Sunday, March 29, 2009

In the Garden

You can take the girl off the farm, but you can't take the farm out of the girl.

Spring is making a very tentative appearance here in mid-Michigan -- I'm watching sleet falling into the back yard as I write this -- and my thoughts are turning toward yard and garden.

Last weekend I put several straggly inherited weigela bushes on the south side of our house out of their misery and claimed the newly empty space for a rhubarb patch and new herb garden. I've since done some soil amendment and planted three "Victoria" rhubarb crowns at one end of the bed.

Rhubarb requires some significant space between plants. It also, the gardening books say, benefits from members of the onion and mint families; so I'm going to be intercropping with perennial scallions, and planting a patch of catnip for Mollie between the rhubarb and the rest of the herbs. Meanwhile, a knot of mixed sages and thymes I transplanted to a driveway-side flower bed at The Big House last fall (even before I knew I was going to sell Cold Comfort Cottage) have miraculously survived the winter, even after being run over by a snow plow blade, and will be moved to their new home shortly. (Alas, transplanted parsley and lavender did not fare as well.) We really do use our herb garden -- almost daily during the growing season -- so we are going to be generous in our plantings.

For some reason I'm taken with perennial vegetables this year, so in addition to the rhubarb and evergreen bunching onions I am going to plant Good King Henry, a perennial relative of spinach that has been used as a potherb in England for centuries. We don't have much of a spring to speak of in Michigan, and regular spinach just doesn't do well here, so we have to be creative with spinach-ish substitutes; it will be interesting to see how this vegetable, if the seeds take hold and I can baby the plants through a Michigan winter, will compare to New Zealand spinach, our more common, reliable spinach analog. Hmmm...should I try seakale? (Very iffy in our Zone 5 climate.) Skirret? Some other edible garden relic?

My other magnificent garden obsession this year is tomatoes. While I'm banking on boughten plants for most of my tomato harvest, I am trying to grow a few heirlooms and open-pollinated imports from seed: "Nepal"; "Purple Plum"; "Silvery Fir Tree." Russian and other Eastern European varieties are currently en vogue among heirloom tomato fans, which is great for those of us in the Upper Midwest because these tomatoes tend to be more cold tolerant and faster maturing -- and they're all kinds of cool shapes and colors.

Our plow guy, who's also our landscape guy, has been on vacation for two weeks, but he's due back this week, and we're going to have him rototill a vegetable garden for us. My criterion for choosing veggies and varieties for this garden-to-be has been to select things that we like to eat but that aren't easily/cheaply found in our local supermarkets or farm stands. I figure this will either be a lawn-defiling, time-sucking debacle or an excellent adventure resulting in produce that would make Alice Waters green -- rim shot! -- with envy. (And I will give a shout-out to two great seed companies, Fedco Seeds in Maine and Bountiful Gardens in California, that sell an awesome array of open-pollinated/heirloom seeds.)

And, in case this isn't enough to keep me busy in between my studies...Fellow Traveler has wanted a rock garden since forever. She originally pictured a sunny rock garden on the west side of our driveway...but thanks to previous homeowners we have an ugly raised azalea bed, complete with moribund azaleas, in a shadier part of the yard that I realized can be rehabbed into a rock garden spotlighting woodland species and maybe a few dwarf conifers. We also have some rocks in the woods around our home that I think can be fairly easily moved to a new home.

So that's what I'm doing on my summer vacation.


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Now I really know why you can get so excited about gardening and why your Amish residents can do well: ZONE 5! That's practically tropical!

Well rhubarb doesn't grow where it is too hot. It is a miracle plant in that we get the first two warm days in a row, and the rhubarb is up an inch or two, before anything else.

I'm actually getting too old to have garden envy. DH bought one of those Mantis tillers about 6 years ago and he is in love with it, so he took over the vegie gardening. Hooray for me.

Auntie Knickers said...

Wow! Ambitious, but I know you can do it. (I first typed "doo it" -- do you have a source for organic fertilizer? Maybe you'd like to raise a few chickens? "Hen dressin'" is good fertilizer, I'm told.)

The Simpleton said...

I tried Good King Henry last year, but it didn't make it in our stage-4 drought conditions. I like the idea of perennial greens, so I'd like to try again, but meanwhile I'll give a shout out to orach--it even comes in pretty colors for edible landscaping.

I love your gardening posts--so full of life and hope.

LutheranChik said...

FT says ixnay on the ickens-chay, LOL. I love the heritage breeds, and I love fresh eggs, but I know how messy and smelly chickens can be. And we travel too much (also an argument against a couple of ducks for our pond, which we thought about for maybe 30 seconds while looking at fuzzy ducklings down at the feed store). But I've been using the new organic Miracle-Gro, which is made of pelletized, pasteurized chicken doody and chopped-up feathers, and it's almost as good as the original chicken-coop-spring-cleaning, with less potential for burning the plants.