Category Archives: Gardening

I’M AN INGRATE, AND RUTHLESS WITH FRUITLETS

Great Asparagus Does Not Require A Green Thumb

Not to be an ingrate or a braggart, but the asparagus some friends recently brought over for our shared dinner didn’t compare with my home-grown asparagus. Not that the friends’ asparagus wasn’t good. Theirs came from a local farm, so I assume harvest was within the previous 24 hours. But the stalks of my asparagus are snapped off the plants within 100 feet of the kitchen door, clocking in at anywhere from a few minutes to an hour of time before they’re eaten. It’s not my green thumb that makes my asparagus taste so good. It’s the fact that I can harvest it within 100 feet of my kitchen door.

But don’t take my word for it. Research has shown that asparagus spears begin to age as soon as they’re picked, the stalks toughening and sugars disappearing, and bitterness, sourness, and off-flavors beginning to …

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PERENNIAL VEGGIES AND A DEAD AVOCADO

 

King Henry Was, And Is, Good

The good king has gone to seed. Good King Henry, that is. A plant. But no matter about that going to seed. The leaves still taste good, steamed or boiled just like spinach.

The taste similarity with spinach isn’t surprising because both plants are in the same botanical family, the Chenopodiaceae, or, more recently, the Amaranthaceae. Spinach and Good King Henry didn’t change families; their family was just taken in by, and made into a subfamily of, the Amaranthaceae.

Whatever its name — and it’s also paraded under such common names as poor man’s asparagus and Lincolnshire spinach — Good King Henry is a vegetable that’s been eaten for hundreds of years, except hardly ever nowadays. While spinach, beet, and some of its other kin have been improved by breeding and selection over the years, Good King Henry was neglected.

But the Good King, besides having good flavor, …

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PERMACULTURAL GLITCHES

Imperfect Lawn

I’m no devotee of the perfect lawn, but I did recently suggest, for the bare palette of ground on which W wanted to plan for a variety of fruits, a patch of lawn. W protested that she hated mowing and wanted a “permaculture planting” that would take little care.

Visitors to my garden have occasionally complimented me on my lawn. The only care I give it is mowing with a mulching mower that lets clippings rain back down. By not cutting the lawn I avoid “mining” the soil for nutrients by repeated harvest of clippings. The clippings also enrich the ground with humus.

Pawpaw tree in my cousin’s lawn

Still, I’d rather grow trees, shrubs, vines, especially fruiting ones, and vegetables and flowers, than lawngrass. But I have plenty of ground devoted to these plants. And the easiest way to care for a plot of ground, short of sealing it in …

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AWESOME BLOSSOMS & RATIONALITY

 

Wow!!

With blossoms spent on forsythias, lilacs, fruit trees, and clove currants, spring’s flamboyant flower show had subsided – or so I thought. Pulling into my driveway, I was pleasantly startled by the profusion of orchid-like blossoms on the Chinese yellowhorn tree (Xanthoceras sorbifolium). And I again let out an audible “Wow” as I stepped onto my terrace, when three fat, red blossoms, each the size of a dinner plate, stared back at me from my tree peony.

Both plants originate in Asia. Both plants are easy to grow. Both plants have an unfortunate short bloom period, more or less depending on the weather. Fortunately, both plants also are attractive, though more sedately, even after their blossoms fade.

The tree peonies have such a weird growth habit. I had read that they were very slow to grow so was quite pleased, years ago, when each of the branches on my new plant extended …

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SANS (fr.) / SIN (sp.) SOIL

Clarabel And Abbe Fetel

The UPS guy delivered two large, long boxes last week. Laid out in each box as in a coffin was what looked like a sturdy, 4-foot long stick. You wouldn’t think that either stick, one labelled Clarabel quince and the other labelled Abbe Fetal pear, could ever become a tree, could ever even come to life! Unpacking, then holding one of the sticks up, its bare roots dangling in the air, I had my doubts about the plant’s viability, even though I’ve planted many bare root trees over many years.

