Homeyer: Lessons from the garden


For the Monitor

Published: 01-06-2023 4:00 PM

At the end of the year I always like to take a little time to reflect on what worked well in the garden - and what didn’t. This year I also called some gardening friends – some experienced, some less so – to ask what they had learned so I could share their thoughts with you, my loyal readers.

I’ll go first. In 2021 I planted some bare root oaks I bought from the State of New Hampshire and planted them for a client in an open meadow in what had previously been a lawn. Most did well last year and really took off this year. Based on that success, I planted even more this year in part because I could get unusual trees not available locally – northern pecan, hardy persimmon, pawpaw and more. I got them from Buzz Ferver of Berlin, Vermont at perfectcircle.farm

Bare root trees are usually the thickness of a pencil and have a foot or so of root with 18 to 24 inches of bare trunk. Although I found a grower in Vermont willing to sell them to me, most growers sell them to nurseries that pot them up and sell them in a year or two. But if you go on-line you can find growers who will ship bare root trees and shrubs in the spring. They are easy to ship – no soil is included – and are less expensive than trees that have been tended and watered for a couple of years.

The downside is that bare root trees are generally only sold when dormant, and need to be planted soon after arrival. Some growers keep big coolers full of bare root material, but you still need to get them in the ground soon after you get them. Look for them now and order what you want for spring delivery.

A friend bought a house in southern New Hampshire and had her first vegetable garden this year. She was surprised and delighted that there was no blight on her tomatoes. This did not surprise me at all. The fungus that blights so many tomatoes lives in the soil, and in a new location it rarely shows up until year two.

She also reported that some of her new raised beds were placed on ground so hard that she couldn’t even get a shovel in it. The wood beds were 8 inches tall, but didn’t drain well and none of her root crops did well. In the spring she is going to dig out the soil, remove the beds, and put two inches of coarse sand on the ground. Then she will replace the wood-sided beds and soil, and hope for the best. I predict that will solve the problem, particularly if she adds lots of compost to the soil in the beds.

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Some dear friends of mine, now in their 80s, sold their house and downsized their gardens considerably this year.

“The concept of growing has been in our hearts all our lives, and we are not going to stop now,” I was told. They have some help in the garden, and utilize raised beds to grow some vegetables. The beds are far enough apart so that someone with a walker can maneuver easily. Although they will no longer grow potatoes or carrots, they will continue growing lettuce, herbs and a few tomatoes. “Gardening is still in our brains,” my friend said.

Another friend was reminded this year that if a perennial is not “happy” where it is planted, move it! She said she had divided some phlox and lacking a good spot for it all, put some in a place that was too shady for it. So she dug it up and moved it to a better place late in the season. Almost anything can be moved, just do it on a cool cloudy or rainy day. Even peonies can be moved if you are careful.

Another friend said that he learned to use hydrogen peroxide as a preventive for fungus on grapes. He bought some industrial strength peroxide (30% concentration) and diluted it (10 parts water to 1 part peroxide). He then filled his big sprayer to apply it. He sprayed after pollination but before the grapes had appeared. Unlike chemical sprays, he says it just breaks down to water and oxygen.

Another friend moved to Vermont from New York and has been working to maintain and personalize the large flower gardens that came with the house. She spoke of the work-life balance. It is important, she said, to recognize how much energy is needed to properly maintain a large garden. She has learned to focus on one area at a time.

She also said she has learned that is important to act on your own ideas, even if you have inherited wonderful gardens. I agree. We each need to personalize our own spaces, and grow plants that we love. For example I learned that I love flowers called burnets (Sanguisorba spp.) and I collect them.

Burnets bloom in mid- to late-summer and come in size from miniature (6-inches tall) to huge (6-feet tall) and do best in sun with moist soil. Each year I add a few. My most recent addition is a S. hakusenensis called “Lilac squirrel.” I think of it as “the pink squirrel” as it’ blossoms are fuzzy and much like a squirrel’s tail, though much smaller. Mine are pink, not lilac in color. Not common in most garden centers, it is available from Digging Dog Nursery in California.

Lastly, even very experienced gardeners make mistakes. One friend this year cut the tops of her Brussels sprouts off around Labor Day as is recommended to get large sprouts. But she forgot to harvest them until November. By then the spouts were bigger than golf balls and some had gone by.

So yes, we all learn new techniques, try new plants and do our best to be good gardeners. But I like what my friend said who suggested we not beat ourselves up if we mess up! All my best to you for the year ahead.

Henry lives, writes and gardens in Cornish Flat, NH. Reach him by e-mail at henry.homeyer@comcast.net