One Towering Tomato

Posted in gardening with tags , , , , on July 25, 2012 by planthoarder

To the left at two feet ( approx. 61 cm) tall, tomato ‘Legend,’ to the right at three feet (approx. 91 cm), tomato ‘Cherokee Purple,’ and in the center at a whopping seven feet (approx. 213 cm) tall, tomato ‘Gardener’s Delight!’ Holy cow! Thanks Adam Leone of http://carrottopsallotment.com/  for suggesting ‘Gardener’s Delight.’

There are many ways to grow tomatoes. Some people tie them to a single stake, some let them sprawl over the ground, and some like me give them each a cage of their own, tucking stray shoots here and there in passing. If there was a year to listen to old garden hands that say to snip out the wayward suckers to promote fruit over foliage, this was it, but I never even got around to mulching. Having the tomatoes top the cage is not an uncommon sight late in the season, but there’s a whole lot of season to go here in Wisconsin. Gardener’s Delight seems to demand a second cage. The raccoons are giving it a two paws up. The rude buggers eat half of each ripe tomato and leave the other half to rot. I gave my first full sized tomato from ‘Legend’ to My Love’s mom, the raccoons got the next two and I resorted to picking them just under ripe and letting them ripen in the house so I could have some for myself.

There’s been another “helper” in the tomato patch.

The infamous tobacco hornworm here to help with the pruning. I caught this guy, but there’s another out there lurking in the jungle of my tomato cage devouring what he can while he can. It has been a buggy year with variegated cutworms drilling into peony buds, tarnished plant bugs making daylily buds fall off, corn borers boring into lily stalks, and Japanese beetles gorging on nearly everything else. Still, despite the drought and the bugs and the raccoons and the deer (eating buds off my daylilies), we live in a kind of paradise with genuine amber waves of grain. I hope your garden paradise is just as joyful.

Diggin’ Double Daylilies

Posted in gardening with tags on July 23, 2012 by planthoarder

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What could be prettier than the daylilies found in nature? They have a simple purity, often in bright yellow or gold. Modern daylilies have definitely been gilded with colors and patterns and, yes, even ruffled edges of gold. Sometimes I ask myself why anyone would want a double daylily, but then a bloom opens and my doubts melt away like frothy whipped cream on my hot cocoa.

They aren’t perfect. They’re a little wild and unpredictable, but right now, I’m diggin’ ’em.

Pastel Paradise

Posted in gardening with tags , , on May 10, 2012 by planthoarder

Pastels and primary colors aren’t meant for each other. I like to think My Love and I are, but then he questioned why my flowers are so darn pink. I’m not a pink person (not that there’s anything wrong with that). My kitchen is a shade of green, my dining room a shade of orange.  The clothes I wear are either earth or jewel tones. How did my garden get so pink? I blame my zone.  Take windflowers, I have Anemone sylvestris, a lovely little white for the spring, and hardy as can be. My Love bought A. coronaria in red red and blue blue. Sadly, even with mulch I’d have to be in zone 7 to hope to overwinter it.

My camassia is barely blue, as is my wild sweet william, Phlox divaricata. Would I like to grow Meconopsis? Absolutely, but my continental climate is too extreme for it. There are few true blue flowers to be had in any climate. My old-fashioned iris is a pale blue with transparent petals and a grape soda scent. Soon there will be Siberian iris in a bluer shade, maybe not with the intensity of the aforementioned anemone, but definitely blue.  Should we get a Heavenly Blue morning glory or Crystal Fountain clematis? Too pale for My Love. In time we’ll have Japanese balloon flowers. Now those are a blue he can approve of.

Peonies are hardy here, and I even have a couple true reds and yellows, but the shades of pink to white outnumber them by far. White can stand with the pastels and the primaries, making us very fortunate so many flowers come in white. “Hold on a second,” I hear you interject, “what about all the red tulips and yellow daffodils?” You caught me. Yes, I love those, too, but they just can’t share the same bed. My Love may feel overwhelmed by spring’s pastel haze, but by summer there will be beds of red and yellow daylilies, and come fall golden yellow rudbeckia and leaves ablaze everywhere you turn.

In this instant, just in this tender spring when everything is fresh and new, leave me a moment to savor my pastel paradise.

