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Great Garden Companions: A Companion-Planting System for a Beautiful, Chemical-Free Vegetable Garden Paperback – May 19, 2000
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“Great Garden Companions is a book as fresh as the first spring carrot, as new as a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. Sally Cunningham's gentle appreciation for the intricacies of nature coupled with plenty of practical, hands-on gardening experience makes her book both useful and soul-satisfying. Her garden plans are doable and earth-friendly, and her guide to backyard beneficial insects is invaluable. This book deserves a place in the library and hearts of concerned gardeners everywhere.” ―Sharon Lovejoy, author and illustrator of Sunflower Houses and Hollyhock Days and a contributing editor to Country Living Gardener magazine
“Great Garden Companions lives up to its name-- it's great! This very approachable how-to book brings organic gardening to a whole new level-- viewing the garden as part of nature. I wish I'd had a book like this when I started gardening.” ―Rosalind Creasy, author of The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping and Herbs: A Country Garden Cookbook
From the Publisher
"Sally Cunningham's gentle appreciation for the intricacies of nature coupled with plenty of practical, hands-on gardening experience makes her book both useful and soul-satisfying. Her garden plans are do-able and earth-friendly, and her guide to backyard beneficial insects is invaluable. This book deserves a place in the libraries and hearts of concerned gardeners everywhere." -Sharon Lovejoy, contributing editor of Country Gardener Magazine
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a) I read it right after Carol Deppe's "Breeding Your Own Vegetable Varieties" and that is a really tough act to follow. It is CRAMMED with information and fun and intriguing ideas.
b) After reading other reviews, I don't think I had a good idea of what the book was like. That isn't the book's fault.
My first frustration is that the book is not very well organized. The information that is useful is buried in meandering chapters that tend to repeat themselves.
Second frustration--the recommended companions are almost all flowers. I have a small garden and not much room for flowers. I was expecting to know whether I should plant my onions next to the tomatoes or the peas...just a few basics. But there isn't that kind of information in here. In fact, Ms. Cunningham doesn't mention a single thing NOT to plant next to anything else. If I remember right, from Biology class, some plants don't grow as well next to others. I've gotten this idea from a few internet sites as well, but I guess I'll have to go buy another book to find out for sure.
My final and biggest problem with the book is that she rarely explains why she mixes the flowers that she does. Over and over she mentions the same three reasons for her style in general:
1) attract pollinators
2) "confuse" insects that damage your garden
3) to look pretty (!)
I do think that some people might prefer this kind of lighter read, and there are a few pages of useful information about each main type of garden crop in the back. It's just not nearly enough for a beginning gardener to know where to start.
If you grew up in a city with no exposure to the out-of-doors and find the idea gardening to be a little intimidating, she might be just the right person to put you at ease. However I like a more scientific approach...something that tells me exactly what to do, when, where, and most importantly, WHY, then I can judge what corners I need to/want to cut, and adapt it to my needs.
The book focuses on which plants look nice planted together, have been grown together for centuries, or allow you to conveniently pick crops. The author provides detailed information about which plants she likes to group together in her own garden, including planting maps, but never explains why.
The photographs are nice and the author's practical, organic and naturalistic approach are right on. The book stresses ecological balance within the garden, but doesn't include much information outside of the realm of common sense.
I enjoyed so much about this book but I was disappointed in Cunningham's participation, albeit mild, in the current unilateral maligning of monoculture. Monoculture is one step in the journey of agriculture as a practice. Monoculture was derived from "sustainable agriculture" before that cliche was termed. It is not we who are learning to create gardens with high enough yields to sustain us through the winters. We are relearning what has already been done by earlier generations. We tend to forget that "sustainable agriculture" was a necessity not an experiment for many families right up to the early twentieth century.
Many of the GI Generation farmers who so enthusiastically practiced monoculture grew up as tenant farmers, often living in what we would consider shacks, and deriving nearly all of their winter provisions from a family garden cultivated when they were not working the owner's farm. Pestilence was feared because the consequence might be hunger.
