Where to start? The last two weeks have been so full, so interesting, so busy. And all of this in the garden. I can’t imagine life without it. So this column will be a bit disjointed, stick with it and I’m sure you’ll find something interesting and, hopefully, useful.
Let’s start with the window box. This is the first hint of a garden, a not-so-subtle clue of what is behind the moose fence. The plan is for the flowers to be a greeter, to welcome friends, to make visitors feel instantly at ease. It contains three tuber begonias, a clutch of pansies, a few lobelia and a little bacopa at the corners. I knew this combination was going to go into that window box before the house was built. Now there’s some planning. Every year its more or less the same. Why not? It works. This is the north side, requiring plants that don’t need a vast amount of sun and most definitely need to be out of the wind (the begonias). The begonia blooms are fully double and upright. This makes for a top heavy plant and if left to its own devices it can topple and break. I caught this just in time and braced them with mini stakes. Some years I fail to take notice, just marveling at the sight of them beaming at me, and not registering that they are on their way over. I also like to pinch out the male blooms. These are the single ones that detract from the double blooms. Once pinched there is more room for the bigger show. The pansies are kept deadheaded so they keep on blooming. Lovely. Pick a spot at your entry where you can compose a lovely combination of plants, preferably in a container. It will brighten your day.
Deadhead your biennials. These are the plants that bloom the second year. By cutting off the spent blooms you can prolong the life of the plant, turning it into a short-lived perennial. The dianthus barbatus (Sweet William) is an excellent example of this. This particular batch has been going strong for four years. Leave a few seed heads so there can be some self-sowing this fall. The same goes for digitalis ‘Foxy’ foxglove. This one blooms the first year, if you keep it deadheaded it will send up side shoots and bloom on. This years seedlings are in bloom right now. You never know if this will be their last year or not and they seed readily. If you don’t need them in the spring they are very easy to pull and toss on the compost.
Oh dear, that brings me to compost. I have vowed to never address compost piles ever again. How can so many people make such a big deal out of a pile of kitchen and garden waste? What’s with percentages and ratios? Why are there whole books devoted to this? Just make a pile. Turn it a couple of times a year. Compost. There it is. Compost has been around since humans settled down in one place. You can go ahead and layer it: a few inches of grass clippings, a little manure from a horse/cow/pig/chicken/llama/goat/rabbit/alpaca (what have I missed?) whichever of these creatures are most convenient. Chicken manure is hot. In a past life when I had chickens we would put their bedding in a separate pile and leave it for a year and then add it to the compost. But all manure gets composted. I don’t ever use fresh on the garden. Everything gets composted so the decomposing process is taken care of before it hits the garden. It just makes sense. Intuitive. But one thing you might want to consider is chopping up the debris before you add it. The smaller the pieces the quicker they will break down. The harvest has been going on for weeks already and there is far more material going into the compost pile than into the freezer. Interesting, and true.
Brussels sprouts: starting at the bottom break off the leaves, moving up the stem until you have a topknot, pinch out the center of this knot. This will stop the plant from growing any taller. Removing the leaves give the sprout room to develop and makes it easier to harvest. You can also keep an eye on the slugs that are particularly voracious this season.
A friend called offering me the opportunity to pick cherries from her Mont Morency tree that is having an excellent year. There are quite a few of these trees in the area and some years are better than others. On good years it is a trick to beat the birds to the cherries. So I took advantage of her generous offer and, with her help (She has a pole with hook that she uses to pull the branch down, making it easier to reach and pick) picked five pounds, enough for three pies.
Same goes for the blueberries on this side of the bay. The plants have always been here but seldom yield berries. In the twenty years we lived at Mile 15 East End Road with a whole slew of berry plants on our property once and only once did they offer berries. This is an excellent blueberry year. Go forth and pick, they seem to be everywhere. I actually prefer the low bush variety. To my taste, they have more flavor. The low bush cranberries are also coming on strong. The ploy has been to wait for a frost before picking but they seem to be ripening in a hurry with no frost in sight. Might as well pick.
I have discovered a love for black currants. I have been offered these plants by well meaning friends in the past but I have always resisted. I have just been informed by one in the know that they are super easy to propagate. She had oodles early in the season and offered me all I wanted. Did I take advantage of this? Oh no. I hadn’t decided yet that I really need them in my life. So I picked some today, took note of their habit and decided that I can make this happen without the plant taking over my life and what little space is left here. I thought they behaved like raspberries but no, they are quite well behaved. I now have one lined up and will get it in the ground sooner rather than later.
The hydrangea paniculata is having a magnificent year. There will be a party for it this week even in the rain. I do not recommend this plant. It is supposed to be a small tree but doesn’t have enough time for its branches to strengthen so it becomes a very floppy shrub. August is the month that it will bloom, if it blooms at all. Of course, August is when the rains hit and pummel it into the ground. I have yet to figure out how to successfully brace it. But right now, at this very moment, it is gorgeous beyond belief and my heart soars.
The hummingbirds are back.
Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing the Kachemak Gardener since 1990.