Page 1

f lora+fauna Issue 12 • May 2019

Wildflowering L.A. with 5 FLOWERS FOR

Pest Control

Fritz Haeg

Companion Plants

design is a living, breathing thing.




















f lora+fauna

 The basic idea behind companion planting is both simple and sensible: many plants grow better near some companions than they do near others or when alone. By itself it will not work miracles, but applied in a well-maintained garden, it can produce startling results. It can drastically improve the use of space, reduce the number of weeds and garden pests, and provide protection from heat, wind, and even the crushing weight of snow. In the vegetable garden, all this adds up to the best thing of all: increased yield.   Most people think of companion planting in connection with vegetable gardens, but it can also be used when flower gardening and in full-scale fields. Some of the most familiar examples come from farming, where it’s a long-standing practice to sow vetch or some other legume in the fall after the harvest. This cover crop provides erosion control through storms, and supplies both nitrogen and organic material to the soil when it is plowed under in spring. Most such crops themselves need a helper, known as a nurse crop, usually a grain that is sown along with the legume. The grain provides weed control while the legume gets established, and helps protect the legume from both wind and the weight of snow.   Native Americans in the north-east region of what is now the United States practiced another familiar but very different version of companion planting, known as the Three Sisters. Corn, beans and squash, planted in the same field, supported each other in several ways: the beans provided nitrogen for the nutrient-hungry corn, the corn provided a support for the vining bean, and the squash, a living mulch, suppressed weeds between rows.   What’s often referred to as “traditional” companion planting (that popularized by Louise Riott’s best-seller Carrots Love Tomatoes) involves yet another kind of support. Though the process used to determine plant compatibility is closer to alchemy than chemistry, the principle behind it is similar to the idea that some plants chemically enhance or inhibit each other’s growth and well-being. Such chemical interaction does indeed happen: one oft-cited example is the black walnut tree, whose bark, leaves, and roots contain juglone, a compound toxic to many other

plants, including most vegetables. This is an example of allelopathy, where one plant secretes a substance harmful to others. Allelopathy can be helpful to farmers; a 1998 dissertation project published online by Weed Biology and Management suggested that it might be a factor in why squash successfully suppressed weeds in corn fields.   But this sort of chemical interaction is more rare than some sources suggest, and as the examples above show, it’s far from the only way that plants can help each other. Plants can protect each other from wind or weather, act as decoys for harmful insects, attract beneficial insects that eat pests, or provide nutrients, physical support, or shade for other plants. Early season, coolweather crops keep weeds at bay before later crops can be set out or mature; vetches planted in fall protect soil from eroding and add nitrogen and organic matter to it when dug under in spring, improving both its nutrient content and its structure.

  Spurred largely by Riott’s enormously popular book, interest in companion gardening in the United States rose sharply in the 1980s and 90s. A number of university sites and individual gardeners and scientists, irritated by the semi (some would say pseudo) scientific basis of the traditional method, have rejected companion gardening outright. And indeed, the crystal chromatography, discovered by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer in the 1930s, has not been found to have any basis in botany or any other science.  However, several recent studies by reputable universities have established that some companions, at least, actually do help each other. The dissertation mentioned above is one example. Another Ph.D. dissertation from 2004 concluded that intercropping basil with either tomatoes or Brussels sprouts improved plot yield. Yet another study conducted in 2005 and 2006 in New Jersey found that dill, coriander,

and buckwheat intercropped with bell peppers significantly increased the presence of beneficial insects, which lowered the damage done by European Corn Borers, a major predator. Furthermore, since the peppers did not have to be sprayed with pesticides, which kill off aphid predators, the usual problems with aphids did not arise.   These studies, along with generations, even centuries, of observation and experience, suggest that companion planting can indeed boost yield and help control pests in gardens. This approach, which draws on common sense, traditional practices, and recent scientific research, opens up a whole range of possibilities to both back-yard gardeners and large-scale farmers.

companion plants

  Small gardens with raised beds are suited well for companion planting due to the premium on space


Matching Specific Goals with Specific Techniques

  There are seven basic areas in which companions can help each other: insect, weed, and disease control are the first three, while nutrient sharing or provision, physical protection or support, and efficient use of space are the next three. Erosion control is an important issue on large fields and farms, but not for most small-scale gardeners, so it is not addressed in detail here.

