• Fabiana Touhey

Can plants be friends?

I have been fascinated by companion plants ever since I started gardening. Prior to that, I never suspected that plants could be friends that help each other grow and live more comfortably.

Just to give one example, tomato and basil plants make perfect companions, not just on a plate, but living side by side. In fact, basil will actually help a tomato plant produce more fruit. Basil also protects its neighbors by repelling insects. Likewise, Marigolds and nasturtiums are every plant’s best friends because they repel several different garden pests.

On the other hand, there are plants that do not match up well, particularly if they require the same nutrients or are susceptible to the same pests or diseases.

Understanding which plants make the best companions is not simply about scientific research. It requires careful observation of your garden in order to understand how your plants relate to each other. I have a clematis plant that I love to draw, for example. Over time, I began to recognize that beyond possessing a beautiful vine, my clematis grows around other plants in a very gentle way that does not harm its neighbors. This has made it one of the most popular climbers among gardeners and plant lovers.

Chinese wisteria is another climber that I enjoy drawing and which I have growing on a pergola in my backyard. Its flowers grow in lovely purple clumps, but I quickly discovered that my Chinese wisteria is not a good companion for any other plant in my garden. In fact, it needs constant attention because it eagerly grows on surrounding plants and bushes and will strangle them. This invasive quality makes it an unsuitable companion, so it needs its own space.

Happily, most plants do have ideal friends. Part of the fun and adventure of gardening is discovering which plants relate best to each other. Identifying these friendships has become integral part of my process when drawing and creating designs.