Bare root tree soaking

Bare root trees are grown at a nursery and, sometime between fall and spring while still leafless and dormant, are dug up, their roots shaken free of soil, and shipped. Before shipping a tree, a good nursery will  tuck moist sphagnum moss, shredded newspaper, or other water retaining material in among the roots, then …

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DESIGNS ON GARDENING

The Turn Of  The Year

Sure there’s seed-sowing, weeding, and pruning to do, but I’ve also been spending a good amount of time communing with my pitchfork. Turning compost.

Some people are put off by the thought of having to turn compost. Don’t be. Compost does not have to be turned. Any pile of organic materials will eventually become compost.

Still, I like to turn my composts. I typically build new piles (a lot of them!!) through summer into fall, turn them the following spring, and then spread the finished compost that fall or the following spring. As I fork the ingredients from the old pile into the adjacent bin, I break up any clumps with the pitchfork and fluff up any parts that seem sodden and gasping for air. A nearby hose makes it convenient to spray any dry areas.

Everything organic (was once or is living) — hay, weeds, old plants, some …

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GRAPE EXPECTATIONS

Hello Vanessa

A few days ago was the perfect day for planting the Vanessa grape vine deposited here by the UPS guy. Not because the weather was warm and sunny or because working outdoors was made all the more pleasant with peach, pear, and plum trees in all their glory, awash in white or pink blossoms. And not because the plums were suffusing the air with a most delectable fragrance.

Vanessa grape

The day was perfect for planting because the soil was in such good tilth. With each shovelful, clumps of soil broke apart under their own weight. A far cry from decades ago in my first garden, around this time of year, when digging brought up clods of Wisconsin soil still sticky and wet.

In wet soil, digging drives air out of the soil; under such conditions, roots of trees, shrubs, vines, and seedlings suffer. Better to wait for the soil to …

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A BETTER BERRY?

Out With The Old, In With The New

“Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did,” wrote a Dr. Boteler about the strawberry (as quoted in Izaak Walton’s 17th century classic The Compleat Angler). I disagree. I also don’t like to crawl for my fruit. With that said, I’ll agree that strawberries do taste very good, more so for being, usually, the first fruits of the season.

I just took a look at my strawberry bed; weeds are making inroads and the plants look pretty puny. Dispatching the weeds is no problem. As far as the puny plants, it was to be expected. Although strawberries are perennial plants, over time they pick up diseases, including some virus diseases lacking dramatic symptoms except that they reduce productivity. So a strawberry bed should be replanted — at a new location — every 5 years. My garden notes tell me …

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WITCHES AND BREBAS

Arnold, You’re Too Big

Witchhazel, a few weeks ago

Over the years, my Arnold’s Promise variety of witchhazel has earned its keep with branches showered in fragrant, golden flowers late each winter. Some years, like last year, part of the bush would blossom in autumn, then put on a repeat performance in late winter. (Branches that blossom in autumn don’t blossom again in later winter, but other branches, which hold off in autumn, do.)

I should have read the fine print more carefully before I selected this variety of witchhazel. My plan was for the plant to visually smooth the transition from the corner of the house to an upright stewartia tree to a moderate-sized shrub (Arnold’s Promise) to some subshrubs (lowbush blueberry) to ground level. Except that Arnold’s Promise has grown to 15 feet high. Which it’s supposed to do, according to the fine print. Which I didn’t read.

My job, now, …

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HOUSEPLANTS THRIVE DURING MY CUBAN GETAWAY

 

Water In Air, In Soil, In Reserve

My houseplants enjoyed my absence more that I expected. I thought it might be harder on them. After all, with spring in the air (indoors) for a few weeks now, they were all pushing out new shoots from the ends and along stems that had lain dormant all winter. Citrus, avocado, and amaryllis were even flowering, and rosemary was getting ready to flower.

Lack of water was going to be the threat, 5 days of it, while I was far away wandering up and down streets and in and out of alleys of Havana, Cuba.

Through winter, I had eased my houseplant watering chores by using “water siphons” (aka “hydrospikes” or “self-watering probes”). These porous ceramic probes, filled with water and pushed into the potting soil, have the thin, flexible tubes coming out of their caps plunked into mason jars filled with water. I knew well …

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