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Companion Gardening

Can anybody find my plant some buddy to love?

The Idea

Look, I realize you're on a photography website reading about plants, but it's the first day of Summer, so might as well make hay while the sun shines. Today's post is on companion gardening. Companion gardening is the planting of different crops in proximity to provide various growing benefits.

Some plants help mitigate pest control while others provide needed shade or fix appropriate minerals back into the soil. Some plants, when planted close to some vegetables actually act as flavor boosters!

So, I guess tomatoes and basil go together like white on rice. I've been hearing that from my mother for years. When planted next to each other they help attract beneficial insects and improve the vigor and flavor of each other’s yield.

"I’ll plant basil by my tomato plants, got it.

I wonder what else goes with basil?

Ooo, peppers pair with basil too!

Now we’re starting to build a plan! This is so cool!

Hmm, I wonder what goes with peppers?"

That lil' inner dialogue was pretty much how all of this got started. I had a distant vision of what could be the ultimate symbiotic garden ecosystem. However, when you really sit down and think about how each vegetable compliments or even hinders each other, the big picture can be a difficult vine to climb. 

Until now.

The Research

The first step was research. Lots and lots of research. Full disclaimer, I have no formal garden training (whatever that means). Enter the internet. I went from source to source documenting their versions of each vegetable's complimentary and conflicting pairings. I studied graphs and referenced countless lists. Most of these sources matched each other, which was promising. Some didn't, but thankfully the aggregate of information online eventually weeds out the chaff.

From all these tables and graphs, I compiled an ultimate reference guide. Consisting of more than 60 different species of flowers and vegetables, this guide outlines each plant's companions, enemies and general growing needs. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say this list is the creme of the crop! It's a 20 page document, so if you're looking for a good companion gardening reference, you've found it.

Feel free to contact me and I'll send over the PDF.

The Build

Lists are great and all, but they're full of stagnant information. I needed to see the web of interaction. What does a fully compatible garden actually look like?

Then this happened:

When I was scratching this down my wife looked over my shoulder and her eyes practically dropped out of her head. She needed to take a lap just to shake off the chaos of that visual. Guess who folds their napkin nicely while they eat dinner and who leaves it a crumpled stained mess? I won't beat around the bush, my mind is a little on the free-range side of things. Clearly ;)

Truthfully, there was too much chaos in that web of interaction sketch anyway. It shows relationships, but there’s no practicality to it. The build needed structure. It was time to sit down and figure out these relationships for real.

This was the result of that:

Isn't that starting to look clearer? I outsourced to Mrs. Gel Pens for some order. See that clean handwriting? All her.

From this design, realistic spacial relationships began to develop. I just couldn't quite visualize the final garden, yet. I had to go deeper...

I found, it's not only what plants make each other stronger and tastier, there’s soil requirements, spacial needs and sun exposure to take into account. Then there's plant size, foliage spread and pest control...ect. Honestly, a true horticulturist will tell you there’s much more, and I'll agree. Symbiotic relationships between plants is a pretty deep wormhole.

Through all of this research, through the chaos and through my self-appointed Botany degree I learned so much about our favorite vegetables. After you take a bit of time in this companion concept, things start to make more sense. Eventually, the sun shines down and the north and south poles of natures pairings wiggle themselves into order.

The Companion Garden

Finally, I nipped it in the bud and went digital. I studied each plant and developed a symbol that represents its general spacial requirements. I then cross referenced my list and conducted my hundreds of Photoshop layers into an ultimate symbiotic garden symphony.

What natural symphony would be complete without a pleasing yet mystically functional design? If you're interested in another internet wormhole, Google the Fibonacci sequence. From this sequence of numbers arises a design structure that shows up all over nature. (shells, sunflowers, the human body -just go Google it)

It’s called the golden ratio and for some reason it's just visually pleasing. It's showcased in nature and imitated in commerce. Just ask Apple, Pepsi, Twitter, Google, mention a few.

On paper and by design this layout is COMPLETELY symbiotic. Each of these plant placements will assist in some way to its neighbor, while at the same time, keeping every hindrance at a distance.

Just a few things about this design: Reference the provided key to identify each species. Some species work well with a trellis structure to climb so you'll see that labeled with a black grid.

The large mass at the bottom of the curve consists of pumpkins, pole beans and corn. This is an ancient native american grouping known as the "Three Sisters Crops". This method was handed down from generation to generation because it works. Who am I to change that? In fact, the Three Sisters is one of my favorite things about this design. The classics usher you in.

This isn't over! The grass is always greener on the other side, right? This is just the first version and there's so much more to learn. I'll dive back into it and emerge with version 2 at some point! In the meantime, stay cool as a cucumber!

Oh, and stop using plastic! 

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