Flowers and Foils
What good are flowers in a vegetable garden? I asked this of myself a few years back when trying to get more tomatoes and peppers and corn out of the ground. Planting flowers seemed a waste of time and effort. Sure they look nice, but you can’t eat them. Well, actually you can eat them, but would you want to.
Aside from being edible flowers provide more benefits to a garden than just being dirt candy. They are invaluable companions to the veggie and fruit plants than most people imagine.
Just like a good character foil, flowers protect and nourish their neighbors. A character foil is the sidekick whose personality, while different from the hero’s, brings out the best in the main character. Think Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Holmes would still be a brilliant detective, but without Watson to remind him of his humanity, Sherlock would just be a brilliant smartass.
Last year I did some companion planting in the garden. Peas and corn (the peas adds nitrogen that corn can’t get enough), and the scent of onions growing in your strawberries will deter pests. But by far the most useful plant in any garden is the marigold. Those little orange and yellow puffs have kept my patio mosquito free for two years and now they have driven out more pests than Orkin. The real proof came when I had one patch of greens totally infested with insect eggs while across the yard another patch that had marigolds next to them were bug free.
In my novel, I have the hero pegged, your typical pacifist forced into action. His companion is more of the burly hero type, quick to act, slow to speak. In my latest chapter I have tried shifting the POV to the foil to give him a voice. I have come to discover his voice is thin and tinny. Now, I have gone over his character sketch, gave a good backstory, have him with his own agenda, quirks, weaknesses, strengths, etc… but he still comes off as two dimensional.
I’ve spent so much time in the head of my protagonist that I have short-changed a great character and the readers as well.
When I plant marigolds, I start them from seed. I get two or three dozen of the plants going and I nurture them when they are young. Once they can fend for themselves I just water them and leave them be. The time invested in their budding weeks pays off dividends. Even when they wilt and the petals are gone, the marigold leaves behind dozens of seeds at the base of each flower.
So, if my companion plants can do so much and provide many benefits to my garden, why shouldn’t my foil?
If you are planting anything this year, add some marigolds to the mix. You will love it.
If you have a foil, develop them and put them to work. Your readers will love it.