My big garden project last spring included installing a bed of black raspberry plants. Rabbits ate about 1/3 of the plants last autumn—but just what was above ground. The roots are strong and new canes have emerged. Unfortunately, black raspberries produce fruit on canes that emerged in the previous season, so I won’t get a huge harvest this year. On the other hand, the harvest has begun! Immediately after capturing this photo, I ate the two darkest berries you see in it.
In January of this year, I learned I had pancreatic cancer. The tumor was removable, and I had an operation called a Whipple. A surgeon cut out the tumor, part of my pancreas, and my gall bladder, and re-routed my digestive tract, introducing challenges to eating.
With help from my wife, my kids, and friends, I’ve continued to garden, and things are in pretty good shape. However, just over three weeks ago I learned that my cancer has returned and spread. It’s incurable and I’m on a chemotherapy regimen I hope will buy enough time for our medical complex to come up with an effective way to keep the cancer in check—or maybe even cure it.
In the meantime, I’m gardening. Where many activities challenge my stamina or my ability to focus or both, when I’m in the garden I tend to keep working even if it means collapsing on the soil for a break or crawling from place-to-place to reduce the number of transitions from up to down and back.
I’ve chosen photos that show what’s up in my garden as summer gets started—nothing from the community garden; these are all growing at the Cityslipper Ranch. Captions fill in details. I hope your garden is doing well. I’m excited for what’s growing here, and I’d love to hear about what’s growing in your garden. Please leave a comment with details if you’re so inclined. Thanks for visiting!
We have at least nine blueberry plants in our yard, and they’ve been beat up by rodents every winter for years. I finally got adequate protection around them, and this year the plants show promise of developing into actual blueberry bushes. At best, we’ll score a few hundred berries; these are the first. I was chewing on them seconds after I snapped the photo: so sweet and delicious.
At some garden center last summer I found a potted cinquefoil in the “oops, we forgot to water it” bin. I think I paid a dollar and I set the plant in a decorative bed next to raspberries I’d planted with my wife in mind (she loves raspberries on her morning cereal). I had no idea cinquefoil produces blooms—though why wouldn’t it? The plant shows vitality, and the first blossom it produced is gorgeous.
Those raspberries I planted for my wife? Here are the first to ripen… but Stacy beware! It’s not icing on that raspberry. A bird managed a direct hit. The raspberry plants are growing strong, and next year’s harvest should be impressive. This year’s should be about right for many weeks of cereal bowl berries and they’ve started ripening at the right time: Stacy has been traveling in the Philippines for three weeks and arrives home this weekend.
This is the third season for my fig trees. Their first winter was amazingly cold and I hadn’t gotten the trees under cover before they froze back to the soil line. They rebounded last year and tried to make figs—which all froze before they were ripe enough to harvest. This winter, I got the plants under cover early but made a silly mistake: The tent I made to prevent freezing also kept moisture from reaching the soil. My fig trees dried out… but not as badly as they’d frozen two winters ago. They’re putting out a lot of new growth, some of it from last year’s growth more than a foot above the soil line. I doubt there will be figs to harvest this season, but perhaps with one more winter under cover (and properly watered), these fig trees will have a fighting chance to produce fruit.
Two summers ago, I found a beat down Fredonia grape plant priced very low at a local garden center. I failed to plant the vine, and it languished through winter and looked dead when the snow melted. Last year, near the first day of summer, I noticed growth on that beleaguered grape vine. I planted it at the end of my black raspberry bed and it grew strong. This spring, it erupted with new growth and it holds many small bunches of young grapes. If things go well, there may be a few pounds of Concord-like grapes to harvest in September. This spring, my wife and I planted four additional grape vines next to the black raspberries: Riesling, Zinfandel, Pinot Gris, and Cabernet Sauvignon, all grafted onto American grape root stock. Perhaps by summer’s end I’ll have erected a trellis to hold the vines as they mature in future seasons.
