The Misses Borlotti & the boarding school method


Lack of space in my garden led me to try the ‘three sisters’ method of inter-planting ‘companion plants’, with the theory that they happily share the same space while helping each other grow. I tried this last year with zero success, but the theory is so alluring I thought I’d try it again.

This method, in my opinion, should be renamed ‘The Boarding School Method’. It seems highly attractive at first. Bung a few characters together in a confined space, leave them to fight it out for a few months while you go and enjoy a chore-free life, and ‘hey presto!’ …Perfection. But just like any girls’ boarding school, some thrive at the expense of others, some ‘come to no good’ (by being too attractive) and others remain woeful underachievers.

For the trailing squash I went for Romanesco courgettes, the height Lark sweetcorn, and the climber Borlotti beans. I then quickly reduced this plan to ‘two sisters and a distant cousin’ by removing the gluttonous courgettes and leaving just one with her own private accommodation on the far side of the bed. This was a wise move as she is now hugely productive, delivering plenty of tasty, firm fruits as a result of this preferential treatment.

The Larks and the Borlottis, however, have not been quite so successful in life.

The ‘very tender and super-sweet’ Lark sisters looked promising to start with and, although rather lanky (always nudged to the back of the feeding queue), did get seductively top-heavy, with a couple of well-developed corns each. Unfortunately, they were irresistible and their rise to stage-stardom was cut short one night by a scandalous event involving a local badger. Despite attempts to increase security the dastard struck again and the remaining de-flowered Larks were expelled.

Once they were removed all that was left were the exotic Borlotti sisters, who had been skulking about in the shadows. It turned out that none of them were the promising social-climbers that their packets promised, preferring a jazz-club low-life and, by the look of their mottled complexions and increasing slug-appeal, needed drying out quick.

Aside from three pods I tried fresh, these are all the pods that were harvest-worthy (from 10 plants) at the end of the term. It’s the first time I’ve grown Borlotti, and, although they look pretty enough, I know they will not be collecting the achievement prize on Speech Day.


Have you ever tried the three sisters method? Is it a complete waste of time in the UK or do you think can it work? I’d love to know what you think!

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