Bring on the Rain

Posted in gardening with tags , , , on May 4, 2012 by planthoarder

The plan was to transplant starting Mother’s Day, but peeking at our ten day forecast with no frost in the near future, I felt emboldened to begin planting immediately. Rain was predicted. What could be better than a nice drink for all my newly planted veggies? (After muddying in, of course, rain just isn’t the same thing.) So, the plants were nestled all snug in their beds, while I was nestled all snug on my couch, when what should appear? Hail! That put a fear in me, but what could I do? I had made my veggies’ bed and now they had to live or die in it. There is a happy ending: the hail was small and did no damage whatsoever. Whew!

Questionable judgement aside, have you ever known better, but somehow forgot? Just like my potato baking mistake, I made a simple gardening mistake. First, you may ask, how can one screw up potatoes? Whenever My Love bakes potatoes, I remind him to pierce the skin so they don’t explode. Sure enough, when I, on a whim, put a couple potatoes in to bake with the chicken, I failed to pierce the skin. Yes, they do indeed explode most dramatically and messily all over the oven. My Love was impressed (by the exploding potato, not by me). On to my garden mistake: knowing it was going to rain, I failed to mulch my tomatoes. No big deal? Well, maybe, if I didn’t know we have suffered from blight. I didn’t think of it until I saw my tomatoes splashed with dirt. Did I rotate my veggies? Yes, but will it be enough to save them? I have my doubts.

Mulch is a good thing, keeping moisture and temperature even, keeping weeds down, and keeping soil from carrying disease to your plants. Learn from my mistake. Oh, and always pierce your potato before baking.

Wordless Wednesday

Posted in gardening on May 2, 2012 by planthoarder

Cole Crops: The Goldilocks of Vegetables

Posted in gardening with tags , , , , , on April 25, 2012 by planthoarder

Broccoli, cauliflower, and kohlrabi are not the easiest vegetables for spring growing in Wisconsin. They’re a bit fussy. Wisconsin’s climate is a bit, how can I say this politely, unpredictable. Before cole crops have four or so leaves, they don’t mind a little nip in the air, though they can’t take a hard frost. After that they want to grow over a nice climate controlled summer, as if they had air conditioning for days over 75 degrees F (20 C) and central heating for days under 50 degrees (10 C). Too hot and they languish, too cold while they’re yourng and they’ll bolt or button (sounds cute, but it isn’t). Once they reach maturity, they are tough as nails and love the cold, in fact harvest is at its best after a frost or two, until then what they do not want is stress. Wimps.

Wisconsin in the spring, has terrible temperature swings. Part of me knew better than to even try, but oddly the other part seems to win more often than not. I started out with high hopes, planting the seeds indoors and expecting them to sprout in a week or two, but no, they were in a hurry. Now they’re ahead of schedule like guests who come early to find you still mopping up. They need to go out regardless of the forecast (the cole crops, not the guests). There are a couple of things to be done to moderate the temperature. They’ll start out with floating row cover to capture a few extra degrees of heat until temperatures get too warm. An added benefit is the protection it will offer from the cabbage whites. Yes, I saw one yesterday.

My love claims the weather forecasters expect a cool summer. I’ll do my best to baby them with the even moisture and nitrogen they like, and hope they reward me with a generous bounty or at least a few respectable meals. If not, well, I’ll bite back my pride and remember, there’s always the fall.

Frost

Posted in gardening with tags , , , on April 24, 2012 by planthoarder

It’s no surprise there’s frost again. Our average last frost is in mid-May. People sometimes ask me whether a particular plant will survive the frost. My unsatisfying answer? It all depends. A plant can be perfectly hardy over the winter, but can be hit back hard after it starts growing. Sometimes it’s as fussy as the degree to which it’s grown. Remember my yellow fairy bells? The long shoots that had drooping bells were devastated by frost. The short upright shoots just springing from the ground are fine.

Sometimes you lose the fruit, sometimes the flowers, and sometimes the leaves. Some plant’s appearance can absolutely shock you. My peony shoots look like the McDonald’s arches most mornings lately, but later in the day they continue their reach for the sky. Whatever you do, don’t dig up and dispose of a perennial plant, especially a shrub or tree, just because it’s lost all its leaves to frost.  Where there are roots, there can still be life.

