This past year was, overall, a good one in the garden. It started off cold and wet in early summer, but then turned hot and dry. Most vegetables and perennial flowers did fine for me. I finally splurged and got an Itoh hybrid peony, one called “garden treasure,” and it bloomed gloriously. It is a cross between a perennial peony and a tree peony.
Carrots and onions, however, were a bust for me this year. Granted, I had them in a place where they got more shade than ideal. Still, my carrots were pathetic, very small. I accept that each year something will under-perform. Fortunately, there are good organic farmers who have anything I need. I bought half a bushel of organic onions at the Norwich Farmers Market, something I had never needed to do before. Oh, well. And good carrots are always available.
My tomatoes did all right. I tried hard to pick off diseased leaves, which always helps. I regularly sprayed an anti-fungal solution called Serenade that contains a bacterium said to combat fungi. I didn’t spray a couple of plants to see if there was a difference, but didn’t notice much difference. It may have delayed the onset of disease, but basically, the only way I can get enough tomatoes is to have lots of plants.
Last summer, I wrote about a farmer in Pennsylvania who said staking tomatoes was a waste of time and energy. I said I would test his theory and report back to you. The results? Staked tomatoes did better for me.
During that dry time in August, I installed some drip irrigation in a garden for a client, and found it very helpful for new installations. Gardeners Supply Company (www.gardeners.com) sells a “Snip and Drip” system that installs easily and delivers water just to the places that need it. I encircled new trees and shrubs with sections of soaker hoses that “leak” when the water is turned on. I found once daily was fine, and used a timer to control it.
Magnolias in my part of the world bloomed deliciously this year. My ‘Merrill’ magnolia bloomed a little late this year, just barely blooming for my birthday in late April, but holding its blossoms well into May. I met a new (to me) magnolia this year, a yellow one called the cucumbertree magnolia (Magnolia acuminata). I am looking for a space to plant one, perhaps this year.
Two years ago, I planted a catalpa tree, a 10-foot specimen, in the middle of a section of lawn. I had fallen in love with the blossoms on a neighbor’s tree. The blossoms are creamy white with purple-red stripes inside, and are fragrant. It bloomed after its first winter, but not this past year. But the tree showed no winter kill, and I imagine next summer it will blossom dramatically.
Not all trees bloom every year, and weather has a lot to do with that, I think. So, as I nestle in here near the woodstove, I dream of catalpa blossoms in 2020. Maybe gardeners live longer, in part, because we so want to see our plants perform.
Grapes produced huge quantities for most everyone this year. I made over 5 gallons of juice and froze it in half-gallon plastic jugs. I used a NorPro brand “Steamer/Juicer” for this, and it was very easy. The grapes were purple Concord type, and produced juice with a very intense flavor.
Each year it gets harder for me to find space to plant more spring bulbs, but each year I find some. This year, we planted 300 or more bulbs at our home here in Cornish Flat. I can’t wait to see them bloom and to see the others I’ve been planting for decades.
What else happened in 2019? My life partner, Cindy Heath, finally moved in with me in Cornish Flat. We had lived 6 miles apart for the last 10 years, but this May, we joined forces here. She is an avid gardener who loves to weed, which really helps a lot! Life is good.
In August, I broke a bone in my ankle while pruning a tall apple tree when my ladder slipped off the branch it was on, and I hit the ladder with my ankle when I landed. The fracture was not serious, but it kept me from doing as much as I’d like. It is only now that I am fully healed.
Fortunately, I met and made friends with Jim Spinner, a retired fellow who wanted to learn to garden and who has lots of energy. He helped me a lot, as did Cindy, and by the end of October, our gardens were in great shape. I managed to help them despite wearing a big plastic boot much of the time.
And in 2019, two of my good buddies, Jerry Cashion and Brian Steinwand, passed away. I had known them for a total of over 80 years, and miss them a lot. We had all worked in Africa together. But I find gardening is a fix for almost any sadness. Get out, dig in the dirt, plant a flower or pick a tomato, and life seems a little bit better.
I wish you all a wonderful 2020. I hope you will start thinking about the garden now: dream, read gardening books, make lists and learn about trees or flowers you want to try this coming year. That’s how I make it through the winter.