July garden tour

A few days ago, I posted a photo of the garden in the morning when was still dewy and a little misty around the edges. It was a pretty shot, but quite a few people asked if they could “zoom in” and see the individual beds in more detail. Other people asked if they could get a list of what plants are growing in what area. I’ve just begun the work that will eventually build out “guilds” and “poly-cultures” of plant communities, but it’s not a bad idea to have a list of where I started for my records. This is by no means a complete inventory, but here we go:

This bed is in the “upper” garden, hard by the house. In “Gaia’s Garden“, Toby Hemenway talks about siting often-used vegetables close to the house. He suggests going out to snip a few herbs for an omelet and a side-dish of greens in the early morning in your bedroom slippers and robe. If you come in wet around the edges, the herbs are too far from the house. I can definitely snip greens from this bed without getting damp in the morning. Made of three layers of cinderblock, this bed is fairly deep. Even on the south side of the house it stores enough moisture for mustard, lettuces, radishes, and a few sorrel plants. Around the edges, in the cells of the blocks, grow anise hyssop, Thai basil, forget-me-nots (they’re everywhere), and alpine poppies. All the beds in the upper garden are ringed with strawberry plants, so that they benefit from the moisture and shade.

More in the upper garden: three beds of tomatoes surrounded by calendula and interplanted with bulls blood beets and white globe turnips. One of the tomato choices I made this season was Fedco’s Heirloom Tomato Mix.  I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of that over the course of the season and possibly picking out some new favorites for next year.

Down in the lower garden this bed contains Provider green beans, haricot verts, and started out with a lot of radishes that provided quick shade for the sensitive bean sprouts. I’ve since picked the radishes and the Carpet of Snow alyssum has grown up enough to provide a living mulch. I sow the alyssum at the same time as the radishes in the very early spring. Purple bread poppies grow wherever they like and provide full seedheads for bread and pastry and resowing in the fall.

This is one of the squash beds, set on the hillside for ease of walking around fragile trailing vines. The deer don’t bother the stouter vines, so these pumpkins and Hubbard squash can clamber up the hill and outside the electric fence. They are interplanted with nasturtiums (just for color – I don’t think these hybrids protect against bugs or nematodes) and green beans. These green beans are planted about two weeks after the beans in the bed mentioned above so that the harvest is staggered.

Corn! Two rows of Silver Queen white sweet corn, potentially growing to 9 feet and producing 3 or 4 ears per stalk in a good year. These are not interplanted with anything. I’d love to try the Three-Sisters method of corn stalks in mounds surrounded by pole beans and squash, but I have yet to convince my partner-gardener of that. This year he allowed mulch, so maybe there’s hope. That said, it’s wonderful corn.

Potato boxes with varieties Ratte, German Butterball, Green Mountain, and All Blue. The potatoes are planted in about a foot of dirt at the bottom of the box and boards and hay are added as the plants grow taller. I had a very poor yield in the 2010 boxes due, I think, to droughty weather and too much hay/too little soil to start. The vines are much healthier as we get into the really hot part of summer this year, so I have hopes for a good harvest. This is certainly a space-effective way to grow potatoes. In the late fall I dump the boxes over and use the soil, mulch and old plants to make a new bed.

Lilies and apple trees seem to go together well. The lilies provide a nice living mulch to cool the roots,  retain moisture, and shade out weeds. These are very old Tiger lilies from my grandmother’s garden in Connecticut growing under “Westfield Seek-no-Further”, which is covered in little green apples this year.

I have another whole group of close-ups for a post this weekend. We’ve had some rain so if I can stop picking green beans for a minute  I’ll make another post this weekend!


So much to do.

The days are just packed! And we’re still getting more than 16 hours of daylight.

Lady’s Mantle, elecampne, and willow fences line the path into the garden.

Little green apples beginning to form on the “Westfield Seek No Further”. The tree is covered with them – good work by the bees.

“Portland” roses from the Flanagan house in Portland with angelica in the background.

Fedco’s “Beneficial Insects” mix is in full bloom.

The bees are busy hoarding pollen, nectar and sunlight.


A color tour of the garden

We have rain in the forecast for the next three weeks, East Coast people. The corn is only 4″ tall but the lettuce – I could sell lettuce in gross tonnage. I took these photos last night and each one seemed to make a statement about the colors coming out in all this moisture and darkness.

