AS well as plants and food, I love old books.
Wherever I go, I seek out second-hand bookshops for little gems.
My weekend in York a couple of weeks ago proved very fruitful.
For £4, I picked up a book called The Gardener’s Folklore, by Margaret Baker, originally published in the US in 1977 (there’s second-hand versions available on the internet).
It’s a fascinating read of old wives’ tales, magic and country superstitions from all over the world – or are they?
There are interviews with elderly farmers and gardeners on both sides of the Atlantic, including with ultra-conservative Pennsylvania Germans, who still grow their crops strictly by the rules laid out in almanacs.
As it was written nearly 40 years ago, there’s first-hand memories reaching back into the 19th century.
There’s a remarkable amount of similarity of odd growing rituals from all over the world.
It’s fascinating to see whether these practices have any scientific basis behind them – you’d think if they didn’t work, people would stop doing them.
Companion planting, that is, growing crops that are beneficial to each other, is a relatively familiar concept.
Most people have heard of tomatoes being grown alongside marigolds (to ward off whitefly) and basil (the herb attracts greenfly away from the fruits).
However, there’s a whole host of suggestions in the book for the benefit of tomatoes.
Herbs borage and balm are beneficial and the fruits apparently keep better if grown near stinging nettles – not in the greenhouse, of course!
Outdoor tomatoes and asparagus also benefit from each other’s company.