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July 5, 2005

Things I have learned so far this year
Posted by Teresa at 12:44 PM *

1. It is possible to have too much mint.

2. My garden wasn’t always a severely repressed arrangement of a few shrubs amidst a sea of mulch-topped landscaping fabric. As soon as the soil was exposed to air, it sprouted a thick crop of weeds plus the occasional portulaca, catchfly, or purple wave petunia. Also, the tradescantia that’s popped everywhere spreads by root not seed, so someone planted it; and it’s not a common perennial. I think there was a real gardener, and a garden that went badly to seed at the end, and that it all got mowed flat and mulched-over when the house went on the market. I can’t reconstruct it. Perhaps I’ll run into someone who knew it back when.

3. Don’t buy bulbs that are priced significantly below the average market price. The difference in survival rate and performance will be all too apparent.

4. It’s possible to screw up with basil. Who knew?*

5. Bachelor’s button, cosmos (bipinnatus and sulphureus), scarlet runner beans, nasturtiums (especially Empress of India), yay rah go. Plonk down some seeds in the spring, discourage the weeds as needed, and by the middle of summer they’ll be flowering their heads off.

6. My neighbor the very organic gardener back on Staten Island was wrong about “lots more ladybugs” being an automatic corollary to infestations of aphids. Those progeny-crazed little monsters have romped through my nasturtiums, but the incidence of ladybugs in my garden is no greater than it was before the aphids appeared. However, I notice that the hot pepper plants next to the nasturtiums haven’t been touched, so I’m going to try that trick next.

7. At least once in every gardener’s year comes the moment when you discover where the Really Big Slugs are hiding this time around. This will never, ever be happy news.

8. When clumps of tradescantia decide it’s too hot to do anything but flop over and pant, no support system will keep them satisfactorily upright. If you decide on wholesale slaughter, a large serrated kitchen knife used about an inch above the ground can be surprisingly effective.

9. Don’t bother spreading the oriental and asiatic lilies around. They’re inconvenient to have mixed in with other plants, and the spacing blunts their impact. Just group them in a very prominent place and watch them go off like slow-motion fireworks.

10. I surely do miss my dwarf gold-leafed spiraeas.

11. I’m starting to see that gladiolus is good for something other than inexpensive funeral arrangements.

12. If you’re a diligent gardener and you keep an eye on what’s coming up, sometimes fortune will send you a seedling Albizia julibrissin to replace the tree you had to leave behind in Staten Island.

13. Julia’s Ajuga reptans beats out mint. If it spreads any further, I’ll get to find out whether it beats out Houttuynia cordata.

14. While orange daylilies aren’t technically indestructible, the ones currently blooming their heads off in my garden were dug up out of Elise Mathesen’s garden and stored dry in a milk carton on her back porch, brought home from Minicon to Staten Island packed in Easter grass, callously tossed into a patch of dry semi-shade under a long-established maple tree (they bloomed a couple of months later), hastily rescued from the wreck of that garden, hastily rescued from the Union Street garden, stuck into the least promising corner of the front patch on Carroll Street, hastily rescued once again, and thoughtlessly relocated to their current spot because it was the only place in the garden where the soil wasn’t covered with fabric and mulch. Not only are they acting like this is exactly the location they’ve always hoped for; I couldn’t have picked a better spot to show them off, right in front of the dark-green weeping cherry.

15. There must be a corollary of Murphy’s Law that states that the tomatoes won’t get ripe until after the stakes collapse under their weight.

16. On a day when almost everything is blooming, and there’s enough overcast to get the fireflies lighting up early but there’s still enough daylight to see all the shapes and colors, a garden couldn’t possibly look any more beautiful.

Comments on Things I have learned so far this year:
#1 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 04:14 PM:

Tomato cages. Seriously.

#2 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 04:21 PM:

Too much mint? I think the stuff grows if one merely whispers the word 'mint' whilst in close proximity to even somewhat fertile soil. The stuff's proof of parthenogenisis, if you ask me. It could be worse: it could be bamboo.

With basil, it all depends upon the varietal. Standard run-of-the-mill Genoese, hard to kill; purple basil, OTOH...

As for ladybugs, the answer is having a metric snotload of ladybug nymphs, not the adults. The nymphs are aphid-eating machines.

#3 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 04:25 PM:

Oh! The daylilies!
How wonderful. Maybe you
might send me a few.

I'm glad to hear they are still with you and going strong. They are from one house ago, and I didn't think ahead and bring any with me. When they spread to the point that you can spare a couple, let me know, eh?

#4 ::: Deborah Green ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 04:37 PM:

My lesson this year is that it's possible to put too much pepper in soup. I keep cutting my last batch minestrone with chicken stop to keep my soup from biting back.

As for gardening lessons, those will have to wait until I get an apartment with a garden. If my houseplants are any indication, however, I should let someone else to the gardening. I didn't inherit grandma's or dad's green thumb.

As for your tomato problems, would you be able to plant grape tomatoes next year?

#5 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 04:52 PM:

My lesson for this year is that it's remarkably freeing to not even bother to list what you've been doing instead of being an adequate housekeeper and say "My house looks like hell because I'm a lousy housekeeper"

Boy, that feels good (although I suspect that the spirits of my italian ancestors might want to have a word with me)

#6 ::: Kenneth ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 05:02 PM:

Ah slugs--what a great way to work out aggressions! I love to go after the little suckers with a carton of salt, one by one.

#7 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 05:07 PM:

Re: #1 - Alan Titchmarsh of "Ground Force" once opined that unless you want mint to take over, and you want it in the ground (not in a pot), plant the pot in the ground to keep it from spreading.

Re: #14 - Occasionally friends have asked my mother what her plan was in forming her garden. The real question hovering above the polite inquiry is, "Who in their right mind would put that there?" My mother has often responded with, "Plan? I find something needs to go into the ground and thppb." (Imagine a short Bronx cheer, coupled with a gesture that implies stuffing a thumb into the earth.)

Hence, my mother ended up with a spindly young lilac, growing up amidst marauding cascades of forsythia. Ah, gardening.

#8 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 05:37 PM:

How is it possible to screw up with basil? Inquiring minds want to know...

#9 ::: michelle db ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 05:37 PM:

re: mint

Mollie Katzen's Russian Carrot Pie recipe calls for three whole tablespoons of fresh mint and is delicious, especially if you replace the cottage cheese with a half-and-half mixture of plain yoghurt and whipped cream cheese. Oh-- and I found it easier to grate the carrots rather than "thinly slice" them, but then I'm not a very patient cook.

#10 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 05:46 PM:

RE: Slugs:

There's also the beer option.

RE: Italian ancestors:

That's a scary thought. And I'd just talked myself into putting off steam cleaning the carpet for another week.

#11 ::: Peter ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 05:55 PM:

I once tried the "beer option" after someone showed up at a party with a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon to demonstrate what a "regular joe" he was (and then he drank my pale ale instead). The slugs wouldn't touch it--they were probably holding out for the microbrews as well.

#12 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 06:09 PM:

I've managed to kill basil, albeit in pots on a windowsill - it just seemed to wilt and dry up. Although I may just have pulled too much off in one go to use. Now I have some terribly green-fingered flatmates who have filled our tiny back garden with lots of stuff, including the verdant pumpkins of doom...

#13 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 06:16 PM:

Obviously, your stakes are far too small. They're in pots, aren't they?

#14 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 06:30 PM:

This is just to say

I pulled
the mint
that was in
the garden

and which
you were probably
for juleps

forgive me
it was invasive
so fast
and so grown


#15 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 06:35 PM:

My very favorite slug product ever: a metal-salt slug pellet called

wait for it


Diatomaceous earth works better, though. And it's cheaper.

Not to mention available in your local market in Bon Ami form, which other bugs also find unattractive and sticks better.

#16 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 06:35 PM:

Good heavens. Albizia julibrissin grows in the frozen north? We call it mimosa down here, and there are dozens of them in Southeast Texas where I grew up. They've got great huge taproots, so their drought tolerance is a thing of wonder. And if you're 5, the leaves make fabulous confetti.

