The Year of Not Gardening

It’s been a bad year for gardening. I’ve done very little other than admire the flowers which survived the harsh winter, both mine and other people’s. I lost several lavender bushes, a favorite purple clematis, two older established John Cabot/David Austen rose bushes, and most of the ever-bearing strawberry plants. Other things came up looking pathetic including my hardy Knock Out Roses which did not seem as lush this year especially the ones facing north, not to mention a half dead birch tree and lilac bush. Blame it on the weird spring, with the temperatures yoyoing up and down so much.

In early May when all the hanging baskets were out for Mother’s Day, it seemed too cold to be buying plants which I would only have to bring in and out of the garage. So I waited until it got warmer. Then it was too hot, then cool again…..by then I had waited too long to buy dipladenia – all the pink ones were sold out. I was busy was other things and then it was too late for anything, although I did scoop up three Red Twig Dogwood bushes for half price to try and replace the privacy hedge the new neighbours had cut down. (Why oh why?) Otherwise my sole flower expenditure this year was a hibiscus plant, plus some lettuce seeds (I couldn’t find seedlings), one beefsteak tomato, and a new rhubarb plant. The plus side of not having any hanging baskets is not having to water, as rain has not been as plentiful either and now in mid-July the lawns are as dry as August, although we did get a glorious rain this morning.

Here’s a mini-tour of the good and the bad.

My mothers purple geraniums, with a twenty year spread.
Her honeysuckle bush, which is almost too sweet smelling to me.
My fuchsia clematis did well and is inching it’s way up the side arbor.
The purple clematis was very prolific too at climbing the garden shed.
I had better luck turning the hydrangeas blue this year due to a double dose of aluminum sulfate, which has gone way up in price, but note the dead lavender bush in front of it.
The rest of the lavender was meh, although the butterflies enjoyed it.
One bloom-again lilac bush did well, the other is half dead. My regular lilac bushes had very few blooms. Ignore the weeds, I did. (Note – Creeping Charlie cannot be halted without pesticides which are illegal here.)
I had five of these pink dipladenia pots last year, but they sold out early as everyone now knows they are drought resistant.
My solitary flower purchase – a pink hibiscus.
As for the vegetable garden, I planted five packages of lettuce, all different varieties, three came up, one mixed salad variety was so strangely peppery tasting that it was inedible, even to the rabbits which snuck under the chickenwire. The hardware store sold out of chickenwire so I couldn’t even reinforce it.
These bush beans are from a freebie packet the library was giving away as part of the One Tomato project. They are supposed to be purple but turn green when cooked….we shall see….
The rhubarb was thin and spindly, but at least the bunnies didn’t make a nest under it like they did last year. I haven’t harvested it yet. I bought another plant for next to it in case it’s lonely.
As seen in the neighborhood – a grass-cutting robot? It wasn’t doing a very good job as it was zigzagging all over and banging into trees like a drunken soldier. I’ve never heard of such a thing so maybe it was an indoor Roomba which went rogue! (I googled – The Terra is made by the same company IRobot and retails for around $1000 – it probably needed to be set up or maybe it was giddy from escaping to the great outdoors?)
And last but not least, this month’s puzzle – my kind of gardening this year!

My Secret Garden

The Secret Garden (goodreads link) is a children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett about an orphaned girl who discovers a locked abandoned garden on her uncle’s British estate. First published in 1911, it has been made into a movie numerous times, most recently in 2020 with Colin Firth in a cameo role as the uncle. As I enjoyed re-reading Anne of Green Gables so much I’m adding this one to my To Read list, and the movie also, as I’ve heard the cinematography is stunning, especially as there won’t be any garden tours again this summer.

After five months in lock-down we are slowly and cautiously reopening, with ten people allowed for an outdoor gathering in stage one, and the rest of the stages contingent on receiving second doses earlier than our scheduled 16 weeks apart. Although they are trying to speed things up, only 17% of the population have received two doses so far, and with the shot being only 30% effective against the Delta variant after one dose, I think my garden will be remaining secret for awhile longer. It’s a shame not to be able to share all the loveliness, so please join me for a tour of what’s new and what grew.

