I Still Do Stuff: Garden Edition: New Plant Extravaganza 2014: Shade Garden Edition


This gallery contains 18 photos.

Amid the blood, sweat, tears, mucus, thistle, nettle, dandelions, buffalo weed, surprise cat litter burial sites, missing implements, broken implements, implements destroyed by the elements, spiders, mosquitoes, swarming gnats, ravenous flies, unexpected plant residue-caused skin reactions, sunburns, sore joints, sore … Continue reading

Whatever is happening in all the plant domains in which I partake in the year of our Lord Two-Thousand and Thirteen?

How is it that this is my first update of 2013? I can tell you it’s not for lack of things happening on the farm, or in gardens, or in any domain where plants are growing that I happen to frequent — and that all is the relevant purview of this blog. That’s right, this blog is conceivably about the entire world, in any corner of which I could, in theory, be traipsing at any moment. Although I mostly stay put.

I’m still at the farm. I worked there over the winter and I gathered and washed and candled and weighed and packaged eggs. That was about it. Late in the winter, we started sowing seeds for some of our crops and raised them in the basement. Winter lasted until about three weeks ago. Then it turned into summer. Now it’s briefly spring. Summer will start again soon. Everything is very different this season, compared to last. Last year we were far ahead in virtually everything, and it never rained. This year, we’re a little to moderately behind on everything, and it’s sure been raining this spring, but we’ll see whether it lasts over the summer.

What’s different this year? We’ve grown bedding plants for the farmer’s market:

  • petunia
  • dianthus
  • impatiens
  • marigolds
  • coleus

We’re also growing more herbs besides sweet basil and cilantro.

  • Thai basil
  • marjoram
  • oregano
  • parsley (flat and curly-leaf)
  • sage
  • rosemary
  • thyme

Yes, I put those last few in that order on purpose. Otherwise, we’re growing pretty much all the same crops as before. The planting has begun in earnest over the last couple weeks, and today was a particularly intense day with us planting up all the cherry tomatoes, basil, and the rest of the herbs. That was the morning. Then we switched to sweet peppers in the afternoon and threatening rain teased us on and off for about an hour before gigantic clouds rolled in and started spewing rain down on us. We were almost done, with only a row and a half at that point, and I think we set some kind of record getting that last stretch planted. Nothing like the fear of getting struck by lightning to motivate you.

Already planted/seeded: 

  • Onions. I planted all the onions by myself this year. Last year, four of us planted all of the onions in one day. This year, it took me about four full days, but these days were split up over a week and some days, during which time some of the onions rotted a little bit. I tried planting everything, though, and where some of them haven’t quite made it, you can see some bare spots, especially in the last few rows.)
  • Strawberries. These were already planted and most likely about to flower by the time I arrived at the farm last year in April. This year, I planted these in an utterly painstaking stretch of two and a half or three weeks. Progress stopped and started to allow for the weather to work out its issues (there were three or four snowstorms) and for some of the beds to be rebuilt (one entire row collapsed, and two additional brand-new rows were built). I despaired that it was taking me so long to plant all the strawberries, and in the end, it may be that we planted some of them too early and succumbed under a few showers of rain and snow. On the other hand, some of the plants looked iffy as I was planting them — inevitable, I guess, because it’s hard to keep them in optimal conditions for a few weeks while you’re waiting to plant them. Either way, we lost about a fifth of what we planted and had to replace it.
  • Tomatoes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Kale
  • First batches of kohlrabi, cabbage
  • Sweet peppers
  • Lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Beets
  • Some watermelons
  • Some musk melon
  • Cucumbers

Yet to be planted:

  • More cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Hot peppers
  • Some watermelons

Last year I was living with my folks, with an acre’s worth of varied gardens, the upkeep of which probably could have been a full-time job. During this spring, I have managed to get over there on exactly two days which have been pleasant and conducive to gardening. (Sidenote: there have been maybe four total such days during this spring.) I will be getting back there to try and work on all those gardens as much as I can, though, because I still think of them as mine, too. Oh, so greedy!

