All-conquering kale and its frenemies

Good friends describe me as “herbal”.  I’ve been a lentil eater for 27 years and my shelves groan with organic gardening and vegetarian recipe books.  And I’m not averse to dabbling in a spot of ancient-learned-women’s-plant-knowedge-as-yet-unverified-by-modern-experimental-science.  But I have to say that companion planting has taken a body blow in our household in recent weeks.  Here’s why:

 Two kale plants, from the same punnet, planted less than a metre apart.  On your left, the kale that enjoyed the companionship of a cheerful red and orange flowered marigold, “Naughty Marietta”.  On your right, the kale out in the cold with no date  (though giant mustard, baby leeks and daikon radish are hanging around in a kind of unstructured way).

It turns out that the vague story I heard about marigolds, with their pungent foliage, as a nifty companion plant is true enough if you have a problem with nematodes, but dead wrong on the aphid front.  It seems that all-female parthenogenic parasites love the cheery flowers of marigolds even more than I do. But not enough to turn down the opportunity for a feast on a superfood.

In fact, I read recently that if you rub some vaseline on a yellow sticky label and stick it in amongst your veggies, the aphids will be lured in and get stuck on the lube so you can dispose of them thoughtfully.  But I’d advise you not to get too carried away with this approach, for a number of reasons: (a) if left long enough your post-it might attract aphids from further afield  (b) striding out back with a bundle of stationery in one hand and a tube of vaseline in the other will raise eyebrows amongst your neighbours and (c) the veracity of this story is no more guaranteed than the one about the marigolds and the aphids.

I’m not dissing the power of the herb entirely though.  It seems the smell of granny’s hanky does distract possums and bandicoots (and perhaps singing mice and super rats) from sniffing out newly sprouted peas and beans.  My broadies and sugar snaps are looking good under a vegenet liberally sprinkled with lavender flowers and leaves. I hold out hopes that this continue to work, significantly reassured by the fact that absolutely no one, as far as I know, recommends these as companion plants.

A hoarder’s confessions

Impulse buy online this week: Rock Samphire.  I set out to get a couple of extra galangal plants to join the one that’s doing well in a shady spot at the foot of a banana tree transplanted from my sister’s garden.  Galangal look great – too great to dig up for a Thai curry, it turns out. WIth three plants on the go I figured I might get up the courage to be more brutal next time I’m considering a tom yum.  This is one of the problems of the whole food forest concept.  Your turmeric plant, for instance, makes a terrific understorey plant which, if undisturbed, generates a gorgeous, long-lasting white flower.

Image   Galangal

A powerful incentive to leave the roots in the ground, and that’s leaving aside the tedious multistage process of actually making tumeric powder from the rhizomes.  Even a brief description of this sounds implausible at a number of levels: “sweating”, curing, drying, “polishing”?? removal of the “mother”?? With the passing of time, I am beginning to draw the conclusion that my painstakingly assembled collection of food plants functions more in the realm of the hypothetical or fantastical (“I could source all my herbs and spices in my garden if I really wanted to and/or when civilisation breaks down“) than in the practical domain of producing stuff for tonight’s dinner.  In fact, it’s a sort of epicurean hoarding.

So, with that revelation, back to the online plant acquisition.  It’s a slippery slope: once you’ve decided to order a couple of plants you think, well, since I’m paying for freight anyway, I may as well get a better bang for my buck.  Native mint Mentha Australis: looks and smells just like your bulk standard mint, it turns out.  Wormwood, for the chicken run, to deter mites.  The upside there is, if I lose another chook (possibly as a consequence of an infestation that artemesia absinthium alone fails to resolve), I can always chuck the wormwood some in some low grade spirits to make up my own absinthe and go out in style like a debauched French Impressionist while weeping over my decorative poultry corpse.

And on a whim, Rock Samphire, which along with the unrelated Marsh Samphire (both names a corruption of “St Peter” – it’s a rock reference) seems to be a thing in British wild foodie circles.  I’m always faintly nervous about bringing a new non-native into the garden, and this one is an umbrelliferae which often seem to be a bit weedy though useful for attracting hoverflies and the like.  But I reckon I should be okay with this one, since it grows naturally on exposed maritime cliffsides, presumably with plenty of sun.  Any escapes at our place, on the shady side of the ridgeline, are unlikely to enjoy their freedom.

When this one arrived, I realised that I had seen it before, at Worm’s Head on the beautiful Gower Peninsula in South Wales.


Seen it and, entranced by its delicate winter skeleton, taken loads of photos of it.  Today’s garden treasure, avariciously gathered, and yesterday’s digitised booty, reunited in the hoard.