The weather has been weird and wacky all spring, an unseasonable hot spell the first of April, followed by a cold month, then hot and humid again in May, then cold with frost warnings at night, then hot and humid again and despite thunderclouds no rain for two weeks….and all this by mid-June! Most things in the garden bloomed earlier than usual and have already come and gone, (see Wordless Wednesday Peonies) or are past their peak. The roses (see Wordless Wednesday Roses blog) have become blowzy and even with succession planting I’m wondering what there will be left to look now that summer has officially arrived. Wilted hydrangeas perhaps?

Lots of flower buds on the ones which didn’t get tinged by frost.

Morning glories and zinnias if they survive the heat and the weed-wacker?

I liked the pink centres and they’re already up an inch along the back fence.

My lily of the valley, seen here peeking out from around the Dipladenia plant, was just starting to bloom but after being hit by frost the delicate little flowers turned brown overnight.

The daisies were particularly abundant this year and early as they are usually July flowers.

My regular Common Lilac bushes were duds flower-wise again this year, although they have lots of foliage. I was disappointed in these Bloom Again Lilacs too which I bought two years ago. The flowers are small and the bush spindly, without much greenery. They smell nice but I would not plant these again, as I do not like wimpy bushes. I like things which make a statement!

Prep Work: For me the fun is in the planning and buying, not the watering (I try) and weeding (I don’t). Whereas last year my entire garden expenditure was $8 (two tomato plants and some lettuce), this year I shopped, even if the selection was poor due to the yo-yo spring and the rationing by suppliers, the result of a lack of seasonal migrant workers due to COVID so one nursery owner informed me. I bought (but wisely) as I figured if I’m stuck at home I want pretty…….preferably in pink!

Vinca and begonias waiting to be planted. The planter box is painted in Molokai Blue.

Nice hanging baskets were scarce and expensive so I did my own pots using vinca instead of my usual geraniums and petunias. I’ve never bought vinca before but it’s heat tolerant and looked bright and cheerful. Plus at $4 a pot and two per basket, it’s a cheap alternative if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty. (I’ve found those vinyl pandemic gloves very useful for gardening – just throw them away.)

I put some in my ceramic planter, where I would normally have wave petunias, also in short supply this year.

They’ve already spread out so much I probably could have just planted one per container.

The navy ceramic planter came with a couple of matching pails which I couldn’t pass up. Winners/Homesense had a whole gardening line of the same pattern but the thing about that discount store is if you see something buy it, as if you go home and think about it it’s always gone when you go back.

A floral pail can be a beautiful thing!

Seeing this colorful pot of pink vinca from my kitchen window every morning is a nice way to greet the day.

The mosaic bistro table was another Homesense find.

The Subject was Roses: I had to replace one dead Knock-Out Rose from last year when I couldn’t find any stock and I transplanted three others with too much dead wood, so four pink Double Knock-outs went on my list. At $25 per pot these are worth it as they are repeat bloomers and provide beauty all summer. The double pink can be hard to find although there are always plenty of red ones. The ones I moved are doing poorly from transplant shock as they had been in for ten years so I’m not sure if they will survive. (For more on Knock-outs’ check last years post – link) I wish Knock-outs had a climbing rose, but they don’t and the nurseries were all sold out of climbers. I finally located some “John Davis” ones at a pop-up nursery at $8 per pot so bought three for in front of some bare trellis. They’re small and not quite the color I wanted but the other choice was a clematis and I wasn’t happy with that selection either, although I did buy one “The First Lady” a pale lavender, also $8. One upscale nursery had Clematis for $49 per pot! The prices have really skyrocketed this year, (supply and demand), things sold out early and it’s even hard to find bags of garden soil.

The plant in the blue pot above is an Italian Bugloss, a hardy perennial which can grow to four feet, so I planted it in front of a trellis. It likes sun and attracts butterflies. It appealed to me in the nursery because of it’s bright gentian-blue color (I’m partial to blue – see The Blue Garden) so I overlooked the fact that even at $16 it appeared scraggly and half dead from lack of watering. I try and add something new every year, even if it’s something I’ve never heard of. Later I saw it on a list of easy to grow no-maintenance perennial favorites in a gardening magazine.