This year I have managed to do more or less nothing in those gardens, except clean up the south half of the gardens out front. This involved digging up the four Japanese barberries that were planted there before we moved in. There are some pretty barberries out there, but these aren’t it, and we found them distracting and disliked how they obscured our lovely spring bulbs.

Shrubs, before and after:




One delightful thing we discovered in the front garden: most of the peony transplants from last fall made it.


From my shade garden (the patch of garden to the north of the part where the barberries were): the flower of wild ginger.


And here’s the crab apple blooming over my shade garden. This was about a week and a half ago.

Oh, and as for what’s happening in my vegetable garden at my parents’? Next to nothing, haven’t done any work on it. Some fugitives from last year have crept in: catmint (seed escaped from a pot I had sunk in the ground, which NEVER GERMINATED last year and ONLY GERMINATED now, in the middle of my effing strawberries), three stray onions, some arugula. I think it’s arugula. I’ve bought a bunch of tomato 4-packs I intend to grow there, along with the following things: beets, onions, maybe potatoes, basil, cilantro, and carrots. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I won’t get too ambitious. Oh — maybe some corn. And cucumbers. And pumpkins. That’s not too much. OH wait, peas and beans, too. I BUILT A DAMN TIPI ON WHICH TO GROW THEM, AFTER ALL.


Most of the strawberries, year two. I have five plants, five different varieties, all seem to have come back.


I thought maybe this was an anise seedling, from a seed that didn’t germinate last year.


I believe this is arugula, from a mix I had last year. What I discovered: I don’t like arugula so much. But I can’t bring myself to pull it.


Some of the onions that didn’t grow last year! Three, yes, THREE of them!


Holy crap, this columbine in the backyard got big.


Oh, creeping Charlie. So weedy. But so pretty when it’s in bloom! This is growing all over the same patch where the columbine is. 


Beautiful bleeding hearts bloomed again this year. They were apparently on sabbatical last year.

Last fall I moved to an apartment and I suppose if I really wanted, I could do some gardening on the weedy dirt patch on which the house is situated, but I don’t particularly feel like it. All of my gardening activities here will be confined to my south-facing balcony. The balcony is a nice size (pro) but it is slightly rickety (con) and I’ve been advised not to go out there, really, until such time as it is reinforced (most likely never). I’ve decided I need to grow things out there, which is more important than any safety concerns. So I just tread lightly.

It’s really not too bad on that thing. I…think. It’s not a far fall, anyway. I’ve gotten to take home some of the ornamentals and the herbs we’re growing at the farm, and at my other smaller gig, I’ve been dangerously, dangerously exposed to all kinds of interesting things, and I end up doing at least a little shopping virtually every time I work there. I have a few containers which I am tweaking even now, as I realize that my designs leave something to be desired, or when I see that some plants aren’t filling in quite as much as I would like.

May 2three

Here are some of my favorites on my balcony, starting on the left: strawflower, fivespot, Dahlberg daisy, verbena, dianthus, African daisy, pansy.


I have peppermint, lemon verbena, parsley, sage, thyme, oregano, and marjoram for herbs. I also have a few kinds of tomatoes, ‘Celebrity,’ ‘Goliath,’ ‘Abe Lincoln,’ and some kind of red cherry. Also two habaneros.


SAAAAAAAAAAAAGE. And the other herbs.


I rescued some ‘Amish Paste’ that were being left to languish and die at the farm. They actually look much better in this picture. I KNOW. Hard to believe.


And finally, this and the next picture are two general pictures of most of the assemblage of plants on my balcony. As of a week ago, anyway. I’ve changed the arrangement in the planters on the left, but that’s basically what they look like.


Annnnd some more.


I got some really patchy, part-time work at a greenhouse/garden center that will be closing down for the end of the season at the end of next month. It’s been a different and fun sort of experience for me, although it’s only a few hours a week. That’s enough to change things up a little bit, though, and I hope I can return next year. I might share some pictures around there because it’s a really sweet set-up and there are some novel plants there. Whenever I’m working, I end of snapping some pictures of things I haven’t seen before, or things I want, or just things that are looking particularly good. They like doing pretty plantings in unconventional containers, like in an old tin or a teapot, and these are the sort of things for which the word “darling” was invented. Particularly the teapot ones.

