Tag Archives: Hepzibah’s Garden

January in the Garden

January, and the flowers have finally faded from the garden. There are one or two alyssums still blooming and a broccoli plant that’s gone to flower, but that’s about it. The pair of hummingbirds that hung out all November and December have made themselves scarce. But despite the lack of color, things couldn’t be more thrilling outside. Winter solstice is such an exciting turning point in the garden. It’s still cold, and the nights are still long, but if you take a closer look at the shrubs and trees, you can see that their new buds have appeared as if overnight. Spring is coming quickly, and the plants are racing to get ready for it.

Oregon stalwart, Territorial Seed

Besides pruning and weeding (which I could do a bit more of!), I’m working to plan what I’ll be planting this spring. I have a plum tree on order at Raintree Nursery, which should come in late January or so. I’m really excited about getting some plums in the yard–I grew up with a plum tree in the family orchard, and I really miss stuffing my face with sweet, juicy plums! I’m also browsing my favorite seed catalogs to see what I want to order. I have a ton of seeds leftover from last year, but I’m out of my favorite variety of kale (Beira Tronchuda, also known as Portuguese Kale — so tender and delicious!), so I know I’ll be ordering a few things. I’m redesigning all my beds to make the yard a bit prettier, so I know I’ll have my hands full this spring.

I’m particularly happy because this year my daughter wants to manage her own plot in the garden! As a plant nerd, veggie fiend, and all-around tree-hugger, there’s just no better feeling than to know your kiddo has picked up the plant bug. I can’t wait to see what she decides to grow.

From Hepzibah’s Garden

Accidental autumn

From Hepzibah’s Garden
Some late-season ground cherries–so delicious!

First, I have to lay it on the line: I am not a very good gardener. This is because when it comes to anything crafty, I am terrible about following instructions. I don’t follow recipes (because I’m so sure that my variation will be more delicious), crochet from patterns (they’re just so boring–it’s much more fun to make something up as I go along), and I have yet to ever think “this worked in last year’s garden, so I should do it again this year.” Sigh. Nope, if there’s an experimental gardening technique out there, I have got to try it.

This year that meant making a hugelkultur bed for the zucchini because I’d read hugelkultur was a great way to save water (the zucchini did great, but August was our highest water bill ever … although since I doubled the size of the garden, that might not be the hugelkultur’s fault). It meant trying to grow clover and strawberries in the same bed so the strawberries had their own nitrogen-fixing living mulch. That worked great until after the clover got their flowers. Then the clover doubled in size and began sending out aggressive runners. If I clipped and pulled clover at least once a week, the strawberries thrived, but once I got sucked into book promotion activities, I kind of lost track of the clover. I got about three strawberries out of that whole strawberry bed. (Remember gardeners: when you mix plants together, make sure they don’t fulfill the same role. Two ground covers compete.  Clover under the kiwi vines, though, is awesome.)

Look, ma! I planted myself!

After all the gardening disasters I experienced this spring and summer, I then forgot to plant an autumn garden. I realized just this week that it was probably too late to plant anything, and I felt a bit sad … until I took a walk in the garden. The one perk of having all my spring plants bolt is that I had a ton of self-seeding plants, who took it upon themselves to have cool-weather loving babies. The garden is full of lovely little turnip and chard plants, and I’ve never gotten so many carrot seeds to sprout in my life!

My next big experiment in the garden will be building an in-garden compost pile. I read about it in The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be perfect for next year’s zucchini patch …

Tiny carrots spring up in last year’s tomato bed.

May Flowers

From Hepzibah’s Garden

Being a gardener means taking what the world gives you. Last week our little corner of Oregon lurched out of chilly early spring weather straight into a blast of summertime. In the house, that meant melted cats and a kid who needed an emergency shoe shopping trip. In the garden, that meant I could finally stop worrying about the tomatoes and melons and watch them grow. (I think my pumpkin plant doubled in size last weekend.)

It also meant that flower season was really here and that summer fruit was close at hand.

The blueberries bloomed weeks ago, but now you can really see their fruit developing. Like many kinds of fruit trees, blueberries require a cross-pollinator to set fruit. We’ve planted four different kinds of blueberries around our house who are all supposed to bloom at the same time, but for whatever reasons, their bloomtimes don’t always overlap. You can see that this bush is fruiting up nicely:

But its buddy to the right didn’t do quite so well:

The little flat star-shaped spots are the remnants of unpollinated flowers.

