the daily gardener
You walk along the garden path one morning, look around and wonder where did it all come from. Naturally, you planted them all, or nearly all, with a few pleasant surprises here and there of self-sown perennials that sprung out from under annual growies before you got to notice them. Otherwise, though, the tall, stately beauties surrounding you are always taking you by surprise, because the first lesson in humility that is served to obstinate gardeners is the unwillingness of living things to develop according to your plans. They have their own internal clocks, their own environmental sensitivities and a completely different relationship with time than you.
So, those lupines that you planted and thought dead sprung up on you two years later, after you planted cosmos over them the following year, which self-seeded, and now both plants are gracefully mixing in a fluff of stringy and palmed leaves, taking over an entire portion of your garden that you were intending for a completely different purpose this year. Or the snapdragons whose seeds you spread evenly over an area, but they decided to all come out bundled together to the left of the patch, leaving the rest of the dirt barren. Or the lily-of-the-valley that you tried to start from roots in the same spot for three years in a row, and now it decided to come out all at the same time and completely take over.
Maybe you were planning, but your garden begs to differ. And when the garden and the gardener have different opinions, the garden usually wins.
The struggling plant that you moved because you needed the space and didn’t feel like throwing away now thrives in its new location with a vigor beyond expectations. Sun loving plants keep blooming in the shade behind the house, in a place that, of course, is not a showy feature of your garden. After a while, the oddities and surprises of your garden become familiar and dear to you, like an old friend’s little idiosyncrasies warm up your heart after you haven’t seen her in a while. A sense of peace descends upon the wiser gardener, a sense of acceptance that in this dialogue with nature, nature has something to say back to you.
If those plants that you failed to recognize when you transferred them outdoors and planted them at the front of the flower bed turned out to be tomatoes, or if the sun garden you neatly organized according to height and flowering season exploded into a jumbled jungle of healthy growth, or if the miniature zinnias developed into four foot tall tree-like structures, or if all those tens of berries you saw on your strawberry plants were gone the second they turned slightly ripe because squirrels and rabbits believed in sharing, enjoy it, allow it, embrace it.
If gardening only taught me one thing it would be the art of waiting. If you have enough patience and time, things kinda turn out the way you planned, sort of, eventually.
Yes, they are everywhere: yellow, orange, butter cream, wine, brown, you can’t turn a corner without seeing a bunch of them sprouting in all directions.
The day lilies are a staple of summer.
You might already have a few clumps in your garden, and they may be spreading, like they enjoy doing, filling up all the space and growing almost on top of each other.
You may have thought of a few choice words while cleaning up the mess they make after their flowers fade and their leaves start shedding.
You may also have considered digging them up altogether at the end of summer when their remains look absolutely pathetic(by the way, good luck trying, their roots are a continuous mat of rhizomes and filaments twisted in tangled knots).
Before you do that, look at this picture.
All joy and excitement, the kids came to get me to show me a surprise. Through the picture window, all three of us looked out at the cute little cotton tail rabbit peacefully and contentedly feasting on our carrots. Looking at the flower and vegetable beds I can see that it has been doing a very thorough job of digging up and consuming all things bulb and root that it was able to find, with special emphasis on the fragrant lilies. The kids watch the bunny with wonder while I’m mentally reviewing all the ways to prepare rabbit stew. Half the garden gone, half more to go, the bunny moved methodically to the next plant. My brain simmering with aggravation, I get out to chase it away despite protests. It looks at me, outraged, and reluctantly departs. I feel guilty.
What is good weather? That is a very good question for a gardener. Some places are blessed with conditions that make plants thrive despite complete lack of interest or effort. People who for years tried unsuccessfully to grow a garden watch with incredulous envy out of their car windows the never ending wild meadows just exploding with colorful fragrant blooms.
Every frustrated gardener, at least at one point in his life, made negative comments regarding his garden’s poor soil, inadequate precipitation, amount of insolation, plant material quality and other people’s better luck. Sometimes they are right. The seasoned veteran will preach that there is no garden that can not be made beautiful with enough patience, knowledge and correction of the offending faults.