Today I’ve posted imperfect photos hoping you can see the beauty despite the imperfection. Faithful readers have been kind enough to compliment my snapshots, so I posted a page (Snapshot Dilletante) on my homepage offering my thoughts on flower photography. I hope you feel inspired to take some pictures in your garden. If we can capture a tiny glimpse of the beauty of nature, we’ll have done well.

A Few for the Shade

Posted in gardening with tags , , on April 16, 2012 by planthoarder

There’s magic in the garden: fairy wings,  fairy bells, and bleeding hearts. I’d always called epimediums bishop’s hats, and their leaves do have a lop-sided miter look to them. The name fairy wings sounds lovely, though, and very fitting for the garden. Their small flowers seem to float in the garden on their wiry stems and their buds are reminiscent of bleeding hearts. This photo seems to have captured an alien invasion, but trust me, they’re very pretty and come in peace.

 

 

Sometimes I get confused between merry bells, Uvularia, and fairy bells, Disporum. These yellow fairy bells are just starting to bloom, they’ll soon hang like the bells they’re named after, but I had to snap a quick photo while it had a little friend scurrying about. For some reason I get a real delight from bugs in the garden, so long as they aren’t chomping on “my” plants. Sometimes I don’t like to share…

 

…unless it’s a wonderful gift like this bleeding heart. Many bleeding hearts available are from a sterile clone, but this one was a seedling that was shared with me. Now it scatters seedlings around my garden. Whether that’s a blessing or a curse is unclear at the moment, but there is no doubt I adore its chains of hearts. I have the extremely elegant white one too, but my favorite is the Valentine’s pink. Each flower, in its own way, adds a little magic to the shade garden.

Shards of Frost

Posted in gardening with tags , , , , on April 13, 2012 by planthoarder

This spring is so nerve-wracking with frost threatening the past couple of nights, especially with all the warm weather tempting flowers to put out tender buds. Thankfully, the magnolias  finished blooming before the frost set in. The veggies in the unheated greenhouse escaped unscathed, but just barely. The next few nights are predicted to be much warmer, so the tomato plants are headed out into the greenhouse this morning. They are very soft from being grown under fluorescent lights so they need some stress, but not too much of a chill, to toughen them up before they go out into the garden in a few weeks. If the nights get too cold again, they’ll be whisked back into the warmth of the house.

It’s been a crazy weather roller coaster, and frankly I get motion sick. At least that’s the feeling I have knowing that the frost came just as the first year of Asian pear blossoms were finishing. Will there be any fruit? I know the rhubarb won’t let me down. The stalks are about 8″ (20 cm) now, I was hoping they’d be at least 10″ (25cm) before I began harvesting. I didn’t grow up with rhubarb. How do you know when to start picking them? Does size matter? I’m more than ready for some rhubarb kuchen so break it to me gently if I have to wait.

With a whole summer full of flowers ahead, I really shouldn’t whine about the few I may have lost to frost or the need to wait for my rhubarb. The peonies enjoy the cooler weather and there are early spring wildflowers even now ready to bloom. As the last shards of frost melt away with the warmth of the sun, we can only appreciate the beauty and the bounty that surrounds us and anticipate so much more to come.

Corpse Flower from a Safe Distance

Posted in gardening with tags , , on April 8, 2012 by planthoarder

Today My Love complained to me about the smell in the basement. Finally, my Amorphopallus rivieri is blooming! Though it has a flower more appropriate to Halloween than Easter, it’s been in my basement without soil all winter. My Love complained as I brought the corpse flower up the stairs and through the house to put it outside. Not everyone appreciates the smell of rotting meat, not even me, but it doesn’t keep me from growing this fascinating flower with its oxblood spathe and spadix and mottled stem.

My concern right now is the frost we are expecting for the next couple of nights. I think I will have to sneak my plant back in this evening and out again in the morning when My Love isn’t looking. He puts up with a lot, seed flats on top of the refrigerator, Ziploc bags of dirt inside it, but this? It will all be worth it this summer. Its leaf looks like something from the time of the dinosaurs and dwarfs the related jack-in-the-pulpits in the shade of the spruce trees. For now I thought I’d share a couple pictures of its flower so you can appreciate its weird beauty from a safe distance.