Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What's Growing on Around Here

While watching the sun go in and out all weekend, I finished planting all the seedlings that had to go out and amending the soil in the last few beds. Now let summer begin! Here is what is growing now.

Bleeding heart (dicentra spectabilis) are always so beautiful now. As  kids we called them lady-in-a-bath-tub. If you take a flower and turn it upside down and pull the sides of the pink "bath tub", you'll see why.

This border bed was renovated two years ago and is coming along. Long overgrown with ferns and vinca it has been a tricky spot because of the shallow roots of the maples along the wall. It only gets 4 hours sun, but the catmint, lady's mantle, lamb's ears and hosta do fine. The white Rhododendrons that were great last year are looking a bit beaten from deer grazing (who could blame them this winter) and bitter winds. They might need some pruning later in the season.

I like this combination of Allium with the Euphorbia polychroma. Love that purple and lemon together!

Rhubarb is at it's height now, with stems still red and good enough to eat, while the flower heads are starting to rise. This clump was part of what we assumed was an old vegetable patch where we put in the Medieval Garden. We dug it out of the lawn and just threw it in a spot by the barn. I remember being so busy that summer I never got back to even covering the crowns under the soil, but see what neglect does! This year I have to remember to freeze enough for pies for the year.

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are everywhere here, my favorite harbinger of spring. David mows around them for as long as they bloom each year, giving the yard a flowery mead look.

The Trollius Europaeus always is a stunner this time of year, but fades and then dies back later in the summer. I always have to remember where it is and be careful not to  put a late summer purchase in it's spot!

The herb garden is still coming to life. Things take awhile to get going down here. This garden has the most extreme conditions on the property with harsh cold all winter settling in the lower nooks, winds whipping across the fields and very wet soil. Suffice it to say I NEVER water this garden.

A new vegetable variety I am excited about this year is this Flastaff Purple Brussel Sprout. Already it is rewarding in it's vigorous habit and brilliant purple stems. Along with that I am trying a Cheddar and Romanesco cauliflower. For tomatoes I have kept it simple this year with only Sweet 100's and a heirloom French variety called Jaune Flamme from Seed Savers Exchange. I just never have good luck with all the great heirlooms you see in the Farmers Markets here in Freeport. It just isn't hot enough I think. This year I am just going with tried and true.
What new vegetables are you trying this year?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Film: Symphony of the Soil and Soil Microbiology

I had a great afternoon last Sunday watching the Maine premiere of Symphony of the Soil. A film by Deborah Koons Garcia (Jerry Garcia's widow) that talks about the importance of soil health and cultivating it's microbiology for strong, pest free plants as well as our own health (and, of course, the planet's health.) It reconfirms why we need to "grow" soil through organic methods.

Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch from Kitchen Gardeners International
Afterwards there was a panel discussion with the fimmaker, Deborah Koons Garcia, Leslie Oster, General Manager of Aurora Provisions in Portland, Maine (caterer and food expert extraordinaire) and two of my organic gardening heroes, Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch from Four Seasons Farm. Each person lent their perspective and experience to the conversation. All were ardent about healthy soil for the sake of the planet's top soil, for growing healthy plants that are independent of chemicals, and for taste and quality.
I learned so much from this film, and had plenty of questions to ask afterwards. With top people in the field of soil biology and leaders in the new agricultural movement, the film was well made and entertaining. I was able to ask Eliot a few questions when it was over. He set me straight on a couple of things and gave some tips.

