“What’s that next clue? Range of mushrooms served up for… What’s that word?”
“Tea. Range of mushrooms served up for tea from the bar menu.”
“Oh right. I need my glasses.”
“Where are your glasses?”
“Oh. My glasses? They’re at home charging – I don’t want to wear out the batteries.”
That’s code for I forgot them and they could really be anywhere. This is a fairly typical conversation with my uncle on a Monday morning. He comes over for coffee and we do (attempt to do) the crossword. It’s tradition at this stage. So is the glasses conversation. My uncle is notorious for leaving things behind him. Keys are his speciality. But it’s not his fault. It’s genetic. I can’t be trusted with keys either.
My uncle is a wonderfully generous, good humoured, forever youthful man; there’s always a twinkle in his eye and an easy laugh to be shared. He is interested in people and loves his garden. When my dad was alive, they used to work the shared garden together. My uncle was (and still is) always eager to dive into the next project and while he is climbing the diving board, he’ll plant a few bulbs – just because. When dad got sick, my uncle did the heavy work while dad took on a more managerial role. Now he is left to his own devices in the garden and there is no telling what you’ll find planted where when you visit or what plants you may be gifted with. I am reminded of him as I dip back into Companion Planting by Brenda Little.
“A lot of the hints in this book were picked up from my grandfather who was a smiling man and an untidy gardener. … ‘Nature isn’t tidy,’ he used to say, loading us up with flowers and veggies he had picked from the same patch. You never saw bare soil in his garden. He believd in jostling his plants together and he never used a bought spray in his life….”
This is my uncle to a tee. My mom often says that he should have been a flower gardener instead of vegetables. She is usually gazing out at his gladioli next to his garlic and the primroses crammed in beside his parsnips or his multitude of herbs jostling for position amongst the roses and tulips. There appears to be no rhyme or reason to his gardening layout, what plants he puts with what, but it usually works. Companion Planting puts a bit of rhyme and reason on to his madness.
“For those who pine for scientific reasons as to why plants can make good or bad neighbours, well, it has a lot to do with exhalations, scents and root excretions. Halitosis, body odour and whiffy socks are no higher in the plant popularity stakes than our own…”
For a small book, there is a wealth of knowledge between its covers – all gleaned from experienced gardeners who have tried and tested and noted.
- Did you know that apple trees grow better with foxgloves nearby?
- Or that nasturtiums not only act as a decoy to protect your brassicas, but will also control the spread of aphids on your fruit trees?
- Or that raspberries and blackberries won’t grow well together?
- In fact, raspberries make potatoes more susceptible to blight?
It’s full of gems like this. Laid out alphabetically so you can find the plant or animal you are looking for easily. And even handy quick reference tables at the back for good and bad bedfellows. (pun intended) It’s a gem of a book and probably easily overlooked if put beside the flashy coffee table style books that are all the rage at the minute. Instead of glossy photos, Ken Gilroy does beautiful hand drawn ink and watercolour images. Between these and the anecdotal nature of the information it’s a really easy and enjoyable read.
I’m going to spend the winter working out my growing scheme for next year and my nose will be stuck into this figuring out what to put where to give my plants the best chance. And it’s an excuse to plant more flowers!
P.S. In case you were wondering, the answer to the clue was spectrum.