In some cases, the surge of new flowers is very welcome. Bees love these sage blossoms, and if the plant actually produces seeds, maybe I’ll see some more sage plants next year.

But these turnip flowers are a bit disheartening. I pulled up half of the turnip crop when I saw it was going to seed. We enjoyed the delicious greens, but the spicy turnips themselves never got a chance to develop. (Behind the turnips, you can just see the nubbly top of a radish beginning to bud. No radishes? May salads just won’t be the same.)

On our last trip to the garden, I showed pictures of the apple tree in bloom and the great green expanse of the strawberry and clover bed. I’m not quite as in love with that bed as I was the last time I posted. The clover is incredibly vigorous, and I’m spending an awful lot of time cutting it back to give the strawberries more sunshine. The berries on the edge of the clover thicket are doing great. Here’s a beautiful berry enticing me with a hint of red:

The other strawberries are beginning to develop fruit, but are definitely lagging a little behind, and the plants are a bit smaller than the giants on the edge of the clover field. But on the plus side, the plants didn’t clamor for water even during our 90 degree heat blast. Strawberries have pretty shallow root systems that demand a lot of water, so that’s a major benefit.

I like to think of my garden as an experimental plot, so I’ll keep watching the strawberries and cutting back the clover to see how the fruit develops and tastes.

I’ll leave you with just one last shot. The garden is a place for people, plants, insects, and animals of all stripes. One of my favorite animals had to take a bit of a break from the garden after having a major asthma attack. Here he is studying the great outdoors and wishing he could spend more time out there:

Sic Parvis Magna

From Hepzibah’s Garden

Three years ago, I planted a bare root apple tree. When it came in the mail, it looked like a stick with some squiggly roots sticking out of the bottom, but planting it felt momentous. Someday–I didn’t know when–that stick, if I was lucky, would grow branches, take over my yard, and even produce delicious apples. It’s not there yet, but this spring it has produced its first blossoms.

But the apple tree isn’t the only thing bursting into flower in my garden! All the spring ephemerals are doing their thing. Many of the daffodils have already wrapped up their show for the year, but the muscari and bluebells are still going crazy, and the strawberries are beginning to get in on the action.

Here’s a picture of my new strawberry bed:

The strawberries in the foreground are easy to pick out, because I transplanted them this spring to an area that was freshly weeded. The other strawberries are hiding in the lush clover growth. Every few weeks, I’ll give the clover a smart haircut, which causes it to prune down its roots. Since clover is a nitrogen-fixer, every time it sheds bits of roots, it sends a flush of nitrogen into the soil that feeds my berry plants. I just leave the chopped clover on the ground, where it adds organic matter to the soil.

At the beginning of last year, this bed had suffered from terrible erosion, and the soil refused to hold water. I topped it up with compost and planted a mix of clover and flowering plants. After about three weeks of chop-and-drop mulching (cutting the leaves off the clover and leaving them on the soil surface), water stopped sluicing off the bed when I watered the plants. After three months, the soil was visibly deeper–the bed had gained about half an inch of height, and the top two inches of soil were now fluffy and dark, perfect for strawberries.

Since I’m a writer, I tend to think of gardening as “worldbuilding.” When I start a new story or novel, I have to sort out the relationships between the different plants, creatures, and people in the worlds I’m imagining, because nothing lives on its own. In my garden, the other plants have a real effect on each other, and I have to keep that in mind. My strawberries love living with clover, and last summer I accidentally brought a cucumber plant back to life when I planted a bed with wheat and vetch cover crops that apparently sheltered and nourished my withered cucumber. If I keep these things in mind, I can make my garden a far more vibrant place than if I just grow my plants in isolated, sad strips of dirt.

Here are some other pictures from the garden today:

This fern and this heuchera are native plants who have just found their way into my garden. When we first moved into this house, none of the plants you can see were here at the base of the birdbath (except the very stringy lavender plant that’s currently hidden under the fern). A massive (and massively needy!) rosebush covered most of this. I finally gave up on nursing it along this year and dug it up.

I just love our birdbath and so do the local birds! Squirrels really like to hang out in it, as well. I think the way the water is reflecting the cherry blossoms is just exquisite.