this past week i’ve been moving very slowly; traveling and allergies are taking their toll on my energy levels. not that i can afford to rest a whole lot or anything; it’s more that i’ve been steadily eating away at email and catch-up chores in a sort of foggy circle. ugh.
i’m hoping that in the coming week, i’ll feel more revitalized as good home cooking and resumed outdoor activity take effect and the accompanying endorphins kick in.
one thing that definitely helps is having access to the yard again—touching base with outdoor air and real plants throughout the day is completely refreshing and keeps me grounded. it’s SO nice to revisit the garden and see what’s happened since i last checked in—there are new plants, flowers, and lots of growth to inspect out there.
i ended up with so much blog fodder today that i decided to split it into two posts—a mostly-gardening post today and a mostly-knitting post tomorrow. not that there’s been a whole lot of public knitting i can show you, but general wool activities are taking place as i unpack and settle in again.
it’s been a stupendous year for flowers in our yard—after seven years of planting things and waiting for them to mature, many of our flowering shrubs and perennials have busted out in full bloom.
the hundreds of bulbs david planted and the trees he pruned are responding with fuller, more interesting displays. the right mix of weather so far this year has brought it all together; june is the time when everything still feels fresh and juicy and the heat of a long summer has yet to take its toll.
even my struggling hedgerow of hydrangeas are looking up this year—they are covered in buds for the first time in several years and are fuller and greener than in the recent past; maybe we’re over the hump . . .
the yucca is bigger and fuller than ever before and the hydrangeas as well; after last year’s paltry showing, they are making up for it with dozens of beautiful mops from pink to lavender to blue (we also have a red one that it about to bloom).
this bee balm is new this year, gifted to us by anne c. when she thinned her garden a few weeks ago.
she told me i might want to keep it contained, so i put it in a barrel planter that sits out back near the vegetable garden. the blooms are just the quirky, funny kind i love
with their seussian hats, so attractive hummingbirds, hee-hee.
and i love the color—it’s perfect next to the bright yellow day lilies that are strung along the back of the garage.
behind the house, where it’s shady and damp most of the time, we created a woodland garden a few years ago and planted a variety of hostas and shade plants that have filled in completely now—i’m really pleased with the astilbe, a fairly new addition in several colors that has made itself quite at home there in a short time.
this is a quiet sanctuary that i visit several times a day throughout the year, to sit and observe whatever is happening at the moment—david even built a concrete bench near the back door for this very purpose.
right now, the hostas are beginning to bloom; every different type of hosta has a different flower (some are even fragrant), but the bees love each and every one of them and the yard will soon be filled with a constant symphonic drone as they fill themselves to bursting on bellful after bellful of nectar.
patchouli plants are a little temperamental, but they love our yard, apparently. each year i buy a couple, stick them in the ground and let them go—they just love the mix of damp, shade, and heat we have on offer. whenever i work out there, i can smell the oil as it heats up and comes to the surface on a hot day (i love patchouli, do i have to even say it?). this year i stuck the plant in a sunnier spot than usual; a pot near the back door, where surprisingly, it’s doing even better. i thought i might have to move it to keep the sun off, but maybe not . . . it’s quadrupled in size in a very short time.
even our so-called “orchard” is doing very well this year—albeit, by our rather low standards. our fruit trees are a constant source of amusement to us, in fact, and any sign that they may make an actual apple or peach delights us.
planted years before we arrived on the scene, they were put in spots throughout the yard that are classic examples of where NOT to plant fruit trees—deep, shady corners where the sun can’t penetrate and where tall, heavy trees form a tight canopy overhead. the peach tree shown above has been nothing more than a stripling of a thing since i first laid eyes on it; it’s almost hilarious.
and yet this year,
by some freak of nature, it has fruit (a little spotty, yes, but i do not judge when it comes to miracles). i almost dismissed it completely the other night when david came in and said we “had peaches” and didn’t elaborate much. i thought he meant the ones in the fruit bowl in the kitchen (which are really nectarines). then i thought about it the next day and went outside to look at the tree—sure enough, it has several new fruits.
you could knock me over with a feather.