I’ve discovered the name of this blue plant from last year which I did not remember buying but might have been from the annual horticultural sale. It’s a Virginia Bluebell and bloomed well this year too. It likes shade and blooms in late spring.

I bought two Lavender plants ($4 each) as you can never have too much lavender, although these were an organic Blue lavender instead of my regular English type. I planted one in front of a hole under the deck hoping the smell might deter the mice and/or other creatures from establishing an empire underneath, the other went in a blue pot until I can figure out where to plant it, probably to replace something which will inevitably die.

I had good luck with Dipladenias two years ago so I bought three pink ones ($7 each) for my pink recycled plastic pots. I’m always up for a bargain especially with annuals. They’re similar to a Mandevilla, are drought resistant and repeat bloomers, and give the the deck that tropical feel, like you might be on vacation somewhere exotic instead of stuck at home. They come in red and white too.

The lavender is blooming already too.

The Russian sage/lavender/pink knock outs make a nice contrasting mix.

Of course one cannot live on flowers alone, so the vegetable garden went in early too and seems to be thriving….four kinds of lettuce, some from seed and some seedlings, carrots, cucumber and pole beans, plus the everbearing strawberry plants if the birds don’t get them first.

Already harvested and sharing the bounty with neighbours.

And for the first time I planted brussel sprouts as they are supposed to be good for you.

Wish List: for when the end of July nursery sales come on, I’m looking for a rhododendron although they are hard to grow here. I tend to scoop up my perennials on the bargain table.

What I’m Reading: My (virtual) library bookclub is currently reading The Last Garden in England, (link) a three generational story about restoring a historic British garden. A light fluffy read if you’re a garden fan, although the garden was incidental to the story and I don’t think there will be much to discuss.

And last but not least, a study in pink, one of mom’s paintings.

What are you planting this year?

Flower Power

The only positive thing about this cool rainy spring is that I haven’t had to water anything…not even once.   Mother Nature has done it for me.   In fact it’s rained so much this past month that most of the farmers haven’t even been able to get their crops planted, the latest season ever as many recall.  It’s sad to drive through the countryside and see all those bare soggy fields.  The crop insurance has been extended a few days, but things are looking desperate, and the forecast is more of the same.  Let’s send out a few prayers for our farmers – because if they don’t plant, we don’t eat.   

I’ve been preoccupied with the kitchen reno, but here’s a recap of the best of the spring flowers, even if I’ve been too busy and it’s been too rainy to enjoy them.  

The hyacinths at the corner always make going to the mailbox a treat. hyacinths

These little purple violets scattered in the grass are always so pretty, especially if you ignore the weeds!  violets in the grass

The nicest thing about this picture, also taken near the mailbox, is the shade, which means the trees are finally leafing out.   TulipsI love the play of the shadows on the lawn. tulips

The squirrels dug up most of my tulips, tulips for lunch

so I really appreciate it when someone else makes an effort.   It’s always a treat to drive down this street and see this yard,  tulipsand this one. hyacinths spring garden

Last year I transplanted a few blue forget-me-nots from my neighbour – they were so pretty I hope they are invasive.  forget me nots

My only purchase earlier in the spring was a pink and yellow dahlia and a couple of bright pink begonias, my first for both types of plants.   I didn’t know what to do with them, and read that the dahlia had to be dug up in the fall so I just stuck them in bigger pots.  dahlia The dahlia has flourished, with many buds again, but the begonias got too water-logged.  dahlia

The lilacs finally bloomed, mine pale and anemic, so I enjoyed the neighbors dark purple ones which hang over my fence.   The bloom-again lilac was a few weeks later, but I was disappointed in it’s smell.   We’ll see if it lives up to it’s name.  