Permanent violet deep – one of my least favorite colors in a tube of paint, but it looks good on the Purple Royalty smokebush growing by the driveway. Winter 2010-11 was the first year this shrub wasn’t mangled down to 3′ by being run over by the plow truck. Evidently the fix was to put a giant slap of granite in front of it.

Soon the orange honeysuckle will be in bloom and ruin the monochrome effect, but for now violet Dame’s Rocket, chives, and the bluer of the two pink tree peonies fill the dooryard to the northeast.

The little flame azalea is nearly engulfed in sweetgrass. Truly wonderful neighbors gave me this for babysitting their wonderful child, and I think of them every time I see it.

And green – very in with gardens in the area this summer. Even the weedy grass along the roadside is verdant right now, but we’ll see what July will bring.

Cumulative gardening

This is a view of the south side of the garden circa 1994. We built the house in ’93 and by June of 94 I had portioned out the land that we cleared to put in a well into garden space. My four-year-old son and I built the little compost bin out of scrap pieces of boarding boards from the house construction, and that’s the same wheelbarrow I used this afternoon, albeit a brighter blue back then. Those are our neighbor’s geese running into the woods that we took down in 2010.

I took this photo earlier today trying to find a like vantage point but not quite getting there because now there’s a cherry tree in the way. I’ve accumulated some plant life over the years but the path is almost in the same place it was twenty years ago. It won’t be there in 2013 – I plan to do that part of the garden over into keyhole beds using Hugelkultur.


Almost Midnight in the Garden

I had a wonderful day in the garden yesterday, about 16 hours worth ending at 8:15 pm. Until then it was light enough to weed out plants with a spading fork, light enough to tell weeds from desireables, light enough to prune the Sargent crab, which will develop vertical branches no matter how I cut it back in the fall. The temperature was just right for hard labor tonight and the mosquitoes haven’t hatched yet, so I used the time to dig a wheelbarrow full of “generous” plants.

I’ve been reading Gaia’s Garden, Version 2.0, and in it Toby Hemenway has a great rant about plants that have been termed “invasive”. It’s all about niche: water hyacinth loves polluted waterways, and subsides when the pollutants have been filtered out, kudzu loves disturbed soil and thrives in the poor, sunny margins of construction sites. I planted valerian and didn’t take into account the vast amount of poor soil and droughty conditions in my garden. Valerian will grow on in 1/4″ of wood chips on top of landscape fabric. So will rose cambien, dyers woad, weld, heath, and Japanese buckwheat. I dug up a wheelbarrow full of those “generous” plants tonight, and will plant them today at the garden’s sunny, poor frontier.

Good, bad, beautiful

I’m trying to take Wednesdays off from my day job over the course of the growing season this year. Yesterday was damp but not raining, warm but not too hot to do the heavy work of hauling soil by wheelbarrow to the potato boxes.  At the close of day I got a cup of tea and recorded the results for 2011 to date:

Potato boxes are in the “good” column so far. Summer 2010 was hot and dry with a drought for the whole month of August.  Per instructions, I had filled the boxes with soil as the vines grew and when the soil dried out and heated up it actually cooked the vines. Instead of heavy yields the boxes produced about a dozen potatoes – one of my worst disappointments in all the years I’ve gardened. In 2011 I’ve planted the seed potatoes in plenty of soil and will use hay to fill the boxes as they grow. Perhaps the mulching effect will hold more moisture (but not too much) and be gentler on the vines. We’re having a nice steady rain today to water them in.

Bergenia is in the “beautiful” column. It has no pests to speak of (the deer nibble the blossoms sometimes but it’s not one of their favorites), it grows in odd shady nooks and spreads slowly, flowering before anything but the bulbs. Twenty years ago this grouping at the NW corner of the house was one plant from my parent’s garden. Growing in gravel and mulched only with its own leaves, it is a welcome patch of green all year round and spectacular in early spring, when the pink hyacinth-like blooms rise above the foliage.

Bad. The lower garden is host to several variaties of borer and here I may have lost the battle for the “Westfield Seek-no-Further”. The apple borers are gone, driven out by white latex paint with “Surround CP” mixed in and epoxy injected into the holes, but the damage is fairly extensive. My plan is to remove the trunk on the right and prune the other parts of the tree rigorously to distribute the weight. Perhaps the remaining parts will survive.

