Welcome to the jungle

I’ve been blessed with the new community garden plot.  Last season, we moved from the very front to the very back. It’s doing really well so far this year.  In fact, it’s a bit of a jungle!

I can’t help but feel a bit of pride, but I’m sure it’s luck (and some learning).  First, I’m not one of those folks who plants in rigid schemes. I’m more of a “tuck in” kind gardener. What does this mean?  For example, I have established perennial items, such as rhubarb and a variety of flowers (Montauk daisies, sun drops irises, daylilies, herbs, and others) that are anchors in corners and sides of the plot.  On on side are two raised beds, floating within the larger plot.  So some things get planted in rows, while many others, including annual flowers, get tucked into empty spots.

This year, things are packed pretty closely, which actually also helps with weed control.  Tomatoes are elbow-to-elbow with Borage and cucumbers, which are next to the pole beans.  And the mixed packet of sunflowers I planted are massive!

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Remember my lamentation about the straw as a weed suppressant? So far, it has worked out just fine.  Yay!

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There is nothing that beats the fragrance of fresh carrots right out of the warm ground.  Picked the last of them today (at least until the Fall). What an amazing treat.  The basil was a close second.

Here’s what we harvested this week:

  • Beets – a couple were still left. This year, I planted a mix of golden, red and chioggia.  It was the best year for beets I’ve had so far
  • Carrots (multiple colors — so pretty to roast)
  • Lacinto Kale – I like the flat leaves
  • Swiss chard — rainbow, which means some have pink stems, some white, some red, and some yellow
  • Green beans
  • Herbs: Sorrel, thyme, basil, dill
  • Rhubarb
  • The first tomato of the season. Black Krim — sweet and delicious

Left the peppers on the plant to mature a bit more this week.

A bit of the harvest was donated to the food bank. There’s a collection area right in the garden!

At 90 degrees, it was hotter than I usually care for, but the time flew — it’s so pleasant being in the garden.

What a blessing.

Dill 2016

Green bean in flower 2016

We’ve Got the Beet(s)

Summer sure is busy. So much going on, the garden is just one of them!

The community garden has been doing well so far. This year, we’ve got beets — no nibbling critters (so far). And a bounty of chard and kale. The carrots are finally maturing.

So many pretty, subtle jewel tones between the beets, chard and carrots.

Community Garden

Because I only get to there a few times a week, there’s sometimes a slight feeling of dread when I head to the community garden. I’m never quite sure how weedy things have become in just a few days, or whether something has gone pear-shaped and will require more attention than I have time for.

But inevitably, most times, the apprehension seems to melt away once I arrive and dig in.  There’s a calm that takes over that defies logic.

I was alarmed when I arrived last weekend to birdhouse had toppled and crashed into ground.  The house landed on a large rhubarb plant and I dreaded what I might find.

The contents had spilled out and I fished under the rhubarb to assess the damage.  Bird nests are not necessarily a cute array of straw and grasses.  Sure, there was some straw, but there was also aqua-colored plastic twine, small pieces of clear plastic sheeting, small bits of broken  plastic odds and ends, black string, large feathers.  Not attractive to us, but apparently what’s appealing for the tenants.  I held my breath as I looked to see if there was a bird. Relieved, none seemed to be around.

I righted the pole and the house. As I walked back from bringing some of my harvest to the community food bank cooler we keep onsite, it seemed the tenants — or some new ones — were already looking to move back in.  (This was taken at a distance with my iPhone, so a bit blurry).

Birdhouse

This calamity aside, it was exciting to bring home a delicius array of greens this week.  Lettuces, chard, kale and pak choi were in full swing.  So much goodness from a handful of seeds.

Get Planting Greens 2016

Rhubarb and radishes

I have three or four posts worth of content, but have been treating the blog a little lazily this long holiday weekend.  That’s not to imply I’ve been lazy about gardening. In fact, I’m somewhat nicely exhausted from it — or  perhaps it’s just  the near-90 degree heat. Or both.

