I once grew a rose, Bibi Maizoon, that I considered to be as close to perfection as any rose could be. Its blooms, that is. They were cup-shaped and filled with loosely defined row upon row of pastel pink petals, nothing like the pointed, stiff blossoms of hybrid tea roses. Completing the old-fashioned feel of Bibi Maizoon blossoms is the flowers’ strong, fruity fragrance.
(In case you don’t know who Bibi Maizoon was, she was a member of the royal family of Oman. The Bibi Maizoon rose was bred by British rose breeder David Austin.)
The bush itself was as imperfect as the blossom were perfect. Where to begin? For starters, the thin stems could hardly support the corpulent blossoms. Couldn’t, in fact, so the blossoms usually dangle upside down. Upside down blossoms were not that bad because I considered Bibi best when cut for vases indoors to …
As I led my nephew Jeff, his wife, and their two kids around the garden a couple of days ago, I plucked fruits and vegetables here and there for them to sample. They could compare them with what New York City, where they live, has to offer. They were blown away by the flavors here.
Okay, I cheated a little. They got to sample some of the best of the best: figs so soft they were drooping from their stems, white alpine strawberries, Sungold cherry tomatoes, Golden Bantam sweet corn, and Kentucky Wonder green beans, all picked on the spot and at their peak of perfection. The Golden Bantam corn, you won’t find that offered for sale pretty much anywhere these days although it was the standard of excellence in sweet corn 100 years ago. The white alpine strawberries (Pineapple Crush) are too small and too soft …
The tumbled over Red Russian kale seedling brought back old memories. It was like seeing the work of an old friend — or, rather, an old enemy. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a cutworm at work in my garden that I couldn’t even get angry at it.
Cutworm and friend’s broccoli
I scratched around at the base of the plant to try and find the bugger. Too late, fortunately for him or her because its fate would then have been a two-finger crush. The cutworm in a friend’s garden I visited last spring was not so lucky.
The bad thing about cutworms are that they chop down young, tender seedlings. At that age, seedlings’ roots lack the energy to grow new leaves; the plants die. (I wonder how the cutworm benefits from lopping back the seedling; the felled plant usually doesn’t get eaten.)
In an hour and a half this morning, a 20’ long by 3’ wide bed of spired, aging corn stalks morphed into a bed of succulent, young greenery in the form of endive and Chinese cabbage transplants.
Before beginning this job I harvested what ears were still ripe on the stalks. The yield from this first corn planting was small, both in quantity and size of ears. Old fashioned Golden Bantam, as told by its name, normally yields small ears — but not usually as small as the 3 to 5 inch long ears I harvested.
Planting in “hills” (clusters of 4 plants) usually provides for adequate pollination, but poor weather at a critical developmental stage might have thrown pollination awry.
At any rate, with ears harvested, I lopped each stalk in half with my Hori-Hori knife, then dug straight down right around the base of each hill to sever the …
For many gardeners, spring is the critical gardening season, what with preparing the soil, starting seedlings, setting out transplants, pruning, watching and staying prepared for late frosts and . . . In my view, right now is just as crucial, and for an equal number of reasons.
True, a 90 degree day with high humidity doesn’t exactly pull you out to the garden to putter around in blazing sunlight. But early mornings around here are mostly cool, calm, and beautiful.
Much of what needs to be done is regular maintenance. Pruning tomatoes, for instance. I train my tomato plants to stakes and single stems, which allows me to set plants only 18 inches apart and harvest lots of fruit by utilizing the third dimension: up. At least weekly, I snap (if early morning, when shoots are turgid) or prune (later in the day, when shoots are flaccid) off all suckers and tie …
I usually draw a blank when someone asks me “So what’s new in your garden for this year?” Now, with the pressure off and nobody asking, I’m able to tell.
Of course, I often try new varieties of run of the mill vegetables and fruits. More interesting perhaps, would be something like the Noir de Pardailhan turnip. This ancient variety, elongated and with a black skin, has been grown almost exclusively near the Pardailhan region of France. Why am I growing it? The flavor is allegedly sweeter than most turnips, reminiscent of hazelnut or chestnut.
I planted Noir de Pardailhan this spring but was unimpressed with the flavor. Those mountains near Pardailhan are said to provide the terroir needed to bring out the best in this variety. (Eye roll by me. Why? See last chapter in my book The Ever Curious Gardener for the skinny on terroir.) I’ll give …
I just returned from time travel one month forward and a couple hundred years backward. Both at the same time! I did this with a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, where black locust trees were in full bloom, which is about a month ahead of when they will be blooming up here in New York’s Hudson Valley.
The impetus for this time travel was Colonial Williamsburg’s Annual Garden Symposium, at which I was one of the presenters. (I did presentations on espalier fruit plants and on growing fruits in small gardens.)
Williamsburg is a magical place anytime of year, and especially so, for me, in spring. (I first fell in love with the place on a family trip when I was 7 years old; on subsequent visits, I’ve forgone the three-cornered hat I wore on that first trip.)
You’d be surprised if you looked out on my vegetable garden today. Black plastic covers three beds. Black plastic which, for years, I’ve railed against for depriving a soil of oxygen, for its ugliness, for — in contrast to organic mulches — its doing nothing to increase soil humus, and for its clogging landfills.Actually, that insidious blackness covering my beds is black vinyl. But that’s beside the point. Its purpose, like the black plastic against which I’ve railed, is to kill weeds. Not that my garden has many weeds. But this time of year, in some beds, a few more sprout than I’d like to see.
The extra warmth beneath that black vinyl will help those weeds get growing. Except that there’s no light coming through the vinyl, so most weeds will expend their energy reserves and die. And this should not take long, depending on the weather …
I have one more important task to do before planting any vegetables this spring, and that is the annual mapping out of the garden, something I generally put off as long as possible.
In theory, mapping out my garden should be easy. I “rotate” what I plant in each bed so that no vegetable, or any of its relatives, grows in a given bed more frequently than every 3 years. In practice, I mostly pay attention to rotation of plants most susceptible to diseases, which are cabbage and its kin (all in the Brassicaceae), cucumber and its kin (Cucurbitaceae), tomato and its kin (Solanaceae), beans and peas (Fabaceae), and corn (sweet or pop, in the Gramineae).
Crop rotation prevents buildup of disease pests that overwinter in the ground; removing host plants eventually starves them out. (Insect pest are more mobile, so crop rotation has less impact except in very …