Kachemak Gardener: Keep your intentions small — even a small garden can bring pleasure

As summer proceeds, little chores keep garden on track.

Sometimes I just have to unpack my violin and play “Ode to Joy.” In this case the garden was the audience — perfect.

Getting my perspective back on track as to what I expect the perennial beds should look like and this year’s reality has been a task unto itself. Thus, I’m taking stock of small pleasures and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is one of them.

The moose cow with twin calves has been spending a good deal of time in the meadow in front of our house. We watched the twins nurse, are watching them grow and this morning we watched the three of them race across like the devil was at their heels. We waited long enough to see what was following, but nothing obvious showed up.

I stopped to visit with a neighbor on the street above us and the drone of honeybees in her ornamental crabapple was LOUD. How cool is that? Not only is that tree gorgeous when in full bloom, as it is now, but it’s providing much needed food for the bees. Excellent.

This garden has its share of honeybees and bumblebees. The minor bulbs continue to bloom in turn and the bees find them immediately.

There is a boggy area here and I planted iris setosa (our native iris) 22 years ago. But they seem to have been struggling the last three years so this season I took a different tack. Instead of removing the spent foliage to make the bed look neat, I piled it up and John ran the lawnmower over it, effectively creating a mulch. I spread it around the plants and now, not only does the bed look neat, but the iris are responding to what I think is added nutrition. Plus there is a bit of weed suppression. The buds are setting and I’m hoping for a vibrant iris show in a couple of weeks.

On the chore list is staking the delphiniums, but I’m not sure they are going to need any staking. Hmmm. I divided them this spring; they look healthy but not particularly robust. In spite of what mine look like you will need to stake yours. There is nothing worse than a Pacific Giant delphinium in full bloom broken at the base of its hollow stalk. You can harvest it, hang it upside down to dry, and enjoy it all winter, but still — better to stake.

Take a look around. There are some plants that need a little support to make it through the growing season in fine form. There is a purple leaved geranium out here with blue flowers that, although a show stopper, tends to split from the middle like something sat on it. It doesn’t take much to give it a lift. Right now you would never know there was any support around it at all; the foliage is successfully covering it. Filipendula kehome is another one that would appreciate a little something. I’ve been successfully using peony rings for these. Stay away from tomato cages — they are just too tall for most plants other than tomatoes.

We have resorted to using sticky fly traps in the greenhouse. The bugs look like fruit flies, but other than that I don’t know what they are. There doesn’t seem to be any damage to the plants, but still — there are thousands of them. I noticed some in the house when I started seeds this spring. They seem to have come from the potting soil and, perhaps, have found a lovely environment in the greenhouse and multiplied. Goodness.

The apple tree is just starting to bloom. This is a North Pole columnar type apple and produces all the apples that we’re interested in, namely a few pies fresh and a few in the freezer. That is, of course, if we have a good year for apples. The best thing about that tree is that it blooms the same time as the strawberries, very lovely.

The strawberries took a hit this winter along with the perennials. There won’t be any in the freezer, that’s for sure. But there should be enough for grands to eat fresh.Take a good look at yours, run your hands over the plants, and any that are dry will pull out easily. This will make room for runner plants to take a hold and next year there will be ever so many more plants. Wishful thinking at its best.

I’m leaving all of the root masses in the ground from perennials that failed to survive this winter. I figure that they may make an appearance either later this season or next. No telling. The dwarf Korean lilac that is in the view from the house is struggling. I should cut it down but who knows, next year it just might make a comeback. I’ll wait, give it a chance. If it doesn’t thrive next year it will go. But for the last eight or 10 years it has been lovely. The three in the West Garden are looking hale and hearty, full of buds. But the one in the place of honor is sorry indeed.

I noticed that the pruning shears were not moving smoothly, slowing me down. What they needed, and so may yours, was a good scrubbing. I should get a lot more action out of them before I need to sharpen them again.

I trimmed all of the extra foliage off the tomatoes. This takes courage. They look so verdant and then I just start cutting. Yikes. But this enables air to circulate, eliminating mold, allowing fresh air and light to reach the fruit which has set and is looking promising. Remember: just shake the plant to fertilize the blooms, nothing fancy, just shake.

Another thought for you — start more of your favorite shrubs. There are a couple of ways to approach this: 1) choose a branch close to the ground, break it but not all of the way, hold it down to the ground with a rock so it is in contact with the soil. It will develop roots in situ; next year you can dig it up and relocate it 2) take cuttings, put in a pot of soil (I like to use the compost that we make) that is very wet, keep watered and eventually roots will develop. It’s fun to give away shrubs that you have rooted yourself. I feel like I have accomplished something useful.

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As you read these columns I want you to keep in mind that, yes, I spend a lot of time in the garden, but I’m not making rent. I have time for this. You probably don’t. Do not be daunted by my ramblings. Keep your intentions small — a doorstep garden will bring you immense pleasure and enough time outdoors to hear the birds.

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

The lewisia is better in a rock garden but it has found a spot it loves and thrives, thankfully. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)

The lewisia is better in a rock garden but it has found a spot it loves and thrives, thankfully. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)