My wife prepared the soil, and I planted three 13 foot long double-rows of peas at the beginning of April. My wife erected the trellises with some difficulty and it’s hard to tell whether the trellises are holding up the pea plants or the pea plants are holding up the trellises. More troubling: a rabbit came and went as it pleased and ate at least half a row of pea plants before I repaired the fence enough to slow it down (it has since given birth to three rabbit puppies inside the well-fenced planting bed… go figure). Despite the problems, the pea plants are at full height—they’ve grown three feet above the tops of the four-foot-tall trellises and fallen back—and they’re producing well. I made a vat of new potatoes and peas a few days ago and we’ve eaten through it, and I froze about 3 quarts of peas yesterday. Tomorrow I expect to harvest about a half gallon of pea pods which should be enough to make another vat of new potatoes and peas. (Here’s how I make this iconic Pennsylvania Dutch delicacy: New Potatoes and Peas)
I planted climbing beans two weekends ago, and many have sprouted. I’ll fill the empty places with more seeds this weekend. “Pole Filet Beans French Gold” from Renee’s Garden, are my favorite of all bean varieties—a tender, tasty wax bean that you don’t have to bend over to harvest.
I told the story of my dad’s sundrops in a post titled A Patch of Sundrops. I’d collected several plants from his garden and left them in a bucket for more than TWO MONTHS! Finally, I planted them three weeks ago—a day or two after my wife left on her Philippines trip. The plants showed no sign of transplant shock and have already flowered… the photo shows the first blossom about four days ago. I trust rhizomes are already spreading underground and there will be a dense patch of these pretty yellow flowers under the apple trees within two years.
The first blossom in my garden this year was a hellebore. Of four varieties, one was in bloom in December and held its blossoms through January. The hellebore in this photo opened as the crocuses faded in March and has turned from nearly white to this green-pink look over the course of six weeks.
Garden Bloggers Bloom Day celebrates flowers. The brainchild of Carol Michel, this blogging event has gone on since February of 2007 more than a year before I started blogging.
The idea of Bloom Day is for bloggers to share photos of what’s abloom in their gardens. Discounting weed flowers, there’s less happening in my garden than is typical for April. Extreme cold after flowering started reduced bunches of blooms to florist rejects.
Feeling particularly abused by a cold virus on top of my chemotherapy (which riles up the post-Whipple intestinal tract), I managed to drag myself around the yard and capture a few decent photos. Not much to offer, but it’s a start.
A new plant in our garden in 2015, candytuft surprised us when it was one of the earliest bloomers this spring. It continues to produce new buds and blossoms and may still be in bloom when nearby dianthus and foxgloves start their flower shows.
Another early bloomer, blue snowdrops are nearly done. These got into the garden 2 years ago when I spotted some growing out of a dirt heap someone had moved from their yard to a public walkway. I was able to dig up one bulb which I set along the east side of the house. In two seasons, it has multiplied into, perhaps, 8 plants, so I’ve great hope it will spread widely through the planting bed in another six-to-ten years.
The primroses have been in bloom for about three weeks. These have been in the garden for several years, and showed promise of spreading aggressively. However, as much as the plants seem to expand during the summer, by spring they look no bigger than on the day I planted them.
I set several violas in a new planting bed in late summer. Thankfully, they had time to get settled and they surprised me with an early display this spring. I love the golden glow at the center of the blossoms and would love to see the planting bed develop a carpet of these striking flowers.
Daffodils got beat up this year; they had just put up flower stalks when the temperature plunged from about 60F degrees down to 22F degrees. A few nights of punishing cold made many of the flowers droop—or simply fall over. A few stragglers have bloomed since the cold spell ended, but they’re disappointing compared to daffodils in more forgiving years.
Hyacinths have suffered along with the daffodils. Cold made the flowers droop. Even without that, the spikes are generally “loose” with fewer flowers and wide gaps between them.
I’m so glad to be able to show a food photo on April’s Bloom Day. The peach trees have been in bloom for a few days, though many blossoms look abused and many others haven’t yet opened. With luck, enough buds were tight during the cold snap that they’ll still be able to produce fruit.
