At this time of year I like to look back on the past year to reflect on wonderful events — in the garden and in my life. I take time to count my blessings, look at my mistakes and plan for the future.
It was a good year in the garden. It started off hot and sunny, perfect for growing vegetables. Later in the summer, we got a bit too much rain, which can encourage fungal diseases. But overall, my tomatoes did well and produced plenty, as did my leafy greens and squashes.
My potatoes, on the other hand, were miserable. I planted them on the south side of my garden, where there is a big magnolia that provides shade during the afternoon, when the sun is strongest. Perhaps the magnolia roots were competing with the potatoes, too. No potato bugs, but still, very few spuds. And most were small. I am already buying potatoes, which is unheard of at this time of year.
Last year, I harvested 100 pounds of potatoes and had plenty to give away. This year? Maybe 10 pounds. Lesson learned? Plant leafy greens, not potatoes, tomatoes or squash-family veggies on the shady side of the garden. Lettuce, kale, spinach and such need less sun, but I knew that. My bad.
In 2017, I planted a nice 10-foot-tall catalpa tree and it over-wintered nicely. It bloomed this year, and I loved the sight and fragrance of the blossoms. It had some good growth and I look forward to an even better display of blossoms next year. I learned not to worry if it doesn’t leaf out early in the spring. It is one of the last to open up its leaves.
I have always loved the eastern redbud tree (Cercis canadensis). Unlike anything else I grow, it does not set flower buds on twigs. The blossoms pop out of the bark of the tree or the branches. And they are a bright magenta color. There is also a white variety, but I got the pink one.
I had tried growing a redbud 25 years ago, but it died back to the ground each winter and never blossomed, so I eventually gave up on it and dug it out. But our climate has warmed some, and I placed this one in a protected spot near a tall stone wall that will radiate some heat and break the winds of winter. It bloomed nicely for me this year, and I have great hope that it will winter well.
I have noticed that I am getting more adventurous as I age. I am more willing to try plants that are marginal in our climatic zone. Now I am also spending more and getting bigger trees, despite the increased costs. Knowing that I have a finite time on this earth, and that I’m past 70 years young, I want to see my trees come to maturity — and soon.
I remember helping artist and author Tasha Tudor some years ago to find some uncommon crabapple varieties when she was in her 90s, and being amazed that someone of that age was still planting trees. I use her as my role model as I age.
I am grateful to have had a young person helping me in my garden again this year. Celia is a high school student who loves working in the garden and has high energy, literally skipping from job to job. I resolve to never become a curmudgeon who says all kids are lazy or addicted to their cellphones. Many want to learn and are willing to work hard, and having a helper even four hours a week is a big help.
In the fall of 2017, I ordered allium bulbs because I had seen some amazing varieties at the Chelsea Flower Show in London. The Brits use alliums much more than we do, and I fell in love with them. One of those I loved the most, Allium schubertii, is not hardy in my climatic zone, but I ordered them anyway and planted them in pots. I kept them in a cold basement and brought them into the warmth of the house in March. They bloomed fabulously.
My thanks to you, my readers, for asking me questions and keeping learning. My best wishes for 2019.
Henry Homeyer can be reached at P.O. Box 364, Cornish Flat, New Hampshire, 03746 or firstname.lastname@example.org.