Kachemak Gardener:

Spring is rushing at an exhilarating pace. Can we keep up? It’s fun to try.

I had a rude realization this past week – my main perennial bed has failed. Apparently the culprit may be saturated soil and an intense period of cold in the fall, then single digit temperatures the beginning of this month. At least that’s what happened at my house. Whatever the cause, gone it is. Five peonies that were the backbone are no longer. This situation is reminiscent of 2012, although not as severe, not as complete. There are a few perennials here and there. The grass is suffering.

Which brings me to the “here and there” the “this and that.” I have fallen prey to the collector syndrome: one of this and one of that. I’m a cheap gardener, and the idea is that I’ll buy just one and grow it to divide later on. It hasn’t been working; I just keep adding and not dividing.

So this is my chance to tighten up the scheme, to consolidate, to plant in mass.

The five peonies were all different. The strongest, Sarah Bernhardt, is showing tentative signs of life. I’m adding three more Sarahs and as much salvia as I can get my hands on. I lost most, but not all, of the Blue Queen salvia that I started from seed in 2015. It’s too late to start seeds, so I’m filling in with nursery grown specimens. I have a couple that look like I can divide them, but I’m after instant gratification. This bed in particular has been a showpiece, the anchor, and it’s now quite empty.

Yes, I actually cried when the reality of the devastation sunk in. But hey, it’s only a garden. I am done wringing my hands and accepting this as an opportunity. The whole garden has been established for the last five years or so, and really, I was running out of things to do to it other than maintenance.

So my answer to that was to renovate the “other” perennial bed. Bad timing. I now have two beds that look completely empty. The planned renovation will be just fine. John moved the dwarf red twig dogwoods that I thought would be so perfect, but even though they stayed dwarf, they overwhelmed the space. They are now settled in at the base of the larch, which is where they should have been in the first place.

In their stead will be three kinds of cosmos, Blue Star columbine that Molly harvested the seed from hers, pulmonaria that has survived all kinds of nasty weather and plenty of Asiatic lilies. There are tons of minor bulbs, and as their foliage fades, everything else will cover them. There is hope for that bed.

The two azaleas in the East Garden were looking hale and hearty until the single digits hit early this month; now I doubt if they are even alive let alone going to bloom.

All of you at elevation that bemoaned your deep snow now know the advantage of that snow – insulation. No freeze/thaw cycle for you. Honor that snow.

The fall-planted garlic is finally up but looking weak. It is usually up with the crocus, but not so this year, so I pulled four heads of Inchlium Red out of the basket in the kitchen, divided them up and planted them in a flat three weeks ago. They are looking good and went into the ground today. It will be interesting to see if there is that much of a size difference. I’ll keep you posted because, supposedly, the advantage of fall planting is size.

I took my time hardening off the vegetable seedlings. I suggest you do the same. The mornings have been cold, and this day breeze is cold and relentless. I’m usually brutal with seedlings, I put them out and cover them with floating row cover – no going in and out of the greenhouse for me. Not this year. I have been gentle and diligent. But the cole crops are now all in the ground as of today, covered in floating row cover mostly to discourage the fly that lays the egg that becomes the dreaded root maggot but also to give them some protection, some comfort, in the face of a sub-Arctic spring.

When you set out your seedlings be sure to bury the stem up to the first set of leaves. This will make for a sturdy plant. If you don’t, the wind will whip it around, making for a weak stem and potential failure. Water the seeding in with a solution of fish emulsion, which is supposed to ease transplant shock. Snuggle the seedling in and tamp down the soil. I sprinkle a little Sluggo Plus over the bed. I have cutworms here, maybe you don’t, but I have found that this product cuts my losses. The manufacturer touts it as organic, but you can find articles that hold forth on that theory. I’m grateful for its existence.

Slowly but surely, the rest of the vegetable garden is getting planted. As I have mentioned before, I’m in no hurry to plant carrots. I have three left from last year. They are in perfect condition, but they are huge. Actually, I think I’m afraid of them. More carrot soup, enough is enough.

The lettuce in the greenhouse is amazing. There is only one head left, and I’ll be sorry to see it go. But I’ve got the 10-day schedule up and running: four seeds get started every ten days. This seems to meet all of our lettuce needs. The sorrel is up and delicious, adding a nice note to a salad. The greenhouse radishes are almost all gone. Once again, they are being planted by the row outside every 10 days. It works for us; you may find your own schedule that suits you. I’d rather eat lettuce when it’s at its peak than adding it to the compost.

The tomatoes are blooming, and I think I see a tiny tomato. Remember you only need to give the plant a gentle shake to pollinate the blooms. Nothing fancy, just shake. There are only three plants out there this season. I had a tomato seedling failure and am now paying the price.

Basil has been a bit of a challenge for me. I didn’t give that much thought until John decided that he likes pesto after years of avoiding it. So, I need to be more successful with this. I have three different methods going on out there, so we’ll see which one excels. In the past, the harvest has been skimpy, but I was the only one here who needed basil in my life.

The growing season is off to a slow start; I’m guessing at least two weeks late, but its here. Better late than never.

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

Johnny-jump-ups add a splash of color and cheer, as seen here on Sunday, May 23, 2021, in the Kachemak Gardener’s garden in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)

Johnny-jump-ups add a splash of color and cheer, as seen here on Sunday, May 23, 2021, in the Kachemak Gardener’s garden in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)