Kachemak Gardener: the harvest is on— the whole point of a vegetable garden

The harvest is on. Spinach and chard are in the freezer. Gorgeous heads of broccoli (Arcadia) are meeting the same fate, much to our advantage. Once the main heads are dealt with, the side shoots will take over from there, and then the Romanesque cauliflower will be the focus of my attention. There it is — the whole point of having a vegetable garden —growing your own food. It isn’t even that big of a deal; it takes time and effort and the rewards are dramatic. I truly wish more of you did it.

The mixed greens salads are rolling in; fennel bulbs are being roasted or shaved over a salad; the little beets are out of this world; and we had our first potatoes tonight. Pair all of that with fresh fish and, really, who can ask for more?

I had a chance meeting with a woman I have never met or even seen before, and once she figured out that I’m the one who writes this column, she told me her gardening story. It goes something like this: Ten years ago she quit smoking and took up gardening, using this column as a guide. And, here it is people, she has a very successful compost, and she thanked me profusely for the inspiration and guidance. I made it to the car before I started to cry.

Finally, someone has made compost; validation is mine.

Let’s address the spent panicles of bloom on your lilacs. My shrubs are so huge that there is no way I am going to deadhead (cut off the spent blooms) all of that. If you feel the need, cut only the spent bloom. New buds will form this fall just below it. But the brown mess that is the aftermath of all that glory will fade as the season progresses, and sooner rather than later, you won’t notice them.

If you need to prune for shape, or the shrub is in the way of your clothesline, now is the time to do it. Remember that lilacs are shrubs, not trees. Follow a cane all the way to the ground and cut from there. Don’t just cut the ends of the branches. Supposedly we should all be pruning our lilacs every three years. I haven’t touched mine. They are too close together and do they ever put on a show when they bloom. So there. And look around at all the abandoned lilacs we have in this town and the outlying area. No one is fussing around with them. Are they glorious every spring? Yes. Do what you must.

Because of the challenging growing season, I’m letting a few of the annuals and perennials go to seed. Amid the devastation that was the result of last winter there are quite a bit of volunteer seedlings that have been showing up, albeit late. So the thought process goes something like this: If these seedlings made it through last winter, who am I to discourage their future? If we have another winter like the last one, I will need to rethink the perennial beds. In the meantime, I’ll let the volunteers have their way.

For instance, I thought I lost all of the verbascum “Bold Queen.” I really like this plant, and yes, maybe I’m influenced by the name, but the spire of white blooms with a plum eye and the sturdy architecture of the plant (no staking) have made it a favorite. But I thought they were all gone. Wrong. Here and there they are popping up, not as tall, but the same lovely spire of bloom that helps connect the house’s interior to the garden. Excellent.

The mock orange, all three of them, are putting on a show. My goodness, these shrubs are fantastic. Please be careful where you place them. These have reached about 15-feet tall by 10-feet wide. They are huge and, of course, planted too close to everything. They have gone far beyond the planting information on the label. The blooms are glorious, the scent lovely; I’m thankful for them.

But what I don’t understand, and can’t find an answer, is why do shrubs keep growing when they have, supposedly, reached their potential? The mock orange on the west corner of the deck has almost completely covered the bedroom window. I’ll need to think long and hard before I start pruning this shrub.

Let me draw your attention to the rose hedge on the corner of Kachemak Way and Mountain View. It’s a combination of rosa rugosa Hansa and rosa glauca (formerly rosa rubrifolia). I don’t think anyone has actually tended this hedge in all the years I’ve lived here. My Hansa’s get tender, loving care and fall over, but not this hedge. Take the time to look at this. Then on your way down Mountain View, look at the verge where the homeowners have planted a wildflower mix. Oh my, so much color, so much interest, so much enthusiasm from a packet of seeds. What an excellent answer to a problem area.

Here we go again with slugs. I gave up the head lettuce. The slugs were so deeply entrenched, and there was no shaking them out or hosing them off. Ugh. So now I have the container of Sluggo at the ready. Really, I’m done with beer traps, upside down grapefruit rinds, boards laid out in the path. Done. Lightly sprinkle in the path, not in the bed. You want to draw them away from their targets, which is almost anything.

The remaining peony is in full bloom and the string pinwheel I made for it (thanks to YouTube) is effortlessly holding up the blooms. Although I have a designated peony support system, I can’t pull it up far enough to support the plant when it is in bloom. This is the answer, and I am so delighted. I didn’t string up each stem like the video showed, but took a few here and there. Thus the pinwheel isn’t so obvious. Do this; you will be grateful.

The delphiniums that were divided for the very first time in their long lives are doing better than I thought they would. There are a few blooms, not like their glory years, but maybe those days will be revisited in the future.

This is a growing season for the books. The perennials, shrubs and trees aren’t behaving. And on Aug. 1, we saw a flock in V formation of about 70-75 geese heading due south.

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

Linum rubrum is really just an annual red flax, but the bloom is satiny and edged with black and not to be resisted. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)

Linum rubrum is really just an annual red flax, but the bloom is satiny and edged with black and not to be resisted. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)