[NATURAL LANDSCAPE, tomato “blight”]

I visited a most beautiful garden this week, one in which all the elements of garden design were deftly combined. At ground level grew groundcovers in pleasing and harmonious shades of green and of varying leaf textures. Leafy plants, lichens, and mosses were all utilized, the whole scene knit together by large slabs of underlying rock. In places, low-growing junipers and deciduous shrubs and trees brought the garden up from ground level, their exposed roots in some places visibly embracing bulging rocks.

Shakkei, or “borrowed scenery,” an important element in Japanese garden design, played an important role. Distant mountain peaks created a dramatic backdrop to some vignettes.

This garden also utilized what I like to call “luscious landscaping,” that is, the incorporation of dual purpose plants – for beauty and for eating – into the landscape. Lowbush blueberry, a plant whose dainty flowers hang like white bells in spring, whose healthy, green foliage ignites in crimson come fall, and whose stems glow red in winter, formed the bulk of the groundcover species. A few lingonberry plants interspersed here and there promised red berries in autumn and evergreen leaves as a foil for those red blueberry stems in winter. Juneberries, ripe during my visit, along with the blueberries, were among the taller plants in this garden.

And just where was this wonderful garden? Or gardens, I should say. They were in the high peaks of New York’s Adirondack mountains. The garden designer? God or one described by Darwin, take your pick. Beautiful, at any rate.

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Back down on the flatlands, the word “blight” is being knocked around in connection with tomatoes – your tomatoes, my tomatoes, basically, everybody’s tomatoes! Late blight is the blight of current interest, which you’ll be unhappy to know is the same disease that caused the potato famine in Ireland in the 19th century. (This blight attacks potatoes and tomatoes.)

Late blight is a problem in the northeast this year due to a particular confluence of events: infected tomato plants offered at “big box” stores gave the blight its start and rainy, humid conditions have kept it going. The disease does not overwinter here. It arrives here either on infected plants or by hitchhiking up from southern fields, where it does overwinter, when weather conditions are just right, that is, cool and moist. The spores can travel about 15 miles at a shot under good conditions.

My tomato plants have their usual midsummer splotches and yellowing, but with all this talk of late blight, even I, who usually finds pest problems more interesting than scary, got a little worried. After all, this year was the year we had planned to dry a whole lot of tomatoes and replenish our stock of canned tomatoes. So I tested for late blight pulling a splotchy leaf off a plant, sliding it into a plastic bag, and waiting a day. White, fuzzy growth on the leaf would mean late blight. No blight here – yet, at least.

Since hot, sunny weather, which would keep blight in check, was not in the offing, and since blight is around and spreading, I decided to spray my tomato plants, a measure to which I’d never before resorted. And it’s not because I grow mostly heirloom tomatoes; pretty much any and every tomato variety is susceptible to late blight. I used one of many copper sprays that are organically approved, still taking care not to dowse nearby other plants and to thoroughly protect myself while spraying. And we will now wash tomatoes and nearby plants before eating them.

Next year is another year. Except for potato tubers, in which the disease can overwinter here, late blight should be gone once winter sets in. All of which makes a good case for discarding or eating all tubers, and starting your own tomato plants next spring.


One Comment

  1. Posted August 19, 2009 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    The description of the ‘most beautiful garden’ makes it come alive in my mind’s eye.

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