This is what I learned and was reminded of (in the simplest terms):
  • All the micro-biotic life in the soil lives on Carbon (all decomposing matter.)
  •  Plants thrive on Nitrogen which is given off by the micro-biotic life/bacteria that eats your Carbon. (So when you add Carbon in the soil, the micro organisms eat the Carbon and give off Nitrogen and Potassium that the plants need to grow. )
  • Healthy plants usually do not need any chemicals to suppress pests, or fertilizers to help them grow. If you build up the organic matter in the soil it relieves the dependance for fertilizers.
  • You can rehabilitate dead soil in three years by adding rigorous amounts of compost and  organic material. (By dead I mean if you have been using a lot of inorganic fertilizers, or soil from a bag that isn't organic and now has no nutrients left. Good soil has the consistency of crumbly chocolate cake!)
  • You don't need to till the soil. Plant right into the root structure of last years plants. (This is a revelation to me, and I am trying it this year...apparently plants like to connect with the root structure of past plants in the soil. Counter intuitive for those of us who like to dig!)
  • Use cover crops to add to soil organic matter. ( This is where I got good advice from Eliot Coleman..after asking the best cover crops for the home gardener in Maine, he said that oats and cowpeas are the best. Planted in the fall, these do not need to be tilled in as they die back at 20 degrees. Just plant right into the soil with no turning in the spring. )
So here is my To-Do list for soil improvement around the house:
1. Make more compost! To do this I will organize my garden clippings a bit..separating soft and tough cuttings from the garden. Soft green material that I cut back, will go in a pile together, and tough things will either go in the burn pile or by themselves. This way I will have a fast decomposing pile that I can use twice a season. The tough cuttings can take their time.
2. Turn over the soil less. Though initially I turn a new bed over to 18inches to get the good top soil down to where roots will be growing, an established bed only needs compost added every year to the top. This also doesn't let new weed seeds to emerge when you turn over the soil.
3. I will add compost even if it is not completely decomposed. Some half composted leaf shreds and old twigs will bring the good micro bacteria right to where I want the organisms to thrive. I remember in Connecticut I lived near the composting guru, Ruth Stout, who advocated just throwing your kitchen waste right into the beds. I actually did that last fall...just buried the kitchen scraps right in the garlic bed..and it seems to be doing great!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Portland (Oregon) Japanese Garden: Five Gardens, Four Seasons

Last week we were out in Oregon for our son's graduation and took some time to tour the coast and see  Portland's sites. Number one on my Portland list is always the Japanese Garden. Having been there only in the fall, it was spectacular to see it in full spring glory!

Up in the hills above the city, what is always shocking is the height of the trees in Oregon, and the understory they allow. The majesty of this is awe inspiring to the East Coast dweller.

It was a great time of year to view the garden, as the rhododendrons and azaleas were in peak bloom. Here is the Flat Garden, with plantings symbolizing the four seasons. The Japanese laceleaf red maple to the right representing Fall, the black pines around the central lantern being Winter, the weeping cherry standing in for Spring (out of the picture to the left) and the gravel with islands of moss representing water for Summer.

This 5.5 acres is laid out with five distinct gardens. The Flat Garden, the Tea Garden, The Strolling Pond Garden, the Natural Garden and the Sand and Stone Garden are designed with the key Japanese garden elements of stone, plants and water in mind. Arbors, bridges, lanterns all add the finishing touches. 

Everything represents the natural world and our place in it. Designed by Professor Takuma Tono in 1963, he used concepts from Shinto, Buddhist and Taoist traditions when deciding on the elements. Considered to be the "most beautiful and authentic Japanese Garden in the world outside of Japan", this garden incorporates many native plants to Oregon and not Japan. This emphasizes the philosophy behind Japanese gardening, which is about incorporating all the elements in the natural world in a harmonious way, without being about specific plants.

Sculpture in a  reserved way adds a moment of reflection at the Strolling Pond Garden.

The Natural Garden is a wonder for moss and shade garden lovers. Dappled sunlight and tended moss create the idyllic setting but which takes an artists eye to cultivate.

Having my mother-in-law take the tour, she said they talked a lot about the pruning. They do most of the big pruning in summer, right after the blossoms fade. These Azalea hedges look in peak shape.

Water is found everywhere, from trickling brooks to waterfalls. Sound and reflection add to sensory experience. The journey is completed with fragrant blossoms and leaves with a variety of textures. Even on their busiest day of the year (Mother's day) we enjoyed it without feeling like the people took away from the experience. A must see next time Oregon way!