And that is as much of a recap as I can do of the last three or so months.

The end of the week at the farm

On Thursday I murdered two spiders dead because I’m a monster. I was weeding in the corners of the hoop house and couldn’t deal with the idea that they were creeping about the tall grasses I was removing, so I just eliminated the problem and killed them with buckets. I had to hit the first one a couple times and that both sad and scary. The second one I killed with one swift blow but I was scared because I squished it between the bucket and the wall, and it left no traces on the bottom of the bucket and its corpse disappeared into the brush below. I wasn’t sure if I had actually gotten it at all and wasn’t sure whether it was just about to jump out of the grass and attack my face (which, let’s be honest, I would have deserved). But then I finally found its body and breathed a sigh of relief.

Both days I picked tomatoes. Is there a single day I don’t pick tomatoes or do something related to tomatoes? Not really. On Thursday afternoon, I did a ton more weeding in their garden. What was frustrating was that I did all this work in one little section of the garden maybe three or four weeks ago, removing all this grass and then pouring down an actual thick layer of mulch that I thought would prevent the problems. They didn’t. I had just as much grass to remove as the first time, and when I shook the grass out, it was like the mulch scattered to the four corners of the earth and so the mulch coverage was back to, like, an inch thickness, tops. Life is tough.

Friday was a really busy day. There were about 500 people (exaggeration) on the farm so I had to wash all the stuff on a table outside because there was very little room in the washing shed, especially when the pickle sorting business was underway. It was such a pleasant day, though, so it was nice. That’s where the cats are, too. Plus, when the big bad cats are trying to mount the teensy tiny kittens, you can spray them with hoses to try to prevent the epidemic of young cat pregnancies which will result in nothing but kittens born in the dead of winter and dead two weeks later and that’s just sad.

I picked strawberries again on Friday. Then I discovered on Saturday how much a pint goes for, and realized that I should probably be picking a lot faster. But it went quicker, so at least that.

On Saturday I worked at the farmers market for the first time. I only gave one person the wrong change so I counted that as a success. (Don’t worry, the horrible imbalance was corrected.) The morning actually flew by. It was really nice to see all this pretty produce I helped grow out in a tidy array and getting snatched up by the hungry citizens. I hope I get to go back. If not, I need to go back next week on my own anyway and buy all the stuff I saw in my walk-through before the market actually opened. At the top of my list: ears of popping corn, honey, soap, heirloom tomatoes, stealing ideas from the floral arrangements. Any other produce from some of the vendors who grow stuff we don’t. But our stall was hopping, though, since we bring the most (and the biggest variety) of stuff. Seems like, anyway.

I haven’t really done much in the garden this weekend except give everything a couple of nice, good, thorough waterings and monitor the progress of some seedlings.

Here’s the underside of the big pumpkin. I kind of think the discoloration is just what happens to the side that’s resting on the ground, but it could also just be naturally turning orange. (That’s what’s happening on what will be the bottom of the pumpkin, anyway.)

Heliopsis never stops blooming, apparently. It’s amazing.

There’s this funny sucker on the rose that is blooming right now.

And a morning glory ON THE MORNING GLORY TRELLIS (as opposed to wrapped around the day lily) is blooming. Isn’t it fun how morning glories glow crazily?

Here’s a weird echinacea that must be infected with a virus or something. It’s like a million tiny flower heads all together.

Here is the glorious castor bean flower. I gave the other plant — which is like two leaves and nothing else — a shot of Miracle Gro. We’ll see what happens.

