Garden Woes, Garden Grows

This has been a weird month of May.

Last week, and part of the week before, we had a lot of rain and low temperatures–down to the forties and fifties some days and nights. We even had frost warnings and nights that the temperatures dropped down to the thirties.

Needless to say, this has affected farmers and gardeners.

As far as farmers go–it seems that I was premature in declaring asparagus to be done for the year–a new crop of shoots were in evidence yesterday at the Farmer’s Market, including purple spears! Needless to say, I picked some up, and brought them home, along with other interesting comestibles. But the strawberries have been slowed down a great deal by the cold and rain; for the next five days, our farmers tell us, there will be very few strawberries to speak of. After that, however, production will go back to its formerly fecund level. (And, maybe, then, we can quit just rinsing them and eating them out of hand and actually make some shortcake, or bread pudding or pie or somesuch. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet–they are so good plain!)

I am sad to report that most of my basil, despite my best efforts at keeping it happy and healthy, have succumbed to the cold and damp conditions. Half of them died outright, and the others which have shown a slight tendency to rally in the heat of the past couple of days (yesterday in the low eighties, today in the upper eighties and tomorrow in the nineties), I have taken out of the self-watering planter, and transplanted into pots with better drainage. Here, I hope to nurse them along, back to health, but I don’t have much hope for them. Fully half the root systems of each plant have rotted away in the chilly, wet soil in which they were planted, and their vascular systems seem weak and flabby. I would not be surprised to see them infested with some sort of insect next, at which point, I will pull them up and call them a complete loss.

So, I replaced the basils, and now I have a mixture of both Siam Queen and Genovese basils in a classical-looking urn planter. I crowded them in together, as I have found that basils really don’t mind this treatement at all, and will grow up and out, tangling their stems together with mad abandon.

The once-full basil planter is now the home of two more tomato plants; for whatever reason, the recent oddly chill weather has not affected my current grape tomatoes. The hardy plants are flowering with great glee and are scheduled to be staked tomorrow–they are tall enough to need support already. I treated them no differently than the basils–I simply made certain that they had cover on the frost nights, and they were perfectly happy when I uncovered them each morning, while the basils looked more and more puny and sickly.

I also planted my last self-watering planter with a combination of different sorts of sage, tarragon, rosemary, Greek columnar basil, Greek oregano, and just this afternoon, too lush dill plants that I got at a bargain price. This should conclude my culinary herbal plantings, with the exception of me sowing some more fenugreek seeds. The first ones suffered from the cold, so I am trying again.

The flowers are all gorgeous, and I am thrilled with how well even the more cold-sensitive plants like the lantana have survived the chilly, drippy weather.

Our lovely shade bed, however, is slated to be completely dug up sometime in the summer. The people who put in the hot tub next to our house, left a pile of mud that drains down the slope into our driveway every time it rains. In addition, it turns out that the people who built the house put no drainage for water as it comes off the slope where the house sits, so it just runs off into our driveway.

This causes unsightly soil erosion, and makes it difficult to grow anything closer to the house, under the deck, near the garage, because the dirt just washes away.

So, the contractors are going to put in a retaining wall to hold back the soil near the hot tub, and pave around that end of the hot tub, and then, they are going to put in drainage, all down the slope, which includes where the shade garden is installed. After the drainage is in, they are going to put stone up on the slope, and form planting pockets where we can extend the shade bed with a planting of ostrich ferns and hostas.

I am told by our neighbors and by a friend who is a garden designer, that our landscaping contractor works very neatly and is very, very good with caring for plants in existing borders and beds, so that no harm will come to them while he is putting in drainage.

That is a load off my mind.

So, while it will be a bit of a trial to have to watch all of the plants we have worked so hard on coming out of the ground so soon–they will be reinstalled (while they are digging out dirt, I am going to have them amend the soil as it goes back–it is rocky subsoil clay primarily, and so I see no reason not to add huge amounts of organic matter–compost, manure, and peat moss–to help lighten the soil and add to its fertility.

While the contractor was there–we had him look at our back yard, with its slope. He has figured a way to get the equipment back there that is required to do the terracing that will turn that lawn into magnificent, useable garden space. He was thrilled to see it–all of that space, with so much sun–he said it was like discovering a hidden treasure. He has done a lot of work in our neighborhood and never known that our land was there, so he is excited with the idea of starting work on it next spring.

So that is the good and the bad of our gardening. You lose some plants, you gain others, and life continues on.

In this case, I think that the good definately outweighs the bad; our garden is alive with plants, flowers, birds and insects, and I cannot ask for more than that.

Stay tuned tomorrow for an update on the local produce and another recipe featuring the goodies I found at the Farmer’s Market this week.


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  1. What a drag to lose your basil! I hate that. Up until yesterday, May has been quite chilly here too. I didn’t dare to put the basil outside until yesterday.

    And yet another strange winter here killed all my thyme – lemon and regular. I replaced it AGAIN.

    But what I really came in here to say is that I have garden envy. Your garden (in spite of your woes) looks gorgeous. I particularly love the basil urn. Do you have to haul that indoors over the winter to protect it from cracking?


    Comment by ejm — May 29, 2006 #

  2. Have you heard of the ice saints? Basically, what it comes down to, is that you never plant until after May 15th. When I lived in Texas I never planted anything until after April 15th but have had to revise this in France. Here is a link to what I wrote about those saints:

    Comment by Linda — May 30, 2006 #

  3. Elizabeth, that urn only looks like stone or concrete. It is actually fiberglass, so no–I don’t have to lug it in. But, if I had to, it wouldn’t be so much a matter of lugging it, as just picking it up and whisking it away easily.

    Fiberglass planters kick serious butt.

    Linda–you know, I grew up with the injunction to put out tomatoes on May 1, and usually, what one does with tomatoes, one can do with basil. And almost always, that has worked, at least, so long as I am in zone 6 or farther south. And I am in just a tiny finger of zone 6 here, but sometimes these Applachian mountains mess with weather and we get weirdo things happening. Like blizzards in March or snow squalls in April.

    So, next year, I may put my tomatoes out May 1 again, but hold off on the basil until the middle of the month.

    Thanks for the link about the ice saints! That is cool!

    Comment by Barbara — May 30, 2006 #

  4. We used to have a hothouse, which was perfect for those uncertain months between winter and spring. Unfortunately, it’s seen better days, and I now just raise some herbs in small ceramic pots by the window…

    Comment by Robert Nanders — May 30, 2006 #

  5. I’m going to have to haunt the garden centers to see if I can find something similar. I’m a big fan of plants in pots and I have a number filled with nonhardy perennials that I move inside for the winter.

    Here, the rule has always been to never plant before the May24th long weekend (Victoria Day). Some years I’ve risked it and planted in early May but this year we had a particularly chilly May (until now)


    P.S. I was GOING to move the plants out of the basement this week but it’s suddenly poisonously hot and humid. I’m waiting for the cold snap in June so I won’t melt as I haul the things up the stairs.

    [whine]Middle ground in temperature… is it really too much to ask for?[/whine]

    Comment by ejm — May 31, 2006 #

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