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.