Welcome to Our 2012 Garden

IMG_5111The spreading dogbane just outside the garden gate held a single, silvery raindrop in its green little palm one early June morning — begging me to marvel and take notice. “Get a good look at this. You won’t be seeing much of it for a while,” it seemed to be saying. Lately, I can’t decide which has been in shorter supply: time or rain! That pretty much sums up the month of June for our garden.

In spite of the meticulous garden schedule I made out — a well-ordered list of seeds and plants and a calendar with corresponding tasks and handy details scribbled in — an eager spring and some harsh realities mocked my efforts. Instead of enjoying the leisure of gradually sowing and transplanting the garden over the course of about two months, we were forced to do it all in about two weeks: some things a week or two late and others a week or two early. Effectively, nothing went according to plan, though (thankfully) nothing has failed!

The trouble started with our plan to install a deer fence. The garden inhabits land that is prime real estate for deer — a mix of lush forest and hilly, grassy pastureland. To have planted a garden of any size without some protection would’ve meant almost certain destruction. I look back to January and nearly chuckle at my hubris recalling how I believed James and I were going to be able to install the fence ourselves. With a garden perimeter measuring 60×60, soil that is both rocky and sandy, and both of us having full-time day jobs, there ought to be a better word for that other than plain old impossible… but I guess that word will have to do. I hadn’t built nearly enough time into the schedule to accommodate finding help and materials to construct what turned into pretty formidable fencing project.

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The fence (yes, at last, it finally exists) is 8ft tall and made with untreated douglas fir 4×4 posts (some of them placed in concrete), polypropylene deer mesh, and a heavy-gauge wire stabilizer at the top. We also anchored about 1-2 feet of the mesh outside of the fence with landscaping staples to discourage additional critters. The deer mesh was relatively inexpensive and surprisingly strong. It practically disappears when you stand just a few feet away from the garden. The tall fir posts, however, do not disappear, and instead provide a Parthenon-like presence.

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Of course, installing the fence wasn’t our only hold up. There was also the labor-intensive process of forming all the beds needed to complete my garden design. The tidy little garden design I’d so effortlessly penciled onto graphing paper in the dead of winter — back when things like blazing sun and sweltering humidity were too far away to seem an issue. The garden features 28 raised beds: eight 5×14, eight 3×14, four 3×12, four 2×14, and a circular center garden for herbs and ornamentals with four fancy-shaped beds. The good news? We won’t have to reform these beds next year!!

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Now that all the transplants are in place and all of the seeds have begun to sprout, the views in the garden are changing daily. The camera and I can barely keep up. Many of these pictures were taken only two weeks ago and already the garden is practically unrecognizable in comparison!

One of my favorite places in the garden is in the center — a place we call “Marty’s Garden”. You might remember our fuzzy grey cat, Marty. He appeared in some posts back in 2010 & 2011 and was my constant companion for over eight years.

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He passed away just after our move. In my grief, I decided the final resting place for his ashes should be at the center of the garden. Some of my fondest memories of Marty involved watching him enjoy our balcony garden at the apartment — sniffing, exploring, threatening birds, and falling asleep in the sun. I could think of no better tribute for him. I made sure to plant some catnip in each of the four garden beds.

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While shopping at a local nursery for some perennials for Marty’s Garden, I happened upon this striking variety of dianthus called “spooky”. I hadn’t planned on planting any dianthus, but their sloppy fuzziness reminded me of Marty’s fuzzy paws so much that I couldn’t resist getting a few of them.

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Another stunner in Marty’s Garden is the pair of purple mallows we picked out. I’ve never grown mallow before but I was drawn to the promise of blooms on the plant’s profile. After being in the ground for less than two weeks, they began spitting out blooms and haven’t stopped yet!

I’ll be showing more highlights from Marty’s Garden throughout the season. Right now, the plants are still in the process of filling in and some of the perennials that I grew from seed are getting their roots established and may not actually flower until next year. The perennials I started from seed for Marty: Purple Echinacea, Yellow Echinacea, and Scabiosa. But, I also planted several annuals. The ones I started from seed: Bachelor’s Buttons, Sea Shell Cosmos, Art Deco Zinnias, and French Marigolds. And, of course, what garden would be complete without a hefty helping of herbs? We’ve got munstead lavender, garlic chives, chamomile, hyssop, basil, dill, parsley, peppermint, sage, thyme, and (of course) catnip.

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The garden has four bean beds. For variety’s sake, I decided we should grow four different varieties: Two pole beans (Speckled Cranberry and Christmas Lima) and two bush beans (Lina Sisco’s Bird Eggs and Bumble Bee). Most of the beans sprouted in 4-5 days and brought an immediate smile to my face. Bean sprouts will always take me back to third grade when we planted kidney beans in styrofoam cups to put in the windowsill.

Sweet corn — a staple in any good Midwesterner’s garden — is something I’ve been wanting to grow for a long time, and something I’ve not attempted since my childhood days (when I was far from being a Midwesterner). To show my eagerness, we’re growing two varieties of sweet corn: a very old variety (Golden Bantam) and — a definite conversation starter — a unique variety of blue sweet corn (Blue Jade). We’ve enjoyed almost 100% germination for both varieties and are eagerly awaiting the promise of sweet buttery goodness!

