A Dating Guide For Vegetables?

 Please welcome author SARA ALWAY. Her new book Soil Mates is unlike any other book you’ve read about dating and gardening. Her writing style is charming and the unusual subject is handled with humor and is a very enjoyable read.

Sara, will you please share a short bio with us.

I am originally from the Pacific Northwest where I grew up on a sheep ranch. Both my parents were creative in their own ways, my father with his garden and landscaping and my mother with her crafts and writing. From a young age I would write, illustrate and make my own books and have carried my love of books throughout my life. I studied graphic design in both undergraduate and graduate school and I now share that love of visual graphics through my teaching of design at Marietta College and running a letterpress and design business, justAjar Design Press (www.justajar.com), in Marietta, Ohio.

Tell us about your new book “Soil Mates” and where it’s available.

“Soil Mates” is a dating guide for vegetables. Inspired by the organic form of gardening called companion planting, the book describes the ideal symbiotic relationships of certain vegetables and herbs that naturally ward off pests and disease from each other—they are each other’s ‘soil mate’. It is an informative, yet humorous and entertaining book that will entertain the new gardener, as well as the experienced.

“Soil Mates” is available at the Quirk Books website (http://irreference.com), Amazon, as well as specialty retailers like Anthropologie. Distribution is still expanding, so it just might show up in about any place that appreciates a good humorous gardening book.

How did you come about the idea for “Soil Mates”?

The book was conceptualized as a project in graduate school at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Many of my projects were driven by the desire to make an intimidating subject more approachable. As someone that watched her parents garden with confidence, I wasn’t necessarily a very confident gardener, myself. I was introduced to the technique of companion planting and thought it was an underrepresented way of harvesting an organic garden. In a society that is embracing everything “green,” I wanted to make sure people were reminded of this historical technique, but at the same time I didn’t want to intimidate or bore them with dry writing or content. Since companion planting is all about relationships, I thought ‘Hey–it could be a dating guide!’ It was a blast to write because there is nothing more entertaining than writing about why Celery is so flirtatious and a popular mate in the garden bed.

How long did it take from conception to publication for “Soil Mates” to become reality? Anything interesting happen along the way to publication?

It initially took three months to design, illustrate and write the original design of the book. This version only contained ten pairs of Soil Mates, as well as all the additional information about natural pesticides, fertilizers (aphrodisiacs) and planting schedules. I got a contract for the book, based on the initial project, about four months after I finished it. As I was busy finishing my graduate degree, I was asked to double the amount of content in only few weeks. It was challenging, but nice to just focus on one thing for that period of time. 

After I finished, I handed it off to my editor. She is an avid gardener and took great interest in the content. She also contacted master gardener, Kelle Carter, to help review the book to check all the information to make sure it was clear and accurate.

Tell us how Quirk Publications became your publisher?

An employee of Quirk Books, a publishing firm in Philadelphia that specialized in fun and “quirky” books, saw my original version of Soil Mates at my graduate show. She asked if she could present it at her next meeting with her editor and they loved it!

Can you tell us why your book is unique in the world of gardening titles?

There is no other informative gardening book that will make you laugh. “Soil Mates” is the perfect book for a new gardener to learn how to proceed with their quest. It quickly informs the reader which Soil Mates get along, how to plant them, what finicky characteristics they might have, as well as a delicious recipe that features the pair. At the same time, it will teach an experienced gardener new things and keep them entertained in the process. 

What’s next for you?

I have a great concept for a new book, but I don’t want to spill the beans until I talk with my editor. However, I will say it is not about gardening, but it will be fun to read and informative.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Any “Soil Mate” fan can check out my other projects at www.justajar.com, as well as keep in touch for future news at sara@justajar.com

Thanks, Sara!

Copyright Liz Arnold 2011. All rights reserved.


  1. Sara, what a great idea. I am planning a move and at the new house will begin gardening for consumption. Your book sounds like a must read!

  2. I just ordered my copy from B&N. I think my hubby and mil, both avid gardeners, will love this.

  3. Hi Sara,
    What an intriquing idea for a book. Never thought about vegetables “dating” you have to write one about fruit as well.
    Best of luck with Soil Mates. Clever title too.


  4. Fascinating post and the book sounds suited to me. I’m always interested in learning more about companion planting. thanks Sara. I will check it out. I love your title too.

  5. PS. I just ordered your book from Amazon and am looking forward to reading it.

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