetable plot, I’ve already planted nasturtiums and french marigolds around the beans and sweet peas to ward off aphid attacks – the idea is that the strong scented plants confuse or attract the “pests” away from crops and blooms. But I need to extend my companion planting to other areas too. The aphids are relentless at this time of year!

I’ve also come to learn that although companion plants may be functional, but they can also add a touch of cottage garden elegance and charm to veg plots and garden borders. So after some research, here are my top ten companion plants for the allotment, potager and kitchen garden:


  1. Marigold/Calendula
    Another popular addition in many kitchen gardens is the marigold. Whether it’s a frilly french marigold (Tagetes patula) or the simpler, but delicate and pretty english pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), these bright blooms are a welcome addition to any successful growing plot. The strong scent confuses and deters many pests, with french marigolds in particular useful in warding off whitefly. The open single blooms of english marigolds also attract pollinators, which in turn pollinate flowers that yield crops.
  2. Nasturtiums
    A mainstay of any potager, the humble nasturtium is easy to grow from seed, or cheap to buy as a pot-grown specimen. Copious orange blooms and a strong scent lure aphids and pests away from tender crops like beans, whilst nasturtium leaves serve as an attractive site for cabbage whites to lay their eggs – so a great ‘sacrificial crop’ for brassicas too.
  3. Thyme
    When in flower, this perennial herb is attractive to beneficial insects. It’s also a great deterrent for whitefly that are attracted to brassicas like cabbages – just distill some fresh sprigs in water for 24hours to make a “tea” and spray your brassicas to leave a scent that could send the aphids on their way.
  4. Sage
    Like most herbs, the strong scent of sage confuses pests and aphids. Sage is a great companion plant for brassicas like cabbages, brussels sprouts and broccoli, but also works well with carrots and strawberries too.
  5. Garlic chives
    This striking member of the allium family produces long spikes topped with star-like clusters of small flowers. The strong scent is great at deterring and confusing carrot fly, and can also serve as a pest deterrent when planted near or under roses.
  6. Lavender
    This popular flowering herb is a veritable pollinator magnet, so will help to increase pollination rates and yields. Its strong, pleasant scent also confuses pests, and is particularly well-placed near carrot crops, leeks and tender vegetables.
  7. Sweet Alyssum
    A charming, low-growing ground covering plant that can not only help to suppress weed growth, but also helps to protect potatoes from pests by attracting natural predators.
  8. Rosemary
    Chillies and pumpkins are two grow-your-own favourites that would benefit from rosemary companion plants. Blue flowers in spring help to attract pollinators, and the
  9. Zinnia
    Bright and bold, these blooms are a brilliant addition to any edible garden. Opt for single flower strains, and mix and match taller and shorter varieties to attract aphids away from crops and capture the interest of butterflies, who tend to cruise higher above the ground.
  10. Mint… or Catmint! 
    OK, so it’s not the prettiest plant around, but mint certainly has an attractive aroma, especially the likes of spearmint, applemint and even pineapple mint! But good old ordinary mint, when restricted and planted in a pot (even in open ground), can be really useful in confusing pests and potential plant munchers with its strong scent. Plant near brassicas, tomatoes, carrots and alliums like leeks, onions and shallots as a deterrent to the likes of aphids and ants.
    If you’re not keen on introducing the thuggish mint into your veg plots or borders, try the similarly named (but unrelated) cat mint instead. Cat mint – or nepeta – produces pretty spires of blue flowers that pollinators love, and its scented leaves repel the likes of flea beetle, aphids, ants, squash bugs and even rats and mice. Plant near squashes, pumpkins, beetroot and even roses to keep pests at bay.

Top 5 All-Purpose Edible Plants

Herbs and alliums are two of my favourite types of plants. I love to grow them, eat some of them (in large quantities), admire their amazing flowers and watch the bees and pollinators feast on them too.

I’m currently in the throes of planting lots of alliums – mostly onion and shallot sets – but I’m also looking to boost my wildlife-friendly flower borders with a few ornamental and “dual purpose” herbs, legumes, and alliums too. Here are some of my favourites that you might want to grow in your flower garden, veg patch or allotment:


1. Chives

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) might seem like an obvious choice, but they really are an all-purpose allium. These little beauties can be harvested throughout the year for extra onion-flavoured zing in your culinary endeavours. Cheap to buy, easy to grow and fantastic for pollinators, they can feature in container gardens, veg patches, herb gardens and flower borders alike. There are an abundance of varieties available, from mild to strong flavoured, compact 6inch plants or broader and taller 2ft specimens (A. var. sibiricum), as well as a selection of (edible) chive flowers, with white (withs silvery-green foliage), pink and mauve varieties readily available. Try garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) for a garlicky twist to the traditional light onion flavour.