A surprise entry for 2016: cranberry blossoms! I received four cranberry plants in the mail and am nursing them along on the dining room table until the temperature rises a bit. Had the plants arrived dormant, I’d already have planted them in the garden. Unfortunately, they arrived awake and ready for action, and I don’t want to chance freezing the new growth by setting them out too early.
A lot of what’s in my dad’s garden was there when he moved into his apartment. There’s a boxwood on each side of his entrance walk and an impressive assortment of hostas for such a small space. At first, there might have been a Sundrop or two. Three years later, when I captured this photo, there was a jungle of Sundrops.
I’m still learning to want to grow ornamental plants. For me, gardening has always been about food. Touring show gardens, writing about gardening, and having many friends who are geniuses at landscape architecture and garden design has awakened in me a desire to have a pretty yard. Last summer a planting bed at my dad’s apartment reinforced that desire.
In very early summer, my dad’s garden sported a dense cloud of yellow: Flowers that glowed in the sunlight on 12-to-18-inch stalks. It was one of the most striking features I’d seen in any private garden, and I’ve visited a lot of stunning private gardens.
My Sundrop Awakening
I asked my dad if he knew what plant produced these arresting flowers and, happily, he did! “Sundrops,” he said.
I snapped a few photos and moved along but Sundrops were now in my mental catalog of plants to consider for my own yard. I hadn’t yet tracked down a nursery or garden center that sold Sundrops when this spring I once again visited my dad.
With virtually nothing growing, my dad’s garden still caught my eye. Where last summer there had been stalks of gorgeous yellow flowers, this spring there was a dense ground cover of green-and-purple-leafed plants. They were already growing despite spring having barely started.
My dad’s Sundrop plants had shallow roots and I was able to dig about ten of them in just a few minutes. I’ll probably plant them in the corner of the yard under the apple trees and see how quickly they spread.
So, I asked my dad, “Are those Sundrops?”
He gave an affirmative and told me they were getting out of control. I was thrilled when he agreed I should dig some from around the edges of the patch. I filled a bucket with plants and quickly realized they spread via rhizomes: root-like shoots that radiated out through the soil specifically to push up new plants.
I’ve been warned that Sundrops spread aggressively… which was obvious from my dad’s Sundrop patch. When he moved into his apartment four years ago, I didn’t notice Sundrops there; in only three years they took over a six foot diameter area.
Sundrops in your garden
I did a little reading and found that Sundrops — also known as Evening Primrose — are hardy in zones 5 through 8. Supposedly, they need lots of sunlight, but sunlight reaching my dad’s garden is best suited for hostas; his Sundrops were doing fine.
Your Sundrops will do best in well-conditioned soil, but they grow naturally in many soil types from sand to loam. They handle drought well and once they’re established you may need to be brutal to keep them from spreading beyond your flower bed.
With gorgeous yellow flowers, attractive bi-colored foliage, and a tendency to spread aggressively, Sundrops make a terrific ground cover whose character changes from season to season.
Want a fast-spreading patch of bi-colored leaves that throw up a cloud of bright yellow flowers in late spring? You can grow that with Sundrops.
Zinnias grew in several places at Longwood Gardens. This variety was common. I captured the photo in a trial garden among many where visitors vote for their favorite plant combinations. In the right light, you can see a purple tinge on the inside ends of the petals. If I grew zinnias, I’d track down this variety; it’s eye-catching.
I’m cheating a lot this month for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. I’m posting flowers, but I’m not posting my flowers.
My wife and I recently spent the day at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. We toured just about every venue there, and I captured at least ten photographs (posted about the Meadow Garden here).
A whole bunch of my photos are closeups of blossoms. I didn’t take notes, so I can’t tell you much about the plants. Some are easy for a layperson to identify, others might challenge well-trained horticulturists. Seriously: I took no notes. If you see any blossoms here you like, maybe they’ll motivate you to visit Longwood Gardens.
Along the path through Longwood Gardens’ Meadow Garden, we saw several spikes of purple wispy blossoms. This one had drawn attention from a butterfly that was a bit camera shy. Everywhere in the meadow garden was alive with insects of many varieties.