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As I mentioned in 2010’s chronicle of “The Big Garden”, I’ve got a very soft spot in my heart for pumpkins and squashes of all sorts. This year, since we have the space, we’re growing Amish Pie pumpkins, Golden Zucchini, and Table Queen acorn squashes. I’m looking forward to watching their story unfold, this season. Already, the zucchini is getting its first blossoms!

More veggies we’re growing: Red Amposta Onions, Yellow of Parma Onions, Homemade Pickles Cucumbers, Danvers Carrots, Grandpa Admire’s Lettuce, America Spinach, Red Russian Kale, and some regular old red radishes. And — because we had two or three extra beds and no other plans for them — James picked up a few more seedlings from a local nursery: celery, cabbage, and cantaloupe.

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Because we love canning and beaming with pride at a pantry full of jars of homegrown goodness, I decided to grow just as many tomatoes as we did back in 2010 in our little rented plot. This year, though, we’re growing completely different varieties: Opalka, Rosso Sicilian, Cream Sausage, Amish Paste, and Italian Heirloom — 48 plants in all.

We also decided to start 48 wee pepper plants: King of the North (sweet), Fish (medium hot), Garden Sunshine (sweet), and Black Hungarian (medium hot). Sadly, a few of our Fish and Garden Sunshine seedlings were rubbed out in the early days of the season by one or two vicious cutworms. Cutworms look like your average caterpillar except they tend to burrow into the soil and emerge during the night to demolish your garden. Rather than eating leaves, they simply wrap their body around the stem of a plant and saw it off at soil level… and then move on to the next seedling, and the next.

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While there are a few things you can do to prevent cutworm damage (and believe me, we now know and practice them), there’s no recovery from cutworm damage other than replanting. Since I’d only started 12 of each variety (I’d never dealt with cutworms, so I didn’t see disaster coming), we had to purchase a few seedlings from a local nursery. So, in addition to the four exciting varieties we started from seed, we also have two jalapenos, a habanero, and a sweet banana pepper. While it’s tempting to be upset with the cutworm for ruining my pepper plans, in a way it’s been its own reward: I never would have imagined having a garden with seven varieties of peppers!

Speaking of garden pests, another one we’ve encountered so far was the Rose Chafer Beetle. They look a little like a Japanese beetle minus the fancy metallic body… and minus the brains, too, if you want to know the truth of it. Rather than being insatiable, eating everything in sight (as a Japanese beetle will), in our garden the rose chafers mostly preferred blossoms — especially the yellow and purple blossoms. Typically, they’re a big concern for orchardists because they have the potential to wipe out blossoms and damage foliage before pollination can occur. I suppose the frost-damaged orchards all around us proved disappointing for them so they were forced to find sustenance elsewhere. Fortunately for the garden, even though the rose chafers were out in large numbers this season, they’re not the sharpest crayons in the box and are very easy to thwart. We murdered hundreds of them effortlessly with our hands (gross!) and I’m pretty sure none of them ever saw it coming. If they did, they certainly didn’t put forward any struggle.

Once the two varieties of sunflower we’re growing (Mammoth Gray and Autumn Beauty) reached the towering height of about four inches, they swiftly fell under attack by what appeared to be mealy bugs or scale bugs. Within a matter of two or three days, some of the smaller seedlings had been reduced to leafless, yellowed stalks. The bugs were small enough and sparse enough that I could not identify them with certainty. Whatever they were, they were immediately killed by a fabulous Organic Insecticide made by Dr. Earth. Some of the smaller plants that were damaged badly by the bugs could not recover, but most of the seedlings have continued their path onward and upward.

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Standing out in the garden, it’s hard to decide what I’m most eager to watch, what I’m most grateful to be able to witness. Unlike our garden in 2010, I don’t have to make a 40-mile journey via public transit to watch over it. The garden is just a few steps from our front door, down a little wooded path. I can witness, over the course of several days, a flower bud ever-so-slowly opening into full bloom. Of course, with that added advantage, I no longer have nearly as many excuses for procrastination or just plain laziness! Between the lack of rainfall, the patient waves of pests, and the ever present threat of wildlife intruders, I can only hope our efforts are rewarded with an encouraging harvest. I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

~ by Jason on July 2, 2012.

5 Responses to “Welcome to Our 2012 Garden”

  1. Wow, what a project — and what beautiful selections! I can’t wait to see the progress. Please post! Flowers, herbs, veggies — heaven! I love what you did with your plot to honor your lovely little one, too. ♥

    • Thanks! Another reason the center garden was appropriate for Marty: he always loved being the center of attention!! 😀

  2. Awwwww… I can’t wait to see more pics and read more. I wish I could be there to see it in person. Marty’s Garden was a great idea. It made me cry but also made me smile thinking he is loving being there, looking at those birds in the tree. Can’t wait to see more. Love ya, mom

  3. Wow! I saw the garden when it was just sand and pebbles. What a monumental change you’ve wrought. My garden gloves are off to you!
    Happy Fourth. Lynne D.

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