#17 ::: Barry Ragin ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 06:36 PM:

some thoughts:

michelle - 3 whole tablespoons of fresh mint? Somebody's going to be making an awful lot of those pies. I'd recommend mojitos for anybody who wants to really put a dent in the mint supply.

peter - anybody who brings a case of PBR to a party, and then drinks the other stash is a loser. Period. PBR is the official beer of the Two Dollar Pistols, Durham/Chapel Hill's gift to the honky-tonks of the world. It may not always beat a Sierra Nevada or a Saranac, but there are plenty of occasions where PBR longnecks are the appropriate choice.

general - mint in pots? Last year i planted a stalk of orange bergamot (beebalm) in the garden, which this year has choked out the oregano, the catnip, and the bamboo grass. The really weird thing is that i pulled some out of the spearmint pot this weekend, where it somehow had managed to migrate.

If anybody wants to make their own Oswego tea this year, let me know. I'll have a bit of a surplus.

#18 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 06:37 PM:

My local slugs really like beer.

Either they got huge drinking it or the huge ones came visiting when they heard we were serving it.

Either way, we never found any dead ones.

We did find an awful lot of dead ones in the bowl of vanilla rice milk we put out for [you don't want to know]

#19 ::: Fran ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 06:40 PM:

*whines* I wanna garden! I wanna garden! But our wee new Toronto townhouse under construction has a backyard that's about 10' x 13', at best. The house will block much of the morning light and the detached garage will block much of the afternoon light. Is there a hope in hell that I can raise a few tomatoes in a planter box hung off the back porch?

#20 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 06:41 PM:

TexAnne - My neighbors in Brooklyn had a big Mimosa in their front yard. One year, they topped it in advance of removing it (the thing was too messy and too invasive) and it grew out just on top like a palm tree. The effect was so pleasing to them that they kept it.

According to the University of Florida (caution PDF!) the range extends all the way up the eastern seaboard to NYC and Long Island. Not that I needed a map to know that. :-)

#21 ::: Tiff ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 06:45 PM:

Too much mint?

Based on my parents' garden I'd say it's impossible to have not enough mint. They didn't even plant the stuff. It just appeared out of nowhere.

Pity I don't like mint sauce really.

#22 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 06:55 PM:

I use mint in industrial quantities for industrial quantites of iced tea. Pity we've had a miserable week's weather here in London - too cold for iced tea.

#23 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 06:56 PM:

Thinking of slugs, I photographed this lengthy Oregon specimen over the weekend.

Unpleasant as they may be to gardners, I can't help but think of slugs as pretty cool little creatures.

#24 ::: risa ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 07:33 PM:

I've found that the only solution for the dreaded Too Much Mint plague (this counts Lemon Balm, too, which is evil) is the following: mark the area which the mint has claimed, sink a length of flexible aluminum (or other flexible metal sheeting) into the ground while keeping 5" of it above the surface so it can't spread as easily, and then plant chives or creeping thyme in with it and watch the two of them duke it out.

On the other hand, it's fun to go in with a blade (like Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone) and hack away at the stuff. Mint freezes rather well.

I also concur with the person who suggested tomato cages. I feel it's the only valid tomato support unless you have a proper tomato bush. I sometimes make the analogy that they're like playpens for toddlers. It doesn't work if you don't add the fence.

#25 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 07:35 PM:

Larry, isn't that your Oregon variety of banana slug? Ours are really bright yellow, but I think they come in brown and spotted too.

To get rid of slugs and snails, I have found nothing half as good as this stuff called "sluggo" which is an iron compound. What's cool about it is that when it finally melts, it's a nutrient the soil and plants want. And it's not attractive to mammals, so they can't get the conceivably possible iron overdose either. But I wouldn't put it out if I had banana slugs -- being a UCSC alumna, the banana slug is like a totem animal for me.

This year I have almost no apricots and almost no plums, but there are a lot of grapoes, a good amount of apples, and it's too early to tell about the pomegranates, but they're blooming.

As for basil -- I have only once grown basil where it didn't curl up its little toes within a month or two. I can't grow dill either. I plant it and I get love-in-a-mist.

#26 ::: Joanna ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 07:44 PM:

i decided to doubt that tomatoes *really* need to be staked, and have cherry tomato plants trailing out the bottom of a hanging pot. they seem to be enjoying it, although i'll have to be diligent about picking the ripe ones, or the people two stories down on the ground floor will have splats all over their patio.

i have peppermint, spearmint, orange mint, moroccan mint, chocolate mint, and corsican mint, and pennyroyal fighting it out in a galvanized tub off the edge of the balcony. the pennyroyal is definitely losing, although everyone else seems to be coexisting peacefully.

i find myself pleasantly surprised by the success of the bits of red skinned grocery store potato that i dumped in a plastic garbage can with the last of my potting soil. on the other hand, i've now killed two different kinds of thyme and one kind of rosemary (although that may have been because i let the rosemary flower).

#27 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 07:52 PM:

Peter -- Boston slugs prefer Budweiser to anything I'd actually drink. (No, we didn't buy it; we have a corner lot with a stomach-high wall that passers-by treat as a disposal area.)

#28 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 08:01 PM:

It is possible to have Not Enough Mint. The mint-in-a-tub decided to sulk this year, leading to complaints from the Pimms fetishist that I was not providing requisite amounts of a vital ingredient. The mint is being threatened with the garden recycling bin, only I can't find any replacement plants, and sulking mint is slightly better than no mint.

I had my first home-grown tomato of the year yesterday, from a variety I haven't grown before. I'm underwhelmed by the flavour, but it was the first tomato and possibly harvested a couple of days too early, so I will leave the next few to get *really* ripe before trying them.

#29 ::: Cassie Krahe ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 08:03 PM:

Day lilies are tough. I don't know anyone who's ever bought them-- we offer them to anyone who'll take them. Day lilies, moss roses, and snapdragons are easy for us. We do have an interesting garden; it's the only one I know of where any sunflower that makes it to six inches gets free rein. This year, we have only four. Dear things.

#30 ::: Kit O'Connell ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 08:05 PM:

I definitely recommend leaving tomatoes unstaked. They will make vines all over the place and spread out like weeds and they'll take a bit longer to ripen, but the plus side is you get a much bigger crop (IMHO) because the plant is allowed to behave as it wants. Stakes are *not* necessary if you grow a plant unstaked from birth, it is only necessary once a plant learns to depend on the stake. Even if the vines bend they will almost always self-repair and it's wonderful to find tomatoes nestled here, there, and everywhere on the vines.

Happy gardening -- Kit

#31 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 08:11 PM:

Mint has -died- in my yard--not all types of mint, and different types have failed/succeeded in different parts of the yard--chocolate mint has a finite lifetime of two or three years if that, spearmint thrives in a couple places and dies elsewhere, there's some applemint here and there, beebalm isn't spreading wildly, the Korean mint came back, but the anise hyssop barely did so (dies off after two or three years)..

Volunteers that Have Really Good Time:

- crabapples.
- wild cherry (birds)
- oak trees (planted by squirrels)
- sumac (SPREADS!)
- black locust (grrrr)
- plantain
- pine moss which I think might actually be an endangered species
- the yellow-flowering false strawberry sort of thing, which also might be an endangered species
- grasses, all sorts of grasses, but don't ask and expect any clue about what types of grasses are what
- black raspberries in some areas, but not others in the yard. I happenn to really like black raspberies a lot. They're not available in supermarkets here at all, maybe at a few farmstands or pick your own places, maybe, I haven't seen any at them but then there's only one farmstand nearby, and it's not one that grows any sorts of bush berries really.
- the purple raspberry decided last year that it was ready to start spreading.
- the red raspberried spread but the plants spread from aren't all that vigorous
-oh, WINEBERRIES, labelled these days Pest Plants, they're aggressive.
-rosa rugosa
-the wintergreen I planted years ago has been demurely spreading itself out over time
- I have been finding butternut seedlings springing up in odd places, I think they were squirrel-planted off the butternut which I planted when I first moved here. The black walnut I planted at the same time has never fruited. One year my life was so lame that the peak moment of that year was looking at seeing that my butternut tree had fruited.... I got a thrill today, looking at one of the two surviving filbert trees (which survived squirrel and/or rabbit winter predation) and seeing unmistakable signs of growing nuts, the other tree which actually is the larger of the two and which was trying to fruit a year and a half ago, has what might turn out to grow into nuts--the growths aren't far enough along for me to tell yet.
- mugwort
- there is some milkweed growing. I noticed yesterday that the flowers smell like lilacs.
- there is some Queen Anne's lace, some primrose, some giant mullein.
Oh, I forgot the volunteer cedars, and then there is poison ivy

Oh, there are a few chestnut seedlings. They get chewed down majorly by squirrel or rabbits over the winter.

