Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
July, 2007
Regional Report

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Annual osteospermums are always a pleasure to grow.

Gardening Ups and Downs

For those of you who remember the comic strip "Li'l Abner," in it was a character who constantly had a cloud of trouble over his head. That's just the way I felt last week. Generally I'm a regular Pollyanna, but last week I felt more like that Joe character as both of my computers went down, as well as my satellite television service.

In other words, I'm in techno-purgatory, to put it politely, which in this day and age is tantamount to being cut off from the world. That, plus an assessment of where I was garden-wise and money-wise (granted, no one said a farm and garden are cheap to run) threatened to send me down in the dumps. Still, the evaluative process also showed that at least half of the garden area was growing well and somewhat weed-free, while the recent rains staved off what threatened to be a severe drought.

One of my favorite activities is to walk around the garden early in the morning with a cup of tea or coffee. Although these perambulations can elicit a lengthy "to do" list, they can also provide numerous examples of the rewards of gardening. So while the computers are being repaired and Internet service is being restored, what I have to offer in this column are some observations of particular plants and garden techniques that have been successful, rewarding, or at least informative.

My experiment this spring with garden peas proved fruitful, both in terms of production and learning experience. The two varieties of "super sweet" peas were a bit of a disappointment, as they tasted more of sugar than peas. Of the five varieties of baby peas, 'Citadel' and 'Waverex' stood out for production and flavor. Growing peas did remind me how much work it is to shell them. This fact, coupled with the outstanding flavor of snow and snap peas, has me inclined to focus on growing them in the future. I'm especially interested in trying to grow them as a fall crop outdoors and as a greenhouse crop.

Garlic continues to be an amazingly prolific and easy-to-grow crop for me. Planted in October or November, it's ready to harvest in June and July. This year's favorite is the large-bulbed, early-maturing 'Inchelium Red'. Now the test is to see if it really does store for a long period as the catalogs say it will.

Summer squash may be a yawn to some people, but I like them for their "fall off a log" ease of growing the fact that they can be used in so many ways in cooking. My all-time favorite is the heirloom Italian "striato" type of summer squash. Two hybrids of this have so far been disappointing, but I'll give them awhile yet before a final judgment. A small-growing hybrid called 'Raven' has been a great success, starting to bear flavorful squash at a very young age. The only downside is that it has grown to 6 feet across, twice the diameter mentioned in the catalog.

Speaking of catalogs, it's generally best to be open-minded about catalog descriptions. Most of the companies are very honorable and want you to be successful. Even so, my Italian black-eyed peas that were supposedly a bush form are now vining up to 6 feet.

As I suspected last year when I planted them, the new cultivars of echinacea, or purple coneflower, in shades of pastel peach or yellow, such as 'Sundown' of the Big Sky Series, are perfect color companions to daylilies. Past experience with echinaceas has tempered my enthusiasm as they tend to revert to the original form. Time will tell, but in the meantime they are glorious.

Ideally, we would all put each plant in the perfect spot the first time, and then remember to prune it regularly. As such is not often the case, the good news is that plants survive both moves and pruning. A beautiful single-flowered kerria that started out as a little bitty squirt against a fence in a flower bed is now a 6-foot monster with babies in all directions. I potted up these offshoots for later dispersal, while pruning back the main plant to 12 inches and transplanting it to an open area where its multiplication can be kept in check with a mower.

Another shrub that got a major haircut this year was a Hydrangea paniculata 'Pink Diamond'. Having let it grow with multiple stems, it was gangly looking and overpowering nearby plants. This spring I removed all stems but one strong one in the middle. The top branches on the one remaining stem were left to grow. Now I have a much more attractive addition to the garden, as it resembles the standard-type growth often used with this type of hydrangea.

Never underestimate the power of annual flowers. Yes, I have always had and will continue to grow a wide range of perennials, but I really do relish annuals that provide bright, wonderful color all summer long. Each year I try different varieties and colors. I like the opportunity for change they offer, plus they need very little care as opposed to the perennials.

The joys and pleasures of gardening are fueled by our successes and ongoing desire to create our own little corner of Eden, ever in the presence of setbacks and challenges.

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