Garden Notes: Loving the Rain

Much-needed rain has changed the color of the Island almost overnight.


We have gone neon green, and every other color too. Late spring is beloved for the peony, iris, poppy, and rose display. Is there anyone who whines, “Noooo, I don’t like this”?

After a lengthy period of minimal rainfall, the Island received almost four inches of it over Memorial Day weekend; apologies to disappointed visitors, but our water supplies needed it. And then, a three-quarter inch bonus mid-week!

Before the holiday weekend our crew had just completed a spread-out planting of 80-plus shrubs, not very convenient to water. I imagine all of them luxuriating in their new sites, almost seeing the growing, and hearing sighs of pleasure from frond and leaflet.

The pollen storm is not nearly over however, since autumn olive and many grasses, such as velvet grass, are setting their pollen to the winds. Pollen has become more of an irritation as the years pass. Mask wearing helps, but there is nothing as effective as a thorough wash-down via a great rainstorm.

Several instances of apparent road kill turned out to be furry, animal look-alikes: clumps of oak tassels. This is a good time to check gutters and downspouts, since debris associated with seed and pollen production, and leafing out, may clog them.

June spectacular

Especially on the Island, when the turnaround from austere to gorgeous happens in an eyeblink, it almost seems as if there is not enough time to appreciate it and take it all in.

As I await the blooming of roses Nymphenburg, Aloha, New Dawn, and more, I must remind myself that shortly I shall also see the damage inflicted upon them by rose sawfly larvae. These green wormy-looking things are not Lepidopteran caterpillars but offspring of sawflies, from the Hymenoptera, and are therefore not controlled by Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, or neem oil sprays — to lessen harm to other garden inhabitants, including yourself — offer control. Do not wait, but avoid using it in strong light or heat. (See

Bt, a bacterium that afflicts caterpillars’ digestive systems, does control the caterpillars that can ravage kale, cabbage, broccoli, and other cole crops. It is time to begin a weekly-to-10-day Bt spray schedule on them.

Keep up with multiple sowings of beets and greens and other fast-growing crops, such as lettuce, arugula, mustard, spinach, cilantro, dill, and bush beans. Gardening styles differ: some harvest the entire kale or chard plant and replant, like lettuce, to have more coming along. Others let the original plant stand the entire season by harvesting leaf by leaf. Either way is fine.

Goodness, the garlic is scaping already! Some cooks have the knack for garlic scape pesto and other ways to utilize them, but off they must come, to direct the growth energy into the bulbs. Strawberries are coming on. Make strawberries with kirsch by whisking two tablespoons of sugar with two tablespoons of kirsch and letting the berries, hulled and cut in half, sit in this on the counter. Serve with heavy cream.

Wild plants appear

The increased soil moisture has abetted the germination of “weed” seeds. Peter Del Tredici’s excellent guide, “Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast,” strikes a smoothly diplomatic tone with that phrasing; it amplifies concepts like “weeds are simply plants in the wrong place” and the Emersonian “weeds are plants whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

The seed-bank of wild plants is in soil all the time, of course, but moisture, heat, and aggressive cultivation encourage germination. Mulching keeps them down, as does shallow cultivation. Like many of you, I prefer to avoid plastic in my edible growing space. I use cardboard mulch to line between rows.

Not a rare substance, with all the internet ordering cardboard abounds these days. Turn it to good use and reduce trips to the landfill. Plain brown cardboard decomposes, makes what someone termed “earthworm hotels,” and maintains soil moisture and cooler soil temperatures.

Cardboard can even participate in a kind of sheet composting, where weeding and kitchen debris is laid directly on top of it, sprinkled lightly with soil, and kept away from contact with the ground, but allowed to decompose.

As you cultivate you may recognize self-sowers. Dill, cilantro, verbena bonariensis, chicory/radicchio, foxglove, calendula, leek: These are only a few of the useful volunteers to recognize and watch for. A bed where I grow ornamentals sprouts a crop of old-fashioned night blooming nicotiana and annual poppies, the only practical way for me to enjoy these beautiful deer resistant plants.

Good small trees

We need to pay attention to smaller trees. Houselots are shrinking, sad to say, and various fear-mongering ads about “dangerous trees” seem to paralyze the public into tree mutilation. Reiterating from a previous Garden Notes, I endorse this member of the horse chestnut family, Aesculus pavia, the red buckeye, once again. It is in its season of bloom. Look for several beautiful red-flowered specimens in the tree borders at Jardin Mahoney. It is one of the loveliest, small, deer resistant native trees you could plant.

Ecocide by a thousand cuts

I feel violated when I see the spray truck roll up in the neighborhood. What are they spraying? What is being targeted? How truthful are the assertions that the product is “safe” and “not harmful”? What is the airborne drift of the product and procedure?

Is it recognized that these woods host so many birds because it is an insect-rich habitat? Is there awareness that Island sassafras provides one of the last bastions in the commonwealth of spectacular Luna, Cecropia, and Polyphemus moths? Do they know that salamanders, painted and box turtles, and frogs frequent this area, the ecology of which — vernal pools, berried undergrowth, and woodland — supports their endangered lives?

Summer solstice

“Make hay while the sun shines.” In a few short weeks the earth begins its journey away from the sun.