Companions in the garden provide many benefits

May 3, 2023

Companions help us thrive and even make us laugh: "I love you." said the wife. The husband replied, "Is that you or the wine talking?" The wife answered, "It's me. Talking to the wine."

Even plants need companions. When you plant garlic and carrots as companions, the intense garlic odor keeps away aphids. Garlic also repels Japanese beetles, onion flies and ermine moths.

Alyssum flowers attract good insects such as hoverflies, which eat aphids. Nasturtium flowers lure caterpillars away from cabbages, kale and broccoli. Nasturtium also helps keep black flies away from fava beans.

But one herb in particular, Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), draws beneficial bugs such as ladybugs and predatory wasps. Tansy is a beautiful, fast-growing hardy perennial with 3-foot-tall ferny leaves topped by bright-yellow button flowers. Once established in your garden, this ancient herb thrives on neglect.

Tansy repels cutworms from asparagus, beans, cabbages, carrots, celery, corn, lettuce, peas, pepper, potatoes and tomatoes. It also adds potassium to the soil. You can make an herbal insect repellent by brewing tansy tea and spraying it around your property.

With its intense scent, a little goes tansy a long way to flavor salads, stews and omelets. You can even dye textiles with tansy.

The tansy plant is quite easy to grow from seed; you can sow it in the spring after all danger of frost has passed. Choose a sunny spot and scatter tansy seeds over lightly tilled soil. Gently rake the seeds in and tamp down the soil. Water gently to keep the seedbed moist but not soggy.

Tansy forms rhizomes and is in the same family as daisies. It dies down to the ground in the fall, ready to sprout next again next spring.

To save seeds, let the blossoms turn brown and set them on a tray to dry, or simply put them in a brown paper bag. After they dry, shake them to remove the seeds. Store the seeds in an envelope to plant next spring.

Tansy was even used in embalming humans. In 1668, one of the first presidents of Harvard was buried with his body shrouded in tansy. When his corpse was exhumed 178 years later, the body was still perfectly preserved. Now that's a true companion.


  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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