#32 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 08:18 PM:

I forgot to mention the oregano that's taking over the front yard. On the other hand, it usually attracts butterflies and dragonflies...

It seems that the clary sage I planted is a perennially rather than biennial variety, or at least, it has been. It's flowering this year, which might mean that it's at the end of its life cycle of years.

#33 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 09:12 PM:

Joanna: I always killed rosemary plants in pots inside. I think I gave them too much attention. Plant them outside and completely ignore them except to cut off bits to use and it grows like the weed it is.


#34 ::: Tracy Lunquist ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 10:14 PM:

I was sent to check out the gardening conversation - and a mighty fine gardening conversation it is, I might add. Thanks for adding a bit of greenery to my day.

My discovery this summer, which is causing me a small amount of frustration, is that the particular flavor of coreopsis I put in two years ago sends runners perniciously. It made fabulous lovely clumps for the first two years, but now it wants to be everywhere but where it is.

Mint thrives on neglect - have you considered coddling it? Who knows, maybe reverse psychology would do the trick....

I concur that no one should ever pay actual money for daylilies (see also hostas and ordinary lavender-colored bearded iris). When I lived in Evanston I had daylilies I did not want. God help you if you ever want to get rid of an established crop - it is only because I have such respect for the quality of discourse on Making Light that I am able to restrain myself from the string of colorful epithets with which I normally describe daylilies. Perhaps I shall say "weed," spitting slightly, and leave it at that.

I also have an excellent problem, which is the problem of deciding what to plant in a number of newly-defined beds in my back yard. The good news is that they are a tabula rasa with unfettered southern exposure; the bad news is that we're moving, so whatever it is I will only get to enjoy it for a month or two.

#35 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 10:15 PM:

I HATES Mint. Lemon balm ran rampant in my yard in the first house I owned, partly because of my ignorance, partly because of its vigor. Made mowing very fragrant, though.

My heart sank when I realized mint was coming up in the front planting area in our yard, but it seems to be repressed by the fact it is always in the shade, plus our lawn guy keeps mowing it (but not the solo hosta) down.

Looking out, dusk comes
Fireflies in the cherry tree.
Happy summer all!

#36 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 10:24 PM:

Rosemary is not winterhardy up here. At least two types of lavendar are Hidecote and another one I have but can't think of the name of. Corsican mint is definitely not winterhardy. Thymes are generally. I have a woody onethat the main part of expired, but there are two parts of it that survived the death of the main root and woody structures.

#37 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 11:39 PM:

I've killed mint with metaldehyde. Didn't lose all of it; I'd left some with a friend, where it is cheerfully popping up in various places in the yard, and surviving in a planter which is otherwise full of kangaroo treebine (Cissus something-or-other). This mint is a family heirloom of sorts; it was originally from northeastern Kentucky, I'm told, and has been planted in the ground, with or without confinement, five locations in California and at least two in Texas, all with success. And one fresh leaf will turn a cup of tea into a cup of mint tea.

I've seen "Sweet 100" tomatos growing in hanging baskets in a location where the only direct sun was in the middle of the day. They had tomatoes.

Tomato cages - my father made cages from 6"-spaced reinforcing wire mesh. The cages were five feet high and two feet in diameter. The tomatoes did very well - you can reach through the mesh and pick the fruit, and it's strong enough to keep the plant from falling all over, _if_ you use something like a steel fencepost as an anchor. It's overkill for smaller varieties like currant tomatoes.

Mimosa trees grow even in places like the Texas Panhandle. They're nearly as tough as daylilies. Give them weather like Souther California, and they become large, spectacular bloomers.

#38 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2005, 11:55 PM:

Fran, sure you can. There's a marvelous English show called The City Gardener, which I get here in Florida on HGTV. He specializes in finding solutions for tiny English gardens; I just watched one where EVERYTHING was shade plants, because the mid-terrace garden was overshadowed by buildings and trees on either side. And also a container garden in somebody's fifth floor terrace which included a complete herb garden. So don't let the small space or the shade put you off!

#39 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 12:03 AM:

Hmm, "things I learned" reminds me of Twelve Fair Kingdoms and Responsible telling Caroline Ann, was it, the things that she had learned, such as "I learned that being licked to death is nasty," and Caroline Ann writing a song based on Responsible's experiences on her Quest that had had "plenty of adventures."

#40 ::: cmikk ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 01:14 AM:

Too much mint? Mojitos, mint jelly, and mow the rest. Ours is spreading into the lawn, and provides a calming little bit of aromatherapy when I mow near the herb patch...

#41 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 02:12 AM:

My grandmother's treatment of the slug problem was novel (and unique to her situation): every morning she would go out with a coffee can, fill it, then walk across the road and feed the slugs to a flock of geese the neighbor kept.

I wonder what she did with them before the geese showed up?

As for mowing over Things That Won't Die: Johnny Jump-ups. They always bloomed again a few days later, which made the lawn interesting.

#42 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 02:38 AM:

I'm just astonished to learn that you have fireflies in Brooklyn. I've never thought of them as a NYC critter.

#43 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 04:18 AM:

re things that won't die: my grandfather planted blackberries here [Sierra Nevada foothills] in approximately 1920, way down by the other road, 15 minutes walk. He said people told him not to, and he said "I'm young and strong and I can grub them out." He told me that when he was about 90. He's been gone for almost 30 years,I'm not young and strong anymore, and of the remaing 8 acres, the blackberries have eaten at least 5, including half an orchard. Those along with the wild sweet peas [Lathyrus] are the worst pests, since they make it without summer water. At least the poison oak is native.

Sluggo is good - the other hardware store things for them attract and kill dogs and cats and other animals.
Anybody have earwig problems? I know a good trap.

#44 ::: Maureen Kincaid Speller ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 06:38 AM:

I'd just like to thank everyone for lending me the collective basil karma this year ... I have never had much luck with it before but this year I have seed trays full of it, in various varietal disguises ... I've grown 'bush' basil, 'sweet genovese' basil, red basil, lemon basil, dwarf lemon basil, cinnamon basil, anise basil ... and am now contemplating world domination through pesto.

It's a good year in the back garden. The parsley's been pretty good, the mint is in a pot and flourishing, I've managed to start zucchini and beans from seed, and having dug the compost heap last weekend and mulched a large part of the garden, the new compost heap is already cooking away happily (I turn my compost a lot for quick-composting results, and it has a huge population of composting worms Ė this bin easily takes care of chicken carcasses after I've made stock, although the usual advice is not to compost bones, etc. in a domestic heap. But we have no trouble with vermin, and it seems to work).

And the flower garden is just merrily self-seeding away.

#45 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 06:39 AM:

Teresa: we (well, I) request photos...

#46 ::: Carrie ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 08:17 AM:

I concur that no one should ever pay actual money for daylilies (see also hostas and ordinary lavender-colored bearded iris).

My mother keeps trying to pawn her lavender iris off on me, and I keep telling her that a)I don't like that color and b)I'm being snobby and only planting named varieties.

Speaking of which, anyone want some bearded iris? I will happily provide a variety list, and I really ought to divide them this year. All you really need is 5-6 hours of sun a day and decent drainage.