meanwhile, on the other end of the property, shoved in a dark corner right near the garage under a neighbor’s maple tree (eye roll), our apple tree, not to be outdone, is looking mighty fruity itself. a good pruning in the early spring seems to have done it a world of good and now it is dotted all over with nice-looking apples. which i know will be tasty, because we had one last year and it whet my appetite for more.
we probably should have thinned it a bit once it set bud (as suggested by an astute reader), but we didn’t; we’ll see how that works out. if we get more than three apples total, we will have doubled our production for the second year running and that’s good enough for me, haha.
yesterday dawned bright and sunny and i owed the vegetable patch some attention. david was good to take care of everything while i was gone, but there are certain things i know how to do, that he doesn’t (yet).
everything needed a thinning and transplanting and i set to work first on pruning the tomato plants. i got several emails asking me about how to do it and really, explaining it is awfully difficult over email, so i refer anyone who wants to know to this webpage, where i got my information; i think they do a GREAT job explaining the hows and whys of thinning, complete with pictures and drawings (MUCH better than i can do).
i’m not at all an expert at this; i just tried out the techniques that the article talked about. if your plants are established and very healthy, you probably couldn’t kill them at this stage of the game by pruning.
i can, however, share with you my before and after pics so you can get a sense of the results you are aiming for. here is a leafy plant before, with lots of extra branches, many of which will not bear fruit.
i don’t know how to explain it, but you can just tell when the branch will be barren—it doesn’t look the same as ones that are likely to flower and fruit; it seems to have “ended” its growth while other ones look like they will continually sprout more flower clusters.
anyway, this plant already exhibits signs of forming damp, shady havens of deep foliage where bugs and fungus (AKA, blight) just LOVE to make their homes.
using the pruning techniques from the article, i cut away the unnecessary foliage so the flowering branches had plenty of air circulation and light exposure. i got rid of all the lower branches first—no need to offer bugs and slugs a leg up onto the plant.
here’s another before photo of a cherry tomato plant, which has a more vining habit
in this case, i wanted to preserve some of the non-essential branches that were clinging to the fence behind—the plant will need that support later, so as long as they are working somehow, it’s ok if they stay.
and here’s one more before photo of an heirloom plant with more erratic foliage—it had sucker sprouts coming up from the ground already and lots of sucker branches sprouting between the shoulders of other branches.
i cut all of that away and kept the flowering and fruiting branches—still a pretty shape, but with more room for breezes to blow in and prevent damp spots where fungus and aphid nests form.
i’m hoping this may reverse my usual luck with heirloom tomatoes, where i get big, beautiful plants and virtually no fruit . . .
right now, the plants look happy and seem to have survived really well—they are all upright and perky. i’ll reassess in a couple of weeks to check on things; if i need to prune more at that time, i will. i certainly don’t want a replay of last year’s killer tomato plants.
the picture i keep in my mind is of my friend kris’s tomato plants—they looked like puny, pathetic charlie brown plants, all curled over at the top of their thin, straggly selves—except for the fact that they were bent over by the weight of the biggest, most healthy, plentiful, and beautiful tomatoes i’d ever seen. more tomatoes than plant?? priceless.
after i finished up the tomatoes (it didn’t take long at all, actually), i got to work on the seed bed. all the plants i’d seeded in were of a good size for thinning and transplanting, where applicable (you can see i have some spotty areas in some rows—i admit, i used seeds that were from last year and even from the year before (note to self: order all fresh seeds for 2011).
this took a lot longer, but is so worth it—fewer plants that have the space they need to spread out will yield better.
the okra transplants looked a little droopy just after i moved them, but they are looking more perky now and i’m pretty sure they’ll take hold in their new spots.
some of the thinnings i transplanted to empty spots and others went into a bath, once i got back in the house, where they cleaned up nicely and will make an ultra-tender addition to the quiche i promised david for supper today, along with these couple of fingerling zucchini i’ve been dying to pick.
lastly, i weeded and primped the so-far successful new asparagus bed—every single root has resulted in a plant and i’m hoping that next year they will all come back (jody m., do you see the parsley lining the front of the bed?? i put the basil in back, too, but it didn’t grow)
today, i’m working inside (obviously) for a while at my desk and in the kitchen; later we’ll get outdoors for a nice long bike ride. no garden work today; there are things i could do but it’s important to play, too . . .