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Visit in Brenda Haas’s Garden

Along the pumpkin path

It’s hard to decide where a tour of Brenda Haas’s ranch should begin! In a gorgeous border beside her house, a volunteer pumpkin plant capriciously cavorts among the ornamentals. One of the surest ways to my heart: grow food in your show garden.

Remember Cultivate ’14? I wrote about it here: Horticulture Conference for Industry Geeks. I saw and learned so many cool things at that conference, but the trip gave me an opportunity to do something even more awesome: I spent the day after Cultivate ’14 visiting with Brenda Haas in northern Ohio.

Who is Brenda Haas?

To me, first and foremost, Brenda is a friend from my early days on social media. I got to know her as @BG_Garden on Twitter, and later as Bren… pretty much also on Twitter. I hope you also already know Brenda but if you don’t, let me encourage you to change that.

Bren is the curator of #gardenchat.

What is #gardenchat?

If I understand correctly, #gardenchat started on Superbowl Sunday with a group of gardening enthusiasts on Twitter. They had casually organized to tweet with each other while planting seeds instead of watching football.

Bird bath in a shaded garden

Not far from the pumpkin path, a bird bath holds promise of avian visitors in a shady garden spot. The view is across a lawn toward the road concealed by a hedgerow.

Participants enjoyed this first gardening-specific twitter chat and several turned #gardenchat into a weekly event. They tweeted about #gardenchat to their Twitter friends, and over the course of several months participation increased.

To be honest, I kept hearing about #gardenchat, but took about 6 months finally to tune in. The chat hooked me instantly.

During the #gardenchat hour, there may be twenty, thirty, or more conversations happening all at once, with one main conversation tying them together. New participants often comment about how impossible it is to follow what’s going on. Fortunately, Bren posts recaps. There is a supertanker load of gardening wisdom (and a lot of other interesting banter) in the #gardenchat archives.

How to #gardenchat

All you need to participate in #gardenchat is a Twitter account and a working Internet connection. On Monday nights at 9PM Eastern time, you can navigate to, log in with your Twitter credentials, and type in the hash tag #gardenchat. Every tweet anyone posts that includes the #gardenchat hash tag will scroll by on your screen.

If you type a tweet into the box at the top of the screen, automatically adds the hash tag at the end of the tweet.

Things move quickly during #gardenchat so hold onto your teeth. Follow @bg_garden on Twitter and watch for announcements about upcoming topics, giveaways, and other news related to the garden industry. Most of all, have fun! I hope to see you on the Chat!


A screen capture of provides an idea of what you’ll see during the #gardenchat hour on Monday nights. Click the image to see it full-sized.

The box titled, How to #gardenchat will help you participate. This is one of the most important destinations for gardeners online; several times over the years, the #gardenchat has ranked among the most active topics on Twitter. Please check it out a few times before you make up your mind about it; you’ll never meet so many like-minded gardening enthusiasts so easily.

One more time: Who is Bren?

So, Bren organizes #gardenchat and has expanded the #gardenchat experience onto many social media platforms. You can find #gardenchat on Facebook, Google+, and Tumblr. As well, Bren manages some #gardenchat activity on her personal website, and she manages a second website specifically dedicated to the #gardenchat community.

Bren was a garden photographer until all this social media stuff came around. Now she’s a wizard with social media… and she’s also a garden photographer. I learned when I visited her that she’s a talented gardener, and that she has boundless drive and energy. I already knew that she’s a warm, generous person—we’ve met several times over the years.

Colors and textures in Bren's garden

Bren’s gardens displayed layers of colors and textures that encouraged me to linger. Now and again, I spotted plants I recognized, but mostly I just enjoyed the scenery.

I love that Bren opened her home to me and that I got to meet her family. I love that she took time to give me a thorough tour of her ranch. I love that we started yapping when I arrived and paused only when sleep became inevitable… and continued the next morning pretty much until I had to head home. We talked about gardening & social media, and maybe even a bit about family.

For me it was the perfect punctuation to a terrific gardening-focused week in Ohio. Photos provide some insight into Bren’s gardening style. I have more to share; in the next month or so, I’ll post again about visiting in Brenda Haas’s garden.

