I’ve been pouring through seed catalogs recently, looking for plants that will make up this year’s garden. Each year, I like to try at least one “experiment-for-me” plant. Last year, it was …
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I’ve been pouring through seed catalogs recently, looking for plants that will make up this year’s garden. Each year, I like to try at least one “experiment-for-me” plant. Last year, it was ground cherries—which I expected (because I didn’t do my research) to be more vine and less nightshade—and lemongrass.
The ground cherries refused to thrive in the pots I started them in, despite everything else with a similar soil combination, doing well. I tucked the ground cherry seeds into my thin, poor soil, where they grew well, shooting up thick, strong stalks. The lesson, of course, was in trying different combinations to see what worked. It’s likely I wasn’t keeping the soil for my starts warm enough for the seeds to sprout.
Part of the joy of planning a garden is choosing a few new-to-you items and learning their quirks.
The lemongrass grew happily but I should have planted it in a pot to make it easier to move inside during the cold months. It’s a perennial herb; however, lemongrass doesn’t always come back in areas that have hard freezes like we do—in fact, it struggles in anything less than growing Zone 9a (we’re in roughly Zone 5b). If you’re not very familiar with it, it’s that stalky grass-like herb you’ve probably seen at King Soopers or Sprouts, and once the woody outside is removed, it’s used in a lot of Thai cooking (a cuisine I’ve been trying to learn more about) and is also excellent at helping repel some of the insects we consider nuisances.
This year, I’m considering peanuts (which will be more difficult in our climate, with its cool nights), raspberries (which I know grow well here and which I appreciate for their perennial nature) or one of the Thai eggplants (I’ve got my eye on a Thai yellow eggplant that all reviews indicate will be difficult to grow).
Depending on which new plants I choose for my garden—and that is still subject to change as I continue to browse seed catalogs—I will likely choose a theme for the rest of them. I know this year I’m looking to grow fewer plants in the nightshade family, which is a strike against that eggplant. I’m a bit enamored, however, with the idea of a “gothic” garden filled with deep purples accented by a couple of yellows, reds or whites. I’ll also likely plant a mushroom log or kit this year (depending on my access to freshly cut wood), with the knowledge that I’ll get crops of mushrooms as long as there is material for them to decompose—and what’s better for a gothic garden than something that feasts on the dead?
I’m also toying with the idea of which flowers and herbs I’ll want this year. I tend toward medicinal and culinary herbs, with flowers in both my herb garden and vegetable garden that can be used as edible flowers or medicines. Calendula and chamomile are definitely on my list and I expect the beebalm I planted years ago to make a return in its usual place. Nasturtium are also almost certainly going to make it into my gardens somewhere due to their nature to “sacrifice” one plant in the face of an aphid or spider mite invasion, thus sparing other nasturtiums and other plants, in general—plus the flowers are delightful in salads!
Part of what makes these new planting adventures fun is getting to know the preferences of the new plant(s), and in the case of perennials, getting to leave something for whoever comes next, which is a different kind of stewardship—one that acknowledges that we might not reap the benefits of the things we plant (literally or metaphorically).
In my early 20s, I dated someone who let me have a lot of say in his garden. We were located in an area that was suitable to a lot of plants and I insisted on planting a fig tree—the only perennial we planted—because I love figs as a plant and as a fruit. Within a year, I’d moved across the country and worked at a bed and breakfast that had a fig tree in the front yard. The tree, according to the owner, was more than 50 years old and she let me pick as many figs as I wanted because there were more than she could eat, even if she served them to guests.
That fig tree may never have grown heavy with fruit for the people who planted it, but we got to reap the rewards, and that too is a type of stewardship.
Liz Clift holds a Permaculture Design Certificate, and works for a restoration ecology firm. In her free time, she is involved in social justice and community-based medicine. She is working to expand her knowledge of native plants.
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