Companion books to get you growing

Heard of companion planting? It’s the concept of putting plants together – ones that attract pollinators, let’s say, with fruiting plants that need pollinating. In that spirit, I’ve just read two books on vegetable growing that make perfect companions.

The first is Garden Rant-er Michele Owens’ Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise.  Part garden memoir, part historical perspective and down-to-earth analysis, her book is most of all a rallying cry for the many payoffs of growing your own.

It’s also a mighty good read. Owens is feisty, funny, informed and clearly exasperated at the anxiety people feel when it comes to growing veggies. After two decades as a vegetable gardener, her bottom line, to paraphrase, is this: It’s not as hard as you think! Do it. The rewards, even from a small plot, are immense.

In fact, despite its lack of pictures and typical how-tos (though packed with no-nonsense advice), Grow the Good Life got me so sexed up to have more vegetable space that I’ve been eyeing my rose arbor, imagining it draped in scarlet runner beans. Honestly. And why not? Owens convinced me that vegetables can be as beautiful as ornamentals, and in many ways more rewarding.

While she stresses that space shouldn’t be a barrier, my Microgarden and 64 square feet of community garden don’t compare to Owens’ garden plot, whose square footage actually outmeasures my house.

This book, therefore, makes the ideal companion, Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces by Gayla Trail of You Grow Girl – which shows that you can carve out growing space, even from a sunny windowsill or coffee can planter. Trail takes you through it all: the soil, the space, the plants, and what to do with the harvest. And every vegetable she profiles includes useful info on its suitability for container culture.

In terms of editorial approach, the two books couldn’t differ more. Trail’s is packed with her own enticing photographs, detailed how-to info and recipes. Unlike Michele Owens’, Gayla Trail’s fields of toil have been small community garden plots, rooftops and fire escapes.

Yet, in terms of voice, the two authors are remarkably companionable. Like Owens, Trail is experienced, opinionated and straightforward. Both authors are equally encouraging. Owens got me all fired up, Trail told me what to do once I got there; both assured me how easy it could be.

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, it’s now about 10 weeks till Toronto’s last frost. Plenty of time for reading, and rereading, as well as planning, seed shopping and sowing. Me and my winter-sown vegetables are more eager than ever to get growing.


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