#47 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 08:37 AM:

For the record, my local Home Depot informed me that tomato cages were "sold out for the season" as of about the first of June. The four bags of bamboo stakes were the best support system I could come up with. Manhattan and western Brooklyn are great for some kinds of shopping, but considerably less good for things like tomato cages and canning jars.

Maureen, you have the basil yield I was supposed to have. I planted six or seven kinds. A dab of purple basil and some cinnamon basil, both still less than an inch high, were all that came up. I'm utterly perplexed. Never had any difficulty with the stuff before, but it simply didn't germinate. Salad burnet planted right next to it came up just fine. And I got half the seeds at the Smith & Hawken store, right before planting, so I doubt they were defective. It's a mystery.

What to do with all that basil: hang it up to dry, in all its different varieties, then crumble and bottle it. The result will so far exceed store-bought dried basil as to almost qualify as a different herb.

Partly it's the more complex flavors. I suspect that commercially grown basil is a variety chosen for its plenitude of leaves, not its strength of flavor, and of course it's only one variety. I think the drying method also affects the result, as I sincerely doubt commercial basil growers are hanging their product to dry in a cool dark place.

Trust me, this is more than worth the loss of a few batches of pesto.

p.s. Don't put in more than a dab of Thai or licorice basil. Throws off the balance.

#48 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 08:48 AM:

I, for one, welcome our new pesto overlords.

#49 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 09:11 AM:

Shall I look down at Agway to see if they have tomato cages? If so, how many?

#50 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 09:26 AM:

I can't bring myself to kill even slugs. I do, however, often nudge them onto the end of the shovel and give them a good fling into the woods. I can almost picture it from the poor slug's perspective: "What the--? Holy craaaaaaaap!"

I've had a devil of a time this year with Scarlet Lily Beetle on my asiatic lilies (which I do have mixed in with my daylilies and monarda). Those I'm willing to kill.

#51 ::: Lenore Jean Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 09:27 AM:

Bob Oldendorf - we've been seeing fireflies in Hoboken too, for the last week or so. Same climate, so that's no surprise. (I'm not sure why I now reach for "firefly" instead of the "lightning bug" I grew up with. Local dialect?)

P J Evans - It's good to know that cherry tomatoes can be grown in pots. Was that inside? As Xopher has sometimes said, we're wary of planting food plants outside, due to the bad polluted soil in this county. I also much prefer admiring the garden from my bedroom window to actually going out in it (yes, I'm a little strange).

I did just go out and weed on Monday. There were enormous quantities of grasses in everything. The jungle weed (Japanese knotweed, actually) filling the entire next yard had not invaded too much, although it's hanging over the wall, and I need to go back out and deal with it.

Our supposed petunia has turned out to be something that climbs the fence and grows over everything it sees. Very pretty. I think it might not actually be a petunia, though it's possible it's just getting carried up by the morning glory vines in there.

The female holly tree is now as high as my second story window, and shows no signs of slowing down. The daylilies under it have apparently all died - at least, they haven't flowered. So one way to kill daylilies is apparently to grow them under a holly, which, I believe, acidifies the soil. Of course it's possible that the 2-year old child upstairs or the dog downstairs had something to do with it. SOMEONE certainly dug up the honeysuckle. *grumble*

Teresa - I buy basil at the farmer's market, then dry it in a low-humidity bin in my fridge, laying it out on paper towels. I do the same with dill and parsley. If it stays dry enough it works quite well, and makes for, as you say, much better flavor than the bottled variety.

#52 ::: Barry Ragin ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 09:28 AM:
Manhattan and western Brooklyn are great for some kinds of shopping, but considerably less good for things like tomato cages and canning jars.

When i first lived in Brooklyn 21 years ago, i was of the conviction that anything could be purchased in NYC. A fruitless Saturday of searching for Mason jars convinced me otherwise.

#53 ::: Jonathan Lennox ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 10:06 AM:

On first reading this entry with bleary eyes, I read "tradescantia" as "transcendentia".

I found this fascinating, but suspected that such flowers would probably not be looked upon favorably by the DEA.

#54 ::: jennR ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 10:13 AM:

*Everyone* is out of tomato cages this year, it seems. I planted four tomato plants (in pots) this year, and one of them is in a peony ring because after going to garden stores in four towns I couldn't find any tomato cages. (I put the Brandywine in the ring, because it's shrubbier than the others.)

My dad always staked his tomatoes (usually Big Boys or Better Boys), largely for garden space and ease of picking. If he'd not staked them, we'd need to double the size of the garden (and it was quite big enough already, tyvm).

We managed to kill the daylilies a friend gave us. I think that planting them by the front porch on the north side of the house might have had something to do with that.

I've never been able to keep basil - the rabbits and the raccoons and the squirrels really, really like it. And the moss roses I planted in the front flowerbed died out after a couple of years.

#55 ::: Maureen Kincaid Speller ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 10:48 AM:

I am charmed by the thought of Jonathan Lennox's transcendentia ...varieties 'Concord' or 'Emerson', are fairly compact, although the latter can be colourful and exuberant on occasion, while 'Thoreau' is a little more prone to ramble, and has a preference for watery margins.

Teresa Ė advice on basil noted for future reference. Commercial dried basil is ... well, I assume it came from a plant once upon a time, but it's hard to tell. I'm also struck by the difference between the basil plants one buys at the supermarket, in yet another misguided attempt at triumphing over adversity, and the plants currently growing in my conservatory. They seem to be vaguely related

#56 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 11:14 AM:

We have fireflies in Manhattan, too: Last night they were all over the lawn in the park across the street, right down to the river. And we saw one that seemed to lack an off switch: instead of the usual quick flash, it would light up brightly, then sort of taper down to darkness, and repeat after a moment.

My total gardening this season consists of transplanting two small patches of grass and clover that had been dug up, and were lying abandoned in the park, to the soil around one of the trees in front of my building. One has taken, and is now flourishing and green; the other, the one with clover in it, seems to have died.

We're in an odd waiting state here: the landlord says they're going to re-landscape after they scrape and paint the fire escapes, all this being after roof and brickwork repair, and about a year of shed and scaffolding, which did in a lot of the plants out front. Right now, we've got lots of dayflowers, and a few of the hostas have survived. Even if my shoulder were more suited to digging, I don't want to go out and buy snapdragons, marigolds, or anything else if they're going to be mowed under or dug out in a month.

#57 ::: Zvi ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 11:25 AM:

When we get our massive basil yields come the late-summer/fall (it's almost all Genovese basil), it goes into pesto. It freezes well if you leave out the cheese and nuts and skimp a bit on the oil.

It's like frozen summer. The best thing on a cold winter day. But who can remember winter now?

#58 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 11:28 AM:

Bob - Yep, there are plenty of fireflies in Brooklyn. And, just like everywhere else, kids catch them and put them in empty mayonnaise jars with holes punched in the top.

Brooklyn also has several types of frogs, birds, and snakes as well as a fair number of rabbits. In fact, Brooklyn and Queens even sport a bird sanctuary and undeveloped, protected wetlands. It ain't all concrete.

#59 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 11:51 AM:

I want to second the suggestion to plant tomatoes upside down in hanging baskets. I usually buy a cheap plastic bucket and cut a few holes in the bottom, wrap the leaves in saran wrap to thread them through and fill the bucket with potting soil. I plant herbs on top: basil and cilantro, since I use them the most. I put the handle over a broomstick and run it through a corner of the chain link fence, it's too heavy for a regular basket hook. Lovely tomatoes, very few pests, no stakes.

I noticed that some of the "household gadget" catalogs are carrying an "upside down tomato growing thingamabobber" this year. It seems to be free standing and fairly sturdy, should you not want to be ruining your steak knives cutting up buckets.

What I really want to know is how far south I can grow rhubarb. Through no fault of my own, I'm being transplanted from the Twin Cities to Virginia this year, and I have a sinking feeling about this. (And for some reason, I never see rhubarb in the frozen food section. Odd.)