Complementary plantings in Bren's garden

An eye-catching combo that includes hostas, heucheras, and ivy.

Gaining perspective in Bren's garden

A gorgeous flowering succulent grew in a pot near the “water feature” at Bren’s ranch.

On the deck in Bren's garden

Across the pond at Bren’s, you might glimpse horses through the fence. A gorgeous willow tree adds drama.

Water lily in Brenda Haas's pond

If there are water lilies, this photographer must capture at least one in a photo. Bren reported the unusually cold winter killed back her water lilies, but it’s clear they’re recovering.


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Grow Marjoram! Seriously, Grow It

You Can Grow That!

Ithaca NY backyard vegetable garden

After stopping to photograph a nicely-planted boulevard, I got an invite to the back yard where a small farm was well on its way to harvest. The bushy clump in front of the gas grill (front-left) is the out-of-control marjoram from which I received a rooted stem.

On a trip to Ithaca last spring, I happened through a neighborhood in which people tended their boulevards as gardens rather than as barren rectangles of useless grass. I parked and walked so I could take pictures and was capturing a particularly engaging scene when its gardener walked out from behind the house.

We became friends and she invited me to see what was growing in the back yard. There was a small farm back there. As we chatted, we discovered we had a mutual acquaintance. It’s an unlikely story, so here goes:

Crazy, unlikely back story

My dad was a college professor. One of his students in the 1960s had two boys who I would visit and play with—they were toddlers and I was, perhaps five or six years old.

Marjoram contained

I transferred my marjoram (a rooted stem from someone else’s garden) from a planter to a containment ring in my herb garden last year in late summer or early fall. The plant had developed a healthy root ball during its 4+ months on my screened porch. Here, about 10 months later (and after a very harsh winter), the plant is enormous. It hasn’t filled the containment area, but I suspect it will next season.

After I entered college, we had little contact with my dad’s former student and her family. I moved to Boston and began a corporate career where I met the woman who married me. We reproduced and moved to central Pennsylvania where we reproduced a bit more.

When my kids were about old enough to be babysitters, we got word that my dad’s student’s son (the toddler I’d played with some 40 years earlier) had moved to Williamsport—about 20 miles north of us. He was married with children and his family eventually moved to Lewisburg where my kids provided them with baby sitting services.

My childhood playmate’s wife is a musician who had performed in several academic settings, and we were fortunate to attend a private concert that she put on for friends as a rehearsal for an upcoming public concert. Alas, eventually, my childhood playmate and his family moved toward the Midwest (his eldest daughter is now driving).

Marjoram heavy with blossoms

My marjoram sprawls in part because huge clusters of flowers weight the ends of very long stalks. Blossoms started to open about July 15, and the display has been brilliant for three weeks with no end in sight.

June, 2013 in Ithaca

I was enjoying the small farm in the back and chatting with this pleasant couple and I learned that the husband is a musician who has performed at Bucknell University (the college in Lewisburg where I live). He had been offered the gig by the musician wife of my childhood playmate son of my dad’s graduate student! Freaky.

We became friends and realized we’re practically related! (It gets better: The musician husband is from Uganda. Our family had come to know a Bucknell student from Uganda who had started the awesome charity Bicycles Against Poverty. Turned out our student friend had attended the concert performed by the Ugandan musician husband booked by the wife of my childhood playmate son of my dad’s graduate student… and they—the two Ugandans in the story—had met each other!)

But that’s not the point.

What marjoram has to do with it

We got to be such good friends (happens all the time among gardeners) that my new acquaintances decided I might like to take some marjoram home with me. The marjoram patch was out of control, they said, and pulled a stalk out by its roots.

Butterfly on marjoram blossoms

If marjoram’s beautiful purple flowers aren’t enough eye candy, my plants draw a lot of butterflies. It’s encouraging to see so many flitting around while I’m working the in garden.

I thanked them for the gift and nursed it for a few days until I got it back to Lewisburg. There, it languished in a small planter on the porch until October or November. Finally, I set a containment ring in the ground in my herb garden and planted the marjoram stalk in it. That marjoram is a superstar!

Photos make the case: you should have marjoram in your garden. In fact, grow it among your ornamentals; plant a meadow with the stuff. It’s amazing! Best of all, it grows like a weed.