Strawberries and seed-sowing and stuff

Secretly I’ve been a little bent out of shape that I’ve never gotten to pick strawberries on the farm. (NO LONGER A SECRET.) “What, am I not good enough?” a small, petulant part of me has been crying. Today all that ended. It was sort of a slow day and there wasn’t a lot to do, so I guess they had to dig up a new task for me. I was given several warnings regarding quality (some of the strawberries had a leathery texture and needed to be discarded; some especially little ones that had ripened were too small to be saleable and should be discarded; watch out for strawberries with damage from feeding insects; don’t be afraid to go slow so you don’t miss any strawberries). Things were going smoothly but I got the creeping sense that I should, in fact, be a LITTLE afraid of going too slow as the late morning turned into afternoon. Then I really started to hedge on how ugly was too ugly. If a strawberry had a big bite taken out of it, it was easy to throw. (Also slightly heartbreaking, because of how many there were. I ate some of these ones.) Having a deep wound in fruit — even if it isn’t oozing or any such thing; many of these looked like dry little pocks — and then packing it in tightly with healthy fruit is not a great idea. But then I was advised to keep one starwberry that I had been about to throw; it had the shallowest little tunnels on part of the surface. After that, I didn’t know what to believe. My fundamental perception of reality, at least as it relates to strawberries, had been shifted. Finally I ended up picking 16 pints, give or take a few (mostly take, from what I understand; I guess I under-packed some of the pints). We’ll see if they ask me to do this again.

Before that I just picked and cleaned cherry tomatoes (and plum, and grape — I always think of them all as cherries, though). Seems like there were a lot left over from yesterday’s market, so I tried to just get the really ripe ones today, but with so many coming ripe now, there’s only so much you can do.

Today in my garden, I:

-sowed love-in-a-mist seeds between some echinacea in the front garden and the globe allium in my shade garden
-sowed false indigo seeds behind some pine stumps in the northern part of our lawn. To be honest, I don’t know if this part of the yard is sunny enough for this purpose, but we’re trying to dress this area up and I liked the thought of the indigo surrounding the backside of the stumps (it was my mom’s idea)
-weeded a little in the shade and front gardens
-noticed the hollyhocks are beginning to germinate in the front yard
-noticed that I have some corn silk peeking out of the biggest cornstalk in the front yard

Hollyhock, newly emerged

Artemisia in its new home

The new home of the love-in-a-mist

Wow! Wow! I’m going to have sweet corn.

The false indigo seeds

Hey! Pretty purple bean flowers.

Cleaning up

I fulfilled my destiny yesterday and finished pinning up all the tomato vines by the old greenhouse, just as I’d hoped to. Naturally, as I was taking a last ambling trek around the rows’ periphery, I noticed some more vines falling down. What is sunshine without a few clouds? What is an already seemingly endless task without a few more blunders to extend a muddling eternity? Today I went to go tie up a few more of those ends but later they told me I don’t have to bother anymore, and I can just cut the suckers off. That’s…fine, I guess. If only I could have cut them off from the beginning. Well, now I can combine two half-assed tasks into one. Semi-complete tying, semi-complete pruning. Two great tastes that taste great together.

I also haphazardly tied up a few more lengths of the tomatoes out in the most troublesome row in the field field. Before I was kind of actually trying to tie them up nicely, and create a row that would not require me to have to burrow too deeply in its depths to find the fruit. Now I’m just trying to make one or two places to put my feet in between these tomatoes and the tomatoes in the adjacent row, which aren’t secured to anything and spill all over the place. Hey, speaking of tomatoes, yesterday when I was picking the cherry tomatoes down in the field, I stuck my hand into the plant expecting to feel the nice cherry tomato I was reaching for, and felt instead felt something cold and clammy which shuddered a little. I screamed in spite of myself. Turns out it was just a toad and it peed on my hand. So, that was fun.

Been helping pick some of the hot and sweet peppers recently, and helping ready the kale/carrot/beet/basil circuit as usual. Today, when the market stuff was done and it was determined at long last that I would just leave the tomatoes alone for a while, I kept it real by weeding the hot peppers. What a trip that was.

Today in my own garden, I:

-planted the artemisia by the zinnias
-planted the primrose by the front porch
-cut back lots of day lilies
-cut the basil down a lot because it was flowering
-tried to fix falling-down tomatoes (they follow me home), sort of succeeded but also sort of failed
-weeded in the vegetable garden a little
-weeded in the front garden a little
-weeded by the front porch a little
-cut off the dead little pumpkins on the vine that’s producing the big one. Curse these pumpkins, curse them.
-picked some more tomatoes and some of the carrots and one more cucumber that was hiding

Some of the sweet corn in the front yard. Three out of four have these tassels; the fourth is still kind of stunted.

