ISSUE 25  |  Bath and Spa

Superhero Plants: Take That, Aphids

June 21, 2012 9:00 PM

BY Kendra Wilson

All of my roses except one–a symbolic New Dawn I planted to grow around the cottage door when I moved to the country a few years ago– are plagued by aphids. A walk round the garden on a sunny day gives me very green fingers from popping their soft-bellied, pear-shaped little bodies, lest they suck too much sap and make the roses go a sad and peculiar shape.

What keeps the aphids away from one rose? Part of my new dawn in the country was to plant an herb garden near the kitchen. There is a carpet of chives, mint, and feverfew; lovely lowly things, to complement the splendor of the climbing rose. But their rather pleasant smell also repels the ghastly green aphid and its piercing-sucking mouth parts.

Photographs by Kendra Wilson. All plants courtesy of The Herb Nursery, Thistleton in Rutland.

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Above: Herb gardens are often rangy affairs with lots of bald patches, so I try to grow spreading plants in the hope that they will all merge together. Chives (allium nutans shown here), Mint, and Feverfew are reliable at performing this task and by happy coincidence they also smell absolutely horrid if you are an aphid. An excellent source for herb seeds is Jekka’s Herb Farm, with seed prices ranging from £1.90 to £3.50. For US gardeners, packets of seeds cost from $3.45 to $3.95 apiece, depending on type, at Johnny’s Seeds.

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Above: Who would dare to call Feverfew a “weed” on discovering its bug-busting qualities? Added to this, its early foliage and small sunny flowers earn it a place with the super herbs. Shown here is a rather special form with smaller petals, Tanacetum parthenium ‘Virgo‘, from The Herb Nursery, Thistleton. Pots of herbs from about £2-£5. A packet of seeds is $3.95 from Johnny’s.

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Above: Mint is just such a superhero superherb (shown here: Black Peppermint, mentha x piperita). People talk of the need to contain mint, but then how would it meet the relentless demand of summery drinks and food? Let it run riot in a corner, preferably near a plant vulnerable to aphids, and you will be doubly glad to see it sprouting up all over the place. A packet of Black Mitcham Peppermint seeds is $6.95 from Nichols.

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Above: Tansy, tancetum vulgare, is another lovely plant which enlivens a herb garden, bringing height and texture. With pennyroyal it keeps ants away, and ants are best friends with aphids. Tansy plants available mail order from Poyntzfield, £1.50 each. A packet of Tansy seeds is $1.25 from Heirloom Seeds.

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Above: An old wives’ tale says: “Always plant garlic beside a rose.” Like most old wives’ tales this is wise and true, and goes for all of the alliums. This is allium fistulosum, or Welsh Onion, on sale at Chiltern seeds for £1.59. A packet of Red Welsh Bunching Onion seeds is $2 from Baker Creek.

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Above: Aphids love the color yellow, allegedly. How infuriating for them, then ,to find a lovely yellow flower which is also a petunia surfinia. Aphids loathe the smell of petunias, as do some humans. To me, the gentler varieties are reminiscent of muggy summers in Connecticut and, not being a greenfly, I love yellow petunias unconditionally. Really good range of petunias and other summer bedding plants available from Rassells of Kensington. A Patio Surfinia Yellow Petunia Plant is $3.55 from Garden Harvest Supply.

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Above: If we can extend this vendetta from aphids to flies in general, there is another glorious summer association with which they fail to agree with us: lemon. Lemon-scented foliage is a wonderful insect deterrent. Thyme: Lovely to look at, taste and smell. But lemon-scented thyme works twice as hard, as the smell which is so attractive to us is distinctly less so to insects. Good selection of different thymes including lemon at Ashley Herb Farm, from £1.50 per pot. A packet of Lemon Thyme seeds is $2 from Amazon.

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Above: Lemon-scented foliage and an elegant flower as well: heaven. The name of this lemon-scented pelargonium, ‘Lemon fancy’ does not do it justice. Fancy? It is fighting fit: the cool pink petals glinting away while the leaves do the superhero stuff. Wide variety of scented leaf pelargoniums at The Herb Nursery, as above. Pelargonium ‘Lemon Fancy’ is $4.50 from Geraniaceae.