Find a friend who grows marjoram and ask if they’ll pull a stem for you. Or, buy a marjoram nursery pot at your local garden center. You won’t need a large pot; in less than a year, a single sprig will grow into a large clump. You can grow that!

Honeybee on marjoram blossoms

Nothing in my kitchen garden draws more honeybees than does the marjoram. This is encouraging; there must be at least one honeybee hive surviving within a few miles. The honeybees have a lot of company. The marjoram blossoms draw several other types of bees as well as pollinating flies and wasps.

Follow this link for more You Can Grow That posts.


Pears, Squirrels, and Woodchucks. Rats!


Until the end of June, everywhere I looked on my pear tree there were pears… and most were in excellent shape. Things changed in July when a squirrel decided to take charge.

What a year for pears! My tree exploded with blossoms after the crazy cold winter and it seems every one of the blossoms produced fruit. I’ve never seen so many pears on the tree in any season.

I’ve tried not to get excited; you never know how a season will turn. Any honest gardener should be willing to acknowledge things go wrong; if you haven’t had a crop fail, you’re still a beginner.

My pear crop is failing

I suppose I’m being unfair to the pear tree to say my pear crop is failing. I’m failing my pear crop. Apparently, the pears are so good that a squirrel has taken charge of them.

We’ve watched that rascally squirrel climb the tree, chew through the stem holding a pear on the tree, drop the pear, run down from the tree, and carry off the pear. I’ve found pears half-buried in mulch in my garden, and I’ve stepped on them in the lawn. The idiot squirrel is hiding them as if to consume them in winter.

I’m so busy catching up on other gardening chores that I haven’t taken time to suss out a squirrel remediation system. Even if I find the time, I’m not sure I have the engineering skills.

Double-teaming varmints

So, my wife and I were eating dinner the other day, and I noticed the squirrel in the pear tree. As we watched, I wondered out loud how long squirrels live and whether they teach their offspring skills they’ve developed. (I wrote about a pear-eating squirrel in 2008; could this be the same critter six years later?)

Stored by squirrel for winter

I’ve stepped on pears that were cleverly half-buried in the lawn, and I’ve uncovered pears tucked under the mulch in my garden. Of course, after a few weeks on the soil, many of the pears are mushy, brown smears. The squirrel must have “hidden” this one within the past few days.

When the squirrel dropped a pear from the tree, my wife stood up (we can’t see the ground under the tree when we’re seated on the porch) and discovered a most disturbing truth: there was a woodchuck under the pear tree and it had acquired the pear! The squirrel and the woodchuck are in cahoots!

Will any pears make it to maturity? Will I harvest enough to make jelly? Will we have even one pear by the time the squirrel and woodchuck are done?

Do you have any varmint stories you’d like to share? Please leave them in comments, or link to them. Thank you for visiting.

Pear-thieving squirrel varmint

I thought the squirrel operated on its own as this photo reveals. My tree has noticeably fewer pears on it. In fact, a distressingly small number remain. I’ll spend time this winter pondering countermeasures to protect next year’s crop.

Pear-thieving woodchuck varmint

This here’s the varmint what steals pears from the squirrel varmint. Clearly the woodchuck is the mastermind and the squirrel is a henchman. Seems that if the squirrel actually ate all the pears it steals, it would quickly grow big enough to be indistinguishable from a woodchuck.


Cultivate ’14: Horticulture Conference for Industry Geeks

Pink Zazzle Gomphrena

The Cultivate Conference draws many plant breeders to show off their latest varieties: petunias, chrysanthemums, coleus, roses, heucheras, gomphrena… there were even new varieties of vegetables and herbs. Tables holding the new introductions filled corridors outside of the main show floor. If I lived farther south, my garden would include gomphrena.

Go to a garden or horticulture industry conference! You can learn all kinds of great things by talking to vendors on the show floor—and you can examine their products and marketing literature first-hand! If that’s not enough, most conferences run seminars where you can learn about things that interest you from industry experts—book authors, magazine writers, certified industry specialists, and horticulture Illuminati.

I recently attended Cultivate ’14 in Columbus, Ohio. This conference is clearly for members of the horticulture and gardening industries. Show floor vendors are manufacturers and growers of hort industry products while attendees are, generally, businesses that sell gardening stuff to you and me.

