Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Companion Planting with Pole Beans

Pole beans and borage
I must freely admit to being a bit of a "wild gardener." It is my term for gardeners who are the exact opposite of the gardeners who have their tidy, well-mulched gardens carefully planned, each plant with its defined and labeled space, and everything is rather prim-and-proper. "Wild gardeners" have a looser and more organic-style style to the gardens. We work with the natural tendencies of the plants to create gardens that take on a more natural and full look. Volunteer plants, those that self-seed themselves, are often seen as a bonus rather than something to be eradicated. Ok, I think I'm a very wild gardener.

Honeybee on a borage flower
This last spring and summer I had a slow start to planting the second half of my vegetable garden. By the time I got to planting the pole beans in one area, self-sown borage had sprouted. Borage (Borago officinalis) is probably one of the best self-seeders in my gardens outside of feverfew. Borage is potherb and medicinal plant - see more about its history and uses here. Even so, I really don't use borage outside of flowers for the salad bowl. But I do like to have borage in my vegetable garden because it is a terrific bee magnet. And once it starts blooming, it doesn't stop until the frosts kill it. The blooms are pretty and they bring pollinators to my garden in droves. So in a moment of "why not?" I left the young borage plants in place and planted my beans around them.

It wasn't long before the beans began their skyward climb up the poles I had put in place for them. The borage on the other hand, began its sprawl over the ground. Yes, borage is not a neat and tidy plant that respects the space in which you put it - it sprawls and it self-seeds. But I found it a wonderful underplanting for the pole beans. The borage smothered out the weeds plus provided a living mulch to keep the ground shaded and cool around the base of the beans. Best of all the borage plants attracted the bees that the beans so needed for pollination. It was a lucky happenstance that worked out very well.

In planning out your gardens this year, you may wish to try underplanting your pole beans with borage.  I'm going to do it this year -- but this year by choice!