Back in the “good” column, this row has been seeded for three years running with a “Beneficials Mix” from Fedco Seeds.  Every year my local climate kills off a few varieties, but some come back and help hold the soil for a new packet of seed. On a hot summer day I’ve counted 30 species of insect life hanging out in this little hedgerow. I can’t sum it up any better than Fedco’s catalog:

6333BM Beneficials Mix “When you increase the diversity of an ecosystem you enhance its ability to maintain itself and to resist perturbation.” Frank Morton inspired 75 seed growers with his talk on Whole Farm Cropping Systems at a Restoring Our Seed seminar. One way to increase the diversity of your ecosystem is to sow this mix of annuals, biennials and perennials that will attract and maintain a diverse population of beneficial insects to help manage pests in the garden. Instead of resorting to toxic sprays, attract hover flies, ladybugs, lacewings, parasitic wasps, tachnids, spiders, minute pirate bugs, damsel flies and big-eyed bugs and let them devour the “bad” bugs! Something in the mix will be blooming from spring through fall. Comprised of alyssum, bachelor’s button, borage, gem marigold, dill, fennel, Phacelia tanacetifolia or fiddleneck, caraway, parsley, golden marguerite, ajuga, basket of gold alyssum, and Rocky Mountain penstemon.  Sow as a hedgerow in a well-prepared weed-free seedbed close to the garden in spring in full sun. Easily our best-selling perennial selection.

I expect that the Maine spring combo of 65 degrees and mist will have worked its magic, and everything will be 10% larger when I get home. I’m looking forward to wandering around out there tonight and admiring the garden working on its own.


Incontrovertible Proof of Gardening

There goes my month-long experiment with one-word titles.

Yesterday was a beautiful day. I’m not going to bother comparing it to today, because I’m at work and my narrow view of the railroad tracks isn’t that informative. Yesterday, though, yesterday rocked.

I worked on the seed beds first. The far corner cinderblock plot had produced wonderful tomatoes last year, so this year I planted beets, lettuce, and my new favorite green, Maruba Santos.  I have been reading Gaia’s Garden, 2nd Edition: A Guide to Homescale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway on Kindle and learning quite a bit that is directly applicable to this garden. I’m employing the very basic ideas of the book, such as planting three varieties of “depth” together so that nutrients are rotated through the soil structure. Lettuce (surface), a substantial “cabbagey” green (mid-level), and beets (deep), are a standard combination. Some ideas are new to me: Mr. Hemenway mentions cardoon as a good plant for root depth as well as using its huge leaves as mulch. My season is far too short for cardoon to mature, but using it to improve soil vitality would be a good opportunity to have this interesting plant in my garden (without having to eat it).

I put out the leeks in the next bed to the left (Brussels sprouts and cabbage in 2010) and  interplanted it with more lettuce: Pablo, Majestic Red, and Tom Thumb bibb, which is a house favorite. The next bed to the left was squash last year. I’ve planted it with haricot vert and Provider bush beans (mid-level), white alyssum (surface), and daikon radish (deep). I’m probably getting ahead of schedule by planting beans; we’ll see if the row cover mitigates the temperature enough for them to progress. It was 28 F at 5:30 a.m. but predicted to be warmer overnight as we go through the week.

Up closer to the house is a large, old bed that has been peas two years running. This year it will be 3 varieties of carrots in lengths from 5″ – 8″ and heliopsis.

Tomorrow is forecast to be solid rain with 20 knot winds. Maybe sometime next week I can spray dormant oil on the fruit trees and burn last year’s brush, but there’s no telling with the Maine spring.





Today, one of my co-workers  asked me what I grow in my garden. We got silly after a few minutes of listing vegetables, flowers, herbs, berries, and on and on. I told her I’d try to do the entire list tonight, so here goes. I’ve only included the variety if it’s important, or spectacular enough to be the only kind I grow.

Broccoli, broccoli rabe, green beans, yellow and soup beans, pole beans, snow peas, pod peas and soup peas, sweet peas, perennial sweet peas, sweet grass,  Genovese basil, sacred basil, thyme, sage, peppermint, spearmint, pennyroyal, milk thistle, and oregano.