#60 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 11:55 AM:

Fireflies seem (in South Orange NJ) especially prevalent this year. We always have them but there are way more than I remember from previous summers -- or there are the same number but they are turning on their little lights more frequently.

#61 ::: Dave Trowbridge ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 11:59 AM:

IMO, the best way to grow indeterminate tomatoes is to put them in a cage made of foundation wire. A six-foot length of foundation wire makes a seven-foot high cylinder capable of supporting even the most exuberant tomato plant (in my garden they generally grow all the way over the top and back to the ground again by the end of the season), and the six-inch wire spacing makes it easy to pick fruit. All you have to do is push the shoots back inside the cage every couple of days.

The advantages of this method also include a much more efficient use of garden space (each tomato plant takes up only about nine square feet), more sunlight for each plant, and less trouble with slugs and other ground-dwelling pests.

The downside is that they do take up room in the winter, and, until the tomatoes cover the cage, they're rather ugly--but then, I've also got a micro-vineyard using the Vertical Shoot Positioning system, which looks like a cross between an oil refinery and a barbed-wire installation on the Western Front, so what do I care?

#62 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 12:01 PM:

Also raccoons, opossums, coyotes, squirrels, assorted raptorial birds, colonies of feral parrots (including a notable one at Greenwood Cemetery, a few blocks from my house), pheasants, and who knows what-all else. I expect we get skunks once in a while, though probably not porcupines.

#63 ::: risa ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 12:04 PM:

Teresa: I'm also in Western Brooklyn, and have discovered that treks into the middle of Long Island - Hicksville in particular - can be fruitful (No Pun Intended) for tomato cages in mid-season and those sorts of things.

#64 ::: Claudia ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 12:11 PM:

It would be so fine if you guys would put down your locations.. this is such a good topic and even better if I knew if you were from the east coast, midwest, England, etc.
Claudia from Mn.

#65 ::: michelle db ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 12:12 PM:

Barry Ragin asked: 3 whole tablespoons of fresh mint?

Yes, three whole tablespoons. It's so delicious the way the mintiness bounces off the sweetness of the carrots and the tanginess of the yoghurt/cream cheese (my substitution) with the subtle underlayment of the onions all the way through. You can use spearmint as an interesting substitution for plain mint; it makes it sweeter, almost but not quite a dessert. Maybe with coffee?

#66 ::: Barry Ragin ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 12:22 PM:

What i meant was, using only 3 tablespoons of mint, you're going to have to make a lot of pies to use up the surplus.

I still think mojitos are the best way to use up surplus mint.

#67 ::: michelle db ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 12:28 PM:

Certainly, many pies are needed to clean up the whole mint explosion. OTOH, I found it amazing to see just how many whole leaves of mint it takes to produce a mince of three tablespoons. Whole plants of leaves.

#68 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 12:36 PM:

Could some kind of pesto-type of sauce be made by bruising mint in a mortar and pestle with some other ingredients? One that would be palatable I mean.

#69 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 12:42 PM:

Juli Thompson

Rhubarb grows quite well in Edgefield County, South Carolina. You can sometimes find it growing near ruined old farmhouse/slave quarters etc., including a variety that's almost eggplant purple near the base of the stock, and fades to scarlet then green. The leaves are the most vicious in terms of the itch-causing stiff hairs I've seen.

#70 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 12:50 PM:

One of my favorite medieval recipes involves a "green omelette"--you extract the juice from whatever salady leaves you have on hand and stir it into the eggs. I bet an all-mint omelette would be great with a dusting of that large-crystal shiny sugar.

#71 ::: Barry Ragin ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 01:01 PM:

Food Network has a recipe for mint pesto. So does Martha Stewart.

i can't vouch for them. I've still got 20 pints of basil pesto in the freezer from 2 years ago.

#72 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 04:00 PM:

my dwarf gold-leafed spiraeas

Should not this be "spiraeae," ma'am?

(I grin, I duck, I run out into the free free free air of the END OF SUMMER SCHOOL!!!)

#73 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 04:24 PM:

I love bearded iris and had to leave my gorgeous deep purple ones behind when we left CA. I might take some of them off your hands though we don't really get enough sun for them. I have some which got hailed on rather badly this year but they looked good before then. And my species and dutch iris do quite well. I prefer all shades of purple and yellow. Blue is nice too.


#74 ::: Elizabeth VomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 04:42 PM:

Question for the tomato rebels. I've got a couple of heirloom style tomato plants planted in cheap pots on my porch. They are sort of sprawling and slouching but they seem to be doing fine. Do you suppose the plants will bear tomatoes without stakes of any kind?

#75 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 05:17 PM:

Elizabeth VomMarlowe: Do you suppose the plants will bear tomatoes without stakes of any kind?

They will happily do so. Stakes and cages are for the convenience of humans. Tomatoes themselves do fine without them.

Like Teresa, I discovered that my homestead was not always unloved. The drifts of daylilies I assumed were 'Stella de Oro' are instead many well chosen and lovely varieties. Two pitiful shrubs turned out to be dwarf crape myrtles, badly pruned by previous owners but recovering nicely. Calla lilies have arrived in unexpected places, and two nondescript bushes turned out to be neglected lilacs. It's like a treasure hunt.

#76 ::: Zara Baxter ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 05:34 PM:

7. At least once in every gardener’s year comes the moment when you discover where the Really Big Slugs are hiding this time around. This will never, ever be happy news.

We just had rain, after about three months without. And the giant slugs appeared, as if by magic.

My very first thought was "Uh oh. They've been hiding somewhere in my garden for the last three months."

I don't know where. They've retreated to it again, no doubt, now the rain has gone again.

...but I must find them!

#77 ::: Zara Baxter ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 05:39 PM:

Elizabeth VomMarlowe: Do you suppose the plants will bear tomatoes without stakes of any kind?

We were lazy and didn't stake our grape tomatoes. The plants grew upwards, then bent under their own weight and sprawled cheerfully across our lawn, laying out hundreds of quasi-roots from the stems, which fixed them firmly into the soil. They took over an area about 3 metres square, and grew so many tomatoes that I ran out of chutney jars. My freezer is full of bright yellow tomato sauce.

I'd say that's a probable yes.

#78 ::: Elizabeth VomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 06:08 PM:

Thanks for the replies. I will let them sprawl as they will. They are sort of cute this way.

#79 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 06:42 PM:

Problems with Basil?

Whatever you do, don't mention the war.

#80 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 07:57 PM:


Could some kind of pesto-type of sauce be made by bruising mint in a mortar and pestle with some other ingredients? One that would be palatable I mean.

Sure, you can use mint anywhere you can use basil, and because of my troubles growing basil, I frequently do. Especially the grapefruit mint. Since I can't get cilantro to grow without bolting, I tend to replace it with lovage.

Those are my Secrets of the Perennial Herb Garden!

#81 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2005, 08:11 PM:

My very first thought was "Uh oh. They've been hiding somewhere in my garden for the last three months."

I believe they dig themselves underground when conditions on the outside are inhospitably cold or dry.

#82 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2005, 01:09 AM:

Yup, staked tomatoes do always collapse ... when the stakes aren't adequate.

I calculate that they need to be 4x4 inch timbers (6x6 might be overkill), extending vertically at least 8 feet (preferably 10) above grade. You might be able to get by with less -- this is based on my current struggles in Southern California, with (mostly) volunteer cherry- and pingpong-ball- sized varieties (third-generation descendants of fruit /s/t/o/l/e/n/ liberated from Terry Karney & Maia Wolfe's garden in Arcadia), and any plants that spring up next year might not be quite so rampant, roinish, and thuggish. Last winter I had to have four large trees removed from my (small, suburban) back yard, and have the olive tree cut back to a few relatively short trunks.

