A garden is much more than blooms, berries

  • Carrots + beets + French fingerling potatoes + fennel bulb + tomatoes + Royal Burgundy beans = dinner.

Warm temperatures and just enough rain. What gardener could ask for more? The garden has resoundingly responded. Lush. Productive. Gorgeous. In the 44 years I’ve lived in Alaska I’ve never had a garden like this. I will hold the memory of this growing season close to my heart because who knows what surprise we’ll get next year.

Garden is not a term I use loosely. Yard is a place where vehicles (like tractors and plows) are parked. A garden is an extension of your home. A place where you want to spend time. A place of delight. Somewhere children and pets feel comfortable. A place of solace. If you don’t have a spot like this it may be time to get a little creative. Doesn’t take much. Give this some thought.

We have, for the first time since we moved to this neighborhood 17 years ago, a resident flock of 14 (yes, 14) sandhill cranes. This has been an interesting experience. Sort of. There is nothing subtle about their voice. There is no half way. The sound trumpets off the bluff and reverberates into my very being. Many, many times a day. The sound demands one’s full attention.

But we did get an excellent picture of them all lined up eating raspberries along the side of our driveway. It looks staged. They parade up and down the streets and traffic can’t help but pause — who wants to speed through a flock of cranes? Who doesn’t want to savor the moment(s) of watching these magnificent birds take a stroll through the neighborhood? Their presence has reinforced our love of this unique little town.

Back to the raspberries. It’s a banner year. Our required quota of them is in the freezer. There is an extra batch of jam in the pantry because the “grands” definitely prefer raspberry above all others. We planted them in three-foot-square boxes three or four years ago, after The Ice killed the ones we had in two out-of-control rows. The plants get air circulation, light, water and the picking is easier. There are berries in the middle of each box instead of just around the edges. If you will be putting in a raspberry bed or are reworking the one you have, give this a try. It’s working for us.

The Royal Burgundy bush beans in the greenhouse are still going strong. They usually stop producing just as the ones that are planted outside start. Not so this season. All of them are producing beans. I’m picking every other day and I try to wait until the leaves are dry, which is a bit tricky this summer. If you pick when they are wet they will quickly get moldy and the whole production process will cease. And production is what you want. I use this variety because its early and I like the way they taste. Not much to that is there? Once the plant stops blooming you know it’s over.

The tomatoes are having an excellent year. There are four varieties in the greenhouse: Brandywine, yellow pear, Sun Gold, and Black Japanese Trefele (seed from Johnny’s). None of them have argued with me. I am giving away tomatoes. But there is the catch — I have talked so many of my friends into greenhouses that I’m having trouble giving them away. Isn’t that wonderful?

The Sweet Success cucumbers are excellent and, fortunately, prolific. A jar of pickles can last us forever so I’m not a pickling enthusiast. Eating them fresh is where we’re at and Sweet Success is ideal for that.

I continue to harvest the cole crops, blanching and freezing. The pace of this season’s garden is still holding me in thrall. I can handle the harvest and maintenance with relative ease. It hasn’t all happened at once like it usually does.

Keep your vegetable beds and paths tidy. Don’t allow the slugs to get comfortable.

On to the perennial beds. Well. They are just about over. I have been deadheading the Lauren’s Grape poppy with such diligence and they just keep blooming and, are you ready? I’m tired of them. I pulled most of them out. I want the filipendula Kehome to shine. The cranberry cosmos, which have been buried under the perennials and are somewhat spindly because of that, are blooming and really do want some light and room. So I just went ahead and helped them meet their requirements. I think we will all be happier.

The verbascum “Bold Queen” is taking over. I’ve relentlessly deadheaded them because I do not want them to seed as freely as they have in the past. Enough is enough.

Which brings me to when to STOP deadheading. You want to leave enough seed heads to self sow for next season, not so many that your beds are overwhelmed come spring. There is a fine line, one we all need to find for ourselves.

So, for late summer/fall color I have the filipendula Kehome (a perennial), and annuals godetia, California poppy (Bridal Bouquet and Rosa Romantica). Not enough. I will give this thought this winter and see what I can come up with to extend the color now that we may have more of a fall. Or not.

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

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