Sunday, March 30, 2008

In the garden

Well, the snow is melting - again - and I can see the lawn and my planting beds looking sodden and forlorn. It will probably be a good month before I can get outside and actually plant anything, but that doesn't stop me from thinking about it now!

We have several different beds around our yard, including one food garden and a berry patch (strawberries, blueberries and as of last year, raspberries). The rest of the beds are devoted to bulbs, perennials and bushes/shrubs. I'm not a big annuals fan, beyond two hanging baskets and a planter for the front porch and a couple of planters for the deck out back, which I usually do in petunias. Love those wave petunias!

Unfortunately, our yard is not terribly conducive to gardening. The soil - or more accurately, "soil" - in our yard is just about 100% clay. We amend the heck out of the planting beds, but still, underneath lurks the solid, non-draining clay (think "bathtub effect" regarding its draining capacity, or lack thereof). This presents more challenges to gardening than I'd like to deal with, frankly, so I tend to ignore the clay-related issues (and the base v. acidic soil issues, and sometimes even the sun-partial sun-shade issues...) and just plant whatever the heck I want and hope for the best. Sometimes, this works out okay - I have 4 rhododendrons which are doing surprisingly well, considering their location and soil type, for example. Other plants, not so much - I've stuck many things into the beds only to have them go kaput. Some of them are helped along by the slugs (including all my beautiful, hand-me-down hostas) or the voles or the bunnies, but nothing is as bad as the year before we fenced in our back yard when the deer positively decimated most of the plants and shrubs I had so optomistically planted. The voles are particularly evil, being little, fat masochists who will even chomp away at the barberry bushes that are evil personified themselves, as we learned when transplanting one of them last fall. OW!

Soil and critters aside, I've found sufficient varieties of plants for our yard that thrive and are gorgeous each spring/summer. English lavender, Russian sage, lilies of the valley, shasta daisies, black-eyed Susans, echinachea, day lilies, hollyhocks and coreopsis all flourish. I've got butterfly bushes, a peony and some forsythia bushes that were all hand-me-downs and survived being dug out, moved and replanted (in the peony's case, several times over one year!) to settle in quite happily around the yard. Some of my favorite bushes are the lilacs that border the front porch and have grown well beyond their expected "dwarf" variety labels. In the food garden, I've had some hits and misses. Beans and sugar snap peas are traditionally hits, whereas carrots (chosen by the kiddo last year) were a pathetic miss. They came out looking like the gnarly, arthritic survivors of a nuclear blast, though they tasted quite carroty. Cucumbers and tomatoes have been great some years (Hubby said that last year's crop were the best tomatoes he'd ever eaten and he mourned the end of the season) and other years, they've been deplorable. I've never had success with any type of melon or squash - though I've yet to try zucchini which always grows, doesn't it? - because the critters seem to get to the blossoms before they've had a chance to turn into fruit. We did have one watermelon (another of the kiddo's selections) last year that survived to full ripening, but it never grew bigger than the size of a golf ball. Herbs do spectacularly. I have parsley and basil coming out my ears by mid-summer, and I've had to quit growing cilantro altogether because we just don't use that much of it! I have some hand-me-down chives that came back all of their own accord and in much abundance despite rototilling the garden before planting it last year. The berry patch did much better last year after I covered it with critter-proof netting, and the kiddo and I actually picked about a quart of blueberries off our three bushes. The strawberries never grow that large, but they've been getting a bit bigger every year so perhaps this will be the summer when we have a decent strawberry crop. Our yard as a whole - planting beds and lawn - would look a lot better if we were less organic about things, but I'm not a fan of chemicals (so ChemLawn and your competitors, kindly stop leaving your "lawn evaluation" junk mail wedged into the flag of our mailbox and jammed into our front door), so we do the best we can with natural fertilizers and weed/pest repellents. (Love the Escar-GO! slug stuff, which is much preferred than the "cup of beer" method I did in my hosta bed one year, when Hubby found a cup lost among the hostas that had become a nasty, smelly, thick goo of sun-warmed beer, liquified slugs and rainwater. He almost barfed while disposing of it. Oops.) I will confess to putting the occasional box of poison waaaaay under the deck for the voles (not that it even begins to control their ever-burgeoning population) and to having the exterminator spray for our insidious, pervasive yellowjacket population, but other than that, we're pretty green about our greenery.

Each year, I look forward to strolling the aisles of the local garden stores and the public market and picking out the new plants for the year. Every year, our planting beds expand a little bit more, giving me more room for new plants. The kiddo has become an avid gardener as well, and even helps with the weeding when she isn't busy playing with the worms she's unearthed or the watering can. I love that she loves to wander the garden store aisles with me and pick things out, that she enjoys poring over seed packets as much as I do. I've been perusing gardening catalogs for weeks now, and I think that one new plant I definitely want to try is the "sunrise" echinacea which is a gorgeous, creamy yellow color. I'd love to live somewhere where it is warm enough for a citrus tree or two - oh, to have a lemon tree or orange tree in my own yard! But I guess it will take either winning the lottery (and thereby giving us enough dough to buy our own tropical vacation island) or major global warming to grant me that wish...

For now, I will have to content myself with watching the yard green up again, the bulbs poking up their shoots through the mulch, and the pear trees behind our house start to bud.

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