The front garden is now just kind of a mess of echinacea (dead) and zinnias and falling-down bachelor button. Soon there will be mums blooming. I’ll try to clean it up more by then.

Here’s how the Brussels sprouts are doing.

Here’s the big pumpkin today. Grow, pumpkin! Grow FASTER!

The never-ending tomato struggle; signs of tapering off in the garden

A lot of what I end up doing at the farm is essentially hugging tomatoes. And now more than ever, when I’m using my patented multi-vine tie-up technique. Here, it behooves a soul to wrap one’s arms around the plant, and its stake, and try to gather as many similar-lengthed vines as possible — preferably all belonging to the same plant, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter if they’re growing that closely together; it’s more about keeping the rows clean than separating the plants from one another sideways — in a loop of twine, which is then swung around so the two ends are at the front of the plant, in front of you, so you have the clearest view possible for what is going to be a very delicate, techinical operation: securing the loop with an uneven, fraying-ended, sloppy-ass double knot. Oh, you need a clear view to pull this one off. Anyway, after a few hours of this, the tomato foliage imparts this green residue on your arm hairs, making them glow unnaturally and look EVER SO BEAUTIFUL in the late afternoon light. It’s a pity I haven’t taken a picture of it yet!

The tomatoes I’ve been working on for the last two days are supported by fairly skinny wooden stakes, which have a propensity to flop over. Among the handful of places on the farm where tomatoes are grown, this is one where, for quite a while, it was pretty easy to distinguish individual plants. Nothing like the impenetrable wall of tomatoes secured to the hog fences. Those ones are all cherries and grapes; these are just regular size. But now these ones are getting almost as bad. It’s not such a big deal right now — unless you believe in such boring concepts as good air circulation for the plant — but it gets to be bothersome come picking time. It’s just a mess to walk around them. It was actually picking tome today, but it wasn’t so bad because I could tell pretty quickly that there weren’t a lot of ripe ones, and I wasn’t going to have to spend half the morning battling errant branches. (In the end, I only picked half of a very small pail’s worth of tomatoes from several hundred plants. I probably ended up pitching five or six tomatoes into the row because they had split, had nasty spots, or some such thing.) Tomorrow will be a pretty busy day, so I may not be able to finish tying up all the loose ends with the tomatoes, but by Monday at the latest I hope it will be finished. By that time, it will probably already be time to do some maintenance on the cherries again. Joy….

To get a bit of a head start on what would normally get picked tomorrow, for Saturday’s market, I picked one row of yellow beans. This is from the second planting; still lots of flowers on it. The foliage looks nice, crisp, and bright, unlike the other rows, whose beans are all rusty. (Alright, not all of them, but a lot of them.) There were some rusty spots on these newer beans, too, but I tried to weed them out as best as I could. I got about one and a third pails from this row.

In the morning, I did the kale, basil, beets, cabbage, and washed up a few peppers and the carrots, too.

At home, I watered the veronica out front. It’s looking good. Hadn’t watered it since I planted it a couple of days ago. Might get to see the one bloom (‘Red Fox’), which would be nice. After I did that, I planted these double-blossom hollyhocks from seed, which I’ve been meaning to do forever. You can see why I put it off for so long, though; why, it must have taken me anywhere from 70 to 90 seconds to sow them. I’m not so wild about this style of hollyhock, or double blooms in general (I like the old-fashioned look better), but they’re still pretty. Multiple colors in this pack, too. Looks like maroons, pinks, cream, white, yellow. We have a single flower hollyhock variety that I figured I’d plant out in the back yard at the top of the little hill if I ever get that weeded. Now would be a good time for it, because the weather is so pleasant, but it’s been a tiring few days. Maybe Sunday.

The gardens are starting to look so wild to me. A lot of things are done blooming — all the day lilies, except for the reliable Stella d’Oro; bee balm; mint (but for one lonely flower); echinacea, for the most part, and the rest of it looks so grimy — and a few, like the goldenrod, have just gotten started. I have a couple of things I’ve been growing from seed, all of which are still quite young (batch #5000 of bachelor button, some dahlias that never seem to want to survive too long, batch #2 of zinnias, and the gomphrena, which along with the zinnia has pretty much been this year’s grown-from-seed-triumph). So the cluttered look of all these spent flowers, plus the leaves that are starting to fall on everything, makes for kind of interesting late-summer look.

