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Garden Journal

Garden Journal: Summer gardening in N.H. can be wild

The thing about gardening at the edge of the woods is there is always something going on – incidents that were either instigated by me, which is often the case, combined with dealings that mother nature decides to throw into the mix. One thing is for certain, you can always expect the unexpected.

I was out in one of our several beds the other day trying to tame that familiar challenge: having a mostly shady spot in conjunction with poor soil. First of all, there was the fierce hacking into the rooty forest mat, preceded by sawing and lifting the tightly whorled corms of prehistoric fern that comprises the wooded mat and then swatting at the occasional black fly who was brave enough to come near me. All of a sudden, I was bonked on the head by a small, hard object. One lesson to learn while in the garden is to always wear a hat and one must also determine the type of tree you are working beneath before starting a project. This tree was a 60-foot red oak, and those acorns coming down from such a height can put a small dent on a car let alone one’s head.

To address the problem soil, I had purchased two bags of Moo-Doo dried organic cow manure and a bag of peat moss. I also had two wheelbarrows of a custom blend of sifted loam that had been excavated previously and a garbage-can full of clean, dried chopped oak leaves to top dress the whole thing when I was done.

There were two azaleas waiting to be planted. I chose azaleas because they are particularly fond partial shade and acidic soil. After everything was watered and settled it would create the desired well-drained soil they require. The Azaleas available today are hybrids, grown to be exceptionally hardy and specifically developed for Zone 4 growing. With a name like Northern Hi-Lights, these beauties are one of the most spectacular and fragrant, with pure white flowers that have yellow splashes on the inside petals, and, as a special bonus, in the fall the foliage turns a burnished burgundy-red. If you have trouble with Azaleas it is either due to the soil being wrong, to little water or too much winter wind. Azaleas are beautiful evergreens that are easy to grow.

Next, for summer color, I chose foxgloves. Foxgloves are partial to shade, and although they are biennial they often will bloom each year due to their one odd habit. I discovered this many times over the years which is probably why I love the “foxes” so much, for they will throw their offspring out as far as across the road, hoping to escape the confines of a perennial border. These “escapees” can be easily corralled back to the garden for lasting perennial delight. In the early spring when it sends up a super straight stalk, foxgloves can be mistaken for a weed, but soon buds will appear along the spike, and this ugly duckling then blooms its head off all summer long in lovely pinks, whites, yellows and purples. Their speckled tubular flowers are just the perfect size for a hummingbird’s teacup or a place for a bumblebee to take a nap.

Meanwhile, the beds in the sunny areas needed some attention. After all the rain we’ve had over the last few weeks, I was certain we would have a slug problem but, much to my surprise, I found none. Some plants were very well established, those planted back in April – the practical and cold-hardy plants: cabbages and kale, lettuce and herbs, all tucked happily into their mulch. There was more soil sifting yet do for summer plantings of beans, sunflowers, cukes and hot peppers, this planting of seeds is a robotic a chore and I started to feel as if I were on auto-pilot until I uncovered a very large toad.

I thought at first it was a clump of soil, but then it moved slowly, its back was many of earthy brown, the skin looked as old as the mountain we live on. He was obviously not happy at being discovered and I found somewhere else to work while he took himself to his private home. The presence of a great toad is why there were no slugs.

The proximity of wildlife is ever-present here and although I am not fearless I am always willing to learn about the behavior of our indigenous critters. Sometimes an entire garden can be decimated by a horde of insects – by raccoons or woodchucks in the blink of an eye. So it’s good to know who your wild friends are.

After the toad went back into its hiding place, I returned to the tedious chore of planting seeds. A little cabbage moth fluttered out into the open. The cabbage moth is a small white moth with a black dot on each wing, and a very bad thing to have in one’s garden. Its larvae – a tiny, nondescript green worm, smaller than an inchworm – puts those holes in your cabbage or a broccoli. Garlic sprayed directly on the plants will help as will a hot pepper combo spray. It is best to hand-pick these caterpillars when you find them. As to the moth? It was time to get the net.

There is no chore more satisfying than chasing a cabbage moth with a net, especially on a beautiful sunny day. It was with this thought in my mind and a smile on my face that I went to fetch the net, when a Phoebe darted out of the tulip magnolia tree and snatched that cabbage moth in mid-air before disappearing up over the house.

Summer gardening – it sure is wild.

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