Story last updated at 2:37 p.m. Friday, July 5, 2002

Weather puts perk in perennials, vigor in veggies
Rosemary Fitzpatrick
The Kachemak Gardener

Are you one of those with a huge pile of stumps on your property and are waiting for the day you can burn it? Here's an idea that goes back to the mid 19th century: the stumpery.

The what? Stumpery. Honest.

The June issue of the British publication "Gardens Illustrated" features an article on the newly revived garden feature of the stumpery. "The word stumpery is used specifically to mean a collection of old tree stumps and roots that have been dug up and inserted into an earth bank in a somewhat higgledy-piggledy fashion. The whole construction is strewn with trailing plants, and the gaps are packed full of bulbs, small shrubs and herbaceous plants."

There it is: the answer to your (our) dilemma. And why not, really? You need to do something with all of those stumps, why not get creative?

The weather has been so very beautiful, but goodness, I am a slave to the hose. What patience it takes to water every single day. I am grateful to have Paris the Puppy, she creates quite a diversion as I stand there giving all of my perennials and, more important, the vegetables, a good soaking each and every day. The greenhouse is also using a great deal of water.

Be sure that you have cultivated your beds before you start watering. This is the process of breaking up the surface of the soil so the water can actually make it to the root system instead of running off the surface. Using a long-handled cultivator will save your back an enormous amount of pain. This tool has four tines that are bent at right angles. Don't get overzealous and damage the root systems of the plants, but do get in there and make quick work of aerating the soil.

One thing in our favor with these sunny skies is the noticeable lack of weeds. It takes a good dose of rain to bring on the weeds, most notably chickweed.

I have planted several Haidee roses in a patch of rubble on the north side of the house. These were developed by the Canadians to plant in the highway medians. They can take abuse, so I decided to put that theory to the test this year and not water them. Weeding that patch of rubble is somewhat depressing, and I just want the roses to cover it as quickly as possible. The roses are doing just excellent, and the chickweed has yet to make an appearance. What a relief.

But the perennial beds are looking so forlorn in the first place that I feel a need to water them. At some point in my future they should be established enough not to need that attention. Same goes for the young trees. They are getting five gallons of water a week. I pick a day, take a five-gallon bucket, the hose and fill it over and over again, giving each tree a bucket full, s-l-o-w-l-y, letting each dose absorb before I pour more into the root zone.

I think the trees are looking excellent, and this may well be the reason. If you have native spruce, do give them water. They will grow a foot a year with this attention.

Tom Maloney of Fritz Creek really inspired me last year with compost making. He convinced me that I could have finished compost in two weeks and he really is correct. I took this seasons first batch and spread it all over the trees and shrubs. I have tons of compost from last year and the intention is to spread it on the perennial beds.

I also have a couple buckets of manure tea brewing. I'm using game bags to hold the manure, making it neater to pour onto the vegetables, then I dump the manure into the compost. Not a bad system. Plus, I have a seemingly endless supply of nettles, so I am also making nettle tea and pouring that on the perennials. Why not? There they are, so I might as well put them to use.

If you have a strawberry patch and have not watered yet, may I suggest that you get on it? Your berries will be small and hard if they do not get enough water. I do understand that other areas around town have gotten their share of rain, but right here, smack in the middle of town, there hasn't been enough to make a difference.

The two cantaloupe that I fertilized are huge and I am delighted. This is the earliest that I have ever had melons on the vine. And they taste like melons should. If you haven't tried these beauties yet, make it a point to delve into their cultivation next year. The cucumbers are tasty beyond belief, and the tomatoes are looking good with the Sungold starting to ripen. Soon bliss will be mine.

I have fielded several questions about tomato blossom end rot. This is an environmental issue. The watering has been uneven. Try to keep the roots evenly moist and this should stop. I have four Brandywine tomato plants and everyone who sees them is concerned about their misshapenness. That is their beauty: they are not perfect. But their taste is as near to perfect as a tomato can get and still be of this earth. This is an heirloom tomato, and, in case you have planted these this year because I have been harping at you to do so and now you are concerned because they are ugly: get tough. You will be rewarded with pure tomato taste.

A friend came over the other day and said she wanted to come back when everything was in bloom. Oops. Everything does not bloom at once, that is the beauty of it all. There is always something going on. The lilacs, especially Mt. Baker, are doing a very good job of it this year. I am delighted. This is the first time in my 30 years in Alaska that I have picked a bouquet of lilacs, three times actually. I can die now.

Note: Many thanks to Sarah LeQuay and Shirley Forquar for opening their gardens to those of us on the Homer Garden Club Tour.

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