2016 Gardens in Review, Part 1

Last week I was feeling pretty unmotivated in the evenings and watched a lot more TV than normal. The weather was generally okay, in that cool, damp, mid-fall kind of way. Part of me wanted to go outside, but a bigger part of me was lazy and couldn’t think of anything to do outside, so I stayed in.

Upon reflection, I realized what the problem was: the gardening season is practically over. I didn’t know what to do with myself since cool weather, short nights, and dying plants were making it difficult to garden in the evenings. And that was bumming me out.

The garden season isn’t quite over yet. Amazingly enough, we still haven’t had our real first frost—last year it came late around October 18 and this year it will be even later. Plus, there are still a handful of chores that I can focus on before the snow flies: weeding grasses, fixing the garden door, amending soils, and maybe experimenting with planting seeds in winter. I still have a friend’s tiller that I borrowed earlier this year (in April!) and haven’t returned, so there’s also the opportunity to create more garden spaces too.

A bee enjoying comfrey.
A bee enjoying comfrey.

Perennial Fruits

One of my garden goals for 2016 was to establish more perennial fruits—raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries—and so I spent a lot of time working on this early in the season. Sexy, who doesn’t like working in the garden on account of doing too much of it as a kid, helped a ton by tearing up pieces of lawn with the tractor and the neighbor’s tiller. I planted 14 blueberry plants in a sunny location with poor soils close to the road. About 18 raspberry plants went in on the northeast corner of the yard, and 25 strawberry plants replaced the ones that I transplanted last fall.

Unfortunately, the raspberry plants never established. The plants (bare rootstock) stayed dormant for an extremely long time. An occasional single leaf emerged from a bud along the stem, only to die back before getting larger than a quarter. I am not sure what happened, but suspect that the soils in this particular spot were colder and wetter than I realized, especially given how wet our spring was. Eventually, I pulled the plants, used the mulch in a different location, and that spot is already back to lawn.

While I was waiting for the raspberries to leaf out in May and June, I was also looking at the grape plants, which were extremely slow to come out of dormancy. The grape plants didn’t produce hardly any grapes this year and I’m not sure if it’s because they got such a late start or if I pruned them back to hard (is that possible?) or something else.

One exciting development is that our highbush cranberry plants have finally started to produce flowers and fruits. These were some of the very first things that I planted when we moved in years ago. I planted them along the driveway, but they were more shaded than I’d realized. I was unsure if they’d ever grow, but they finally have. And, this is a double-bonus, as now I can make rooted cuttings off of these plants to use at our new property.

Highbush cranberry. (BTW. the berries taste awful!)
Highbush cranberry. (BTW. the berries taste awful!)

Perennial Flowers

I don’t get nearly as excited in the perennial flower garden as I do with other gardens, but I did have a massive gardening campaign one weekend that really improved these beds a lot. Most of the plants that I moved have adjusted to their new locations and spread out as expected (and sometimes even more than expected). A few gaps remain, and these are all where I planted a variegated iris. This is one of the few—perhaps even the only—plant in this garden that I ever bought; I got it at a plant sale fundraiser, where it came from the garden of a friend. Regardless, it consistently under performs. In my Master Gardener class, the idea of “right plant, right place” was repeated over and over. My current conclusion is that this is a case of “wrong plant, wrong place” and this fall or next spring I will try to find a place where this pretty iris might actually grow. And then I’ll fill the current holes with something low maintenance that is already doing well in that location.

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One of the perennial garden beds.

I spent a lot of time this spring with violets. When we first moved in, there weren’t any garden plants in front of the house; it was just lawn. I tore up the lawn and moved the sod to a pile at the edge of the woods (Back then I was impatient to get started. Now I would just cover it with tarps or cardboard for a year and keep all those nutrients in place.) One part of the lawn had some purple violets mixed in. They persisted in the new shady location in the woods, and even grew much larger without competition from the grass. A few years later, I moved some into the perennial garden to fill in some empty spaces. They look great, but violets have become a major weed in my garden. I pulled a lot out of the garden this year. And I transplanted some to the based of a large oak tree to provide ground cover around the trunk so that we don’t have to mow so close to it. We’ll see whether I regret that in the future!

Prairie Garden

I almost forgot about this garden! Check out last year’s post, as not much is new this year. The invasive Japanese knotweed appears to be under control. I have a number of red oak seedlings that are really getting established, and I haven’t been able to cut them down since; I misplaced my new set of pruners and have no idea where they are!

My next post will be about my vegetable garden. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your garden. Did you grow anything this year?

 

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