Insect Control

  Tomatos and other tall plants protect shorter, shade-tolerant plants from the sun.


In the Garden

  Since most companions must be planted very near each other in order to have any effect on each other, companion planting is especially well-adapted to small gardens where plants are grown in close proximity and space is at a premium. Gardens that use raised beds, wide rows, or intensive square foot gardening methods make natural candidates. It is also a natural ally for organic gardeners, since much companion planting is designed to control pests.   Where a conventional vegetable garden creates a series of small monocultures (all the lettuce is grown together over here, all the tomatoes there, and never the twain shall meet), companion planting encourages a carefully planned and densely planted mix to take advantage of the many possible relationships mentioned above. The mix alone tends to repel many flying insect pests, which actually get confused and give up if they don’t find what they’re looking for soon enough.   If the long lists of compatible vegetables online leave you dizzy, focus on a couple of basic principles. f lora+fauna

  Avoid monocultures.   Plant short, shade-tolerant plants beneath taller, bushy plants.   When you mix sun-loving plants, put tall ones at the north end of the plot and small ones at the south end.   Plant herbs throughout the garden, especially basil, mint, sage, and dill. EXCEPTION: Keep dill away from carrots.   Plant cosmos and French or Mexican marigold here and there in and near the garden to repel pests and encourage beneficials that prey on them.   Do the same with chives, garlic, or onions EXCEPT near or amongst beans.   Exploit the different maturation rates of different crops: plant lettuce, cilantro, spinach, or chard early where you plan to set out squash and melons later, so that weeds don’t have a chance to move in, and you get two crops instead of just one.   Don’t mix dill with tomatoes or with carrots.   Don’t plant garlic, onions, or chives with beans.   Fennel does not mix well with most other plants; keep it in its own corner.

  Companion plants can help control pests in several different ways, the most obvious of which is by repelling them. Many flying pest insects are put off or confused by the smell of onions, garlic, and French or Chinese marigolds, so planting these here and there throughout the garden helps to control insect pests.   The other two methods make less sense at first glance, because both involve attracting insects. In the first of these, the gardener provides habitat for beneficial parasitic and predatory insects. Cosmos, black-eyed Susans or blanket flowers, asters, and many other flowers in the Compositae family attract ladybugs and others that prey on insect pests. Providing a continuous sequence of blooms helps keep beneficial garden insects around all season.  The most counter-intuitive method involves what’s known as trap-cropping, in which one plants a crop which the harmful insects love, so they’ll stay away from the crop you really care about. This technique works best when the trap crop completely surrounds the garden area, so that approaching insects will encounter the trap crop first, no matter what direction they approach from. For example, collards draw the diamondback moth away from cabbage, and a planting of Chinese mustard will help protect spinach, chard, and other vulnerable crops from the flea beetle by giving it something else delectable to eat. Those same leafy crops can be protected from leaf miners by radishes.

Weed Control

  Weeds seem to sprout instantly from bare ground, so dense planting helps suppress them simply by covering every inch of available space and shading out competitors.

Two techniques are key here: intercropping (planting two crops on the same ground at the same time) and sequential cropping (planting crops in sequence, so that ground is never left bare even after a harvest). For example, if ground is planted in an early crop while slow crops such as squash and tomatoes get established, spring weeds never have a chance to take hold, and the gardener gets an extra crop to boot.

Disease Control

  Growing a wide diversity of plant species can ensure that if one crop takes a beating from pests or disease, there are still lots of others left. Monocultures have long been known to be especially vulnerable to both disease and insect invasion; companion cropping as practiced in most vegetable gardens creates such a diverse environment that most plant diseases can neither establish themselves nor spread easily.

