Let these gardening rules guide you: Keep it small, keep it simple, enjoy it

I met a soon-to-be retired couple this afternoon. They are moving to Homer from Anchorage and building a new house. And one of the big questions is “how much garden?” She has a practical nature and recognizes that regenerating the disturbed soil will be a challenge. The consideration of strewing lupine seed is an option as is doing nothing. 

If you have been reading this column since 1990 you will know where I am going with this: think small. Really small. The older I get the smaller I think a garden needs to be. How much hose do you want to deal with during dry spells like the one we are experiencing at this very moment? Do you have water delivered and if our reservoir can’t keep up with the demand, will you still be able to have water delivered? Or are you on a well? How’s that well doing? How much does city water (and sewer) cost you? Let’s start asking ourselves these questions. 

I used to water in the mornings, that way the plants could dry out before the temperature dropped and the possibility of disease and pests (i.e. slugs) increased. With this heat and dryness I have been watering in the evening, letting the soil stay moist for as long as it can. I have been giving the whole plant a shower, hoping to wash off any aphids before they take hold. Aphids love warm, dry weather and, don’t forget, they are born pregnant. Keep the soil surface cultivated so the water can reach the roots. Why water if the it just runs off the surface? 

When this house was under construction I requested that an outdoor tap be placed on each wall. I was met with vacant stares. I have them on two walls, the east and west. I wish my request had been granted. I would have a 50-foot hose on each tap. Maybe even 25 feet. I’m beginning to think that is as far as anyone’s garden needs to extend from the house. Nice and close, nice and tidy. The vegetable garden would be outside the kitchen door and the rest would be up to your imagination. What do you think of that? 

Just because you have two acres doesn’t mean you need to have gardens all over the place.

Keep it simple. How about a garden that doesn’t need a fence? That has herbaceous (die to the ground every fall) perennials with a few annuals thrown in for extended color? If you don’t plant anything to entice the moose, the moose won’t come. Think about this. If you already have established gardens hither and yon consider moving them closer to the house. Consider digging them up and having a plant sale. Interesting? Think about it — just enough garden to bring joy to your heart. 

That said — I do have an established garden that I won’t be giving up any time soon. Established is a key word here. I no longer water the trees and shrubs. They are on their own with well developed root systems. They can find their own water. The vegetable garden and greenhouse are where most of my attention is concentrated. The perennial beds get a once over for weeds, watered with the collected runoff from the sump pump, and look just fine. More than fine. 

I would like to have a garden party but the best time is about 7 a.m. The birds are singing, the plants are dewy and fresh, and the neighborhood has yet to awaken. A lovely time of day indeed. I just may try one of these this year. 

But for now, the iris bed is ready to be seen. This is the first bed to really put on a show. The lilacs are starting (although the common lilac is in full swing) and the overall effect is quite charming. With the daughter and her daughters soon to arrive, methinks this would be a sweet  party for all concerned. All that needs to be done are the phone calls. 

Let me talk about the vegetable garden which is presenting new challenges for me this year. I have lost plants to cutworms and will probably lose more to root maggots. So I have decided to plant some broccoli and cauliflower from seed. If, and this is a huge if, we have a late fall, I just might get a harvest. I’m looking forward to this experiment and will let you know how it turns out. 

The strawberries and raspberries are covered in blooms. John was across the bay this week and noticed the blueberries are thriving. Nice to have another good berry year. 

 Let’s not forget the wildflowers. We took a walk this morning on the Homestead Trail and the chocolate lilies, cranesbill, shy maidens, valerian, Beauverd’s spirea, dwarf dogwood, Alaska cotton, Jacob’s ladder, lupine, nagoonberry, yellow paintbrush, star flower — you get the idea — were all abloom. The iris have yet to put on a show but when they do it will be lovely.

 Good thing plants don’t all bloom at the same time, spread out the wonder. Because we haven’t had any rain the trail is in excellent condition, not even many bugs. Just an excellent experience. The only thing I miss from our former home at Mile 15 East End are the violets that carpeted the ground — fairy land. 

Go take a walk. 

Note: Steve Veldstra has taken over the Wagon Wheel and is looking for ideas to stock his shop. I have suggested: nice tools and the means to tend them; tool bags; gloves and hats. Let him know, he’s open to suggestions. 

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

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