So in the mid-twentieth century there were a lot of men and women with a knowledge of farming, a fear of starvation and a GI bill that was going to finally allow them land of their own. They felt like they were feeding the world. They wholeheartedly took to chemical pesticides and fertilizers because they thought their use would wipe out hunger. They were not unenlightened as is often insinuated. They were tough survivalists and they thought they were doing the right thing. Though there is much to be learned and admittedly much to be revised from their practices, I lament that I do not hear much in the way of historical context.
That annoys me and it annoyed me that such a terrific teacher and gardener as Cunningham does fall into this a bit. Beginning gardeners are easily confused by so much information. Let's not add any fears that by planting in rows they are practicing monoculture and thereby damning the planet to oblivion. Two rows of beans flanked by three rows of corn is not monoculture. Monoculture is acres and acres of the same plant. Nor are they sellouts if they break down and spritz a plant with the occasional hit of bottled insecticide.
Unlike agribusiness, the home gardener only sprays when a problem is evident therefore much less is used and more pointedly. I don't think home gardeners need to fight the organic battle and I find the bugs much more unpalatable than the pesticide. Second hand smoke probably did me more harm than anything my farming family ever dusted on the crops.
That said, after checking the book out of the library, I went ahead and bought her book. Though I do not completely follow either organic or intensive method farming, I found her strengths as a writer and teacher very compelling.
1) She has some of the best drawings of good and bad bugs. Growing up on the farm we had bugs we liked,and those we didn't. It was nice to learn their names and have confirmation that we were right in liking those little guys. Most of them didn't even bite.
2) For the small gardener interplanting and succession planting may increase yield significantly.
3) Grouping plant families by their feeding needs makes interplanting easier to understand and also makes crop rotation more comprehensible to someone new to the idea.
4) She dispels many myths of interplanting, such as potatoes can't be planted near any other vegetables, and that carrots hate dill. Her dedication to separating fact from folklore is invaluable. If you are serious about companion planting Cunningham is the finest source of reliable information on how to do this.
5) The discussion of how interplanting various flowers with vegetables "confuses" the bugs sounded a bit farfetched to me at first. But after consideration, insects must use some sensory perception to find their food. Plants in mixed beds or seen in the woods do not seem to take the same punishment from bugs as a garden row of single plants. Differing the foliage type around the vegetables as a ruse may have some validity. Along with providing alternative housing for insects that eat bugs that destroy gardens.
6) Providing a home for wildlife can enhance insect control. Our landscape used to host a healthy population of garter snakes and I had no insect problems in my beds. My insect problems have increased upon getting a jack russell who ousts every snake she encounters.
7) Cunningham provides very useful drawings and instructions for making common garden equipment such as cages, and goes where no gardener chronicler has gone before by detailing step-by-step how to repair that dratted hose.
My disagreements or possible concerns with her advice are few.
1) Planting vegetables amidst perennials may not be an option if you want enough of that vegetable to put aside for the winter.
2)Purchasing flower seed for every bed or row can double or triple the cost of your seed purchase.
3)Raised beds may not be practical or like me, you just find them cumbersome and expensive.
4) There is a bit too much concern over walking on the soil between your rows. Most of us have a home garden, not a sustainable farm. Walk on your rows. You are going to till them up next year anyway.
Cunningham really just wants to give you everything she has got, so the book is dense with information and to the beginning gardener so much detail may feel like a heavy load of do's and don'ts. This is a book to try out a few ideas and then go back to for more the next season. When you aren't talking raised beds her tone is very inclusive and friendly and she truly wants you to enjoy your gardening adventures. This is a terrific reference volume for any home gardener packed full of innovative ideas. The politics of planting in rows aside I do recommend this book wholeheartedly and as a home gardener who enjoys putting food by I look forward to trying out several of her ideas in the hopes of increased yield.
Most recent customer reviews
Companion planting really helped increase yields of veggies.Read more