July 13, 2017

Mid-Summer Magnificence

July is all summer-time here. Bees, blueberries and lilies. Not to mention sweet peas.

After a couple of weeks where we focused on some photoshoots and book pitches, as things move forward with these projects - the garden continues to remind us that there is no stopping. I don't know if it's because this is some extraordinary summer here in New England, or if it's because this is my first summer not sitting in the sterile confines of an air conditioned office with no windows (probably the later!), but outdoors - it feels as if it is 1987 again - and not just because teal and purple are coming back!

I like to take cutting from our many coleus, they root in just a week and a half and I can spread them throughout the garden and in containers.

Having the luxury of time - early morning sunrise, mid day iced tea, late evening fireflies - the garden feels more alive than ever. I'ver been taking on little projects (both freelance design projects, as well as personal ones) so I'm still busy. I even designed my first major garden for a work colleague, which ended up being a serious undertaking with tractors, rock movers and thousands of plants. It came out beautiful if I say so myself, but next summer will be the real test. Look out Oudolf!

In my home garden, now that the secret photoshoot is over (it went remarkably well and the photos looked so beautiful - I can hardly wait until next summer!), I can focus more on my book and all of the other projects which went on hold for a few weeks. We had a few garden clubs call to ask if they could come for a garden tour, but I declined - knowing that next June we would be going through the same thing again. It's so hard to get a garden like ours in shape for 'fancy people'. True plant people understand, and overlook the extra flats of tomatoes that never made it into the garden, or the old crumbled bags of promix on the deck shoved under a lawn chair - not to mention the towers of black plastic pots everywhere.

A special seedling that I bought at Bunker Farm in Vermont - I lost the label though - any thoughts?  After reviewing the Bunker Farm growing list I discovered that this is Ursinia anthemoides. So lovely in the annual border.

Sweet Pea season is so short, only a month if not a few weeks, but we are thrilled with this years' results.

For those whom spend more time in a car, a plane or in a cubicle often forget is that there is this world out there - a world where the fireflies come out at dusk (usually when I was commuting home on a long, one hour drive), a world where wild blueberries scent the air along with native rhododendrons (azalea species in the woodland) - and yes, blueberries have a scent when the warm sun gently releases the fragrance - maybe the best reason why one should never  eat  refrigerated blueberry, although, the hybrid store-bought berries only hint of this flavor and scent, at room temperature, one can barely detect it. Details, details.

My seed raised Rhodochiton atrosanguineum is looking fine. I was able to winter it over as a seedling in the greenhouse, but now that it is warm outside, it's beginning to show its color.

In some ways, the season of summer has many periods, the early summer of June, the high summer of late August with it's tomatoes, droning night insects and abundance of produce, but the July summer is different. For only three weeks or so, at least here in the North East, July Summer provides us with a sense of endlessness.

The last of the cut flower sweet peas are filling the vases of the house.

A hopeful season, young plants and even some seedlings are still growing, the foliage on most trees has not yet matured, insects are hatching still, many bird species are on their second or even third broods, and the days are long - even though the longest day of the year happened just two weeks ago around the June, Summer Solstice, the day length remains longest of the year until next week when the slowly grow shorter, even though the warmest temperatures of the year have yet to grace us with the dog days of summer.  That comes early August.

Nasturtium 'Hermine Grashoff' thrives in a pot of sweet peas. This sterile rarity can only be shared by cuttings, an old cultivar, for those who have it, it is cherished. It must be kept through the winter in a greenhouse, or perhaps a cool windowsill. I struck a dozen cuttings from my mother plant this spring, and planted them together.

Mid July marks many milestones for the gardener. The daylillies and true lilies are beginning to open, the first summer vegetables are coming in, especially the early summer Cole crops of kohlrabi, early and mid-season cabbage, and the last of the peas. The well planned veg garden can really show off in July as shell peas complete their season and second crops are planted in newly prepared ground where spring lettuce or early beets once stood.

Epic Celtuce - maybe the only vegetable you have never tasted? Time to change that, right? I'm addicted.

