Plan, prepare, plant!

Spring 2016 arrived with snow. Photo by Susan Safford

Vegetable gardens are coming awake. Mine has been semi-active, actually, throughout this warm winter. We enjoyed lamb’s lettuce (mache), parsley, cilantro, and weeds such as dandelion and spitting cress throughout the winter. Plenty of potatoes overwintered under straw and chicory/radicchio in variety is harvestable now. The recent snowy day did not affect these at all.

I snipped root hairs and tops of seedling ‘Lancelot’ leeks, 182 of them, prior to planting them individually into strips of recycled cells, where they will stay for about three weeks, or until warmer weather arrives. The seed was sown at the end of January. It takes a little manual dexterity; the root snipping makes dropping the minute seedlings into their holes easier. Also easier, than out in the vegetable garden, is care and feeding in the cold frame.

Leeks as started plants are available. Many prefer this way of doing things, but I have felt the challenge to attempt to grow admirable leeks for years, and I prefer to start my own. For one thing, the variety available in seed is far greater than that of started plants, heritage varieties included. ‘Lancelot’ is not a heritage variety but it should be ready for harvest in about 90 days, and that is convenient, creating space in the garden for other fall crops.

However, as for onions, I prefer buying plants. Our Homegrown group has put in a group order to Dixondale Farms, seedling onion growers, in Texas for years, which have never failed to satisfy.

Lettuce plants are already planted out in the vegetable garden, an heirloom variety from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange called ‘Red Deer Tongue.’ Seedling beets, spinach, and celery are still indoors; so are cold-averse, heat-loving sweet peppers: these you want to keep indoors almost until “school is out.”

Various ways to feed the crops exist; I prefer soluble fish or seaweed: check the numbers on the container as to the content of nitrogen/phosphorus/potassium. Others include compost, or comfrey, teas, which make great feeds and also help to insure a quick recovery from transplanting shock. I plan to make these when temps increase.

I use the broadfork primarily in spring, to open soil and push down into it whatever green growth is on the surface, whether it is cover crop, green manure, or green weeds: it all becomes ‘green manure’ once safely down in the zone of soil organisms.

This is the time to barrow whatever compost you have managed to produce into the garden, lay it in heaps where most needed, and then rake out the heaps to produce an even surface. For those who like growing in raised beds, instead of raking out, you would be forming raised areas by raking and leveling soil. A wooden box or lining is not necessarily required if you do not mind the labor of doing it this way. These raised, ridge-like beds warm more quickly than surrounding soil.

Plant lust: ‘Sunlight lace’

Spring and foliage are once more about to become a factor in gardens; the ‘bones’ I so enjoy in winter will blur and become obscured by an altogether different scene and atmosphere. Indeed, if projections are any guide, we may in future have very few snowy winters of the kind that strip away the fuss of seasonal textures to reveal the forms that lie beneath.

I had written last year about my desire to acquire a gold-foliaged evergreen to light up the wintry aspect of my garden. The plan was to surround something golden and candle-flame shaped with a clump of shrub dogwoods with vividly colored twigs, to create a flashy focal point. The shrub dogwoods, Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ (the name says it all) are already in place. Last week I found and pounced upon the golden element at Westport’s Sylvan Nursery: Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Sunlight Lace,’ an introduction of famed Iseli Nursery.

This “Iseli Introduction” is similar in effect to various other subspecies and cultivars of gold foliaged Chamaecyparis, Thujas, and Juniperus, but seemed to broadcast its own special charm to me as I stood in the large nursery surrounded by this array of diverse golden plants. I became an immediate victim of plant lust.

Its tag bore the following inducements: “One of the most brightly colored dwarf conifers, ‘Sunlight Lace’ [brings] the glow of the sun to your garden. Its lacy foliage is bright yellow to nearly pure white depending on sun exposure. Plant this slow growing small tree in a space with dappled, open shade to encourage its brightest color and to protect its sensitive tissue from sunburn. ‘Sunlight Lace’ [performs] best growing in well drained, moist soil.” (By the way, this cultural advice applies to many other golden foliaged evergreens.)

‘Sunlight Lace’ achieves eventual dimensions of 15 foot height and 12 foot width, with a slow growth rate of 6-12” per year. It is hardy in zones 5-9.

Book: “The Authentic Garden”

Monicelli Press has produced an impressive art book of the latest in American landscape thinking, “The Authentic Garden,” by Richard Hartlage and Sandy Fischer, principals of the firm Land Morphology. (Monacelli Press, 2015, 224 ppg.) The participation of three dozen of the foremost landscape architecture practices in the country, including names such as Andrew Woodruff + Associates; Chanticleer Garden; Larry Weaner Landscape Associates; Longwood Gardens; Oehme, van Sweden; and Northwind Perennial Farm, among others, ensures that the 60-plus gardens and landscapes included showcase exciting, naturalistic, and contemporary trends.

Ecologically sound concepts and sustainable plants, suited to their sites, are prominent in “The Authentic Garden’s” designs. Although the scale of many of the featured designs is sweeping, there are many features that are adaptable to Island gardens, more intimate though our landscapes do tend to be. The book format is large, 11.5 x 9.75 inches, with excellent photographic reproduction.