There's now ample sun for growing things, and for some reason I seem to have decided to work with vegetables again, for a year or two, before trying to find places to plant all the ornamental perennials growing in containers. (The early-Spring appearance of vigorous volunteers -- _shiso_, tomatoes, edible-pod peas (now just about done in by the Summer heat), and a perennial capsicum with lentil-size peppers that will neatly take off the top of one's head (no, I don't consume them, but it's a handsome plant) -- probably had something to do with this decision.)

The tree-removal people's tractor churned & compacted the rain-wet soil horribly, so I've been slogging away, gradually, at excavating the soil about three feet deep (well... to start with, and at least a good two feet towards the end of each area) and mixing in at least a foot-thick layer of the good compost I'd been working on for almost a year. The first spot worked on -- already good topsoil -- was also the burial place for the five pet chickens a marauding raccoon killed (or almost killed, leaving me to finish the job *sigh*), and the volunteer tomatoes (about ten plants, as I recall) in that 15 x 15 foot area are the primary ones causing me to think in terms of such substantial stakes. Not that I _have_ staked them, yet, mind you, and it's probably too late (they're a solid mass about five feet high) to do much other than try to do something with the stems that are taking over the path and starting to overwhelm the Swiss Chard ('Northern Lights') and carrots. I know better than to count crops before they're securely harvested, but this batch has yielded almost a peck of ripe tomatoes (all tasty, with subtly varying flavors) so far, and there must be at least three bushels of green ones, in there someplace.

As some of the others on this thread have pointed out, tomatoes do usually grow and produce best when allowed to sprawl naturally, but the harvest may be reduced significantly if you have ground-level varmints and pests, and most home gardeners have more Space up than sideways. (Spots partly-shaded by staked or caged tomato plants are fine for lettuces & other leafy salet plants, and (with careful planning) for starting cool-season crops such as the coles.)

Oh, I am staking most of the other, large-fruited, tomato varieties that were planted later -- mostly using bamboo culms about 8 feet long, tied into tripods -- not ideal in form, but less likely than purely-vertical ones to rot & break when/if the fruit gets heavy.

If I had more space, and knew someone with a long-bed truck who'd bring a load of lodgepole pine saplings down from Montana, I'd try growing tomatoes (and pole beans) on Indian tipi frameworks -- Crow-style, with the extra-long poles extending almost as far beyond the crossing-point as the cone beneath it, like an hour-glass, just because it's so aesthetically pleasing. And yes, maybe with ribbons hanging from the tips of the poles.

#83 ::: Maribeth Back ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2005, 04:34 AM:

mmmm, fireflies!

Teresa, your recipe for your dried-basil mix a few months ago triggered my garden frenzy this year...tomatos and peppers and thyme, oh my. And arugula! My current genovese and sweet basil scores: from seed, barely there after two months -- that one-inch phenomenon. Hmph. However, those planted from two-inch seedlings bolted. When I started nipping the flowerbuds they seemed to consider, briefly, spreading out into those gratifying fat basil bushes...but no, a week's neglect and they're at it again. They've got basketball-center genes.

We live in a big farmhouse-style house in Berkeley, and are reclaiming the large back garden/yard which has been variously loved over the years. Right now it's recuperating from a lengthy episode with an abusive contractor/builder. The mint is, of course, just fine, despite having had lumber piled on top of it for more than a year. Every week we find some new treasure, or mourn an atrocity. The onion patch is probably irretrievable, but gorgeous red poppies are volunteering here and there. (I wonder if we can get busted for these. Remember when Seattle cops were arresting 80-year-old ladies for having opium poppies in their front yards, planted by their sea-faring husbands? And this is Berkeley after all...)

#84 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2005, 05:46 AM:

One thing I learned this year so far:

Be careful with poppies, the sap stains.

I mean, it really stains. You may think turmeric stains, or an indelible marker in your pocket with the top off stains, but those stains are only a shadow of what the sap from Papaver rhoeas can do.

#85 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2005, 12:34 PM:

Maribeth (a lovely name, btw): The Opium poppies I've seen - there's acres grown under high security in Tasmania, plus on documentaries - are a very pale lilac, some with smallish dark markings near the centre of the flower. This and the overall form of the flower are different to the classic red poppies of the fields and the common garden 'Californian' poppy. So you should be safe.

Tomorrow is, historically, usually Sydney's coldest day of the year (forecast is maximum of 14C), so between the cold and the continuing drought, the gardens are having a quiet time.

Despite this, in my mourning garden I'm replacing father's memorial rosemary that someone rooted out and adding a lavender in month-mind of my mother, to replace one in another spot that just disappeared. The white and purple hyacinth and white narcissus in that bed have been dying back badly, so I'll be putting in some other bulbs, including a very dark purplish anenome, building up the soil, planting a scatter of legumes and distributing some protective mulch.

#86 ::: Bill Tozier ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2005, 12:36 PM:

Two words that describe a Plant To Avoid: plume poppy (Macleaya cordata). Do not. Ever. Ever. Plant it. In the actual ground.


Sixteen- (16-) foot runners, in one year. Into the hyperfinicky neighbor's garden. And all other directions. In the lawn. In the other neighbor's vegetables. When bruised, it produces a lovely yellow ichor which can stain you, your clothes, and your mind permanently. Instant smokers' stains.

Pretty pink frilly flowers, though.

Look at pictures of them.

#87 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2005, 12:49 PM:

Macleaya cordata: Let's see.

Plume Poppy, syn. Bocconia, Rhizotamous Perennial blah blah, fully hardy, blah blah...


They can be invasive.

Thanks for the warning, Bill, the book makes them sound quite nice.

#88 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2005, 01:32 PM:

I have some mint in my backyard, just a small patch under the sycamore tree. I sometimes use it to garnish iced tea, but it's so near the alley I'm not really sure it's safe to use as food unless I wash it really well.

It also makes the mower smell nice if I -- accidentally (well, mostly) -- run it over part of said patch.

The daylilies are doing wonderfully. I need to transplant some -- they're taking over the tulip bed, for one thing. And it wouldn't hurt to plant flowers at the bottom of the slope so there's less mowing of the steep parts! I have been known to buy daylilies to get different colors and varieties involved.

Also, I saw some delphiniums at the store the other day. Lovely blue, and I need more blue flowers this time of year. And today's payday...

The Queen Anne's Lace is starting to come out. They're weeds, but they're pretty. (And also smell nice -- spicy -- under the mower!)

#89 ::: Wrye ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2005, 02:37 PM:

I lived in Japan for three years, and while the frozen pipes and lack of a shinkansen station didn't break my spirit, the yard full of mint certainly came very close to doing so. At least I learned why Japanese gardeners use a freaking rotating saw blade on their weed-whackers...

#90 ::: murgatroyd ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2005, 05:45 PM:

I have a similar complaint with the garden I "inherited" when we moved in at the end of May: there's stuff in it I've never seen before so I can't tell which qualifies as "weeds" and which were planted on purpose; and what I can identify, I don't really like.

Someone really, really went overboard with hostas (don't like 'em), there are at least five peonies (like 'em, but not the corresponding horde of anthills through the yard), several lackluster rhododendrons (feh) in places that must have been sunny when they were planted but are now overshadowed by enormous maple trees, a stand of iris that the previous owner avowed "don't bloom" and haven't, and a lovely poppy that I have to figure out how and where to move (without staining myself with sap, thanks for the warning!) because it will be under a deck renovation if I don't.

There are anomalies like single tulips and single daylilies planted here and there that, in my opinion, look pathetic rather than unique. (Masses of tulips, I say -- masses!)

There are some treats -- a clump of chives, strawberry plants (which have mostly fed the squirrels because I'm not fast enough) and a big hydrangea outside my office -- but unfortunately the things I was comfortable with growing like nasturtiums and sweet peas went in the ground in June after the wettest spring in 40 years, so they're lagging and languishing when it's hot.

There is also a rather aggressive earwig population and at least three slugs that have fed themselves on various tender foliage (but have since politely drowned in Gritty's Summer Ale).

The morning glories look promising, though, and I'm trying dinner-plate dahlias and passionflower for the first time. (Hope springs eternal!)