Nutrient Provision, Nutrient Sharing

  All living things need nitrogen, and there is a plentiful supply, as 70% of our atmosphere consists of this element. However, no animals and very few plants can make use of nitrogen as a gas. Peas, beans, vetches and clovers, all members of the legume family, are distinguished amongst plants by their ability to take nitrogen from the air, rather than from the soil. They do this with the help of certain soil bacteria: the legumes provide a hospitable environment for the bacteria, and the bacteria share with the legumes the nitrogen they “fix.” The legumes, in turn, share some of that nitrogen with other plants. This is why vetches and clovers are so widely used as cover crops; when dug or plowed under, they not only add the organic matter of their bodies—including all the nutrients they have absorbed from the soil—but they also add the nitrogen they have fixed from the air.   Most plants cannot actually provide nutrients for each other, but those that do not compete for the same nutrients often make good companions. Bush beans and potatoes appear on many companion lists in part because the former, a flowering, fruit-producing plant, draws heavily on the phosphorus in the soil, while potatoes need

a great deal of potassium. Inter-cropping tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, and basil makes use of the fact that only two of these plants— lettuce and basil—depend primarily on the same nutrient, nitrogen, which can easily be provided with a foliar spray.

Physical Protection and Support

  Plants can provide physical protection in a number of ways. Tall, sun-loving plants such as peppers or tomatoes can protect short, shade-tolerant ones like lettuce from sun, and a row of sturdy bushes can protect young bush beans, easily snapped at ground level, from wind damage. A dense planting of tall plants can actually help support weaker ones. And of course, tall sturdy plants like corn can serve as climbing poles for beans.

Getting Started

  Before starting any garden project, it’s helpful to check with local experts to find out what plants grow best in your area and what harmful insects or diseases you should be on the lookout for. Two excellent sources, available throughout the U.S., are the Master Gardeners program, run by university extension services, and Native Plant Societies. Local nurseries and garden

shops can provide invaluable advice as well, but you may have to hunt   Companion planting is not a sure-fire single-item ticket to garden success. It must be accompanied by other good gardening practices, such as deep and timely watering and careful spacing of appropriate plants. Soil is particularly important in companion gardening, since intercropping and sequential cropping make more demands on the soil than does conventional gardening.   Finally, each garden is unique, and what works for one person often doesn’t for another. It’s important, therefore, to keep good notes and to experiment with different companions from year to year until you find the best recipe for your own success.   Lists of traditional companion plants are available on many websites. Those hosted by Gardens Ablaze stand out for several reasons: they’re more extensive than many, they include not just compatible but incompatible plants, they appear to be compiled by an actual gardener from actual experience (no name is given, so this isn’t absolutely clear), and there are several lists, not just one. You can choose to focus on controlling pests, attracting beneficial insects, or increasing yields.

companion plants

  Plant marigolds for pest control.


Turn your to-do list into a to-done list.


FRITZ HAEG   Fritz Haeg planting a tree at a garden location.

  A young mom beckons her two kids towards the blooming field of flowers bending in a warm breeze at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden in Arcadia: “C’mon. Let’s go mingle with the wildflowers.”   “You can’t mingle with wildflowers!” exclaims her son, maybe about 8, embarrassed by the metaphorically social term. She tells me the motive behind the family nature walk is to see artist Fritz Haeg’s Wildflowering L.A. project, where the owners of 50 sites plant native California wildflower seed mixes at Haeg and the Theodore Payne Foundation’s prescription. Mingling is, of course, encouraged in that the 50 plots must be visible, if not accessible, to the public.   The arboretum has allowed Haeg to rip up a central lawn and replace it with winter annuals, which drink much less water than grass, for the project’s flagship site. Orange taffy-colored California poppies, ropy purple clarkia varieties, and patchy white yarrow (known commonly as old man’s pepper) dominate the meadow. And it is magical. Two chickadees rustle in the tall clarkias, the male kicking the ground like a miniature angry bull—his mating dance— while hundreds of healthy bees drink nectar to their heart’s content.

wildflowering la with fritz haeg


Wildflowers in bloom in LA County.