A cluster of fruit, sporting a single blossom, grew in one of the “Student Gardens” at Longwood Gardens. There are four such plots, each created by a student of the institution (Longwood trains future horticulturists).
I remember enjoying a blossom along the Flower Garden Walk, leaning down to read the plant marker, and marveling that I’d been admiring a dahlia; it didn’t vaguely resemble any dahlia I’d seen. This photo might show the blossom, but if you know better please provide insight in a comment.
No doubt this is a dahlia. There was a patch of these along the Flower Garden Walk. I probably took ten photos of these alone.
Can’t imagine why I didn’t take notes about this one. The plants grew densely and the flowers were stunning. I’ll probably track down the proper ID some day… I hope they turn out to be perennial in hardiness zone 5.
The Palm House inside the Longwood Gardens conservatory offered a few exotic blossoms. Several clusters of this type peaked out from among the palms.
The name of the tree sporting these otherworldly pink blossoms (I assume they’re blossoms) was so intuitive, I knew I’d remember it later… but I don’t. There were two of these trees in the conservatory, and both displayed more pink flower snakes than they did foliage.
Dazzling hibiscus blossoms drew attention inside the conservatory. By the time we were there, light was fading so the yellow blooms especially popped against the darker, poorly lit background.
Blossoms of a particular hibiscus in the conservatory were sublime… but then I’m a sucker for purple.
Longwood Gardens has a pipe organ that plays into the ballroom of the conservatory. Just outside the ballroom, there was a stand of yellow and pink blossoms I’m quite certain were cannas. I like!
I spent a dollar to buy two Hen and Chicks plants at a yard sale in autumn. With snow predicted, I “heeled in” the plants in my vegetable bed. When the snow finally melted in March, I found this little family looking healthy and ready for action. Eventually, these will find a home in a rock garden I plan to build where the compost heap now rests.
I’ve been a sucker for succulents since I grew a jungle in my bedroom during my high school years. So, despite my garden’s intense focus on food plants, I’ve mused for a long time about establishing a succulent garden in my yard. Near the end of last year, I was working specifically toward that end: I had packed several carloads of rocks back from my brother’s farm to use in building a rock garden that would host a variety of cold-hardy succulents.
One afternoon in late autumn, I stopped at a yard sale. There, the only items that interested me were foam coffee cups planted with Hens and Chicks. Each cup had a price of fifty cents—lower than I’ve seen nursery plants discounted at the end of the season. I bought two. I hope my experiences with them so far inspire you.
No Garden Yet
By the time it got too cold to garden, I’d not yet prepared my new planting bed. I had enough rocks stacked on the driveway, but I needed to move the compost heap and it became too unpleasant outside for me to feel motivated.
To emphasize the certainty that you can grow Hens and Chicks, I captured this photo of a border along a sidewalk in Toronto. Toronto is well north of me and they experienced as punishing a winter as ours. However, by early March, snow had melted off and revealed this healthy-looking planting bed. Hens and Chicks have crowded the bed enough that it could benefit from thinning—a procedure the harsh winter failed to accomplish.
I didn’t want my Hens and Chicks—along with several other succulents I’d acquired—to spend winter outdoors in pots. And, there was no way I’d try to keep them growing indoors under lights. So, I decided to “heel in” the plants at one end of the vegetable bed.
Heeling in means planting a seedling poorly; without commitment. You can dig a shallow hole or find a bare patch of soil, lay the roots of the plant against the soil, and then cover the roots with more soil. I’ve seen young fruit trees heeled in while they were all but lying flat on the ground.
In any case, I heeled in the Hen and Chicks plants along with close to a dozen other succulents I’d bought at a garden center at “we don’t want these anymore” prices. Winter happened.
It was an impressive winter! We had more than a month where temperatures never rose out of the teens, and we had many, many days near and below zero. We also had snow, which is a blessing. Snow covered the garden continuously for several months and provided some relief from the cold for perennials.
A rule of thumb for central Pennsylvania is to plant peas on St Patrick’s Day. Usually by mid-February daffodils are at least sprouting and by March warm days beckon us to garden. This year St Patrick’s Day came and went and we got to April 1st before there was any real beckoning.