Still, it's not quite what I'd hoped for, and there's nothing quite as frustrating as an out-of-whack garden -- I'm itching to buy a spade and start digging it all up.

#91 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2005, 06:02 PM:

The dope-smoking Rosacrucian Republican Lawyers, who owned my house before I did, left a strange assortment of plants in the herb garden. At least I think that is was theirs, and not planted by the Fuller Theological Seminary students including the one who kept getting arrested for peering into women's bedrooms in neighboring houses. Or the original owner, an engineer who travelled extensively in the far East, who designed the place, including the Camodian or Laotian custom-tiled fireplace, with a color-matched Vietnamese MFE (the E stands of elephant) and (thank ghod) floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves. Before I could identify said herbal flora, the drunk boyfriend of a friend weedwacked them all to oblivion, without asking any permission but that of a Spanish-speaking Guatemalan maid my wife had hired for the day. The very secret of immortality might have been there, for all I know. At least I still have my Brazillian Floss Silk trees, irises, naval orange trees, and Mr. Lincoln Roses.

#92 ::: Maribeth Back ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2005, 08:18 PM:

Navel oranges! yum! Fruit trees can be so oh-tee-tee. We have *five* tall plum trees enriching our lives, all perfectly ripe Right Now...squish, squish.

Discovery of the year: Meyer lemons will grow from seeds saved upon consumption. And flourish, and flower, indoors or out. I'm starting a mini-Meyer orchard.

#93 ::: Abby ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2005, 08:43 PM:

On mint--I think it's time for a mojito party.

Tomato cages and things. Gardeners in Vermont sells cages.

For a spiral, stake-style alternative try

#94 ::: Kylee Peterson ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2005, 10:13 PM:

Does anyone have plums this year? Aha, Maribeth does. So where are mine? Our two big trees, which gave us an excess of Italian prunes beyond giving away last year, have nothing this year. No obvious pests, they flowered all right -- I have no idea what's up. My parents, who live fairly near us in Seattle but not within likely bee-travel distance, also have very few plums this year. What could be the problem?

Day lilies are easier to buy if you see the really exotic-looking ones and think they'll still be easy to grow, I think. And I'm fearfully fascinated by the flier I just got from Breck's offering dinner-plate-sized ones.

#95 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2005, 11:13 PM:

"4. Itís possible to screw up with basil. Who knew?"

Me! Me! (waving arms wildly). About half the batches of seedlings I've tried starting over the past 50+ years were wiped-out by damping-off fungus or rotted in the first stage of germination. Of the ones that survived, about half the batches got up to the point of providing a few leaves/tips for use, then collapsed from stem- or root-rot. Nothing else so regularly gives me this much of a Problem, so I figure basil just doesn't fit in with my ideas about how plants should be grown & watered. Most likely, I just try to push it too much, so I'll try to avoid this with the batches I'm now (belatedly) starting.

#96 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2005, 11:59 PM:

Lisa Spangenberg wrote:

Rhubarb grows quite well in Edgefield County, South Carolina. You can sometimes find it growing near ruined old farmhouse/slave quarters etc., including a variety that's almost eggplant purple near the base of the stock, and fades to scarlet then green. The leaves are the most vicious in terms of the itch-causing stiff hairs I've seen.

I'm glad to hear it! I spent most of my childhood in Mississippi and Alabama, and despite my mother's best efforts, it wouldn't grow. We were told that it didn't get cold enough.

#97 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2005, 07:16 AM:

murgatroyd: but not the corresponding horde of anthills through the yard

If you have recently moved to the South, assume those are fire ants and take appropriate precautions. If they have honeycombed your yard, call a professional. (Fire ants are nearly the only pest I will use chemicals to kill, but for them I'll do it without hesitation. They are nasty.)

a stand of iris that the previous owner avowed "don't bloom" and haven't

They probably need to be divided. Iris stands that get too thick will simply stop blooming.

and a lovely poppy that I have to figure out how and where to move

Poppies are notoriously touchy about root disturbance, so don't blame yourself it you carefully move it and it dies anyway. But they're very easy to grow from seed, so collecting and sowing the seed where you want it is probably a better idea.

#98 ::: Tracy Lunquist ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2005, 05:02 PM:

I've never been able to keep basil - the rabbits and the raccoons and the squirrels really, really like it.

Perhaps you could also get them to eat garlic... and then you won't need to marinate them at all. ;)

...several lackluster rhododendrons (feh) in places that must have been sunny when they were planted but are now overshadowed...

Rhododendrons prefer shade, don't they? I would not necessarily assume the spot where they were planted was sunny, unless the presence of the rhododendron is not actually the clue you're interpreting. They also prefer acidic soil, so you could give them a bit of lime if they require active discouragement. Or find a friend who likes them and has a place where they'll do better. I don't mind them, but I do think they're an acquired taste.

Here in central Illinois, the pest of the week is once again Japanese beetles. They are very pretty in their iridescent green shells - it's a pity they devour every green thing in their path except each other. I have not, knock on the wooden side of my garden shed, ever had slugs of any size in any garden I've worked. I imagine this is probably because my world tends to be on the dry and sunny side of the garden spectrum.

I've been a gardening fool for the past two days, but never for more than one hot and sweaty hour at a time. It's remarkable how otherwise very pleasant weather gets to be excruciating when you're trying to move shovelsful of Illinois clay. But I have planted five of the thing I bought yesterday, and that leaves only four more. While every kind of recalcitrant land has its downs, I will be very, very happy to move away from Illinois and its evil, evil clay. Any potters in the studio audience are hereby invited to dig up my back yard, kiln-fire it, and take up container gardening.

#99 ::: Neil Rest ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2005, 09:47 AM:

Nasturtiums are an endemic weed in the (SF) Bay Area. I startled of people a couple of times by garnishing salads with them; you can pick a lovely range of colors in any nymber of back yards.

#100 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2005, 11:11 AM:

My grandma used to put nasturtium leaves in sandwiches.

#101 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2005, 12:49 PM:

Back on the East Coast, I spent many happy hours of childhood playing with leopard slugs (those pix don't do justice to their elegant color scheme, or at least the ones in my yard had a much less brownish and more silvery-grey background to the black spots). The slugs were probably less happy, as I did things like stick blades of grass into their breathing pores, startle them into raising their hood/foreskin-like mantle folds so I could drop bits of gravel onto their bare heads, plus implement various delicate applications of salt. Eventually I'd skewer them on sticks and toss the slug-kabobs into the tiny pond out back, where the goldfish feasted and grew fat upon them.

...okay, I was a weird kid :b

#102 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2005, 02:30 PM:

Rhododendrons are tolerant of middling shade to gentle sun, but what they will not tolerate is limey soil, protracted drought, or waterlogging. The nice fellow kept trying to turn the back yard into a rhododenron jungle, but they died every winter. I finally figured it out: during the winter our water table rises quite a bit, and while the soil still drain well, it only drains down to about six feet or less. And we're in a watershed dominated by limestone, so the water they were getting too much of every winter was limey. I always thought I ought to have acid soil, since the land used to be part of a slough and the parking lot of the apartment complex behind us is festooned with redwood trees who industriously produce duff and generously deposit it all over our yard. But the limestone in the marine terraces above us seems to trump everything.

We don't have plums this year either. It's the first year I haven't had too many plums since the tree reached adulthood what, fifteen, twenty years ago. And last year I had too many apricots: this year almost none. I thought it was due to the timing of the rain. Every year it rains in blossom time and every year I think it's going to shut down production, but this year the rain at blossom time was unrelenting, and I knew we weren't going to get much fruit.

But we do have apples and grapes. And almonds, but they don't count: we have a squirrel living in the almond trees, and the crows and two kinds of jays and raccoons and possums pretty much account for everything the squirrel doesn't eat.

The raccoons are surly, the possums are furtive, but the squirrel is downright rude and nasty.

#103 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2005, 12:38 AM:

"14. While orange daylilies arenít technically indestructible, [...]"

