Garden Notes: Potatoes coming in

And looking at 2019’s new releases.

Digging Russet Burbank potatoes with a five-tine rake. —Susan Safford

High humidity and temperatures, while rain is falling on Buzzards Bay and northward, led to many garden and household problems, such as stinky trash and sticky doors and drawers. However, if you garden on the Vineyard, count your blessings. The mainland counties of Massachusetts experiencing repeated torrential rains have seen outbreaks of disease, interruption of harvesting and planting fall crops, and flooding, according to UMass’s Vegetable Notes.

Sultry weather has further encouraged problems growing the indispensible culinary herb basil, Ocimum basilicum. If yours is flourishing, it is another way to count your blessings! A form of downy mildew specific to basil has descended upon this crop, much in the same way a different but similar organism made growing common impatiens highly problematic, and plants Islandwide are doing poorly.

Next year, Proven Winners is introducing ‘Amazel,’ an Ocimum hybrid form that is downy-mildew-resistant. It is seed sterile, and expected to yield all season long with little to no flowering.

More 2019 introductions

Also in the works from Proven Winners are other plants that pique my interest. The midsize, 25- to 28-in. hybrid hosta, Shadowland ‘Diamond Lake,’ is a blue ruffled plant that would supply great contrast in beds or containers. A highly fragrant lilac selection, Syringa hyacinthiflora Scentara ‘Double Blue’ sounds like my kind of lilac, partial as I am to the hyacinthifloras: doubled florets of purple aging to bluish, with high disease resistance. Go to to view more introductions.

Bailey Nursery’s 2019 introductions include the latest addition to the Endless Summer line of hydrangeas: ‘Summer Crush.’ Disclosure: Bailey sent me plants to try this summer. They have done well despite our drought, heat, and every other rainstorm missing the Vineyard.

The intense, deep raspberry-pink mopheads are gorgeous as they age, from pink-rimmed green floret to fully color-soaked pink, and then they hold magnificently. The plants are compact, expected to mature at about 36 x 36 in. My plants’ blooms have remained pink this season; grown in acidic conditions ‘Summer Crush’ produces intense “neon purple” flowerheads.

Other introductions that interested me are rose-of-Sharon French Cabaret Blush Tree Form. (I am not even sure what the grammatical etiquette of these trademarked plants’ names is!) This is a double-flowered sterile hybrid with dark pink buds that open white suffused with pink.

And finally, Pee Gee hydrangea ‘Berry White,’ a white aging to pink as the season goes along, looks like a winner. (I am also trying a plant of ‘Berry White,’ which I have planted in a client’s garden.) For more from Bailey Nurseries, go to

Several groups are promoting a promising range of new buddleias that have advantages over older varieties. These include Proven Winners Pugster series, their Miss series, the English Butterfly Bushes, and the Lo & Beholds, and others that are sterile or require no deadheading, which results in their removal from some states’ invasive plant lists.

Monsanto vs. Dewayne Johnson

Let the buyer beware. A jury has awarded damages to a terminal cancer patient in the millions of dollars, after testimony in a case that asserted his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was caused by Roundup. Monsanto will appeal.

Time of ripening

Kitchen counters are heaped with the harvest of vegetable gardens now. What to do with it all, cooking, savoring, and saving it?

I am a proponent of growing what one uses, for the meal (cabbage for instance), although many prize the exotic or seldom seen. My husband is becoming a sauerkraut whiz, and is already on the second round. As soon as one batch is ready, it can be jarred and stored in the downstairs beer box, where it continues to ferment slowly in glass mason jars with plastic (never metal) lids. Others ferment sauerkraut directly in the jar. Lacto-fermented dill pickles, anyone?

I have not tried the following, but shall: Essex Farm’s Kristin Kimball (author of “The Dirty Life”) advocates freezing peppers and tomatoes. “Like its cousin the tomato, all peppers can be frozen without blanching. Just chuck them into a bag in the freezer.” Who knew?

The vintage cookbooks of Elizabeth David have much to offer in simple, delicious vegetable recipes; many may be made and then frozen. At that time in U.K. and France, as well as the rest of Europe, the delight at the lifting of rationing made cooking and eating a joy-filled experience.

David’s long-out-of-print “French Provincial Cooking,” “Summer Cooking,” and “French Country Cooking,” all republished by Penguin, demonstrate what you can do from scratch with real food, not premixed, premade ingredients.

With the farm-to-table movement, it surprises me that more chefs do not start as gardeners in their ascent to chefdom. Without knowing the “what and how” of vegetable ingredients through first-hand experience, it is easier to accept lower quality or ersatz preparations.

As chefs become immersed in provenance, they have begun to recognize that their establishments benefit from having gardens or close ties with quality producers. Our school garden programs and 4-H also educate children about producing and eating real food.

Having a garden and knowing what to do with it is about as basic as one can get: peasant wisdom that is rapidly being lost to arid, urbanized existences depriving people of food security and control over what they eat.

The potato patch

Which brings me to the humble potato patch. The variety available — color, shape, texture — to grow are all part of the pleasure of growing your own. It supplies the table with a staple that tastes markedly different from commercial storage potatoes. My crop this year is plentiful, although smallish in size due to drought.

Harvest with fork or potato rake; try not to spear them. Do not wash, and let dry to cure. Store in soil-like conditions: dark, moist, 38° to 40°F. Rotate next year’s potato patch to a different section of the garden.

See you at the fair!