Maybe I’ll still get the artemisia and the primrose planted before the day is over; I think I know where I want them, at least.

Descent into madness with tomatoes; new plants in the garden

When the story of my life is written, it will be kind of like Moby Dick. I’m Ishmael, not the whale. And the mammoth quest I pursue to near madness is tying up the tomatoes. I AM GOING TO GET YOU, TOMATOES. YOU ARE ON NOTICE. Today I added a new tool to my arsenal. Twine. I’m just tying a bunch of vines up at once and double-knotting them. None of this fussy business of tie tools stapling up one or two vines at a time. I am tying vines to vines on the other side of the fence. NOW YOU DON’T KNOW WHICH WAY TO FALL, DO YOU? HUH, PUNKS?

I was wrangling the cherry tomatoes at the bottom of the field when one among the farmer’s company drove down and said B said I should go home because it was too hot. I didn’t need to be told twice. In fact, not five minutes earlier I had been about to seek refuge in the shade of the perennial garden to weed for a while, but as I was looping the twine back up, I chanced a look down the row and the tomatoes were taunting me again. I saw that I was quite close to overtaking them, though. So I went back out there. And was then promptly told to leave.

Before that, I finished up with the onions in the long field. Some of the onions look like torpedoes. Some of them have started growing again. Some of them got lost in the weeds. I did the best I could.

The market stuff didn’t take too long this morning. Washed the cabbage, washed and bagged kale, washed and boxed those yellow peppers and the bell peppers (a few red ones now, plus some greenish-purple ones), washed and bundled basil, cleaned and boxed the big tomatoes.

I’ve only done a few things in the garden at home lately; I was away much of the weekend. But on Sunday, I went shopping at a nursery that I haven’t seen since I was a kid. It was a very spendy place, but at the end of the season there were a lot of cheap perennials in 4″ pots. I bought:

– One more strawberry (‘Hecker,’ an everbearing variety). I just planted it out back by the others, so now I have five varieties (I can’t recall offhand what the others are, but it’s two June-bearing and two everbearing. But one of the everbearing ones is actually producing a new strawberry or two every couple of days for the last couple of weeks, which I am probably overly impressed by. But it’s its first year! I mean wow!!)
– Artemisia. I had some artemisia once in the borderland between the front garden and the shade garden. This was back in the days before I ruled these gardens with an iron fist, and there was a mess of weeds, mostly grasses, blending the two areas together in a less than flattering way. So that’s where the artemisia was hiding, and I was sad that I couldn’t see it. So, I decided to move it to a spot on the opposite edge of the shade garden (which isn’t terribly shady) and it never came back.
– Russian sage, which I’d vowed never to have because it spreads a lot and flops and looks messy everywhere I’ve seen it. I tell myself that mine is going to be different somehow. I put this back by the bee balm and the lavender so it forms a kind of C-shape around the daylilies. See, it’s now officially a sensory garden. Also, even if the sage does end up taking over a little bit more than I want, it own’t be much of a loss because there’s not much back in the corner except for creeping Charlie and sedum.
– Some primrose, because why not, I guess.
– Veronica. I got three of them, two blue/purple and one red (‘Red Fox’). I planted them against the front of the house, so that should look nice at the back of the garden there.

So I have yet to plant the artemisia and the primrose.

Other stuff:
– Did I mention I moved the lobelia out from under the gomphrena? I can’t believe how the gomphrena has completely overtaken the corner there. The lobelia went next to the blue and yellow columbine that I planted from seed this year. (One of these three columbines died, by the way.) The lobelia looked fine for a day or two, but today is terribly wilted. I gave it a good watering; hope it will recover.

– The beans are now producing little tiny beans. The plant stems have flopped over somewhat irrevocably and I don’t feel like staking them. They’re just going to grow like this.

– Two of the radishes bolted. What kind of crap is that? I pulled them up and had next to nothing in terms of actual radish.

– I guess I should pull the beets one of these days.

Here are some pictures of other things that are happening.