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Lake Effect’s Joy Powers chats with Venice Williams, the executive director of Alice’s Garden and the Fondy Food Center, about gardening, herbal remedies and healthy cooking.

How Companion Planting Can Improve Your Garden’s Health

Companion planting, like mixing marigolds and tomatoes next to each other can work to repeal pests and encourage pollinators.
Joyce Grace
Companion planting, like mixing marigolds and tomatoes next to each other, can work to repeal pests and encourage pollinators.

If you’re a gardener in the city of Milwaukee, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Venice Williams. She’s the executive director of Alice’s Garden and a strong advocate for urban agriculture. Through her work, she’s created a community dedicated to the health and benefits of organic gardening.

Now, she’s joining Lake Effect for a regular segment we call Dig In! — it is a chance to talk about gardening, herbs and preparing healthy food. This month, Williams talks about the importance of growing plants that work well together through companion planting.

“Companion planting is one of the many things that nature teaches us about how to get along,” she says. “When you explore companion planting, matching that which comes from the earth with one another for reasons that are beneficial to both species or multiple species, is one of the most beautiful things that happens in nature.”

Williams says growing plants in isolation is not a natural practice and something that was created to create uniformity in commercial farming. She says history in the United States is also tied to slavery and that plantations would grow food in clean rows to easily monitor slaves as they worked.

Williams says gardens that implement companion planting see numerous benefits. “So many different things, it saves space in the garden, it decreases issues when it comes to pest control, it helps reduce issues of disease,” she says.

Especially when it comes to dissuading harmful pests from attacking plants, finding an effective companion can be key. Williams lists a few common companions to try around the garden:

  • Basil placed near leafy greens, peppers or tomatoes can repeal mosquitos and flies.
  • Planting marigolds around the edges of the garden helps scare off rabbits coming for a snack or when placed near beans can protect from the Mexican bean beetle.
  • Rosemary works to protect carrots from carrot flies.
  • Lettuce and chives grown in tandem help ward off aphids.
  • Garlic planted next to beets can help improve the health of the beat plant.

Williams says this is just the beginning of the endless combinations that can help protect a garden. For gardeners looking to learn more, she recommends the book Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by Louise Riotte.

“Not only does she go through so many recipes, I will call them, for companion planting, it also has all types of wonderful grids. She does all the work for you, she has examples of a postage stamp garden which is all about companion planting,” she says. “Louise Riotte has always been my go-to.”

Williams says she has gone through several copies of Carrots Love Tomatoes in the last three decades from either constantly lending the book to fellow gardeners or having her copies fall apart from constant use. She says there are few moments at Alice’s Garden where she doesn’t have a copy on hand.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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