  Of course you can mingle with wildflowers, I think, but the boy and his mom are long gone.   I first went to Haeg’s house a year ago to interview him about Wildflowering L.A., which was a project commissioned and organized by LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division), for a now-defunct horticulture magazine. Back then, I called him “the Johnny Appleseed of art.”   Now, as I drive back around the snaking Mount Washington roads, returning to Haeg’s domicile, a geodesic dome built into the side of a hill, I doubt myself. Whereas old John Chapman scattered his seeds throughout the Eastern seaboard, Haeg is happy sticking to L.A. County for this project, where the clarion weather and roomy properties make for the perfect opportunity to commingle nature with civilization, much in the same way the Native Californians did prior to European settlement.   “There was a book called ‘Tending the Wild’ [by M. Kat Anderson] that documents how 100 native California nations lived on the land,” says Haeg, sitting at a picnic table behind the dome. “They didn’t have a word for ‘wild,’ and when they go the word from European colonists, for [the Native Californians], it had very negative connotations, because it meant ‘uncared for’ to them. What the colonists saw when they arrived was a productive land with lazy natives, and they didn’t understand what was really going on. What was going on was

f lora+fauna

that it was extremely tended. California was more beautiful and diverse and productive because there were people living in it. It was a very thoughtful relationship to the land that was not agriculture, gardening, or hunting and gathering. It was really nuanced and complicated. People had a place in the ecology, and if you removed people from the equation, things would actually start to degrade.”   There’s a paleobotological argument to be made. Where conventional wisdom says that if humans were to disappear, the Earth would become regenerative, Haeg might argue that the Earth would actually suffer without the persistent interaction with nature by humans. Haeg’s own dome is surrounded by a wily, diverse garden with fruit trees, vegetables, succulents, and wildflowers that he has a push-and-pull with every day.   Other humans are the grist that makes Haeg’s projects work. He is a tireless collaborator. His earlier projects, such as Edible Estates, where he works with a community to set up a public garden prototype, or Domestic Integrities, in which Haeg invites people to bring T-shirts to him to weave into a giant ever-expanding rug, all happen within cities and with the assistance of locals.   To find the Wildflowering collaborators, Haeg held an open call. He sought people with 500 to 2000 square feet of open land that gets some sun and is both accessible to irrigation and publicly visible to the street. After the 50 sites were selected out of the nearly 200 applicants, Haeg

held public workshops where the participants received advice from Haeg and the Theodore Payne Foundation, and received one of four seed mixes that agreed with their plot of land. “And then everyone goes and sows their seeds,” says Haeg. “We install [carved-wood] signs—an homage to [the signs in] state parks—once the seed is planted, and then it’s just a long winter of watching the seeds grow. And it’s very slow, because it’s winter and there’s not much sun.”   The slowness added to the anticipatory anxiety that Haeg began to feel as news of the drought in Southern California worsened. “When it was becoming clear what a drought year this was going to be, I was like, ‘Holy shit. Is this going to happen? Is anything going to even come up?’” says Haeg. “But that’s a feeling that you have anytime you plant seeds. The fact that there were 10 sites that were really dramatic, and I would say about 25 or 30 that were decent, that was pretty great.”  Haeg promoted social networking hashtags, so that participants could share to anyone that wanted to keep tabs on the project. But, the truly rewarding aspects of the project came when Haeg would periodically visit the sites. “Not only would you see hummingbirds and butterflies and bees and wildlife, but you would also see the effect it’s having on other people,” he says. “[Pedestrians] didn’t even know I was behind the project, but I was just standing there, so they were asking me, ‘What is this?’ I was taking pictures of one site in

West Adams, and this woman drove by and she’s like, ‘What’s going on? I drive by this everyday.’ That was the whole point, to watch that effect.”   The winter annuals peaked at different times, but most of the sites were going strong towards late April when the project reached its culmination. For two days, Haeg took over The Shed, a Pasadenabased space for urban agriculture, planning, permaculture, and land use run by La Loma Development Company. Haeg taped out a largescale map of L.A. County on the floor of the space so participants could bring in clippings from their sites to place on the map, posters and photographs pertaining to the project were exhibited, and a series of discussions took place. “That way you have this physical manifestation of the project in one spot,” says Haeg.   When I drop by a few other sites in Northeast Los Angeles, I note the May heat has withered notable portions of flowers. According to Haeg, as the flowers die, his end of the deal is over. He will reach out to the participants and discuss what

happens between now and July, when the participants can either let the wildflowers dry up in place and be allowed to broadcast their seed, or they can collect the seeds and share them.   “I’m interested exclusively in the real world creation of the project, to see what it looks like in the world and have everyone