Yup, it's only a technicality with the species and early cultivars. (I worked for years with or for a daylily (& iris) /n/u/t/ fan, and learned all too well that many of the more elegant later hybrids are much more finicky and intolerant of neglect.) Your mention of them arouses feelings of both nostalgia and guilt.

Nostalgia because of memories of a clump of them in a pasture near my childhood home in a rural suburb near Toledo, Ohio. Poking around, as pre-teen kids used to do, I located piles of flat stones that were probably foundation for a log cabin, a depression that must have been a root-cellar, and a mostly-buried huge cracked iron kettle that had served to line a spring.
Asking many questions (the way kids do) led to the conclusion that daylilies had been brought from China by sailors -- on the tea-trade Clipper Ships -- to their mothers, sisters, wives, and girlfriends in New England, then were carried West by pioneer housewives when they settled in the Northwest Territory. When we moved to Southern California (c. 1942) some of the people here told me that their ancestors had also brought overland (by way of Saint Joseph Missouri, Santa Fe, and San Bernardino) the clones they were growing. But other people said their families had had them longer than that, because sailors in the Spanish/Mexican California hide & tallow trade with China had brought plants back for their mothers, sisters, wives, and girlfriends.

Guilt because I've passed on this account, for many years, as if it were History, whereas it's actually Folklore. It might well be perfectly accurate, mind you, but finding Original Sources to support the details would be more of a Project than I'm willing to undertake, and yet... I think I'll continue (feeling slightly guilty the while) telling the story as if it were Genuine History. And I'll continue to cherish my two (apparently-identical) clone clumps, one from the Mission San Gabriel garden and one from Geri Sullivan's yard in Minneapolis. They flower so bravely and boldly, albeit briefly, despite getting a bit too much shade from the crepe myrtle tree.

#104 ::: Liz ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2005, 03:35 PM:

My basil (purple ruffles and genovese) was doing great until a week ago, when I came back from a three day business trip to find them literally blanketed with Japanese beetles. About the only good thing I can think of is that the beetles were concentrating on the basil instead of going after some other things, and basil grows so fast from seed that I just planted some more. No one within three counties of me has Japanese beetle traps for sale any more, though. Nasty little things.

#105 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2005, 03:50 PM:

Another use for extra herbs - infused vodkas!

I just made a fifth of rosemary-infused vodka, using my favorite inexpensive potato vodka (Monopolova, from Austria of all places) and fresh rosemary from a co-workers garden.

Just put 2-3 oz (by volume) of leaves into a clean non-reactive container with a whole fifth of vodka and let it steep, covered in a cool dark place, until it's done. (Mine took only about 1 1/2 days, you may want it milder or stronger). When done, strain through cheesecloth and return to the bottle. I'm keeping mine in the freezer just in case some sort of really hearty microbe is interested in it. Besides, vodka belongs in the freezer.

Yum! It's tangy without being overpowering, and takes some of the edge off the vodka. The bouquet is slightly reminiscent of a very dirty vodka martini. The resulting color is a beautiful pale green.

The genesis of this was a co-worker who came back from Minneapolis with tales of a bar that had lots of homemade infused vodkas. She also suppplied the rosemary.

#106 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2005, 03:59 PM:

Larry Brennan:

"... reminiscent of a very dirty vodka martini. The resulting color is a beautiful pale green."

Does anyone who partly remembers the 1960s want to say something here about the similarly prepared and similarly colored, yet more potent "Green Dragon?"

#107 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2005, 04:14 PM:

Last year I made a horehound-and-other-herbs liqueur with vodka, and also a pmegranate one. They are very good, but I keep forgetting I have them.

I had to add sugar, I'm afraid, because otherwise the bitter was too much even for me.

#108 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2005, 04:29 PM:

Aconite - ha. My husband had a job assisting an entomologist in Georgia once. He spent half his time in the field, half in the library looking stuff up.

He's now halfway through his MLS. He credits that experience for his ambition to work in nice, cool, relatively bug-free environs.

#109 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2005, 04:37 PM:

The last time I made something with herbs, it was herb-infused vinegars.

#110 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2005, 07:23 PM:

More news from the flora and fauna department:

Researchers explore whether parrot has concept of zero

July 2, 2005
Special to World Science

"Researchers are exploring whether a parrot has developed a numerical concept that mathematicians failed to grasp for centuries: zero."

"Oddly, it seems he may have achieved the feat during a temper tantrum, the scientists say...."

#111 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2005, 01:52 AM:

Well, I saw at least one mention of too many earwigs, and I really should let people know about the trap I discovered by accident. Take an empty but not washed out cat food or tuna fish can, half fill it with water, and add a drop or 2 of dish soap. In the morning, a canful of dead earwigs. You can significantly decrease the population this way. Vegetarian alternatives I've heard of are salad oil or soy sauce. Flat cans work well 'cause the earwigs can climb into them.

[If your young plants are skeletonized overnight, that's likely to be earwigs. They like to hide out in the mulch.]

I like snails, I won't kill them. They can eat all the Vinca and ivy they want. But if Californians would only eat the escargot that someone imported and let loose they wouldn't be a problem.

Here besides possums and raccoons and rabbits, there are deer and coyotes in the back yard. And I just discovered a very cute, absolutely adorable baby skunk ! in the fruit cellar.

#112 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2005, 02:15 PM:

But if Californians would only eat the escargot that someone imported and let loose they wouldn't be a problem.

I've thought about that before - there are times I'd like to say "garden? what garden? that's not a garden, that's a free-range escargot ranch!" However, the impression I've gotten when looking up snails online is that they're not the same species as the ones used for escargot (instead of Helix pomatia they're Helix aspersa). Anyone have first-hand experience with them?

Apparently people actually import snails to non-snail-ridden states. Since I grew up in California, this strikes me as being akin to selling Bermuda grass seed, and should be dealt with appropriately. Preferably in a way that involves a Singaporean rattan cane and someone who knows how to use it properly.

#113 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2005, 11:59 PM:

Lexica - your snail reference says "the escargot snail that is naturalized in the West, Helix aspersa". Maybe there is more than one edible species? I was remembering what the invertebrate zoology prof said long ago, so of course I could be wrong too. My guess would be that lots are edible, just like limpets, if people wanted to.

Today was my annual test of the roof sprinklers. Such a lovely feeling when it's been almost 100 F. Suddenly it's raining. Smells like rain too.

#114 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 11:43 AM:

The story about California snails that I learned as a kid -- and I don't really know that it is true, but I've never heard a debunking of it -- is that the snails were imported to be escargot but they were the wrong kind -- that it was an error.

#115 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 09:33 PM:

Since I tend to have a brown thumb, I'm just giddy about this:

Not only did all my glads bloom; today there was a hummingbird in them!

#116 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 10:11 AM:

I know there are venemous snails (most conches, for example), but I don't think there are poisonous ones. If they haven't been fed a cleansing diet (like cornmeal, for garden snails), there's a good chance they'll be unappetizing.

#117 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 01:46 PM:

I'd be leery of eating wild snails. Many wild snails have parasites: flukes, worms, etc. My wife's box turtles, who are kept out in the yard, get wormed periodically in case they happen to have eaten any.

#118 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 02:46 PM:

how far south will rhubarb grow -- I had relatives who grew it in Gardena, one of the suburbs of LA (towards the ocean: it's good for fuchsias also). I've also seen it growing quite well in the area just south of the Texas panhandle, north of Lubbock. Green-stalked seems to do better than red-stalked in home gardens, especially if it isn't a cold-winter area. And I'd like to know where I can get frozen rhubarb: my supermarket has stopped carrying it.

tomato stakes -- try rebar in 8-foot lengths, or 1x1" wood stakes of about the same length. I've seen tomatoes tied to these with dead stockings (i.e. those which have holes or runs): soft, stretchy, won't slice the stems. (Also cheap!)

#119 ::: Tangurena ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2011, 12:28 PM:

I'd like to know what "too much mint" is. It can't possibly be as bad as "too much zucchini" (as anyone who has grown them can tell you).

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