Recharge! Have Your Mind Blown!

Alum Creek State Park

To reduce my cost of attending Cultivate ’14, I stayed at a campground in Alum Creek State Park about 17 miles north of the convention center. Each morning I drove past this waterway which looked pretty surreal in the right light.

I saw things at Cultivate ’14 I’d never imagined, and learned a bit about how all those flats and pots of healthy plants find their way to your local garden centers and big-box stores. I saw hundreds of new varieties of plants being introduced by breeders: flowers and foliage that will grace gardens everywhere starting in 2015.

I also met many fascinating industry players: magazine editors and publishers, conference organizers, soil developers, planter manufacturers, plant breeders, greenhouse builders, nursery automators… the list is much longer. Find a show and attend it. If you can’t afford to travel, find a show near you. What you see might change the way you think about gardening.

Photos tell more of the story.

Columbus's North Market

On the opening day of Cultivate ’14, I hosted a round table as a representative of the Garden Writers Association. Because the show floor opens on the second day of the conference, I had plenty of time to explore Columbus. Barely a block from the convention center, I found North Market. This old building contains several restaurants and boutique stores with plenty of seating for diners. Outdoors, farmers sell homegrown vegetables and fruit. North Market is a popular hangout for Columbus residents.

The Cultivate '14 show floor

An aisle of the conference show floor could accommodate as many as 62 vendors, though many vendors occupied two or more booth spaces. There were 27 such aisles!

Nursery automation

One of the first booths I visited at Cultivate ’14 contained a whole bunch of greenhouse technology. This machine “pots up” flats. In back is a flat of young plants each in a finger-sized cell. In front are standard nursery flats like what you find in a garden store. The 12 metal objects hanging above the trays are pincers that transplant the seedlings. The pincers drop into a row of cells in the rear try, grab the seedlings, lift them clear, carry them over an unused row in the larger trays—spreading apart as they move, and then plunge the seedlings into the larger trays. In the photo, the machine has already transplanted three rows of seedlings. For the show, the engineers slowed the machine to 2% of its normal speed and it was impressive; it could transplant that entire flat of seedlings in less than a minute. I left the booth thinking, “Who knew?” I’d never even thought about how nurseries handle the seedlings we buy in garden centers.

Horticulture industry robot workforce

That’s a robot out for a walk with its handlers. The robot performs a very simple nursery task: it moves potted plants from one place to another. I didn’t know: when a nursery sets plants in individual pots, workers group the pots closely at one end of a “runway.” The close spacing helps the plants develop as they adjust to the new containers. Once the plants begin to interfere with each other, workers redistribute the pots along the runway, leaving space between the plants so they can fill out over the sides of the containers. Well… not so much workers. Robots like this one can work with minimal supervision as they pick up the crowded pots and move them along the runway, setting them down in a programmed pattern.

In the garden at Ohio State University

Cultivate ’14 included an opportunity for attendees to visit a test garden at Ohio State University. We found hors d’oeuvres, wine, and beer in an attractive and well-maintained garden. Along one of the paths, someone had completely misconstrued the purpose of a wheelbarrow… with good results.


Daniel and Stacy Built a Wall

It has been no secret that my dad moved out of our family home of 50+ years and I’ve spent a very long time emptying the house and getting it ready to rent. It’s a departure from the gardening content this blog’s title promises, but this is my life these days:

My wife has accompanied me to Ithaca for a final, crazy push to finish work on my dad’s house. She has cleaned most of the rooms I emptied, we have removed a bunch of recyclables and even more for the trash, and we’ve done some construction & maintenance. The most obvious building project was building a wall in the basement.

Wall in the play room

Stacy and I courted while I was renovating a two-family house with a friend in Boston. She gamely pitched in, going with me from work to a fast-food restaurant to the house every evening and building until bedtime. This trip to Ithaca has recaptured all the magic and romance of those first three(?) months. The photo shows our latest creation.

The “play room” might have been a one-room efficiency apartment before we moved into the house in 1961. It contains a barbeque-capable fireplace, a small sink with many cabinets, and a bench that could seat 4 or 5. As very young children, we wrestled in the play room. We learned microscopy there and discovered paramecia, amoebas, and hydras. We played with electric trains and race cars, and had epic games of hide-and-seek and “find the kitchen timer.”