The truth is that sometimes it just works, for no definable reason. You plant things together and they support and shade each other, they exchange vital nutrients and they layer their leaves to shade their intertwined roots and protect the water in the soil. They naturally keep the weeds away, because under their dense leaf umbrella, not even weeds have a chance to develop. A hierarchy develops with time and each plant gets just the right amount of sunlight and water. The whole plant group becomes a system in equilibrium, self sustaining almost (and in some cases it really is). This is the image one sees in established gardens, a conglomerate of such systems, in perfect harmony with each other, looking like they have been there forever. Once the plants stake their ground in your garden, good luck trying to uproot them. But why would you try to disturb a working element in such a sensitive biological system?
Sitting at the table under the tree canopy, a book in one hand, the other hand mindlessly rubbing your temples, you lose track of time. The splotches of light filtered through the branches above move slowly opposite the sun path, while the day merges into evening. The light becomes gentler, more tired, almost horizontal. Around you two full walls, one half wall, a tree for a roof, and a balcony: your private outdoors. Noises come and go, the chirping birds, the passing cars, people chatting while walking their dogs, the syncopated rhythm of joggers, the soft rubbery noise of bicycle wheels.
The words on the page start fading as the evening shadow descends into the night, the contours are less precise, the contrast becomes nonexistent. Your cat comes around rubbing against your leg to remind you of dinner. The kids go in and out of the house abruptly, slamming doors, running down stairs and giggling plenty. Night flowering plants release their fragrance in the warmth of the day’s end, and as light becomes more scarce, the sounds and scents intensify. The cat settles down in your lap, purring.
Eerie little blue solar powered garden lights dot the darkened contours of the plant masses, and you guess more than you see the familiar garden path, the lilac bush, the archway above the gate. White flowers look like reversed shadows in the headlights of passing cars. The heavy summer night air, thick with humid fragrance, slowly cools down into a breeze.
Porches and balconies are extensions of your house ambiguous in function and level of privacy. You are neither in your own territory, where you can lounge without care, nor in public, where you have to present your more formal image. Reminiscent of older time summer evenings with rocking chairs, swings and pitchers of ice lemonade, the balcony compels one to a poised sitting pose, like those you see in photographs from the beginning of last century. A beautiful porch or balcony is as important as your livingroom, even more so, since this area of your private space is open for everyone to see. So make it enchanting and old fashioned, with climbing roses, wisteria and clematis, with bright pots of geraniums and honeysuckle vine. Or modern and angular, with carefully trimmed topiary and extravagant looking exotic plants. Either way it’s fine. After all, it’s all a matter of taste.
A garden is not a garden without a place to sit in the shade. There has to be a little alcove out of the way where you can inconspicuously sit and watch the world go by, if only for a minute. Where kids drop their toys while playing during the day and then make you go out to get them in the evening. Where lights and shadows are as important as shapes. Where you can lift your hand and pick up a grape, a flower or a seed pod. Where the little picnic with miniature teacups and saucers is set up. If nothing else, just a place to look at and think about sitting in the shade.
Tomatoes are by far the most cultivated edible and they are fruit, not vegetables. There are two ways to categorize tomatoes. First, they can be determinate (shorter, stockier types that don’t need staking, take a shorter time to bear fruit and produce all the yield more or less at the same time; they are good for tomato sauce and canning), and indeterminate (take about 80 days to produce fruit, they are tall and need to be staked, and produce small yields all summer long. They are sweeter and more flavorful and are great eaten raw). The second way to categorize tomatoes is open pollinated( will produce identical offspring with the parents) and hybrid varieties (the flowers do not consistently produce offspring that maintains the parent qualities).
Without further ado, here are some popular, high yield varieties of tomatoes:
Beefsteak (shown here) – Indeterminate, hybrid. The largest tomatoes, some weigh up to a pound. Perfect slicing tomatoes for sandwiches. Very productive.
Gardener’s delight – Indeterminate, open pollinated cherry tomatoes. Small but very sweet fruits. Children love them. Very productive.
Better Boy – Indeterminate, hybrid. Large, very high yield tasty slicing tomatoes.
Sungold – Indeterminate, hybrid. Orange productive and tasty cherry tomatoes.
Brandywine – Indeterminate, open pollinated. Meaty sandwich tomato, tasty and productive.
Early Girl – Indeterminate, hybrid. Very sweet, prone to cracking in the rain.