Kachemak Gardener: 2021 gardening season is like a science project

Stalled, dead and late plants are part of the challenge of gardening at latitude 59.5 north.

This garden is being put to the use it was born for: family. Five grandchildren have the run of the place with six adults held in their thrall. This little house is pulsing with humanity, voices of every timbre bouncing about.

This may be a cold summer (certainly not the first), but the garden truly is an extension of the house. Our family is spilling out on the deck to the semi-alive grass and then on to the vegetable garden. All black thoughts about the winter die-back is erased by the energy of one 16-year old, two 13-year-olds and two 10-year-olds.

This reunion didn’t occur last year because of COVID-19, so the grands haven’t seen each other in almost two years. This is a long-awaited visit, and the energy is intense. Excellent. I am grateful.

But the three kinds of chickweed continue to thrive, so there is the rudimentary chore list that I’m attempting to carry out and stay on top of. I gave up this afternoon, took off my coveralls (that I’m hoping you all have by now), put the tool bag in the greenhouse and baked another loaf of bread.

* * * *

The lilacs are lovely. We took the carousel clothesline down so the blooms could be completely appreciated. With just one third of an acre, the plantings are a bit crammed in around here and the lilacs are a glaring example. Please believe the dimensions on the labels of the trees, shrubs and plant accordingly. Miss Kim is taking a year off. This happens with her. I don’t know why, but there she sits, her perfect figure compensating for her lack of color. Oh well. She is the least of the worries around here.

And on that note, I’m just appreciating what there is and choosing not to dwell on what no longer exists. But I do miss the salvia.

The native iris setosa is gorgeous. It is planted in a perfect spot and thrives along with marsh marigold and yellow day lilies, all in all a very lovely use of a boggy area.

You will need to cut back your trollius. Go ahead. Grab a handful of spent blooms, follow the stems down and you will notice that there is new growth forming a new mound of leaves. Cut to that point, and the plant will rejuvenate to a tidy mound and perhaps a second round of blooms. There is no point in leaving the spent blooms looking tattered, although I like to leave a couple to reseed.

The William Baffin rose that anchors the northwest corner of the house has been a challenge. When it is successful, it reaches into the inner recesses of John’s moose rack, and I just really like the juxtaposition of those two things. They seem to represent John and my personalities/interests. But I have never really made a tidy job of pinning up the canes. I don’t have enough patience. Enter our son-in-law, Andrew. His second day here, he tackled this rose: step ladder, twine, scissors and, yes, patience. It now looks like something out of a magazine.

I have been avoiding containers for several years now; I don’t want to be a slave to watering/feeding them. So, there I am with two in the East Garden that no longer gets enough sun to benefit a container planting. I have a deep love of pansies, and when planted directly into the ground, they are the first to succumb to slugs and that, which makes me ever so sad. So, into the containers they went along with four bachelor buttons.

Well, let me be the first to tell you what a mistake those bachelor buttons were in those containers. What was I thinking? So after a few weeks of watching the bachelor buttons dominate the pots, I pulled them out. Why not? They were so very wrong. Why ever should I subject myself to being detracted from the pansies by these beasts? They are now somewhere else — not even all that sure where I tucked them — just away.

Everything in the greenhouse is covered with these gnat-like insects that don’t seem to be damaging the plants but are disgusting nonetheless. So today I put the brass nozzle on the hose and started blasting. I need them to be gone. I will repeat this rather rough onslaught for as long as it takes to eradicate them, which I am hopeful will happen. These insects came in on the potting soil, and I have yet to figure out what they are. I’m not taking enough time to solve this very solvable mystery.

The beans in the greenhouse are blooming and the hope is for a nice crop. The beans planted outside are just emerging, giving me hope for them. I like the staggered planting: Keep the beans coming but not overwhelmingly so.

I also have a winter squash out there, something I haven’t done in years because it just isn’t worth the effort, but hey, I had the space. So Table Princess it is, coming to maturity in 75 days or so they say. I started it in the greenhouse, set it out under a recycled plastic jug with soil covered in black plastic, and then the wind started, which is still here, cold and persistent. So, the princess outgrows the jug, and I rig up a mini-greenhouse. Let’s all wish it luck.

The basil is huge, about to be cut a second time, but seems to be getting tough. I’ll need to ask Jane, my basil mentor.

So far this whole gardening season has been akin to a science project. Some plants are stalled, others are outright dead, yet others are three weeks late. All very interesting and one more kink in the challenge of gardening at latitude 59.5 North.

Enjoy/use/live in/appreciate your garden. Remember it’s yours and you get what you want out of it.

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

Our native iris setosa making the most of a boggy area. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)

Our native iris setosa making the most of a boggy area. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)