Kachemak Gardener: ‘Plant camassia’ and other garden advice

Bear with me people: I have a thought running around in my head that needs to be released. Ready? Of all the great minds out there, for instance those who are exploring ways to go to Mars, those who are developing more military armament, you get the gist — why hasn’t one of them come up with a lawn grass that stops growing at an inch and a half? Just think of all the silence that would generate — no mowers, trimmers or leaf blowers. And, speaking of those implements, why hasn’t someone come up with mufflers for them? At least tone them down to a murmur. I’m convinced all of this can be done. Now that I have written these thoughts, maybe I can let it go. Thank you.

I made a foray to Debi Poore and Charlie Gibson’s garden. Now, this isn’t just any garden. This is a major renovation. Their waterfront property is ever so slowly slipping into Kachemak Bay. They have installed major bulwarks to thwart the progression, trucked in tons and tons of fill, and are now settled in with new plantings, a new greenhouse, and a sod lawn. The work that has gone into the project is monumental, and it shows. It’s lovely.

Both Debi and Charlie are seriously creative and their combined efforts are in evidence every step of the way, literally. The stairway leading down to the greenhouse is beyond excellent. There are red blooming strawberries alongside, with pineapple weed (Alaska chamomile, lots of other names) interplanted along the steps. There’s a Mont Morency sour cherry tree espaliered against a wall, a pond with koi, trees of all kinds, garden art — it really is charming. What a COVID project, perfect timing.

Back in my own garden, that I feel like I’m seeing too much of, I’m gratified by its maturity. There really aren’t that many weeds in the perennial beds. I do have one bed that is too difficult to get to the center of. I have flat rocks placed strategically here and there but that bed doesn’t have enough. The plants are now so grown up that I’m reluctant to add any more stepping stones now, but I certainly wish I had earlier in the season. I feel like I need acrobat abilities to get in and out of it. Think about this as you establish your beds. You either need to be able to reach them from all sides or access them via some method that you devise. Because we have slate paths (rocks gleaned from the roadside slides on the way to Hope) we have enough rocks left over to use. There is one path specifically for Jade the Dog. It’s too narrow for me, but she slips through gracefully and it successfully allows her to reach the other side without doing any damage to the plantings. It’s amazing that she uses it.

The bed of native iris setosa, with a few yellow day lilies mixed in, is stunning at this very moment. I usually have an iris party to honor this combination, but not this year. I like the idea of having native plants in the garden. They can be temperamental because they want what they had, their ideal growing conditions, and that isn’t always possible. In this case, we have a boggy area where they thrive along with native marsh marigolds (that are finished blooming, thus the day lilies). Both of these plants are perfectly happy and have been blooming here for over 20 years to prove it. There is a trowelful of Lady Slipper orchids that I acquired from the Pratt Museum’s botanical garden when it was being torn asunder. They are still considering the logic of the move. On Sophie’s (the cocker spaniel) grave there are native forget-me-nots and fireweed. I suggest that you find a spot in your garden where you can welcome some natives.

I really want all of you to plant camassia bulbs this fall. They have been a pleasure blooming in concert with Sun Disc daffodils, and they are multiplying so the initial investment will be recouped over and over. Put this on your list. If you are developing new beds this summer, think about where you want bulbs. I like to go with the minors bulbs because their foliage is easy to manage once it dies back right about now. There are other perennials at the ready to take their place and cover them up. You would never know they were there, giving such delight to both you and the honey bees just a few short weeks ago.

As for the vegetable garden, the harvest is already underway. The spinach is bolting faster than ever, so it is being enjoyed in salads twice a day, with a few basil leaves, a little chard, and red leaf lettuce tossed in. I completely cut down the sorrel, it was going to seed, but it will resume growth — the classic cut and come again salad green. You can do this with your lettuce or harvest leaves from each plant.

In the greenhouse the basil will need to become pesto sooner rather than later. I have new seedlings at the ready to replace them. These plants should mature in time to accompany the tomato harvest. What a delight. The Sweet Success cucumber is blasting out gorgeous specimens and the Royal Burgundy beans are being harvested every other day like clockwork. Keep yours picked, they will keep producing all summer.

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

Camassia were in full bloom on Monday, June 8, 2020, in Rosemary Fitzpatrick’s Homer, Alaska, garden — “deeply appreciated by the neighborhood honey bees,” she says. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)

Camassia were in full bloom on Monday, June 8, 2020, in Rosemary Fitzpatrick’s Homer, Alaska, garden — “deeply appreciated by the neighborhood honey bees,” she says. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)