Kachemak Gardener: The growing season has arrived — slow, but it’s here

O garden of mine, are you still slumbering or are you dead? That, really, is the question. The hope is that the answer will resolve this coming week.

This being Sunday evening (once again), the leaves on the ornamental deciduous trees are leafing but the birch are yet to show and they are the true harbingers.

The larch is in my line of sight as I write this and the hazy yellow green of new leaves is just starting to soften its silhouette. The Amur chokecherry and Schubert’s red are also showing signs of life. The Dropmore honeysuckle trellised on the west wall of the house is leafing and the roses are definitely looking lively as are the lilacs.

The problem, because I’m looking for one or more, are the perennials. I don’t see any peonies yet, or strawberries, or asparagus, or, or, or. John patiently reminds me that I go through this each and every sub-Arctic spring. Patience.

It doesn’t help that we are just returning from our daughter Andrea’s house, south of Bellingham, Washington. I could go on and on about what a gardener’s paradise that area of the country is. The lilacs are in full bloom, but I’ll stop there.

I pulled endless wheelbarrows of morning glory from her perennial beds, carefully untangling them from every single shrub and, believe me, there are many shrubs. Andrea has done exactly what I warn all of you against — she has way too much garden. Yes, she loves it all and that is truly important, but my goodness, the maintenance of the borders is daunting.

How about those snails? Well, actually, they are a bit more manageable than our slugs. At least I can get a grip on them and toss them in the slough where the healthy population of teals might eat them. But there certainly is a yuck factor.

Back to the reality of latitude 59 and a half. The grass is slowly making an appearance. I keep looking around and there are some lawns that have already been mowed and some that look like mine — green around the edges but mostly brown. This is where I think the ice may have had an effect; it’s wait-and-see time.

I’m gently removing spent foliage from the perennials, looking for life as I go along. I think it all looked more positive before I left at the end of April. The “Foxy” foxgloves were green and now they don’t exist; same goes for the hellebores. I hear over and over that foxgloves are almost invasive. There are gardeners who pull out seedlings by the handful. Not so here and I certainly wish I had their problem. I love foxgloves and never ever have enough.

The minor bulbs, which is what I mostly have because they are early and fade out when the perennials take over, hiding their spent foliage, are showing life. The crocus are in bloom, not all, but enough to attract honey bees. Chionodoxa, fritillaria, crocosmia (which you should all have by now), Scilla, puschkinia, Siberian iris, iris setosa (our native iris) are either in bloom or working their way to glory. All the little daffodils will come on later, but they are showing signs of breaking through the cold hard grip of winter. Not so bad is it? That’s the deal with gardening, there is always hope, always tomorrow.

The greenhouse is looking absolutely fantastic. I left it with my trusty neighbor for our 10 day sojourn. By the looks of things out there I should leave this time every year. Excellent.

The tomatoes had a rocky start, but, having buried their incredibly long stems, they are now looking hale and hearty.

We had our first salad and the radishes are almost ready. I’ve begun the “four lettuce starts every 10 days” cycle. This provides enough lettuce for the two of us plus grands for the summer. There will be a point where I will stop, but I’m not there yet. I’m cutting the whole head. I used to pinch off leaves as we needed them, but the greenhouse lettuce is not as robust as that grown outside, so for now I want to use it up. There is a short row of radish, again planted every 10 days, in the tubs along with the lettuce starts and the tomatoes that will reside permanently. It works; we eat fresh vegetables starting now — can’t beat that.

All of the vegetable starts have been moved to larger pots (I did that before we left, wise move) and look strong. I’m just hoping that they don’t need to go to even larger pots before they get planted into their forever home.

Every year, at some point, I panic about the garlic. There really is nothing like your very own fresh garlic. This fall we had so much rain I was sure that the fall planted crop (which produces bigger heads than spring planted) rotted, so to counter that I started a whole flat two and a half weeks ago. Well, of course, the fall planted crop is coming along, slowly, and the flat is bursting at the seams, so it looks like I’ll be sharing garlic. It really is a cash crop. I favor Inchlium Red. It stores well and has good sized cloves, so I’m not messing around with them, just a quick whack with the side of a knife and there it is, ready to go.

I need to get smarter with basil. There is a four pack planted out there right now and I’m thinking I need to do the 10-day schedule like the lettuce and radish. I don’t want it all at once, but I do want enough. There needs to be pesto and a little dried, and a lot used fresh. I just need to figure out how to make this work.

Last summer there was a real crushing need to grow our own vegetables. I saw so many of you out in your yards/gardens. You all learned so much or rekindled what you once knew. We had over a year to reflect on our life styles and to implement adjustments. Let’s hang on to that mind set. Don’t slide back into complacency.

The growing season has arrived, a bit cold and slow, but here. Our excellent local nurseries are open for business and will help you choose plants that will thrive in your garden. Carpe diem, my friends.

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

Skyphos lettuce grown in the greenhouse is seen here on May 7, 2021, at the Kachemak Gardener’s home in Homer, Alaska. When planted outdoors, which is the ultimate intention, the leaves are tinged with red. Its very hardy and slow to bolt. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)

Skyphos lettuce grown in the greenhouse is seen here on May 7, 2021, at the Kachemak Gardener’s home in Homer, Alaska. When planted outdoors, which is the ultimate intention, the leaves are tinged with red. Its very hardy and slow to bolt. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)