Kachemak Gardener: Jade the Dog inspires garden innovations

Jade the Dog, at 9 years old, has been bypassing one of the stone paths through the perennial gardens in front of the house for her entire life. These are gardens that most visitors see. They are the focus from the deck. They are important. And the Dog refuses to walk on the path, therefore there is a barren strip along the edge of a lovely slate path. I have tried various plants that should withstand the onslaught. So far thyme has been the most successful. But thyme reseeds with a vengeance and is now all over the beds. At least i’ts obvious and can be weeded out. But still…

Now, here comes the clincher: just this past week, as this growing season is winding down, I noticed there is NO barren path. No ugliness. What have I been looking at? How can something so important to me, so annoying, a section of garden that I spend time in, that I walk past a million times a day, that finally looks the way I have envisioned go UNNOTICED? I hope there is no answer to this, that this is just one of those things. Good grief.

The annual godetia that breaks at the slightest provocation, namely a dog’s tail, is mixed in there along with salvia, California poppies, snap dragons (Apple Blossom — really lovely), the inevitable johnny-jump-ups, along with the thyme. I have watched Jade the Dog lie on the thyme and it is no worse for wear. So if you have a dog that insists on walking outside of the prescribed boundaries, plant thyme.

This is the time of year that you can be thankful for two kinds of plants: annuals and lilies. Most of these are still going strong, providing color and comfort when the end is closing in. Although the seed heads of thalictrum are lovely and interesting, you need to be careful that they don’t find your ground covered with seedlings come spring. I’m not ready yet, the color (deep purple) is so welcome, but will have to move on this sooner rather than later.

The same goes for verbascum, Bold Queen. This one is white with a plum eye and I love it dearly. It is sturdy, blooms later, and is now going to seed. There is a main patch of it but then I’ll find it here and there. Some needs to be pulled early on if it is in a very wrong place, its height can be daunting. If this happens to you pull it out right away before it develops its formidable root mass.

If you don’t have any asiatic lilies be sure to make this your year. They are gorgeous, bloom late enough, come in wonderful colors and absolutely love the Far North. They also offer varying heights so there is something for every nook and cranny you may have. Go forth and buy these.

Here it comes again, my least favorite topic: compost. To me making a compost pile is so natural, so easy, so obvious that I can’t understand why all of you don’t do this and do it successfully. There are tomes written on this, classes given, lectures to attend. Please — just make a pile.

When you look at your vegetable patch and realize that most of the material will not be eaten, it is just support for the part that you do eat, why not take the next step and pile it up? There is no magic. Well, maybe there is, because in the end you have gorgeous soil that makes everything you plant in it so much more vigorous, more lovely, more rewarding, more worth your effort.

So here goes: If you have never done this, lay down some cardboard on a spot that makes sense, i.e. in the sun and near the garden. Wet the cardboard. This material will hold down any weeds and give you a level spot. Put down a layer of whatever is coming out of your vegetable plot: carrot tops, potato vines, broccoli/cabbage/cauliflower leaves. I like to chop this up with a machete. The smaller the material the sooner it will break down. Now a couple shovels of manure. This can be horse/cow/llama/goat/rabbit. Add a layer of grass clippings. Now go ahead and repeat these layers a couple of times. If its dry (not this year) water it. I like to throw a cover over it, a tarp or black plastic to hold in the heat.

Because we are at the end of our season it may not heat up, but if it does, turn it over right next to the original site. Cover. Repeat until it doesn’t heat up any more and leave covered for next season.

Compost is what fills the bins in the greenhouse. It is what’s spread all over the vegetable plot. It is broadcast over the perennial beds in the spring. It is all I use. It is all anyone ever used before commercial products were offered and that is a fairly recent development. Feed the soil and that in turn will feed your plants which will then feed you. It’s a circle. One that you are overthinking.

August rain is here and with it slugs. I admit that I have been using Sluggo which is supposed to be organic. All I really know is that it helps the situation. We have raised beds in the vegetable plot with mowed grass for paths. I sprinkle Sluggo down the center of the path. Not in the bed with the vegetables. The point is to draw them away from what you don’t want destroyed. I have used shingles, pieces of board, rhubarb leaves, overturned melon rinds — the slugs will congregate under these things and you can scrape them off into a bucket with vinegar mixed in. Or — you can use Sluggo. Lightly sprinkle and walk away.

There is still an abundance of produce in the vegetable plot. This very short summer may be heaving a sigh, but it isn’t over yet. Keep harvesting, keep weeding, keep eating and processing your excess. You will be thankful for your efforts come winter and pull out a container of broccoli to toss into your spaghetti seasoned with a few cloves of the garlic you grew yourself.

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