June 22, 2017

We Welcome Astronomical Summer

Hey Everyone - it's finally summer! The kids are out of school (this was their last week here in central MA due to all of the snow days this past winter), and all the signs are that summer looks like it is here to stay, at least here in the North East. The almanac helps - today we experienced the longest day of the year - the Summer Solstice arrived just after midnight last night, and now I can feel just a bit less guilty about taking a bit time off during the day, as the early morning and late evening is the best time to work in my garden.

So, you'd think with all the free time that I now have that I would be posting every day~! But I am not. I am so busy with projects, that it seems that these generalized posts are all I can get out - at least while the busy spring planting season is moving along briskly. I hope that you don't mind posts that clump all sorts of topics and garden events together - you know, I dislike writing those posts like '10 awesome ways to.... and '5 epic plants you must....' Folks keep telling me that that's what I need to do to get better ranking and better SEO - (but I'm not doing bad as it is!), so, the Hell with it.

For example - here is what someone sent me as a guide to help me improve my blog writing skills:

Horrifying, right?

Look - I'm just not that type of blog. Here, I think I'll just stick with real content, sometimes it will be a how-to, sometimes a rant, but mostly, just a 'Hey - here's what's happening in my garden right now - I hope that it helps. If you wake up and suddenly discover that you need some 'Secrets to attracting pollinators' . or that you need to 'Supercharge your Tomato Harvest ', believe me - there are tons of garden bloggers out there using these models. The last thing you need is me telling you my favorite 'Hack'!

So, along with this joyous passing of the 2017 Summer Solstice comes a number of gardening milestones. Some things just can wait no longer. Those long, overgrown annuals and tomatoes still in their cell packs on the deck waiting for some free space?  Gone. The compost pile is calling because it is time to move on. Time to wash out all the seed trying (or hose out, for now - who am I fooling!).

If it's not planted yet, then I take it as a sign that maybe I didn't need that extra flat of red Brussels sprouts. If the kale hasn't been transplanted yet, it's already too late - I will be sowing seed for fall crops soon.

A gardening riend (who ironically happens to be British) said to me "Really now, why would anyone bother to grow Fava or Broad Beans? Does anyone really like them?" The answer is - yes. I do. But I responded to her that even though they are space hogs, and often are fussy here in the US, the raising of them is - "just a thing". I nice surprise in cool, wet spring weather, such as we had this year.

Fabulous Fave Beans. I'm not one for Chianti, but I do like liver and sometimes. The best news is the now that the three varieties of Broad beans are nearly mature, I can remove them and get more light onto the parsnips and sow some shell beans.

The warmer soil and pleasant evening temperature means that it's completely safe to plant the last of the summer vegetables - the hot-loving chili peppers, eggplants, okra, peppers, summer squashes, cucumbers and melons. To potatoes in potato bags (which have been planted in bags only half full) have now been topped off with Promix and an extra handful of Phosphorus. Root tubers, you know. Low nitrogen.

The first of the string beans are up growing swiftly - all have their first pair of leaves, and although a few straggler crops have yet to be sown (like the yard-long beans, sponge gourd, dry beans and cow peas) I know that if they don't get sown by the Fourth of July, I've lost the dates and it will be too late. The truth is that I am running out of time - and space.

Sweet Pea Season Begins with a splash of color and fragrance. These flake and stripped varieties are some of my very favorites.

I'm growing lots of sweet peas again this year, but in different ways than I have in the past. I typically would grow them trained onto bamboo canes - the British style called 'Cordon Training' where only one stem is allowed to mature per cane. It's a tedious method but it does produce the nicest, most perfect blooms - even here in New England, but this year I wanted to grow more varieties, so I am testing out a slightly modified method. I still keep each plant trimmed to a minimum of stems (perhaps 2 or three rather than just one), but I am training them all onto plastic chicken netting that I found at the Tractor Supply Store near us.

Coral and rose tones in sweet peas are very special. Few flowers have so many shades of pink, or purple for that matter.

It doesn't matter how you look at it, sweet peas are always a lot of work - if you want to have long stems and lots of flowers. With this method, I can grow more plants per row, but I expect to get more flowers as there will be less waste - even a third or fourth leading stem might be allowed to take off. No method comes with a fool proof guarantee, and one problem I am finding with this method is that the tendrils, which I usually cut off when growing plants to a single cane, can sometiemes get problematic - often grabbing onto netting, and then a nearby flower bud or growing tip, which is why one should always cut them off before they unfurl, another tedious task. With netting, I think you want some tendrils to help keep the plants stuck to the netting, but I am finding that I am still cutting lots of tendrils and I am still tieing up and reinforcing most every stem.

