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Friends for life

My mother sent me notes she’d photocopied from a Garden Club lecture she went to about fifty years ago. The title “Strange Bedfellows,” sounded oddly like a Dickens novel or an episode of Mad Men. Typed, single spaced and on legal paper, it was written by a woman named Jean Hersey, whom she does not know or remember.

I skimmed the first paragraph quickly, knowing my mother would ask me right away if I’d read it.

“Symbiosis is the harmonious living together of two species of organisms for the mutual benefit of both.”

Skimming again, impatient, I read: “Plant garlic in your roses.”

My mother, who was note-taking during the lecture, wrote in the margins: “My grandmother knew this.”

Apparently, the garlic may stop mildew on roses. Enough said, I folded it up and put it somewhere to read it later. I am always fighting mildew and since I don’t like to use pesticides, I thought this might be useful. I would read it one day, when I had time, better eye-sight and a longer attention span. However, I did have time to plant garlic. I ran to the garage and found a package that I’d been meaning to grow. I opened it, thinking how funny it was to plant a whole bulb.

“Do I plant the whole bulb?” I asked my husband who grunted, “No idea.”

It seemed so much like the garlic in my kitchen. I wasn’t sure if it was worth it to plant a bulb, but it was for the roses, I reminded myself. So I did.

Later that day, my best friend called from Huntington Beach. She was parked outside Home Depot. “I can’t find garlic sprouts, and I’m buying them for my roses.”

Get out! The very same thing? Cosmic coincidence? Mind meld? Did my mother send her the same long article?

“It’s a bulb,” I said. “I just planted some. You can’t buy the sprouts. You didn’t get an article from my mother did you?”

Turns out she didn’t. She was fighting the mildew on her roses, too. I told her I tried to ignore the mildew on my roses, because it didn’t seem to hurt them. (My mother’s solution was to take a Q-tip with alcohol out there and wipe them all down. Now that’s a lot of work. I wonder if wine, counts, because there is a possibility I could do that while enjoying a glass.)

Anyway, my girlfriend called me a day later, and she was really getting into “companion planting.” She was planting squash with her corn and basil with her tomatoes. She had called her husband’s cousin who was a Master Gardener and she’d told her to read this web site: http://sally-odum.suite101.com/organic-pest-control-and-pesticide-a4337 and http://www.ghorganics.com/page2.html. (I really like this one!)

And when I started thinking about planting things for mutual benefit. I thought, hmmm, this reminds me of my friend. Yes, funny that I can find a metaphor in just about anything. Funny that she was planting garlic in roses when I was. There is something significant about that coincidence. Let me tell you…we have been friends since before I was born. Yep. That’s right. She is nine months older than I am. Our mothers lived across the street. That means when she was one, I was three months old inside my mother. That’s how we knew each other before birth. Maybe I heard her babbling while I was growing in there, my mother sharing coffee with hers, or maybe trading plant cuttings or recipes—all things they still do today. Then I was born, and we were often put in the same crib.

Forty years later, we’re still friends sharing things and helping each other. If I am oregano, she is tomato. If she is borage, then I am a strawberry. She’s beans, I’m corn. You see, we are like companion plants—her often openness complements my reluctance; her emotions contrast to my stoicism; often she calms the rant; then she rants and I calm. We alternate moods and emotions depending on the problem or the need. We’ve both been irrational and reasonable; sympathetic and outraged, talkative and silent — forty years of companionship through school, college, jobs, marriages, illness, divorce, death, childbirth and child rearing, parents growing in years, moving, house buying, house remodeling and gardening; two growing things have never been as mutually beneficial.

So thank you, friend. I am so lucky to have you as a companion.

Now that my tribute to this friendship is over, and I will get to a summary of Jean Hersey’s points—I finally read the entire article and summarized it for you.

• Lavender and scotch broom: Here’s a picture of scotch broom.


• Dandelions. “You may scorn them in the lawn, but please appreciate them for one marvelous characteristic–at sunset they exude an ethylene gas which causes flowers and fruits in the near vicinity to ripen ahead of time.”

• Grapes benefit from nearby plantings of hyssop and wild mustard.

• Strawberries like to grow near spruce trees.

• Bush beans lettuce and spinach are good companions; borage is also good and good with strawberries.

• Never grow cabbage next to strawberries.

• Tomatoes–parsley and asparagus are great; stinging nettle (!) keeps them mold free and sweetens the tomato pulp.

• Never plant tomato with fennel.

• Radishes are good near cucumbers and ward off cucumber beetles. Cucumbers also help corn.

• Most pumpkins or squash and corn and legumes (such as beans) are all good companions.

• Carrots, peas and lettuce are all good for each other are all good together.

• Potatoes and sunflower stunt each other.

• Nasturtiums are good with apple trees and are said to influence the sap and make it taste bad to aphids

• Hang pennyroyal on fig trees to keep flying bugs away.

• Mint repels ants. And since ants carry aphids and that horrible soot and therefore attracting that white scale, I am going to plant a lot of mint this summer. And my favorite one:

• Plant a white geranium among your roses to keep the beetles away: “They [the white geraniums] attract Japanese beetles which eat the geraniums and die. You can also collect Japanese Beatles and pill bugs in traps, burn them and scatter their ashes over nearby vegetation.”

Now that is one kick ass garden club lady! Go Jean!