If it's early January, it must be time to start thinking about the vegetable garden.
I've been perusing Sara Alway's new book, "Soil Mates: Companion Planting for Your Vegetable Garden" [Quirk Books, 127 pages, $16.95], a cute primer on horticultural matchmaking.
It covers those vegetal love matches that the author calls Turn-Ons — such as Tomato and Basil, Zucchini and Nasturtium, Peas and Turnip, Asparagus and Parsley ("Patient Parsley is the perfect partner for tender and bashful Asparagus") and Celery and Everyone.
Alway also offers words to the wise about Turn-Offs, Needy Alerts, Stalker Alerts and Love Triangles.
And in a delightful touch, her book offers recipes for each deliciously well-suited duo.
The sweetly designed book is deceptively adorable, with comments such as "Turnip doesn't think Radish is a good influence on Peas; she blames him for Peas' indiscretions." In fact it is packed with helpful information on cultivation, pest control and more — fun and accessible, particularly for novice gardeners.
All of Alway's soil mates seem to jive with the plant pairings detailed in Louise Riotte's 1975 classic "Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening" [Storey Publishing, updated in 1998, 219 pages, $14.95].
I was first introduced to Riotte's gem of a guide by my stepsister Caryn (nickname Carrot), who even planted her vegetable garden the year that she died, its bounty continuing to flourish and nourish even after she was gone.
Riotte's approach is more down-to-earth and less playful than Alway's, and she covers much more ground than just companionable vegetables.
But Alway hews so closely to Riotte's vegetable wisdom and to her notion of plants that love one another, it's almost surprising that she doesn't give the earlier author a bit of credit. Nothing new under the sun, I suppose.
That quibble aside, "Soil Mates" is a delightfully clever and insightful treat on a winter afternoon.
Carrots Love Tomatoes, And Other Garden Romances
'Soil Mates' Offers Guidance On Companion Planting
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