In vegetable growing areas things are progressing nicely. I learned that Celtuce will split if it gets too mature and too wet, so while the first harvest was amazing - all crispy and sweet, the second harvest a week later was a disaster - so chalk up another learning opportunity! Celtuce, or stem lettuce will however always be on my spring rotation schedule. It's worth growing a yummy vegetable that one cannot find in the market.

The wet summer allowed the kohrabi to grow uninterrupted by drought, producing large, tender bulbs. I allowed the purple variety to grow larger, and at this size they are still not woody.

Kohlrabi is a crop that I have raised here since I was a junior high student. My parents had never heard of it, but I assume I was inspired by someone exhibiting it at the Worcester County Horticultural Society mid-summer shows back then in the 70's at Horticultural Hall, so I needed to grow it so that I could never and compete. Today, it still reminds me of those summers. Carefully weeding around the purple kohlrabi so that I would not ruin the bloom on the bulbous stem, and then carefully harvesting it by pulling the plant out by the root and not the ball.

Some varieties of Kohlrabi are bred to grow large. This one, called 'Kossack' is one of them. This one is still young.

Few vegetables taste as good fresh picked (you know - with the water boiling on the stove before you go out to pick - as the old-timers say!) as kohlrabi. Sweet corn comes to mind for most people, but there are many vegetables that taste extraordinarily better when only moments old. Peas definitely taste better when instantly picked and cooked, dressed with just sweet butter and sea salt - these are the simply joys of keeping a summer garden.

We stock up on good butter too - not commercial brands like Land O Lakes, because of the added water, but good Vermont butter (Cabot is close to perfect with it's higher milk fat) - next week we are attending the Vermont Cheese Makers Festival, and will surely be coming home with not only cheese, but amazing local butter. Keeping it simple, but oh, so fresh and pure. If you bother to choose heirloom or fine seed, tend to your plants with care, why not carry that through to the kitchen? Especially if there are only three ingredients in your dish. Go all the way.

Yes, I grow a bit of corn. You might be surprised how well sweet corn will do in a small space. Set a 1 foot apart on a grid, this 10 x 10 foot bed will give us a few meals this summer, as well as decorative stalks for fall decoration.

I'm still planting seed in the vegetable garden as well, as many of you are. Second crops of beans, transplanting melons that were keeping warm in the greenhouse, pole beans and dry shell beans replace the sweet peas (the cut flower ones) on the trellis and netting rows, and fall crops are being ready to be planted.

This is the sign of an experienced gardener - not just merely crop rotation, but crop planning and it all comes down to experience and planning. This week, we harvested the last of the English peas or shell peas, the last of the broad (or Lava) beans and far too many stem lettuce which all matured at once (at least the ones that didn't split from the rain and heat).

 The extra peas (yes, we had a surplus - can you believe that!) we blanched and froze in 2 cup zip-lock bags (I mean, only 6 cups but still!) , as well as the extra broad beans which I blanched and froze for winter. We're not big on freezing, coming from a family that canned more than they froze - a bit old school I know. So, beside from berries, those are the only vegetables we freeze for winter enjoyment, everything else from the garden is canned in a pressure cooker.

The broad beans (or lava beans) enjoyed our long, cool spring and early summer. Here in New England, we never know what weather will plague us! This year, the broad beans performed so well, that I had to pinch out the growing tips to let them focus on maturing pods in time, and to reduce aphids which prefer the tender new growth.

I can't tell you how much I despise frozen beans or frozen zucchini. I crave canned yellow wax beans however. I love the mushy, salty grey flavor, don't ask me why. I suppose because I grew up on it. I find frozen veggies tasteless, if not squeaky which balances well with their rubbery texture I know. My mom always said that the sign of a lazy or inexperienced gardener or cook is that they freeze their vegetables rather than can them!). I'm sure to get notes on that, but remember, my mom who was born in 1919 was a depression era mom and taught canning at our extension service. She expected that we all would learn how to properly pick and can wild mushrooms and wax beans.

Even though I am home for this summer, the tasks and chores feel endless, but I do feel as if I can do them when I wish with less stress - often weeding early in the morning before the sun rises, or late in the evening as I am one of those guys whom mosquito's hate (not so for Joe!). It's been a wet summer here. with thunderstorms most every day so we've been blessed with water - only having to water once so far (unlike last year).