Carrots, parsnips, onions, shallots, leeks (lots of leeks), turnips, rutabaga,  Bull’s Blood Beets, potatoes, tomatoes (Paul Robeson, Peacevine, and Juliet), acorn squash, New England Pie Pumpkins, cantaloupe, muskmelons, Silver Queen Sweet Corn, cucumbers, radishes, spinach, letttuce (Tom Thumb, Bronze Mignonette, Majestic Red, Pablo), mesclun, broad-leaved sorrel, maruba santoh, tatsoi, piracicaba, savoy cabbage, kale.

Alyssum, cosmos, Mexican sunflowers, zinnias, dyer’s broom, coreopsis, heliopsis, batchelor’s buttons, stock, roses (Morden Sunset, Mdm. Isaac Pierre, William Lobb and Hansa), Siberian iris, Japanese buckwheat, Queen of the Meadow, hops, Blue Angel hosta, iberis, daylilies (Dear Dad, Ice Palace, Desert Sun), asiatic lilies (Stargazer, Strawberry Shortcake), elecampne, Chinese forget-me-not, flowering quince, angelica, alpine strawberries, Seafoam strawberries and Jewel, mallow, begonia, ground sand cherry, grapes (Beta, Somerset), blackberries, purple and red raspberries, blueberries (Patriot, Earliblue, several others, wild highbush and lowbush varieties), hydrangea, zucchini, hullless barley, cranberries and lingonberries.

Pinks, pears (Clapp and Seckle), plums, pie cherries, apples (Westfield Seek-no-Further, Golden Russet, Russian Crab, Liberty, Blue Permain), crabapples, elderberry, sorghum, flowering quince, flowering tobacco, snowberry, monarda, heath, heather, sea lavender, herbal lavender, calendula, azalea, peach, Dutch iris, echinopsis, aster, daisy, coral bells, geranium, calendula, cactus, seedum, sedge, feverfew, mullien, digitalis, Joe Pye weed, and columbine.

To be continued. . .

Fedco tree order for the 2011 season

The main reason I started this blog three years ago was its value as a personal gardening record. I’ve made many failed attempts at keeping track of plant varieties, dates and success/failure rates: spreadsheets, journals, copies of correspondence (I write to other gardeners every chance I get) and odd scraps of paper in the pockets of my out-door clothes, smudged with ink that turned out not so waterproof.

Nothing works as well as posting my experiences online in this little forum, listening to the comments down the line, and being able to search my own writing for information I’ve forgotten or decided willfully to ignore. For example, how many times have I decided NO MORE ROSE BUSHES because given my soil, climate and ability to pamper them they are nothing but expensive annuals? Six times, including the ones in this order for 2011. Oh well.

Quoted text is from the searchable Fedco Tree catalog.

2562 – Anne Raspberry

I am a new convert to “all season” varieties of small fruits. The Seascape strawberries that we planted in spring 2010 bore fruit after six weeks and continued until Thanksgiving. That might have been enough (strawberries! at Thanksgiving!) but they were also delicious. That experience led me to order “Anne” raspberries:

Late. JEF-b1 (Amity x Glen Garry) Flavorful everbearing yellow raspberry, ripens earlier than Kiwigold and is actually yellow, not a washed-out pink. Large cohesive fruit with good flavor. Tall rangy productive plant may sucker less than other everbearing types. Mulching or adding organic matter to the soil will encourage more suckering which should, of course, improve yield. Like other everbearing types, you may cut it right down to the ground after the season. Z4.

2700 – Royalty Purple Raspberry   My first set of Royalty canes produced beautifully for 10 years. This summer I dug them all out along with the Killarney Red, which were fine but not spectacular and are therefore not being replaced. We’ll go with the yellow Anne and purple Royalty and see if the resulting color jam is beautiful, or disgusting. Either way it will taste great.

2787 – Seascape Strawberry  We tried this variety in 2010 and have been delighted with it. Fifty more plants, please.

3485 – Pinus koraiensis Korean Stone Pine  For bonsai. And many decades hence, for pine nuts.

4927 – Abelia mosanensis Fragrant Abelia  For the bees, and the swampy, acidic parts of the garden:

4-6′ x same. Delicate showy exceedingly fragrant pink campanulate (bell-shaped tubular) white-centered flowers. Somewhat loose plant with graceful arching stems. Best as a specimen or hedge planting. Blooms in late spring. As fragrant as hyacinth or even Korean spicebush. Glossy green foliage turns orange-red in fall. Full sun to partial shade. Easy to grow. Prune after flowering. Tolerates most average soils but prefers acid, moist and well-drained. Native to Korea.

