Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ten Things I Learned From My 2010 Garden

Sometimes gardening just has to wait. And so too the garden blog. It's kind of amusing how a place created for solace and peacefulness can swiftly become yet another chore. Over the closing weeks of this year's intolerably hot summer, the garden was left to its own devices. Weeds and mosquitoes and excessive heat made the garden a hostile place and the gardener's gloves dried stiff hanging in the closet. But now, the garden beckons. And as I planned my day this morning, I began to think of the successes of my 2010 garden. So herewith, my list of ten things I learned this year.

1. I Can Proudly Say I Am No Longer a Death-To-Roses Gardener Finally, I met with success this year growing two rose varieties, Rosa Grussan Aachen and Rosa Marmalade Skies. Both of these came from Wayside and both require less sunlight. Wayside even said they would grow in the shade, yeah right. I planted the Grussan Aachen at the front fence and she buds with a beautiful pink blush that opens to white. Marmalades Skies is a light orange, and I planted her on a pathway to the lower deck. Both of them came bare root and kept me guessing through most of the spring after I planted them and they sat stick-like in the dirt looking more dead than alive. Then slowly a few nodules of green began to poke from the sticks and my heart soared when I realized I hadn't killed yet another rose. RIP my rose called Eleanor and my rose called Passionate Kisses, both of which sat in my front yard dirt and tried mightily to flower, but toppled and succumbed to diseases and pests.

2. Deer Like Cucumbers and So Do I One cucumber plant is just not enough for all the fans of cucumbers in my garden. That stupid deer came nibbling and severed the tops of my cucumber plant and I didn't think I'd get any cukes this year, but turns out the plant practiced a kind of subterfuge and grew its fruits on tendrils that hid from view under other plants. I must have harvested at least a dozen delicious cukes this year. So next year, I think I'll plant more so that there'll be enough for both me and the deer. (That fuckin' deer. I'm still not over his visit when he took out all my day lilies.)

3. It's Okay to Hire Help Patrician gardeners of yore with their acres of glorious gardens with pathways and gates and hidden nooks, all had help. I have labored solo in my garden and dug, tugged and hoisted until my back aches and my fingertips throbbed. But this year, I looked out at my garden in August and saw how the wild space next door was slowly invading. The poke weed, the wisteria, the porcelainberry, the poison ivy was creeping into my garden. The porcelainberry had grown like a blanket overtop of my bushes and so finally, I admitted, I couldn't possibly clean it all out myself. So I went over to Maryland's Casa program and hired two workers one Saturday. Edi and Mauricio worked that day like whirling dervishes, pulling, cutting, tugging and eventually gathering up some thirty lawn bags of detritus. I bought them lunch and paid them each $10 an hour. I gave them gloves and tools and made sure they had plenty of water, and I worked alongside of them all day long, so that at the end of the day my back ached and my fingertips throbbed, but without them, I could never have accomplished so much.

4. You Can Never Have Too Many Books This year Smithsonian magazine shut down its library. The books were sent away to other libraries or tossed, depending on their age or if the other libraries already had copies. When the staff was invited to pick through, I found on a dusty shelf a wealth of field guides and gorgeous old research relics on plants, trees and botany. I took armloads of them. I've already amassed quite a library of gardening books and now my books are piling up in stacks around the rooms. I risk being called a hoarder. But I think that no matter how much one googles or bings or yahoos, nothing surpasses the organization of a book with its contents page and its illustrations and its photographs and its index and its bibliography and its footnotes. I came away with books like the 2001 America's Famous and Historic Trees by Jeffrey G. Meyer and the 30-year-old encylopedic Flowering Plants of the World. One Saturday morning when it was too hot to be in the garden, I sat on my comfy white sofa flipping the pages of one of DK's huge tomes called simply, Plant by Janet Marinelli (2005), and its rich large-format photographs made me a happy plant lover.

5. Lasagna Gardens Work I made a pile of sticks and compost in early spring and planted lettuce on top. The composting action brought warmth from below and made a wonderful hotbed and my lettuce grew up thick and delicious, when ambient temperatures were still too cool for planting. When it got warmer, I planted my egg plant and my cucumber plant there and I am still harvesting eggplant and I found one more cuke a few weeks ago. From the compost, a volunteer tomato plant from last year's garden reached maturity late in the season is also still delivering.

6. Tomatoes Will Grow On the Deck If you water them everyday, that is. And since I have a rain barrel right there on my deck now, I can easily slip outside every morning in my heels and give everybody on the deck a nice drink before I head off to work. We had two bush tomatoes, Carmello and Celebrity, growing and delivering on the deck, as well as a fig tree, and a strawberry plant and a big pot of sage, rosemary, oregano, parsley  and chives. When I was cooking, I could dash out to gather a handful of herbs and be back before the garlic burned in the pan.

7. Potatoes Will Grow in a Sack An experiment to grow potatoes was mostly a success. Though a failure in that the potatoes were so delicious, we wanted more. The plants gave up enough to serve twice at table a hearty feast of roasted yellow fins. I set out these fabric sacks in a sunny spot in early spring. Two sacks were planted with five starter potatoes each. At first I filled the sacks with rich potting soil and then much to my dismay, I read you had to grow potatoes in bad soil. so I dumped the sacks out and started over again with some dusty, clay-filled, rocky aggregate that I acquired from my neighbor's yard after she dug up a corner of her property.

8. You Can Never Grow Enough Basil I had basil on the deck and in the garden and still it wasn't enough. One pesto meal and it's all over. Basil needs to be planted at every nook and cranny next year. Enough said.

9. A Single Yellow Squash Plant Will Feed A Family of Four For Most of the Summer At one point, Patsy looked up from her dinner plate, which had on it my frequent side dish of pan-roasted yellow squash in garlic and said, "Mom, I've eaten enough." The deer don't eat the squash and they grow so fast, it's a wonder you don't actually see them enlarging before your very eyes. Squash went into everything this year from sweet breads to ratatouille.

10. Sage Tea and Other Herbal Infusions will Soothe the Soul Everybody is making fun of me at work these days when I bring along my mystery drink of the day. My oat straw, my nettle, my red clover herbal infusions are poured over ice and sipped all the day long. Go ahead and laugh my friends, but I'm convinced I'm healthier, happier and even wiser, drinking all the micro-nutrients that my plant buddies offer. An old saying, "Where sage doth grow well and vigorous, therein rules a strong woman." Strong, maybe, but when I learned of the benefits of a tea made with two leaves of sage set steeping for five minutes, I surely felt I'd met with sage advice. The Putterer

1 comment:

  1. Beth,
    I'm catching up on your wonderful posts since coming back from Venice, where I indulge my lust for sepia cooked in its ink and kaki (very ripe
    persimmons that one can't get here). Always a pleasure to read. Do you know the marvelous Steichen photo "Heavy roses"? Florabunda at its most florally abundant.