We had (Boy Scout) patrol meetings in the play room, and we occasionally busted open pinatas there. My brother Kris entertained us in the play room with his chemistry set, and we used a washing machine motor to build a barely useable spin-art device.

We played down there with an Erector Set, Lincoln Logs, Corgi Toys, a Switch-N-Go set, a Thing Maker, Hot Wheels, and a Spirograph. For a few years, we used the play room as a street hockey rink: taped up some wooden hockey sticks and used them to smack around a plastic puck on the linoleum-tiled floor.

In the play room’s last “family” configuration a ping-pong table filled most of the space. The ceiling is low so there are many, many scuff marks where paddles topped out during overhand slams. Early last spring I cut a chunk out of the ping-pong table (my dad had made the table out of plywood) to patch the bathroom floor.

The play room mutated quickly once I and my siblings moved out. My dad and brother installed a table saw, and a stack of lumber grew along the wall opposite the sink and fireplace. To accommodate a wood furnace in his “work room,” my dad moved a long cabinet into the play room. When he retired, he stored all kinds of lab equipment in the play room. My brother Eric also stored some stuff there. Oh–and some of my grandmother’s antiques ended up down there as well.

The ceiling in one end of the play room fell some years ago and restoring it would require ripping down the entire ceiling and maybe a wall. To bring the room up to snuff, we’d also need to scrape up the old linoleum tiles and put down something new.

Or… We built a wall. Stacy and I ran a wall across the play room, cutting off the ugly and creating a large storage space for furniture our kids might someday want for their own apartments or houses. I’d have simply locked down the play room (to keep future tenants out), but there’s a fuse box that needs to be accessible.

I could go on about symbolism and all that… but what of 18 months of clearing out the family home hasn’t been symbolic?

Having Stacy here has been a great help. Sunday will be a very busy day.

My spider friend

As we finished the wall this morning, twin fawns walked into the yard. Later, I was out back adding an entry light on the porch I had built last spring. I made friends with a spider who was fearless as I splashed sawdust on its web and periodically bumped the handrail it calls home.


Wordless Wednesday at Cornell’s Herb Garden



Food in my Kitchen Garden!

Young pears

Anywhere I point a camera at the pear tree it captures an image with many pears. I’ve never seen so many pears on the tree in a season. If they reach maturity, I’ll have a lot of preserving to do!

As I rushed around a week ago Friday getting ready to drive to Ithaca, I captured images that demonstrate food is happening in the garden. I was happy seeing so much progress early in the season but I must not have been wearing my reading glasses.

You see, when I capture photos, I can’t tell immediately whether they’re well-framed, in focus, or properly exposed. Even with reading glasses, the tiny view screen on my camera can make blurred images seem sharp. I discovered when I reached Ithaca that the tiny view screen conceals all kinds of unexpected details. The shocking truth appears in the last photo of this post.

I wish I’d downloaded the photos before I left home so I’d spotted the problem while I could do something about it. I remain optimistic. Perhaps this was an isolated problem that will simply have gone away by the time I get home. No, I don’t believe that. What I believe is that someone else has beaten me to the first peas of the season. Rats.

Lettuce patch

With only a few plants mature, we’ve eaten a reasonable amount of lettuce salad—mostly from plants I’ve removed to thin the patch. I planted nearly exclusively romaine varieties this year. I like the crispness and it seems every year there are more shades of romaine from which to choose.

Basil babies

One of my favorite sprouts, basil, came on strong about six days after I set seed. This is a purple variety, and there is classic green Genovese basil about six inches to the right (not in the photo). I planted six varieties, most from seeds Renee’s Garden gave me to try.

Early tomato blossoms

This is totally crazy, but there are already blossoms on my tomato plants. Well… only the Stupice plants have blossoms, but that’s as it should be. Stupice is a “cool weather” variety that matures in about 55 days! There’s some chance the first will ripen by June 30th, but most certainly I’ll be harvesting in July. That has never happened in my small kitchen garden.