This purple flake varieties is very nice. It's a new variety from England called 'Mr. P'.

A few Sweet Peas are being raised on tee pees, which is a way I have not practiced much with over the years. The same tendril issue exists, but it may get worse as the pea vines reach the top of the tee pees. The Sweet Peas I am raising this year have all come from England, and they include many new and antique varieties which I have never grown before. Many flakes (streaky forms) striped and bicolored forms. I can't wait to see how they will all look when cut or in the garden, but I won't be able to share many photos here with you since the nicest ones are for a magazine article that won't run until next summer. More on that as that deadline approaches.

Zaluzianskia capensis is one of those Latin names that is easy to type into Google search, as by the time you get 5 characters typed in, there are no other name similar to suggest. Sometimes known as Night Phlox, it's well known with experienced gardeners as a super-fragrant addition to the annual garden. Small, and inconspicuous, it's worth growing for the joy of it's snickerdoodle scent.

Fragrance in the June Garden

I can't help it - it really doesn't matter what a flower looks like if a flower is fragrant, and as it often is, the most fragrant of flowers are often inconspicuous or at the very least, while. Take Zaluzianskia for instance. A mouthful of a name, I know, but it is currently scenting the evening air near the greenhouse. It has a scent which reminds me of vanilla or baby powder, and it is stronger in the evening. It's a low grower, so I probably should have planted this fast growing annual in window boxes, but it dislikes drying out so why take a chance.

Another fragrant plant which you know is one that I have been writing about for years now as I tried to grow it is the French Mignonette - Reseda odorants which was so popular in the Victorian era both as a potted greenhouse plant and as a garden flower. As such things go, the seed I received from a source in the UK produced a different species (ugh!). Reseda alba, I believe, which is every so slightly fragrant (really, I can't smell it at all~!). So, time to try again, this time sourcing for the real Reseda odorata - I'm getting close, I just know it! At least I was able to grow a nice looking reseda plant this time!

English Peas - maturing in the vegetable garden

I know, I know - I sometimes only focus on cut flower sweet peas, but this year I am raising 4 varieties of shell peas, and 3 varieties of edible pod or snow peas. I've avoided raising any of the snap peas this year as the source is being refreshed (see Johnny's Seeds) as most sellers are distributing an inferior variety - the original breeding needs to be revisited, and Johnny's is leading this effort. Until then - I am satisfied with shell peas - I mean, nothing beats freshly shelled peas. but the problem is one must raise many to get a respectable harvest - I have 60 foot rows, and even with 2 of these rows, I doubt that I will have any left over to freeze - we'll see.

Much of the vegetables that I have been growing this year are for a book concept which I have yet to finalize with a publisher - so, if anyone out there knows of a good publisher interested in  exploring a very comprehensive vegetable gardening book unlike any other currently out there, please let me know. It's not stopping me for documenting every step with as many vegetable crops that I can manage this year. Some good will come out of it!

Shell peas are rather easy to grow, they mostly care for themselves as long as they are hilled, have something to climb on (I've used chicken wire) and kept weeded. I'm not fussy about weeding, just using a sharp hoe to keep the rows relatively tidy does the trick. The chicken and duck manure that was turned in this past March helps with nutrients, so so additional feeding is necessary aside from one side-dressing with 10-10-10 just after planting.

A robin as made a nest just feet from the house, in one of the large 12 foot Bay Laurels that we brought of the greenhouse in May. They make a nest in them every year, but this year, we moved then onto the deck, placed on either side of the stairs, and I thought that the bird might skip a year, as this was so close to the dog door and our back door and outdoor dining area. But no - not only did a robin make a nest in one of the bay laurels, a Cardinal made a nest in the other one, only feet from the robins nesting spot.

This is odd, not because the cardinal is so close to the activity of our house and deck, as they don't seem to mind being close to people, but because the robins are notoriously territorial. For whatever reason, they are getting along, but I fear they are loosing patience with me and the dogs, as we are just too busy, and it seems whatever I choose to do on the deck - my spot where I transplant and pot-up tomatoes, containers or even lay in the sun, it all disturbs the robin who will sit and chirp loudly with a grub in it's mouth until I get up and move into the house.

The young robins are growing quickly though, so in a week or so, they should leave the nest and if they don't get terrier-ized by the terriers, should be on their way and we'll have our deck and dining area back.

A cardinal egg left in the nest, I guess we were just too noisy and busy for them - they have made a new nest behind the greenhouse near the house wrens.

