Back in April when I first documented the planting schemes for the new raised beds, I was busy researching companion planting and mentioned my frustrations – “… One [source] says sow plant C everywhere as it’s the magic bullet of companion planting, another says keep it on its own because it’s allelopathic to many other plants (yes, it really does get that extreme – and plant C is Lovage, Levisticum officinale).”
The person who pronounces Lovage allelopathic is Sepp Holzer – “This popular medicinal and culinary herb hinders the growth of neighbouring plants and spreads vigorously, so it is best to plant it alone in its own corner of the garden.”(Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture, page 162, caption to the photograph of Lovage). The original source of Lovage’s claim to fame as the magic bullet of companion planting, on the other hand, is harder to trace. Such claims have a way of propagating through the internet and many sites echo the assertion without giving the impression the author has actually tested this for themselves. Yet it’s repeated often enough to warrant attention … Who to believe?
Somewhat inadvertently, I’ve been able to test these conflicting claims and it’s provided the most dramatic demonstration of companion planting I’ve so far encountered.
I planted some Lovage back in April, intending to give it space to itself in a shadier portion of the raised beds, but shadier wasn’t shady enough with the early heat this year. The seedling failed to thrive and with no foliage or sign of life remaining, I planted the bed up with broccoli seedlings instead and thought no more of it.
So coming back from a month away, it was a happy surprise to find the lovage had somehow recovered and was now a healthy young plant. More impressive yet was the size of the growing broccoli. The broccoli plants in the Lovage bed are almost double the size of the broccoli plants anywhere else. This includes those a couple of feet away in the next ‘ray’ of the same bed. All other conditions in this bed – light exposure, soil quality, watering frequency – are identical. In fact, the plants immediately surrounding the Lovage are almost double the size of the plants just outside that circle in the same bed.
I’d like to test this further with lots more different plants. And also determine whether the age and size of the Lovage has an impact. Or the season. For all the evidence of my own vegetable beds, Sepp Holzer’s wisdom and experience count for a lot and apparently opposing and/or paradoxical viewpoints rarely resolve into something as simple and black-and-white as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.