2. Rosemary

Another obvious choice, but no garden or veg patch should be with some rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). Whether you’ve got acres of space or just a patio to play with, you can enjoy this unique, fragrant herb and your local pollinators will thrive on the abundance of delicate, blue flowers. Here at the Smallest Smallholding I’m growing Mrs Jessop’s Upright, a tall and narrow variety that fits perfectly in between the flowers in my long borders, but if you’ve got slopes or need ground cover try Prostratus, a cascading variety.

3. Welsh Onions

I first saw welsh onions (Allium fistulosum) being grown in my mum’s garden amongst the verbena bonariensis, and it’s flowers were like a magnet for the bees. I’ve since found a few pots of welsh onions in the poorly department of my local garden centre, and they’re now going in my flower borders. Welsh onions can be eaten from bottom to top, and produce fluffy globular pale green/yellow flowers in summer. They’re great for compact gardens, growing tall from smaller clusters.


4. Lavender

Scent, flavour, texture, colour, lavender has it all. A staple in many English country gardens, allotments and veg patches, lavender might be a common feature, but its place in our growing spaces is well deserved. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators will flock to any variety (though English is preferred to French), and there’s a plant for every growing space from compact Hidcote through to the long, tall spires of Lavandula angustifolia. Bake with it, smell it, look at it… just enjoy it.

5. Peas (and Beans… legumes in general)

I’m a bit of a pea-growing novice, and have little experience. I’m growing some this year, because these vertical-growing legumes are not only a welcome culinary treat, but the sheer number of varieties of peas and beans available means that there’s not only a variety for every taste, but also a huge array of flowers that are so beneficial to pollinators. Peas and beans look great in any vegetable garden but can also add height, texture and colour to ornamental borders too. And with nitrogen fixing qualities, they’re fab for crop rotation and healthy soil.



Surprises – A Local History of Lavender

I’m hoping for sunshine this year. Sunshine is integral to lavender – apparently the more sunshine it gets, the fuller the scent. Blissful.

You see, having been inspired and somewhat egged on by my almost-mother-in-law Helen (check out her blog here at Downland Views), I’ve been getting more and more into lavender recently. Partly because there are areas of my Smallest Smallholding where the soil is, quite frankly, crap and partly because it’s just a simple amazing little plant. It’s wonderfully fragrant, the bees and butterflies adore it, it’s easy to grow and it has an abundance of uses – from treating insect bites, scenting the house and relaxing the mind to a whole host of culinary uses.

In fact, my recent upsurge of interest in lavender has unearthed a few intriguing snippets of information that I was previously unaware of.  I was already wise to the Kentish connection with lavender, as I have visited Castle Farm, which isn’t too far from Helen.  But interestingly, it seems that Helen isn’t the only one with a local connection to lavender.

It transpires that the very area of Bedfordshire that I have lived in all my life – currently home to countless fields of cereals, rape seed oil and brassicas – was once home to its very own lavender fields. I’m guessing that this is largely due to the fact that the Greensand Ridge meanders through the area, providing perfect growing conditions for drought-tolerant plants such as lavender. Likewise, the nearby town and surrounding area of Hitchin, just over the border in Hertfordshire, was once an important centre for lavender production in Britain too.  I’ve even located a local chemist in Ampthill who, as stated in the 1890 ‘Kelly’s Directory of Bedfordshire’, was ‘manufacturing medicinal herbs and lavender’.

So what happened? Where did it all go? Why am I not enjoying the sight of fields of vivid purple as I trundle through the local countryside? It seems that the lavender industry in Britain fell into decline during the latter part of the 19th century, perhaps for two reasons. Firstly,  the once-popular lavender water fell out of favour as eau du colognes became en vogue. During the early 20th century, cheaper imports (that old chesnut!) from France also had a significant impact on local production.  The final nail in the coffin may well have been a widespread outbreak of a fungal disease amongst native plant populations.

But my digging (in the researching sense) has paid its dues. It seems all is not lost. Cadwell Farm, home to ‘Hitchin Lavender‘ in Ickleford, has now earned itself a place on my ‘must see’ list of places to visit this year. The farm owners decided to revitalise their business by diversifying into the once-popular local crop. They felt that lavender in particular would put something back into the local community. And it does – sweeping fields of purple in summer, the opportunity to PYO for a minimal fee,  a busy farm shop stocking lavender products, and guided walks and tours through the fields.

And of course, there’s the local wildlife population who are benefiting from this enterprise. The bees – oh the bees! They must be pretty content with their lot over at Ickleford.

So to get myself started, I’ve just put a few plants in. Although there are so many varieties of lavender that I need to explore, I’ve started with a view to keeping it simple for now – Lavandula Augustifolia (English Lavender) and a shrub variety Hidcote (lavandula augustifolia Hidcote), for the borders.

Although my primary motivation for planting is the colour, the scent and the benefits for the bees and butterflies, I’m also planning on exploring the culinary uses of lavender this year. So I shall report my findings (in a much more succinct way than this beast of a blog post) as and when I discover them! And I just hope that this year, the skies are blue and the sun comes out to shine.

Weight: 11 stones 1lb (grrrr!)