Dear Friend and Gardener: June 6, 2014

Dear Friend and Gardener,

Just a quick postcard to tell you I’ve started harvesting my green beans. The peas continue against all expectations. Nasturtiums and squash blooming consistently now. The ground cherries grow exponentially and the fruits are charming, hanging below the massive leaves like little lanterns. Should I prune the suckers, as with tomatoes?

I’m planting a second round of beans for late-summer harvest and have started a few more paste tomatoes for late summer as well. Going to try a shade trick I learned from Ira Wallace at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and hope it helps keep the plants going through the hottest weather. I’ll send pictures when I’ve set it up. I’m late in harvesting my garlic, but still got a reasonable showing. It was my first season growing garlic and I learned a lot about what it takes to get a good yield (tip #1: Don’t misplace the growing guide that tells you about the optimal harvest time). Next year I expect better results.

calendula bud

Look at this nice fat calendula bud! I watch it every day for signs of progress. If I’ve timed things just right, it’ll bloom the day after I leave to go to the beach.

Hope your garden is giving you as much joy as mine is!




Dear Friend and Gardener: 30 May, 2014

Dear Friend and Gardener,

Memorial Day, the traditional if unofficial beginning of summer, was last Monday, and it definitely feels like summer. After a surprisingly long spring–for here, anyway–temperatures are beginning to hover around the 90s, humidity has returned, and the nights are warm as well. I wonder what the months of July and August will look like–more of the same, or substantially hotter and muggier?

And consistent with the advent of summer, the vegetable garden is coming on strong. I have small tomatoes on ‘Sophie’s Choice,’ a short-season variety I’m trying for the first time this year. Tomatoes ‘Black Prince’ and ‘Principe Borghese’ seem to grow three inches a day, and I pinch suckers every morning. I must get to work on finding some taller stakes.

little tomatoes 'sophie's choice'I’ve also got tiny little pickling cucumbers coming along. I’m the only one in the house who loves pickles, so every fruit is for me. Now I need to find the perfect recipe to make those cukes taste like the pickles I used to get from the deli in Chicago. I wonder if the deli would share their recipe? Must remember to ask.

small cukes 2

I can’t believe I’m still picking peas in June! Around here, spring usually lasts a week, and a few days in April in the 90s spell the end of the seasonal snap pea attempt. I didn’t plant very many peas but I’ve harvested at least a quart already. That many not seem like much, but in the past, I’ve felt fortunate if I could pick enough in a spring to add to a pasta salad. I’m trying not to let the success to to my head.

Bush beans are looking rather vital and vigorous, and so far, no sign of flea beetles. There; I’ve tempted fate. I’ve got tiny Anaheim peppers on two plants and am waiting for the jalapeños to catch on. Nasturtiums planted in the corner of the bed are green and healthy–but I think the soil may be a bit rich for them to produce many flowers. Or maybe I’m suffering my typical lack of patience.

bush beans 1

Do you grow calendulas? I’m trying those for the first time this year as well. I can’t explain why it’s taken me so long to get around to trying these.

Lots of basil–I never have enough. The lettuce is hanging on since I covered it with shade cloth. The 4-year-old next door thinks it’s crazy that my lettuce can get a sunburn, so I showed him the leaves that got a little crispy in the sun one day. I don’t think it was quite what he had imagined.

Physalis 'Cossack Pineapple' plant growing rapidly.

Physalis ‘Cossack Pineapple’ plant growing rapidly.

The shiso seedlings died, so I’ve got to start some more. And this year I’m trying another new thing: ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa). This plant likes it hot, for sure. It seems to double in size for every day we have over 90 degrees. This pattern cannot be sustainable, or it will be The Plant That Ate Durham before the kids are out of school for the summer. Tiny flowers already appear beneath the giant leaves, but I think the fruits will take a while to form. I’ll let you know.

physalis flower 2

I got the fig tree transplanted earlier in the spring, and it seems to be settling in nicely. I’ve got lots of little figlets already; I hope it will fruit more productively now that it’s out of the container. I can’t wait to have my favorite fig and goat cheese sandwiches!

Hope your garden is doing well. What’s the veg you’re most excited about this year?

May your tomato plants live long and prosper,


Grow Write Guild #13: Garden, and gardener, in transition

The prompt for Grow Write Guild #13 is to write about the topic of the garden’s end or transition.

I am fortunate to live in a horticultural haven: USDA Zone 7b, where winter happens but not for very long, the ground doesn’t often freeze beyond a slight crust, and a wide variety of glorious plants are both winter- and summer-hardy.

I look forward to the transition from summer into fall. For one thing, at this time of year it’s truly pleasant to be outside in the garden: mosquitoes dissipate along with the humidity, the kids are in school and the days are (mostly) quiet, and nurseries put everything on sale.  But what I enjoy most about this season is the changing of pace that always occurs, particularly within the gardener herself.

What is it about autumn that makes me slow down? People around me continue to hurry as much as ever; the calendar is always chock-full. The list of gardening tasks doesn’t shorten: rake, shred, compost, repeat. I never get the fall food crops in on time, but I’m not bothered. It will happen, in its own time.

My husband would remark that he hasn’t seen me slow down, but I definitely feel a disconnect between life’s flurry around me telling me to hurry up, and my response to that directive. The (relative) ease with which I can slip into a (relative) state of Zen is most pronounced in the fall, and most pronounced in the garden than elsewhere.

red japanese maple leaf

Maybe it’s the mornings of chilly rain that make me want to burrow under a blanket. Perhaps it is because I know I have several slow-moving months ahead of me in the garden, with fewer weed and disease battles in my immediate path, that I can feel so at ease. But mostly I think it’s something deeply biological: Nature is telling me, like she is telling most other living creatures in my environment, to prepare to rest. It’s refreshing to be reminded of my connection to nature; that, opposable thumbs and technology use notwithstanding, I am not terribly different from the rest of the living world.

Anemones: Not driving me crazy, for the moment.

I wrote in response to a prompt from the Grow Write Guild that anemones are a challenging plant for me. Well, thanks to an absurd amount of rainfall this spring and summer, I have finally coaxed one into bloom.

Anemone hupehensis 'Pamina' blossom

Anemone hupehensis var. japonica ‘Pamina’

The weather has turned cooler earlier than in most years, although we haven’t had rain in some time. The anemones looked a bit puny earlier in the day so I gave them a long drink, and they perked up neatly.

Anemone hupehensis 'Pamina' blossom

I mean to savor this plant while it blooms, but not let long-sought success go to my head. I am wondering if I should have the courage to try some other anemones, though? Maybe just one, for now?