5204 – Itea virginica Henrys Garnet Virginia Sweetspire

3-5′ x 5-6′ Swarthmore College, PA. Spreading shrub with an erect clustered branching habit. Fragrant white flowers on upright racemes up to 6″ long in early summer. Bright green foliage, brilliant reddish-purple fall color. Will form colonies. Henry’s Garnet has both superior flowers and fall color. Winner of the prestigious Styer award and the 1999 Michigan Growers’ Choice award. Recommended for moist or wet areas although quite drought tolerant as well. Sun or shade, pH adaptable. Species native to eastern U.S.

5474 – Rosa Magnifica Rose  Here I go again. . .

4×5′ R. rugosa x Ards Rover. Dr. Walter Van Fleet introduction, U.S., 1905. Large clusters of 3–5″ loose double deep fuchsia-purple-red flowers with showy bright golden stamens, spicy fragrance, and 30 petals per bloom. Dense shrub with large glossy dark green foliage and a vigorous wide-spreading habit. Orange-red hips. Very disease-resistant. Walter Van Fleet (1858-1922) was a physician who dropped out of medicine at age 35 to follow his passion for plants. Twelve years later he introduced Magnifica, an unusual cross between a rugosa and Ards Rover (a fragrant red pillar rose from Ireland just introduced in 1898). From 1910 until his death, Van Fleet worked as a breeder for the USDA.

5723 – Symphoricarpos orbiculatus Coralberry  It has four common names, which is a sign I should have a specimen. Also, a bit of Devil’s Shoestring over the door keeps out zombies.

3-5′ x 4-8′ Also called Red Snowberry, Buckbrush, Indian Currant and Devil’s Shoestring. Low-growing spreading arching shrub. A good wildlife plant for banks and hillsides. Dense clusters of small pinkish or purplish-green flowers in early summer followed by clusters of small purple-red berries that persist into winter. Will attract insects, bees and birds. Some say unattractive to deer, but others say otherwise (hence the name Buckbrush.) Red fall foliage. Adaptable to most soils, moist or dry. Shade or sun. Native eastern U.S., west to OK and north into parts of Canada.

6741 – Perovskia atriplicifolia Russian Sage  This plant has only increased in popularity over the last five years – it’s everywhere but in my garden, until now. The bees will love it.

6871 – Verbascum Caribbean Crush    You can’t have too many giant, towering, gaudy variaties of verbascum.

6972 – Scrophularia nodosa Figwort  This plant sounds like something I must have – although I had never heard of it before.

A slim stalk studded with many small waxy dark maroon flowers with yellowish centers. The flowers look like little open mouths singing in unison. Toothed leaves and square stems. Aerial portions infused to make a massage oil that benefits the lymphatic system. We do not recommend internal usage without consulting a seasoned herbalist or naturopathic doctor. Also an excellent plant to attract pollinators. Lauren says, “I have never seen any plant more covered in bees when it is in bloom.” Holly has seen these lovely European natives growing wild in the woods near Sand Beach on Mount Desert Island.

7022 – Verbena hastata Blue Vervain A beautiful bee plant.

North American native with tall branching flower spikes of a deep green-grey hue. Tiny bright purple-blue flowers whorl around the spikes one ring at a time. It will re-seed readily in the garden and around your yard. Commonly used as a nervous system tonic, mild sedative, for a variety of menstrual problems, neck tension, and many other complaints. 5–7′ tall.

Columbine season

Aquilegia, the Columbine (Latin from columba, “dove”) is in full bloom. This spring we’ve had enough rain that flowers are appearing in the margin of the gravel driveway and in the walkways where last year’s seed hitched a ride on the soles of my shoes.

This year the plants are over four feet tall. They are remarkably generous and tolerant of neglect, and the deer don’t seem to bother them. I had dark red blossoming plants from my parents (A. atrata) and a few of the bright blue A. caerulea that is the state flower of Colorado to start with, but over the last 10 years I’ve accumulated every shade of purple, pale pinks and creams and a few that are nearly black.  I don’t think about them much at all, except that lovely interval in May when they bloom above healthy, lush green crowns of foliage and then retreat again before they can become boring – the botanical version of a house guest with perfect manners.