Garden yields good crop of surprises

My, but I have been having fun this week. I needed to contact Janice Chumley, the integrated pest management technician at the Cooperative Extension Service office in Soldotna, not once but twice. 

And here’s why: I noticed a very white woolly substance on a branch of one of the tatarian honeysuckles. I took a picture and sent it to Janice who quickly responded with questions. So I slipped a Ziplok bag over it, cut it off and mailed it to her. 

Lo, it is a batch of psyllids, an aphid-like insect that occurs naturally in the arctic and sub-arctic.  Janice assured me that it wouldn’t kill the honeysuckle. They usually show up on alder, roses and raspberries and this is a first for her to see it on honeysuckle. She also said that they won’t harm the plant. But I’m all for cutting off the offending branch. It won’t wash off (I tried), and my instinct is to get rid of it before more follows.

    Then (this is in the same week, mind you), a gardener dropped off a rose leaf with the most lovely things growing on it. Round, spiny and pinkish. There goes another picture to Janice who quickly identified it as spiny rose gall. Inside each gall is the larvae for a tiny wasp. 

Janice went on to say: “The beauty of these is they really do not harm the plant, they are fascinating, great conversation topics, and there is no need to try and control them.”

She added that we seem to be having a bumper crop of these lovelies this year. 

I’m not done: I have been complaining about two weeds in the garden that I haven’t been able to identify. You’ll love this — they are variations of chickweed. Just what we need, more chickweed. Cerastum glomeratum and stellaria. I got this information from the Soil and Water Conservation office in the blue building on the corner of Lake Street and East End Road. Excellent. 

So if you see any of these things, take heart, all is not lost.

On to more pleasant topics. 

We had a surprise visit from our former neighbors who brought their grandson along. He had been a frequent and welcome visitor here while they lived next door. It has been a couple of years since we last saw him and he has achieved the interesting age of 11. He entered the garden through the east gate, just like he used to do, but this time he stopped, looked around and proclaimed “How did this HAPPEN?”

He was accompanied by his step-sister and these two topped any visitors who have ever entered this garden. They were openly delighted. They smelled and laughed and rolled in the grass and chased each other up and down the paths and threw the ball for Jade the Dog and told me over and over just how beautiful it all is. Can’t ask for more than that. Ever. 

Our columnar apple tree, that we have had for about six years, is actually growing. I know that sounds strange but, really, it has never ever put on new growth. Every now and then an apple will appear, never get ripe and that’s that. But it certainly has lovely blooms. 

Now, the whole point of this tree is be able to say I have an apple tree. Honestly. I don’t want a regular tree, they take up too much room, have, in my opinion, an odd growth habit and there just isn’t enough room here to accommodate one. So I settled for a columnar. It is about 18 inches wide and can achieve about six feet in height, it should have red, crisp apples that are good for eating out of hand which is what I want an apple for. 

So I put it in the strawberry bed where the whole effect is quite lovely — strawberries and pseudo apple tree blooming together. Lovely. Initially there were two of them but Jade the Dog was a puppy at the same time I planted them and, I’m not kidding here, ate one. Right down to the ground. There was no stopping her. Dogs …

It is somewhat startling to walk past this tree that has been stalled for six years and see it gaining growth. And apples. This may be the year that we actually get some apples off this tree. The “grands” are keeping a close eye on fledging, very green and small apples. They have faith. I have curiosity. 

I have come up with yet another cash crop for you market gardeners. Move over artichokes, garlic and certainly peonies. Make way for — FENNEL. Started from a package of seed (inexpensive investment) in early March, they bulb up in no time and are delicious. They keep in the refrigerator like carrots. The tops can be used to make pesto or dried and sprinkled on fish. They are so easy to grow it’s embarrassing. 

So there they are but the problem for me was I had only eaten them once, at a friend’s home, sliced thinly on a salad. They were delicious. She comes over and graciously gave me a fennel lesson. Showed me how to cut it up and gave me several ideas how to consume it, and let me know that I should have pulled it a little sooner. Now I know, and so do you. Excellent. 

The perennial beds are brimming with asiatic lilies. I love these plants. They are hardy, don’t fall over, come in gorgeous colors and multiply to the point where I will need to give some away next year. I am loathe to part with any. If you don’t have any of these add them to your list, they really are a must have. 

But I am deadheading like mad to make way for the lilies. The verbascum “Bold Queen” is winding down and I am freshening up the cranberry cosmos almost every day. I also remove the spent blooms from columbine. Now, this is tedious and I can only hold out on this chore for so long before I just cut down the whole plant. But, really, if you deadhead columbine you can extend the bloom time forever. The astilbe are just starting to bloom. It all works even though there isn’t a plan. One plant fades and another takes over. The California poppies are beyond gorgeous at this very moment. I have three kinds: Rosa Romantica, Bridal Bouquet and Purple Gleam. Their stems are brittle so you need to be careful where you put them. They want to fall over and need to be watered. And Jade the Dog can really tear them to shreds. All that said, I wouldn’t ever never be without them. Next year they will be out of the dog’s trajectory as she chases airplanes. 

    The strawberries are winding down and the raspberries and ripening. The “grands” love berries and to see them tumble out of their parents’ vehicle and head for the berries is a sight to behold. 

The only flaw that I am seeing in this wonderful summer is the plants are racing to the finish line. Everything got an early start and now they want an early finish. We are not accustomed to planting to accommodate a longer growing season. If this keeps up we will be needing to make adjustments. Be thinking about this. 

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.