In the Garden: Garlic, bats, and calla lilies

Dear Anne,

“Is it okay to plant or just lay cloves of garlic next to zinnia, acorn squash, rhubarb, chard, and vegetable marrow (it’s like a zucchini). Are there any vegetables or flowers that do not like garlic near?”

Koko, Coquitlam

Generally plants benefit from having garlic nearby, because garlic is great at deterring pests. If any plant has problems with the arrangement, it’s more likely to be the garlic.

The allium family (garlic is an allium) hates competition, so you’re unlikely to get big garlic cloves in a competitive arrangement.

Squash, marrow, and rhubarb leaves tend to smother and shade the garlic, but the zinnias and chard should fit in nicely.

Garlic deters pests, but doesn’t deter growth of plants nearby. Some plants, such as couch grass, do. Couch grass is a coarse perennial grass which spreads via white, needle-pointed roots, and is quick to invade vegetable gardens from infested lawns.

Black walnut is one of the most skilled trees in chemical warfare. It tends to create mini-deserts around itself. Even Himalayan blackberries struggle to survive in the black walnut’s root zone.

Pines have something of the same reputation – both are best kept far away from places where vegetables are grown.

Dear Anne,

“I’m looking at starting a bat garden that will attract night insects and critters that will act as a food source for these awesome flying mammals. Do you have suggestions for native B.C. plants with night-flowering blooms that will intoxicate the night air?”

Kirk, Langley

Absolutely the best thing to attract insects that bats feed on is a bright light. I’m very aware of that, because in 2005, I was bitten by a bat that flew into my face as I walked across a brightly lit deck that was thick with insects attracted by the light.

Among native B.C. flowers, Philadelphus lewisii (mock orange) does stay open at night. It is extremely fragrant, especially in late evening and early morning. The single form is more accessible to insects than the double form.

Another night-opening, fragrant native is the evening primrose. The native forms are Oenothera biennis and O. hookeri.

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is not native to North America, but has become naturalized (invasively in some places) on the East Coast. Besides being very fragrant, it has a long blooming season.

Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matrionalis) is also fragrant – it’s non-native, but naturalized here. It’s a magnet for insects in the day (especially swallowtail butterflies) and does stay open at night.

Non-native plants that continue to spread fragrance at night include climbing hydrangea and Sweet Autumn clematis.

Of all these, the two with far-ranging and truly intense fragrance are the mock orange and Japanese honeysuckle.

Dear Anne,

“Is it too late to dig up my calla lily bulbs to thin them out?”

Nikki Stubbs, Tri-Cities

It’s not too late to dig up and thin your calla lilies. After all, many people buy new calla bulbs and plant them at this time.

They may flower a bit later, due to being disturbed, but if they’re crowded, flowers could be few and far between anyway.

But after thinning, your callas should flower well next year.

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