Story last updated at 2:35 p.m. Thursday, November 7, 2002

Unseasonable weather great for late gardening
By Rosemary Fitzpatrick
The Kachemak Gardener

Usually I look at November as a monumental non-gardening month. Absolutely nothing of import happens.

But not this November, no siree. This is like no Alaska November I have ever seen. Ever. I think I'll mow the lawn. I know that I am still weeding.

Flowers are blooming: godetia, alyssum, hesperis matronalis, a yellow day lily, shirley poppies, pansies, pink violets (that bloom early in the spring), verbascum, digitalis (foxgloves), Dropmore honeysuckle (vine), lamium, mother-of-thyme, cosmos, sedum Matrona, scabiosa. I know there are more, but I can't think of them right now, and it is ever so dark and rainy and windy, so I can't just dash out there have a look. Take my word for it, I still have a lot of flowers in bloom.

No, I cannot go and pick a bouquet, but they are out there providing color in an otherwise gray, wind-blown and wet atmosphere.

And I am not alone. Poppy Benson, who prides herself on just how long she can extend the growing season, is beside herself with glee that she is still harvesting broccoli. Claire Waxman has outstanding flower and vegetable gardens at Homer Saw and Cycle, and she has just harvested her artichokes. She is determined to hold over these tender perennials. It will be interesting to see just how successful she is.

Both of these experienced gardeners have raised beds, and I am looking forward to my new raised beds next growing season. Extending the season is what gardening in the Far North is all about.

Gabriella Hussman and Konrad Schaad have Homer's original purple clematis alpina. It is on its second round of blooms. And this is November.

Shawnee Kinney has a Martin Frobisher rose in bloom for the first time. She lives at the higher elevations, and this lovely rose has never had a long enough season to reward Shawnee's efforts with blooms. As described in High Country Roses (9122 East Highway 40, PO Box 148, Jensen, Utah, 84035 or 1-800-552-2082 or www.highcountryroses.com): "Fragrant, soft pink, double blooms in midseason repeat nicely. Vigorous, well-proportioned shrub with gray-green foliage and red fall color, growing with an upright vase shape to 6 feet. VERY HARDY. Zone 3." Now, lets all have a good laugh at the very hardy part of this.

Elevation makes a huge difference in what is hardy and what is not. Although Shawnee's Martin Frobisher has added textural interest to her garden, what she was really after (I am assuming this, but really, why does one have a rose if not for the roses?) are the blooms. She had to wait for a freak November to get them, but get them she did.

For those of you who do garden at the higher elevations, I am sure you are seeing some amazing things still growing in your gardens. There has not been a killing frost, and you should still be harvesting vegetables. Good for you. Go ahead and gloat, you deserve it.

The weather drove me into the Homer Public Library. What better place to spend a rainy afternoon than looking through their selection of gardening books? I have been lusting after "Growing Shrubs and Small Trees in Cold Climates," by Nancy Rose, Don Selinger and John Whitman. Brigitte Suter first introduced me to this tome. The price, a whopping $50, has me grateful that the library put out the cash instead of me. It can be ordered at The Bookstore, and I have it on my Christmas wish list. We'll see ...

But there it is, at the library, in all of its glory, to be checked out for two weeks at a time. This book even has Alaska on its zone map. It gives you as much information as you will ever need to decide which of the small trees and shrubs are for you and your growing situation.

For instance: I am forever baffled by lilacs. There are a gazillion of these lovelies out there for us to choose from. Fine. But I want to be sure that the one I am choosing is going to grow in the Far North. This book has the answers.

The lilacs are categorized by variety, of which 18 are listed. That's right, 18. And then the fun starts: Under syringa x hyacinthiflora you will find "Mount Baker," a white, strongly scented lilac that does so very well for us here in Homer. Syringa x prestoniae has "Donald Wyman" and "James MacFarlane" listed, these, too, are strong favorites. But you also see that this can get complicated, and this book is a boon to those who need the answers.

A companion to this book is "Growing Perennials in Cold Climates," by Mike Heger and John Whitman. Again, the format is easy to follow and stuffed full of information.

Although I went to the library specifically for these two books, I couldn't help but grab "Organic Gardening in Cold Climates," by Sandra Perrin. Now that I live at 396 feet, I have a cutworm problem that is disproportionate to the size of the caterpillar. What to do? I usually make collars that the pest finds difficult to breach.

But Sandra Perrin offers yet another suggestion that I can hardly wait to try: " ... plant a toothpick next to your seedling. When the cutworm curls around the stem to feast, the feel of the toothpick will be unpleasant enough to chase it away."

So, you may still be gardening, not a bad thing, but if not, take a break at the intimate Homer Public Library and see what they have to offer you. Be warned: Gardening books are in at least four different places: Resource, Alaskana, 635., and Juvenile.

Keep weeding.

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