Interplanting is an underused practice in the garden. Most seasoned gardeners are aware of the benefits of this practice. For most small space gardeners or beginning gardeners, this is a game changing technique.
Merriam Webster defines interplanting as a way of planting a crop between plants of another kind. Sounds simple but there are a few methods to this value added way of increasing the fruits of one’s labor as we learn to grow in smaller spaces.
The art of making sound use of all available space in the garden is more important now than ever before. I approached my community garden plot with a different mindset this year. Sharing how to be intentional in what I grew was important to me. The words of Michael Twitty popped into my head. At a lecture years ago, He spoke about how in years past, African American communities relied on bartering between families. One person grew tomatoes, and another might grow greens. As food grew in backyards, pots and sometimes front yards, sharing with others in need was a common practice. The community commitment was to ensure no ere committed to ensuring food was available for those who were in need.
When the season started, I grew lettuce. This was an easy crop and great for growing in the cooler temperatures of Spring. From Buttercrunch to Red Sails, my lettuce provided me with fresh greens every week. I also added Rainbow Chard for additional color in the garden and on my plate. What is life without a few blooms? The calendula added that special touch in small vases as well as sprinkled on my salads.
Borage is my herb of choice for many reasons in addition to the beautiful blue blooms. This plant is a pollinator magnet. The bees and butterflies are always having a party in my plot. Each time I approach my plot, I smile, pause and eventually stop. It is as if I am waiting for the performance to stop. It is amazing to see natures little friends perform a summer waltz.
Another benefit of Borage is the plants ability to repel certain pests. The plants in my plot have no holes in the leaves. In addition, Borage roots reach deep and bring much needed nutrients to the surrounding soil. Did you know that Borage makes a great tea that is know for reliving stress? This is a plant with super powers and cute blooms.
Snipping just enough blue blooms to fill an ice tray, I add water. Gently, I place the tray in my freezer. When preserving special memories of summer for later use, I often refer to it as locking away a seasonal smile. I will use these blooms in iced tea or cocktails. It is fun to explore the many varieties of blooms and leaves which are candidates for preserving. It is a great way to remember the gifts of the season.
Interplanting with Intention
Now that the heat is on in the garden, it is time for enhancing my four foot by eight foot plot. While am still harvesting Chard, the other lettuces are beginning to bolt. It is easy to pull the entire plant and add peppers. I choose hot, mild and always a few sweet peppers to insert where there ae gaps. The warmer temps ensure that my garden gaps are no longer vacant.
The foliage of the peppers will provide just enough shade for a second crop of a few heat tolerant lettuces and perhaps some heirloom carrots. Did you know carrots are great groundbreakers? Pepper plant roots enjoy loose soil. Interplanting a root crop like carrots can open up compacted soils. This allows roots to grow deeply. The foliage of the carrots also form a beautiful living mulch. Try mixing the carrot seeds with sand for better distribution and less thinning. It isn’t too late for a few marigolds or onions as a way of maximizing the space and keeping the pepper roots cool.
Basil will fill out the rest of the garden behind the peppers. I can never grow to much basil. Large leaf basil is great for making wraps in lieu of bread. Sweet basil, cinnamon basil, as well as lemon basil is great for enhancing iced teas or even water. . A basil patch is a great way to have enough basil for pesto, salads, and more. Basil infused olive oil is simple and delicious for used for dipping assorted breads. Chop basil leaves and add to soup or stews. Here is a fun tip – add to spreadable butter on warm bread for a flavorful and aromatic treat. Try mixing a variety of basil cultivars for a unique blend.
Diversity in plant material introduced with intentional interplanting, contributes to the beauty of the garden. In the book I co-authored with Kathy Jentz, The Urban Garden – 101 Ways to Grow Food and Beauty in the Garden , we explore many different types of gardening concepts, including potagers and raised beds. Did you know you can interplant in a pot? Spring is the perfect time to begin interplanting. If there are gaps in a plot or a pot, add a few seeds or starter plants. Many times these plants will disguise fading blooms or foliage. As the season warms up, crops like Cilantro or Lettuces will begin to bolt. What a great opportunity to save the seed and plant something else.
Sit with your garden and explore any opportunities to interplant. It does not matter if it is for food or beauty, add an unexpected touch to your greenspace. Intentionally introducing diversity into the garden has never been easier than interplanting throughout the season. Interplanting also gives any gardener a head start on second season gardening.
Pausing in my garden with a glass of cucumber basil water. It is quite refreshing on a hot day like today.
Teri, Cottage in the Court