Sweet pepper baby

If tomato blossoms in early June aren’t crazy enough, I found a sweet pepper on its way to maturity. This must have developed from the one flower that had opened before I set the seedlings in the garden. Still, I’ve been impressed that my pepper plants didn’t seem to notice I ripped them out of communal planters and set them into my planting beds. There was no wilting and no apparent slowdown in growth.

Pea pod and aphids

The photo that made me shudder when I loaded it onto my computer and looked at it full-screen is of my first pea pod of the season. One plant flowered about three days ahead of the others. On this day (June 6), two pea rows were green hedges smothered in white flowers. In the middle of it all was this tiny green pod I captured in pixels. Casual inspection of the closeup revealed quite a community of aphids apparently enjoying the little pod.


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Peonies at Cornell Plantations

Peonies at Cornell University Plantations

A few planting beds at Cornell University’s Plantations hold a variety of peonies unlike any I or my dad have grown over the past 50 years.

Please forgive me for stepping away from my kitchen garden. I’m still working on my dad’s house in Ithaca, and on this trip I discovered Cornell Plantations was running a plant sale. Of course, I went, and it was hard to resist buying. There were so many plants I’d love to have taken home, and all at great prices!

I exercised self-control, and I also grabbed some photos. Cornell Plantations is a show and research garden. It hosts a huge collection of plants. Themed gardens show off plants from all over the world, and it’s easy to spend several days exploring. Along the walk from my car to the plant sale, there were several raised beds planted in peonies.

Heucheras at the Cornell University Plantations plant sale

Cornell’s plant sale offered many shades of heucheras, the most dramatic of which was the particularly red-leafed plant in this photo.

When I was a kid, peonies were floofy, aromatic, gorgeous flowers at the back of the yard near the rhubarb patch. I used to watch ants crawl around on the peony buds and later I’d marvel at the giant flowers that bowed their supporting stalks to the ground. Years later I encouraged my wife to plant peonies, and we had three varieties until this past winter – one of them didn’t survive. All three varieties were just like my dad’s but in three colors: pinkish-purple, pink, and creamy white with pink inclusions.

Cornell’s peonies have peony leaves and stalks, but the flowers are barely like my dad’s peonies. I captured a whole bunch in pixels along with a few photos of the area hosting the plant sale. The photos tell the story, though the embedded slideshow at the end simply glorifies peonies!

Plant collection at the Cornell University Plantations

An enormous pergola housed a huge collection of what must have been shade-loving plants adjacent to the plant sale. Unrelenting sunlight cast shadow stripes onto everything beyond a rope we were not permitted to pass.


And the peony slideshow:

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More Mint Madness!

Pot-bound mint plant with rhizome

A mint plant I bought at a grocery store to flavor a Turkish meal became pot bound in the nearly two months before I was ready to work in my garden. The thick white band running around the root ball is a rhizome that would be happy growing through a planting bed or lawn – perhaps seven feet or farther in a single season!

Seems I abuse mint in print quite a bit. My last blog post—Community Garden Ithaca—included complaints about people planting mint in the soil of community gardens. That post linked to an earlier one warning kitchen gardeners to protect their plots against mint. I just had an experience that seriously illuminates the mint menace.

In the past two months I cooked two Turkish recipes that called for mint. Holding no illusions that dried mint would taste authentic, I splurged and bought live mint at the grocery store. For each meal I bought a well-leafed plant in a 2-inch pot.

After cutting about half the foliage from a pot, I set the plant among my gardening stuff on the porch figuring to set it in my garden some time this spring. Even without added nutrition—I haven’t given them plant food—the plants have continued to put out new growth. Unfortunately, the pots dry out quickly.

As I packed up for yet another trip to Ithaca, I decided not to burden my wife with mint-watering duties. So, I potted up each plant into its own milk jug planter which I figure will hold moisture for four or five days. What I found behind the walls of the 2-inch pots should put a chill in every kitchen gardener. The photos tell the story.

Mint plant factory

You can clearly see four baby mint plants emerging from the rhizome and if you squint you might spot two others. As a mint rhizome extends through your planting beds and your lawn beneath the soil, it produces a new plant every inch or so. With no effort on your part, you can have an enormous mint patch in just one or two seasons. It is folly to plant mint in the ground on your property unless all you want to grow is mint. My grocery store plants will eventually end up in circular containment rings with deep root barriers—the same setup I’ve used for oregano, marjoram, and sunchokes. By the way: Don’t let mint plants hang over the sides of containers so their stems touch soil. Mint stems happily produce new roots when you give them a chance.