A Black Swallow Tail Butterfly larvae munches on some fennel in the large bed of annuals near the kitchen. I've counted 6 of these larvae on a planting of fennel, they seem to do little damage, remaining on a leaf until they have devoured it -hey,. at least they have great taste! The must be fancy Italian butterflies.

A Penstemon that we can actually grow here in the East (because it is native) is P. digitalis. This once came from a friend who moved to Ecuador (along with the indumentum-blessed Rhody in the background). (see Mike? They are doing just fine!). Maybe this will seed around? I hope so.

Some tuberous flowering sinningia's shared with me from the collections at the J.C. Raulston Arboretum after my talk there last April. I spoke about how much I loved these hardy members of the gesneriad group (African Violet family), so they dug a few rarities from their beds to share - I am growing them in containers, so that I can winter the tubers over indoors. Right now - hummingbird bait! This one is Sinningia sellovii.

Another view of Sinningia sellovii. It's also known as the Red Hardy Gloxinia.

This hardy sinningia is 'Arkansas Bell's'. It's available from Plant Delight's Nursery, and produces tubers like potatoes.

I almost shouldn't show this Martagon lily, but they are so challenging to grow well (and believe me, this one isn't grown 'well' by any measurement, but it is loaded with buds (and lily beetle!). Growing in my abandoned alpine garden which has exceptional drainage along the western foundation of the greenhouse.

Cur flower stock is so fragrant, and while a short-lived crop where summers get hot and humid. I still grow a bed just to pick before the Fourth of July. The spicy fragrance is special, as is the fact that few garden centers carry young, healthy plants that can do this - so I bother to plant some every year. Great mixed with the sweet peas. This variety is 'Katz Apricot', and you can get the seed from Johnny's Selected Seeds.


  1. Beautiful pictures as always: and do you really grow every frickin' plant on the planet! You put us botanic gardeners to shame!

    1. Oh PK. you're funny. There are a couple of plants that I don't grow - :)besides, look who's talking! :)

  2. lovely! I'd pre order your vegetable book! It's about time for a serious vegetable growing book.
    I'd really love a book on seed starting - the annuals and exotics you grow! I've tried, it's so hard to find reliable information about even something that seems so simple but isn't - snapdragons for example. Johnnys is a great resource, but I'd love a book... :)
    Waiting and watching for my sweet peas to flower!! So close!

    1. Wow, thank you Lauren! That's so nice to hear! Well, it looks like you won't have to wait long. I'm in final discussions with a publisher and things are looking hopeful. I don't want to say too much, but in their words " like Julia Child's The Art of French Cooking for vegetable gardeners". Not bad, right? There is a need for a more comprehensive book, I agree. Of course, it will have to look beautiful as well!

    2. I'd be happy to share my garden and 2 cents in regards to vegetable philosophy. All about biodiversity and soil microbiology.

  3. Anonymous10:12 AM

    dear matt
    i think many of your readers enjoy the compendium-type posts, where you put up lots of images and your commentary on their subject matter. i know i get lots of visual info from them. your photos are entrancing!
    we use rebar and concrète reinforcing mesh for many different crops that need support, which i copied from charles cresson's garden after seeing his, although your bamboo trellising is far more handsome and interesting. does a good job with peas, tomatoes, dahlias, etc.
    chelsea green seems to be the publishing house that is putting the best effort into books that inform and teach. i hope they'll be interesed in your project.
    all best,
    ~ 02568

    1. Funny, you are the third person within an hour to mention Chelsea Green to me - I checked out their website and they seem like a great company - Im afraid that it may be too late though - I am in contract stage! However, Thanks 02568!

  4. sillydoggarden10:54 PM

    Happy to see your mention of night phlox. It's one of my favorites.

    1. Thanks Silly Dogg. Especially during these hot and humid evenings!

  5. Anonymous10:42 AM

    Hi ! I just love reading this blog !
    / Vendela from Sweden

  6. Anonymous12:38 PM

    I appreciate the honesty of your blog. I chuckled when you mentioned that you still have plants on your deck waiting to be planted. I know the feeling all too well. One of my favorites was the blog post showing the unkempt part of your garden. I bet most gardeners have less than pristine spots in their garden yet most blogs never show them which can be depressing when you only see pictures of perfect gardens.


  7. Such beautiful flowers! I own just a tiny gard and I envy the little paradise you have.

  8. Hey Matt, You're neighbor Dylan from the next block. What are the giant dinosaur looking "Hosta" in your front yard? Those things are RIDICULOUS and beautiful!

    1. Those are giantJapanese Butterburr's that are a bit wild in the garden (they like to run) but we love them.


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