Saturday: A Cautionary Tale
Saturday at the community garden is marked by an epic fail that confirms experienced gardeners do stupid things.  This is one I’ll be paying for all season, and possibly well beyond.  Let’s just say I generally use landscape fabric there for weed control, but for some reason I decided I’d use salt hay this year. Which was, of course, sold out from every garden center by the time I got around to looking for it  (I do in fact, have a day job!).  One of my trusted local centers insisted straw would be fine. So I looked it up on the interweb, and read that by definition, straw should have no seed heads.  Imagine my surprise when I get to the garden, unpack the straw, pull some out from the bale, and there it is:  Seed heads everywhere. I should have thrown it out on the spot. But I didn’t.  I put it down, and at some point in the future, the weed suppressant will be the weed source.  And of course, all this happened after the hay blew all over my car, which is another mess –and another story!

Sunday: Lazy Day Enjoying the Garden and Nature
On to more encouraging topics. Today, I’d like to give a shout out to my partner in crime and intrepid photographer: My husband.  He’s a photo contributor on this site. Creative director, musician and all-around talented guy, he’s also  an amazing photographer.  Check out some of his stuff on Instagram.  I’m always grateful for how he’s quick to hop outside to photograph some random plant or scheme on a moment’s notice, without complaint.

At the home garden, everything’s coming into bloom at once. We can thank the sun and heat for that.  A few weeks later than usual, peonies are in full swing.  Cut several vases full, and will be giving some to friends.

Dad_s Peony 2 2016

My dad gave me these two peony plants. Each year, they remind me of him when they come into bloom. The white is a favorite, with its beautiful fragrance.

Dadswhitepeoney2016

Early in my gardening adventures, I was a bit rose obsessed. Not  just any rose, but antique garden roses.  The two that have remained have earned their place — they’re beautiful, tough survivors and sweetly fragrant:  The Quatre Saisons and Felicia.  Felicia is one of Pemberton’s hybrid musks.  I love the delicate blooms and the way it can be trained as a small climber.  It has survived being dug up and replanting when we built our addition.  It can also be seen inside our back room, backlit by the sun.  The Quatre Saisons similarly has survived multiple moves around the garden.

Rosa Felicia 2016

Sunday Supper

From community garden, I brought home a respectable haul of rhubarb, French breakfast radishes (so pretty, and tasty), and gorgeous greens:  pak choi, lacinto kale, so many lettuces, tiny chard. The rhubarb made a delightful dessert in this delicious recipe by David Lebowitz.  His is yet another inspiring recipe site I like, and this one didn’t disappoint!  I made just a few small tweaks — like using a splash of Lakka, a Finnish  cloudberry liqueur, instead of Kirsch (which I didn’t have on hand) and cutting the sugar and honey, and using a bit less wine.  A little whipped cream melted into the warm compote as a topping.

(Incidentally Kirsch reminds me of a wonderful Black Forest cake my mother used to make.That’s another story. Hers was perfection, and elegant. It started with a dark chocolate cake and contained dark cherry filling flavored with kirsch, topped with a very simple and elegant whipped cream, and embellished simply with dark chocolate shavings. I’ll have to ask mom for the recipe).

Dinner was a great pak choi (bok choy) recipe from The New York Times, except I added sesame seeds and tofu (which had been pressed and seasoned).  All in all, a very light and quick summer dinner.

BachelorButton 2016

Daylily Dilemma

I spent a good part of the weekend battling a formidble enemy.  They look so innocent, even attractive.  Neighbors share them freely. They appear on roadsides across the northeast, a happy sign of summer.  The orange daylily.

A friend gave me some from her garden who knows how many years ago.  And somehow they have multiplied in a crazy-quilt way, in places totally unexpected!  And seemingly exponentially this year.

Ruthlessness is important.  I think I got the roots of many, but I’m sure they’ll rear their pretty heads again.  They’re tenacious. And the garden does look better without them — their random appearances were squeezing out  neighbors throughout the bed.

Have I banished them for good? Hardly. I still have some at the community garden and a small patch at the back of the garden.

A good part of the rest of the weekend was spent doing the many tasks that have been building up. Planting annuals and mulching the front beds.  Pruning. Planting some climbing annuals strategically — hyacinth vine and antique sweet peas.  Separating and transplanting coneflowers, lady’s mantle and astilbe to a bed at the entrance of our property, under the pear tree.