A chick must have broken off one of the potted plants when I heeled it in last autumn. Under snow at seriously frigid temperatures, the little plant managed to drop roots into the soil. It looked perfect when the snow melted, and it will look just fine in its new home when I get the rock garden assembled.
But look at the photos! Hens and Chicks are very well, thank you. The two plants I heeled in are healthy and ready to move. What’s more, a small “chick” that must have broken off last fall had rooted where it lay despite the cold and snow!
To reinforce the point, I’ve included a photo of a border along a yard in Toronto. I visited Toronto in early March—at least one hardiness zone farther north than central PA. In the city, snow had melted, and that dense growth of Hens and Chicks made a dramatic in-your-face, winter, statement.
If you have any doubts about succeeding with gardening, try growing a Hen and Chicks plant. If a small piece of this plant can break off and root itself during a miserably cold winter, I feel safe to suggest: you can grow that!
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In 1953, my grandfather was outstanding in his field when someone took this photograph. The scrubby tree in front of the corn on the right side of the photo, I think, is a quince tree that looked pretty much the same 20 years later.
I have a handful of “honest” memories of my grandfather. By honest, I mean they’re memories that have been there since they formed—no supporting photographs, no corroborating stories from other family members.
One memory is of Grandpa retrieving a package of Limburger cheese from the pantry, opening it, and eating some with great enthusiasm. I got to sniff the cheese and probably could have had a taste. However, at that age I found the stench of Limburger most unpleasant (I confess I haven’t encountered Limburger since then).
A second memory is of sitting next to my mom at my grandparents’ kitchen table (it was a huge table where we had many family meals), and my mom encouraging me to watch Grandpa as he dug a generous spoonful of peanut butter from a jar and ate the peanut butter from the spoon.
I never saw my grandparents’ house like this. Never mind the awesome cars, by the time I was forming memories, the house was gray; covered in new siding. Not too long after that, my grandfather removed the porch and replaced it with a carport. The leafy blobs in the foreground are heads of cabbage growing in one of the many planting beds my grandparents had established in the yard.
I also remember Grandpa collecting brush in the woods, stacking it on an existing pile of brush, and explaining that critters would use the brush pile for shelter… and that “In a year or two, you won’t even know it was here.”
Whatever else I “remember” comes from seeing family photos repeatedly over the years. My grandfather died when I was about seven years old, but I remember his cats, his love of the woods, his non-stop maintenance of the house and yard, his dedication to my grandmother, and even his patented invention made obsolete by the subsequent invention of the ball point pen (Grandpa had designed a blotter that manufacturers could build into the handles of fountain pens).
My grandparents’ yard featured this dramatic raised bed. It had been the foundation of an outbuilding demolished years earlier (see below). I don’t remember Grandpa so much in this garden as I do having my brothers throw rotten tomatoes at me. I was the youngest, and after a tomato fight, I was the tomatoiest.
My grandfather was the crop surveyor for the state of Pennsylvania, he had a huge farm in Meadville that he subdivided and sold off over the years, and in retirement he contributed to food-production for his family by managing fruit trees, helping with the vegetable garden, and even tapping maple trees to make syrup.
Grandpa was a do-it-yourselfer because in his day practically everyone was. My dad is also a do-it-yourselfer… which may explain my fascination for growing and cooking stuff, and for preserving food to bridge one growing season to the next.
By 1953, my grandfather apparently had stopped raising dairy cows. The milk house was in its last days: my grandfather posed for this photo with a workman who was demolishing the structure. The wheelbarrow behind my grandfather is the best wheelbarrow I’ve ever used; it has a metal wheel instead of a rubber tire, and it rolls easily. My dad must have acquired it after my grandfather died. We used it at the weekend farm of my childhood where we raised horses and managed a large kitchen garden (over the years I used it to move at least 4 tons of manure from the barn to the garden). The wheelbarrow is one of the last things I brought to Lewisburg when I finished emptying my dad’s house. I’m pretty sure one of the newfangled, rubber-tired wheelbarrows we already owned is going to become a planter.