The sap is rising, buds are budding, the soil is warming and I'm in a frenzy to get to my vegetable beds. Companion planting inspires me
It's finally the end of winter, despite recurring bouts of rain it's possible to get out and get some work done on the garden. The long shoots of the willows light up the edges of vineyards, and I beg borrw and steal as many as I can for my garden - to mend fencing, make plan supports and wicker baskets. It's a very busy time of the year. In the last month I've been preparing my vegetable beds. Weeding them has been an awful job after last year's neglect - the downside of doing show gardens is that your own garden becomes a tip. But it's inconceivable to get vegetables in without proper weeding, so I've been getting at them with a hoe and trowel, with the filthy language that couch grass and bindweed deserve. Highlight of the month: getting horse manure, which I've already spread over one bed. There's nothing quite like horse poo.
One bed got manured, and George planted out salads and celery, and I'll keep filling it in with temporary crops and herbs that will make way in May to the stars of the garden: tomatoes. Now they are three and half years old, the twins enjoy helping in the garden, and I try to save the best tasks for them. One bed didn't need manuring because it's for legumes and leafy veggies: peas, snow peas, spinach and some pak choi. George helped me sow and it was a pleasure to see his little fingers drop the seeds into the drill at the proper spacing, and then his twin, Henry, came to help with the radishes. He instead just broadcast them everywhere then went to hit a tree with a stick. George and I just sighed, then I passed him the last packet of seed which he sowed, a bit closely, but precisely in the drill. George asked for flowers and he got Zinnia - they should blast his little head off this summer. There is nothing more vibrant and happy in a vegetable garden.
There's some science and a lot of superstition associated with companion planting. But I practice it and recommend it. It seems to work, and it looks amazing, and that's enough for me. I'll try many combinations that aren't even recommended and only find out later why that might have worked. As for the Zinnia - which I first sowed thinking "oh how garish, it will be awful" and now I crave every summer because "oh how garish, I love it." I've tried the tasteful rose-coloured zinnia and there are even some polite whites, but if you go for the bog-standard Zinnia you get hooked to its acrilic colours: bright pink, solid orange, fuchsia - it's like a Bollywood musical in your garden. Sod Mozart, I'll take Bollywood anyday. Kids love it, and and it looks great in bquests with herbs and other flowers. It can grow very tall, so it's best to sow it in a seed bed then give it enough space among other vegetables - no noticeable scent, but rather fuzzy leaves and stem which seem to repel most annoying insects, but can be slightly abrasive to some plants. I've just found out something that confirms my gut feeling of love for Zinnia - the lovely bumblebees it attracts are known pollinators of tomatoes and other fruiting vegetables.
I pack my vegetable beds quite full, I can never resist, but I periodically top them up with manure and garden compost, and grow a wide range of vegetables inside them. I'm sure the variety contibutes to the overall health of the garden, as much as it contributes to the variety on the family table.