(Despite the fact that his work exists almost entirely outside the commercial art market, Haeg has been in the Whitney Biennial, and has shown at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and the Hammer Museum). No, it was to poke and prod at the normative view of what a city can look like. “It had to do with the provocation to the city, of saying, ‘See what this looks like?’” he says. “And having it in very visible places that would spark people’s imaginations about the very nature of the city that we live in, and what it could be and what it used to be. [I wanted to] juxtapose the city we have with a vision of the city that’s some sort of alternative.”   If it lives on, that’s just icing on the cake, Haeg tells me. And hopefully it will, because L.A. could use a little reminder of its roots— that of the year-round growing climate, where even the winter can produce beauty. So maybe others will see this project and be inspired to carry it on.

L.A. could use a little reminder of its roots—that of the year-round growing climate, where even the winter can produce beauty. else get to see it, and then to archive it, document, and tell the story,” Haeg says. “Then that’s it. My relationship to it is done, and however it continues out in the world, fine, but that’s the end of my work. It’s not an advocacy project; it’s not a commercial project; it’s an art project.”   To Haeg, the point of the project wasn’t to have it be an ongoing initiative. That would be too much for one man with several other all-consuming global projects underway

  Site 22 of the Wildflowering LA project by Fritz Haeg.

wildflowering la with fritz haeg




  There’s a very beautiful thing about Mother Nature that happens when we don’t stuff her with too much gunk: Plants grow and animals live in harmony.   Yes, it sounds like a children’s book written in the 1970s, but it’s also a notion that many an organic gardener are getting wise to these days.   Companion planting, a practice used by organic and biodynamic gardeners, is the term given when one plants certain types of plants near each other because they are mutually beneficial. In the case of growing food in a garden plot, there are a number of flowers you can plant for natural pest control. Toss out the pesticides (or wait, maybe you should contact the EPA to find out how to properly dispose of that toxic waste) and instead plant some attractive and aromatic flowers. Ah, that’s biodynamic gardening for you.


  This common soil cover grows as grass does, providing a thin, cohesive layer of green over the soil. There are over 300 varieties of clover to choose from, but the most popular is marked by small green clovers with tiny pink flowers.   Clover has been known to ward off pests completely when used as ground cover in garden beds. Plant it around cabbage to prevent cabbageworm and aphids from taking hold.


f lora+fauna


  Commonly grown and used for culinary purposes in Britain, borage is an herb still not well known in America. This annual produces star-shaped flowers and is wonderful used in herbal teas, tinctures and leafy green recipes.   Boragedeters hornworms and cabbage worms and can help all plants increase their disease resistance.


  Known for its delicate, violet leaves and pleasing aroma, lavender is used in everything from potpourri to tea and baked goods to frosting.   Lavender not only repels pests in your garden, it also smells (and looks) heavenly. It’s used to repel most insects you’d want to keep out of the garden, particularly fleas, moths and mosquitoes.


  Marigolds are a popular garden flower as they are cheap to obtain and contain vibrant orange hues.   Plant the scented varieties of marigolds to deter pests. The French Marigold variety is recommended for keeping whiteflies away from tomatoes, and they protect the health of the soil under the plants.


  These beautiful flowers are quite common in flower arrangements, as they come in a wide spectrum of colors.   Chrysanthemums contain a chemical called pyrethin that’s toxic to insects but safe for human and animal consumption. Aside from planting these colorful flowers around your garden bed, you can also make a tea from the flowers and use it on root nematodes and to repel Japanese beetles.

5 flowers to plant for pest control


f lora+fauna 2823 Wildflower Lane Ridgecrest, CA 93555 @flora_and_fauna

Profile for salam050

Flora + Fauna  

Flora + Fauna  

Profile for salam050