The Weekly Gardener 1

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Gardening Odds and Ends

The Vegetable Patch

Tomatoes

Every year I'm looking forward to planting the miniature vegetable garden. I know this endeavor defies logic, given the amount of space I have available for it, but if I listened to logic I wouldn't have done it in previous years either.

It features the same plants every year: tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, beans and eggplant. If you are wondering where do I find room for all of the above in twenty square feet, the answer is I don't. By the time fall comes around the whole shoehorned planting turns into an unmanageable jungle, with foliage spilling over the concrete walkway and monster tomato plants toppling their supports. That being said, right now the little vegetable garden looks prim and proper, its well behaved plants growing neatly in their allotted spots.

Last year I gave up on the yield table after a few weeks of unfavorable weather in August unexpectedly snuffed my gardening enthusiasm, so, in order not to repeat this story, I started this year's record keeping early and I will stick to it come what may.

Of course now that all the seedlings are planted, tied to their supports and watered, there is nothing to do but wait for a couple of months. If the weather cooperates, they will have an almost two weeks head start this year, which is a lot as far as plant development goes.

According to forecasts, the rest of this spring will be warm, but the summer will be cooler than usual. I read that tomatoes don't set fruit when temperatures exceed ninety five degrees F, but I haven't noticed that in my experience. Hot weather suits them just fine, it's excessive rain they didn't like.

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Perennial Gardens

Lily of the Valley

A perennial garden is an aggregate entity, not a discrete collection of plants. There is a surprising amount of interdependency that needs to develop between the neighboring plants, an adjustment that takes years and happens mostly underground.

By the time a perennial garden gets fully established, its roots are so interconnected it gets difficult to remove a plant without affecting the entire flower bed. Its residents jointly rely on the nutrients some of the plants release into the soil, on the shade some other plants cast to protect the moisture of the whole border, and on an entire host of worms, insects and anaerobic bacteria which find safe haven inside their intertwined root systems.

Unlike an annual planting, which can be designed to the gardener's whim, a perennial garden places restrictions on what can or can't belong in it. There are plant incompatibilities, crowding issues, divergent watering needs, staggered blooming times, territorial dominance, all of which the plants have to resolve among themselves, and over which the gardener has very little say after the fact. The perennial garden is never the same, it changes its colors and patterns from one week to the next, from one year to the next. It has moods, theme colors, favorites. One year the irises run the show, the next year is all about hostas.

Perennial gardens are planted to last decades, even centuries in some cases, so don't expect them to behave the same as the cheerful annual borders. Most perennials don't bloom for at least a couple of years as they get established, others take six to ten years to reach maturity. Through that trying time they look like a lost cause, as if they are intent on bring you to despair while you toil and drip sweat over them in vain, and then all of a sudden everything comes together, when you least expect it, in ways you will find difficult to believe.