The lily of the valley was plentiful too, another invasive gift from a  fellow gardener.  lily of the valley

My 50 cent bargain iris from last years horticultural sale bloomed for the first time, all of them coming up purple, except for one ugly burgundy one I gave away as it didn’t fit the color scheme.    iris The second year for this fuchsia clematis.  My new one, planted last fall, is not out yet but as it is a Jackmanii, it may be later. clematis

Sometimes I’m not sure if things will bloom the first year, but the half-price peonies planted last fall burst forth a pretty pink.    peonies

When I finally got to the nursery again, these were my selections.  I’ve never had a dipladenia plant before (smaller than a Mandevilla), but it looks very tropical. garden flowers on tableAnd one can never have enough lavender.garden flowers on table

 I may pick up some half-price geranium pots if I can find any, but even the nursery plants are struggling this year.   Many look so pathetic no one would want to take them home, which is just as well, as man does not live by flowers alone.   I planted lettuce in early May and all the rain has made me the Lettuce Queen of the neighborhood.   Let us be grateful for homegrown salads!lettuce

After the Harvest

After the Harvest – An Update on the Potager plus what to do with a twelve pack of snakes.     

I had high hopes for The Potager back in June, but there may have been a reason my dad planted his garden in the corn field where it could sprawl among the rows of corn.    Sprawl is the key word here.   My potager was a testament to good soil, it was so prolific, but then it was a hot humid summer with lots of rain, ideal conditions for a rain forest. 

potager before

Where are the monkeys?

 It rained every weekend, and during the week, every few days in fact.    This made the mosquitoes plentiful, and some new species of tiny black bug called no-see-ums appeared and left bites which itched for days.    I had never seen a no-see-um before, but they left a lasting legacy of scratch marks.   I gave up and refused to go out.   Luckily, I did not have to water as Mother Nature did it for me, even as she left us bereft of any beach days. 

The romaine lettuce was bountiful, and after the first crop, I replanted and it was bountiful too. 

romaine lettuce

Three cucumbers sprouted from the small-garden plant, just the right amount for a Greek salad, with some tomatoes if only I could  find them, and when I did find them, many had split from too much rain.  

cucumber

The tomatoes threatened to strangle everything so in early August I gave it a haircut.   By mid-Sept it had grown back, requiring a regular trim every 4 to 6 weeks.  

I untangled the sole squash, mistakenly uprooting it’s lifeline, and leaving the fruit to wither on the vine.   Not deterred, it re-blossomed, producing a final harvest of five smallish orbs.  

squash

I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the multi-colored carrots, and so were the bunnies.    We were both disappointed.     

While the tops were luxurious, the carrots were sparse, spindly and white, (and maybe useful for the Simply White Dinner).   They say you reap what you sow, except I planted three seed potatoes, and got two.The Harvest

In mid-October (no frost yet, leaves barely changing), I dug up the rest of the russet gems.  Not bad for a first crop, but hardly enough to get me through the winter like my Irish ancestors. potatoes

Luckily the orange carrots were plentiful, if somewhat deformed from being crammed into too small a space.    The bunnies were delighted, as God is my witness, they would never go hungry again.  (Scarlet O’Hara – Gone with the Wind).   carrots         Due to the intricate web of netting I set up, the birds didn’t get as many of the strawberries, but then neither did I – it was too much of a hassle to open and re-close all those wires to pick one or two berries.   While reading about another bloggers garden adventures, she recommended rubber snakes be set among the strawberry plants and moved every few days in order to fool the birds.    Thank god she told me Walmart sells them online, because I don’t know where you would buy a twelve pack of snakes, and also thank god, those birds aren’t too bright.   I’ll keep that in mind for next year, or maybe I’ll just freeze some of the carrots.    I also wish I had put spacing and gravel around my boxes like Empty Nest Adventures did, for easier access.  

carrots

Next years orange snakes?

After the Harvest is a time to reflect on lessons learned….next year plant less, no matter how much you may anticipate the early specimens being carried off by nighttime woodland creatures. 

Plant one of everything, one squash, one cucumber, if it’s something you don’t want to breed like rabbits or possibly two like Noah and the Ark, two tomatoes, two potatoes, but no zucchini – ever.  

Or just buy more boxes……the New England Arbor charity sale is coming up…..

After the Harvest - AMc

After the Harvest

PS.  There is nothing so wonderful as a golden field of wheat being harvested, or so awful as After the Harvest when you would have to bale all that straw into small bales, with a baler which was forever breaking down, and then load them into the hayloft, a process which was hot and dusty and took hours.  Now every time I pass a field with those really big bales that are scooped up by a front end loader, I wonder, why didn’t someone think of that sooner?

Song of the Day:   Harvest Moon – Neil Young