I was about to buy some nasturtium seeds when I spotted the leaves of dozens of seedlings appearing in various beds on the allotment. In winter I leave the nasturtiums for as long as possible to be knocked off by the first frost by which time they have dropped their fat chick-pea size seeds around the soil. It is one of my favourite companion plants and in particular the dwarf variety Nasturtium ‘Alaska’ which has very lovely mottled green and cream leaves. Sow them round the base of broad beans to deter blackfly- it attracts the aphid from the beans gathering it on the under-side of the leaves. If you plan to pick the leaves and flowers for salad then check the nasturtium very carefully.
Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) is another favourite companion plant attracting bees, butterflies and hoverflies to the vegetable patch. The French Marigold ( Tagetes patula) in particular helps to deter white fly so I surround the edges of the brassica bed with these and all marigolds can be sown directly in the ground in early May.
The Poached Egg Plant (Limnanthes douglasii) has ground-hugging yellow and white flowers (hence the name) and they are slightly scented which attract hoverflies which in turn devour aphids.
Love in a Mist (Nigella damascena) produces very lovely blue flowers on wiry stems for cutting. Sowing them near or even with carrots is said to keep the crop free of carrot fly.
Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) flower for weeks on end and make excellent cut flowers. The large open blooms attract bees which are essential for carrying pollen from one plant to another enabling fertilization to take place.
All of the above can be sown direct in the ground now that the earth is warming up. Fork over the soil removing any stones and rake it flat breaking any clods with the back of the rake and sow thinly. If time is short then garden centres have trays of the above ready to plant as seedling plants.
Strong-smelling plants such as mint and garlic may repel the pests that are attracted by smell in turn keeping them away from nearby vegetables. But one of the key deterrents is to grow strong plants in fertile soil with plenty of space and regular watering this is always the best insurance against attack. Also growing a mixture of different vegetables in the same bed seems to reduce attack since pests seem to love monocultures. This doesn’t inhibit crop rotation simply add a couple of rows of spring onions, radishes, beetroot and salad crops in between the blocks of brassicas, roots or beans.
On a less inspiring task I found these whilst editing a pot of spent tulips and nearly jumped out of my wellington boots. It turns out they are the grubs of vine weevils- not that naming them makes it any easier- worse if anything. They are at the pre-pupal stage and would emerge from this stage in late spring after feeding on plant material for 21-45 days. It was the only pot of tulips that failed to thrive so they’d most likely been feasting on the tulip bulbs. Had I not discovered them they would lay between 500-1600 eggs over 4-8 weeks. I tipped them into the general waste bin where the contents are crushed rather than the green waste bin which is reconstituted as compost.
The garden is full of self-seeded Aquilegia many of them growing from the base of the box hedging so I picked a bunch before trimming the box. I love the plum and purple ones next to the lime green of the Euphorbia robbiae.