Small Kitchen Garden blog

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Community Garden Ithaca

Potato sprouts in a community garden

Just inside the gate of Ithaca’s community garden is a planting bed along the base of the fence. Many types of plants were sprouting there; my favorites were potatoes.

Sunshine and 76 degrees! What gardener wouldn’t take advantage of such a day? Except my garden was 130 miles away. I did what I could: visited Ithaca’s community garden.

I’ve visited the community garden several times this spring and had been underwhelmed at how slowly it has gotten started. Few plots had cool weather crops planted back when weather was reliably cool. Now, as temperatures occasionally spike to summer highs, cool weather crops are in and they have a race to win! If June brings hot days, Ithacans may come up short on spinach, lettuce, and peas.

Well… we do what we can. The photos provide an idea of what’s up in Ithaca.

Lettuce patch in a community garden

There are patches of lettuce throughout the community garden. The colors in this patch set it apart from the others.

CD scarecrow in a community garden

This allotment uses shiny CDs as scarecrows. The CDs hang above a small lettuce patch which I suspect won’t interest birds at all. However, perhaps rabbits and other large rodents have access to the community garden and have some fear of shiny baubles.

Rhubarb and strawberries in a community garden

Once you’re gotten an allotment at Ithaca’s community garden, you get first dibs on it year-after-year. Some growers plant perennials and this combination is a classic: strawberries and rhubarb. While I encourage gardeners not to let rhubarb flower (flowering stresses the plant), the plants can put on a dramatic show if you let them.

Sage in a community garden

Many years ago I grew a few sage plants from seed. I eventually moved the mature plants from a wooden half barrel container into an herb garden I established at the corner of my house. Those plants died over the 2013-2014 winter… they’d look about like the sage plant in this photo—clearly the product of many years’ growth. The spiky leaves in front are garlic plants started last autumn.

Rhubarb in a community garden

These are two of the prettiest rhubarb plants I’ve seen. They’re growing at the back of an allotment and garlic grows behind them in the adjacent plot.

Radish patch in a community garden

I watched a small Burmese community work on this allotment about two weeks ago and was surprised now to see all the sprouts so far look like radishes! I learned several Burmese families rent space in the community garden and they often converge on one allotment much as an Amish community assembles to build a barn.

Peas and trellis in a community garden

Here’s a pea patch managed by someone who understand peas! Often, people plant just a short row of peas with fairly loose spacing. Here, the gardener planted peas close together—from plant-to-plant within a row, and from row-to-row. As the vines climb the trellises, they’ll create a pea jungle that produces enough peas or pea pods for several meals.

Mint in a community garden

Were I managing a community garden, I would enforce the following rule without mercy: PLANT NO MINT IN THE GROUND. If you grow mint on your allotment, do your neighbors a favor and plant the mint in a container tall enough that the plants never touch the ground. This one would pass inspection. I wrote about mint’s aggressive “conquer all” nature here: Protect Your Garden from Mint.

Tulips in a community garden

One allotment at Ithaca’s community garden had a striking row of tulips alongside a stand of mint. I loved to tulips. I wanted to fine the allotment’s owner for planting mint.

Shelves of squash in a community garden

This allotment’s owner has a terrific idea: grow more in limited space by going vertical. The containers on this tower contain squash plants—way too many for the space unless they’re compact varieties. I can see a problem if this catches on. Plant skyscrapers may prevent sunlight from reaching plants on the ground… I’d hate to have an allotment neighboring a wall of these structures.

Tidy allotment in a community garden

One allotment at Ithaca’s community garden is clearly as much about design as it is about growing food. The owner has fenced the space and created raised beds that spiral in from the gate. All is tidy and well-kept…

Gardener wanted in a community garden

This is not a meadow. It’s an allotment at Ithaca’s community garden. Can’t say whether it’s rented and the owner is getting a slow start, or the chives are up for grabs. If you live in Ithaca and you want to grow vegetables, perhaps you’ll find an opening at the community garden.

Small Kitchen Garden blog

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