Saturday, April 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Plants as pals

In my spare time, what little of that there is lately, I like to lose myself in garden books. Of necessity, they have to grab my attention immediately and hold it or I toss them over. My latest victim is How to Grow More Vegetables, the 8th edition of John Jeavons' what-I-understand-to-be classic that has sold more than a half-million copies. Jeavons is the champion, the guru, of intensive gardening, a high-yield, fully sustainable growing method he's spread around the world.

Plants as pals

In my spare time, what little of that there is lately, I like to lose myself in garden books. Of necessity, they have to grab my attention immediately and hold it or I toss them over. My latest victim is How to Grow More Vegetables, the 8th edition of John Jeavons' what-I-understand-to-be classic that has sold more than a half-million copies. Jeavons is the champion, the guru, of intensive gardening, a high-yield, fully sustainable growing method he's spread around the world.

The newest edition has a forward by Alice Waters. Tells you something, and I'm sure it has great value. Just not for me and, I think, most other home gardeners. Building plans and planting layouts and how to use the U-bar ... all this is both more than I can absorb and more than I need to know for my little vegetable patch in the city.

But, if you're interested, there are things to study in here. Such as the charts on companion plants, a subject that's intrigued me for awhile. Sunflowers, like the lovely one here that grew in Chanticleer's vegetable garden last summer, are good companions for cucumbers. You plant them together - the cukes tucked in and around the tall sunflowers, which offer afternoon shade. This is good for cucumber production.

The cucumbers, in turn, can serve as a kind of living mulch, squeezing out the weeds and helping keep moisture in the soil. With those terrific yellow, red or white sunflower heads and the flowering, fertile cucumber vines, you have yourself a pretty nice combination.

I often read that companion plants offer beauty, help repelling nasty pests and attracting good guys, flavor enhancements of the nonchemical kind and sometimes, supposedly, added growth. I'm not experienced enough to know first-hand.

But sunflowers and cukes, they seem like pals to me.

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog
Ginny Smith, a Philadelphia native, joined the Inquirer at 1985. After stints as both reporter and editor in the city and suburbs, she’s been happily writing – and learning - about gardening full time since 2006. She’s won two silver medals of achievement from the national Garden Writers Association and in 2011, Bartram’s Garden honored her with its Green Exemplar award for her stories about “the region’s deeply rooted horticultural history, cultural attractions and bountiful gardens.” She plays in her own – mostly - bountiful garden in East Falls. Reach Virginia A. at vsmith@phillynews.com .

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
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