Your garden is about so much more than blooms, veggies

  • The daffodils Liz Johnson gave the Kachemak Gardener a decade ago are blooming for the first time this year. -Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick

T

here is more than meets the eye in a garden. Liz Johnson and I shared many a pot of tea on dark winter days as we poured over seed catalogs. We shared responsibility for the Garden Clubs’ “Car Wash Garden” for eons. That was an effort that sucked up more of our time and effort than a hanging basket that needs daily watering. 

About 10 years ago, Liz gave me a handful of daffodil bulbs. I planted them in the West Garden border. Over the years they sometimes showed a bit of green leaf, maybe more, sometimes nothing at all, but nary a bloom.

Liz died this winter. The daffodils she gave me have bloomed for the very first time. Every morning I go out to them and say “Good morning Liz!”

There is much to a garden that meets the heart. Think about this. 

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I have done a tremendous disservice to my rugosa roses. I have a sizable thicket of Hansa, the double, deep pink that smells like cinnamon. This is where the rabbits sought and found refuge on our property during the years of the hare population explosion.  Even Jade the Dog couldn’t penetrate that thicket.         

There is a hedge of them in front of the Pratt Museum and here and there in front of the original hospital. Go there to make an identification of what I’m talking about. They are tough, bloomy and can travel like you wouldn’t believe. But — they need to be pruned, hard, every couple of years and I have never ever cut mine down. I clean out the dead or damaged canes every year. But what they want, NEED, is a hard, no nonsense, pruning.

What I am now left with are canes that are at least six feet tall with a bit of foliage at the tip. These roses bloom on new wood, meaning new growth. They are sorely lacking in the new growth department. My intention is to level the whole thicket this fall. I’m too late to do anything about it this growing season. Then I’ll cross fingers and see what happens. Same thing I’m doing with the mock orange that I finally found the courage to prune this winter.  

Let’s all of us think about the pruning of our shrubs. With the climate change barreling along methinks we need to get more aggressive with this facet of our gardening chores. 

I put staking in place this afternoon. The bleeding hearts that welcome visitors will tumble onto the board walk as usual, but I do my best to push them back. They really are sturdy plants that shouldn’t need staking but these really need more room than I originally gave them and they do seem to make the best of a bad situation. They are already blooming. But we need to navigate the boardwalk from gate to gate to access the garden. I’ve been more or less successfully using 3-foot tall pea fencing for years. 

A taller version of this becomes a cage to hold up the Pacific Giant delphiniums. It has been successful but I am also aware that if I were to prune out stalks, leaving just three or four, they wouldn’t need so much support and offer up larger blooms. I don’t want to. I want a mass of delphiniums. I want hummingbirds dancing in their midst. I want excess. So I stake. And now is a good time to do it. Now, before the winds and rains come hurtling at them and lay them low, all of their glory broken and laid to waste. Because you didn’t stake. 

It seems odd to be mowing the grass and weeding the perennial beds before the vegetable garden is planted. This long spring is offering us the gift of time, a luxury, a pace to be grateful for. 

From seed I have planted: peas, spinach, lettuce, radish, carrot, chard. I think that covers it. I make a map every fall of what the crop rotation will be. I don’t have all that much room but I can usually mix up the crops enough from year to year so that I’m not always planting the same thing in the same place: hence the term “crop rotation.” Getting this down on paper in the fall eliminates one more thing to do in the spring. I already have short rows of lettuce, radish and spinach showing signs of life. I set out little tiny lettuce seedlings and they seem to have adjusted just fine. 

And that brings me to the little tiny part. My vegetable seedlings are geared to be planted out mid-May. I could wait but I have the cole crops hardening off. Broccoli (two kinds), cauliflower (three kinds), Brussels sprouts, cabbage (two kinds), kale. They are tucked under floating row cover and any day now they will be installed into their forever home. 

This will be the first year that I am offering support for the floating row cover. Usually I just drape it over the seedlings and carry on. But last year the cutworm population peaked and it will be so for the next couple of years (they are cyclical). By supporting the floating row cover I am hoping to keep the seedlings as upright as possible, out of the clinches of the worms. I also slide a 4-inch skewer down the side of the stem and this alone has worked excellent in the past. But I’m being extra cautious this year.

The horsetails have made their spring appearance and I often get asked about whatever to do with them. And the answer is the same this year as in years past. Not much. Snap them off at ground level, and keep snapping them off.They multiply by spores (thus the snapping) and roots. These roots penetrate the earth to a good 14 feet. Go ahead — you go after that root, not me. They are a first flush of spring and will fade out as the season progresses. 

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As you go about your garden tasks, keep those in mind that you care about, that you haven’t gotten in touch with lately, that have meant something to you, that have touched your heart. The garden is an ideal  place for these thoughts. 

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.

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