Despite all that got done, there is so much more. But I’m not complaining, It’s a pleasure that there’s just not enough time for most weekends.

This weekend’s highlights in photos below.

Jacobs Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder adds a delicate touch to the front of a border.

Peony wiegela

Peonies are late to bloom this year. This one’s just about ready and is tucked next to a Wiegela.

Centauria

Centaurea, sometimes called Bachelor’s Button, adds a vivid blue for a few weeks in Spring.

The Hunt is Up

Happy May Day!

Here’s a glimpse of the baskets I created for my pals with the purchases at the plant sale, plus the addition of some strawberry plants.  It wouldn’t be May Day without strawberries!

Everyone seemed to have a good time and kudos to my friends who brought crafts and creative projects along for us to try.

Fear I now need to get out to the garden to work off all that food!

The Plant Sale

We’re members of the Frelinghuysen Arboretum, which hosts an annual plant sale that offers an impressive array of annuals, perennials, shrubs and small trees.  Usually held in early May, one of the benefits of being a member is the opportunity to attend the member’s-only preview, and get the first crack at the good stuff!

The sale has changed over the years. At one time, boxed dinners and wine were served as you socialized, perused plants or picnicked on the lawn. While that’s no longer the case, we’re really there for the plants. We arrived just a half hour into the event and eager gardeners were streaming to the checkouts with their haul of plants.

This year, the theme is the collector’s garden. We noticed many unusual varieties. We picked up some ginger, which should be interesting!

Plantsale3

Shelves display a variety of annuals and perennials

APlantsale2 small

Nurseries and greenhouses near and far donate a wide variety of plants each year

While it took many years for our garden to develop, today our modest yard can barely hold another plant  (though M. would be happy to sacrifice lawn mowing to more garden beds!).  So, my focus today was mainly finding plants and herbs to make May Day baskets.

I’m hosting May Day brunch this Sunday. May Day is a wonderful and unique tradition at Bryn Mawr College.  Sophomores rise at dawn to pick flowers for the seniors. Everyone dresses in white and eats strawberries and cream while sipping champagne for breakfast.  There’s May Pole dancing, hoop races through the blooming lane of cherry trees on the green, viewing of the The Philadelphia Story at midnight, and more. But overall, it’s a day of just hanging out in the sun on the green, which is welcome ahead of the finals coming up in just a couple of weeks.  The day ends in a step-sing, one of my favorite college traditions.

My alma mater has so many great traditions, some going back to the beginning of the college,  and I’m sure many new ones by now.  It will be nice to enjoy a little May Day festivity with these local Bryn Mawr friends, with our own way of celebrating, now so many years away from campus.

The Payoff

With a minimum amount of work and maintenance, Fall bulb planting can have a big payoff come Spring.  Aside from the time choosing the varieties to plant, the actual prep and planting is very quick (see my November 7, 2015 post).

There is nearly  no maintenance involved come Spring, aside from removing the yellowed stems and leaves, once it has fully run its course.  You may also want to add a touch of bulb fertilizer at the right time, but that’s about it.

One concern folks generally express is that bulbs can look messy once the flowers are gone and you’re waiting for the leaves to die back so you can remove them.  Your planting scheme can help here — for example, I tuck the bulbs in between shrubs or other plants that will emerge, as part of an overall scheme.  In one area, it’s tucked among an azalea and evergreen shrubs on one side, while on the other, a spirea and evergreen. Ahead of it are a variety of green perennials, including hosta, lamb’s ears and Lady’s Mantle, which will soon be in the the focal point in the foreground.

Tulip Spring Green small

As for those little tulip orphanaeda flava in the backyard, here’s what it ultimately looks like in bloom. It’s tucked among some boxwoods, a peony, climbing hydrangea and variegated hostas.  It gives the smallest pop of color with the grape hyacinths among the cool green palette.

Tulip orphaeda flava small

Try out a small area of bulbs this Fall, and be rewarded with a little joy next Spring.