We're running out of space, so Joe decided to dig up the 'ol golf green', a putting green that once used to be the jewel in the crown of our garden (when my parents lived here) but now nothing much to look at as the special mower broke and was too expensive to replace. Our trusty Troy Bilt rototiller came out and in a few hours we turned this once lawn into a melon and dahlia bed (for this year - we have plans for it).

Staying current with the garden is always a challenge, although I created a box with seeds organized in it by variety and type, and one category for fall planting which means July). This week or next I will be sowing many fall crops including rutabaga, turnips, beets and winter cabbage. Winter growing plants for the greenhouse as well as summer biennials must be sown now as well, so I took some time to sow two additional varieties of Reseda odorata (Mignonette) for potted greenhouse plants that will bloom in late winter, as well as schizanthus  and Primula obconic and P malacoides - two winter blooming primroses for the greenhouse.

I'm growing around 30 varieties of chili peppers this year, and many are in pots which they perform perfectly well in if I use fresh professional potting mix (never last years').

For two guys who really like mild to moderately hot peppers, I am raising numerous pots and plants of some of the hottest chili peppers this year.  Inspired by Dr. Amy Goldman's collections that we marveled at late last summer while visiting her amazing farm in upstate New York we decided that we needed to amp up our chili knowledge. The plants are beautiful as it is, and we know that pepper appreciation takes some time (and some burned lips) to improve our Scoville Unit tolerance.

It's a trend though, we know, for many local growers offered plants of  'Carolina Reaper' "the ghost peppers', 'Hinklehatz'  (I know - the name alone!) and many peppers with names that derive from, well, Hell, or the word 'Satin'.

I do like hot sauce so that is on my fall hobby list (no that I need to add to that list!), and at the very least, the plants look gorgeous in most every Guy Wolff pot that we have, for I didn't need to set out rows of hot peppers anywhere - those rows have been dedicated to  varieties like 'Sweet Cherry' or jalapeño varieties- more our speed.

Here in the north, Okra does best in large pots. I am growing many varieties this year, and they are just beginning to take off with the hot and humid weather.

Thanks for everyone who wrote me about my book proposal - I can't say much about this current one, but I can say that we are at contract stage, and all looks great - I am very excited to be approached and offered such a deal - I hope that it all works out, I'm sure that it will. I will be busy photographing veggies and how-to shots for the next year, but it will be worth it. Stay tuned for release dates, titles, etc over the next two years.

Red currants and gooseberries are ripening, but only enough this year for cereal or garnish as this is their second year.

Much of the yard was cleaned up for this photo shoot we hosted, so new gravel had to be spread on the walks. Now that we are past that, Joe begins digging up the golf green for another garden.

Daph moves a little slower after corralling the chickens back to their coop - one of her jobs, she thinks.

Grout Hill Farm in New Hampshire, and the garden of garden designer and author Kristian Fenderson and Alston Barrett - a garden chock full of rare trees and plants, and only open rarely for garden tours - it was open this past weekend for a very special event.

Also this past weekend we visited the garden of Kris Fenderson and Alston Barrett. Kris has been our dearest friend  for decades but this visit came with sorrow - Alston, Kris's partner for many decades years was struck and killed  by a car  just 2 weeks ago while preparing for this garden tour, which he loved so much. A fundraiser for Friends of Grout Hill, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation this farm and garden which they both have created of which moneys support local charity events. 
The garden is open rarely- every other year for a special a benefit for the town they live in in Southern New Hampshire near the border of Vermont, and sometimes for Garden Conservancy tours  - a difficult decisions I'm sure, but  Kris felt that the garden tour must still go on as Alston would have wanted it that way (we gardeners are tough stock!).

Driving there we hit a terrible thunderstorm with hail and wind making the drive almost impossible, but once we began up Kris and Alston's dirt road and driveway that lead up the hill to this magnificent and special garden, the sky cleared and everything turned spectacular and glorious, sparkling from the rain as cooling breezed blew away the clouds.

Joe admiring the stone steps behind the house.

Kris is well known as an expert on the genus primula, and although many attend his rare tours hoping to see the Himalayan Blue Poppies of which he is notorious for (a 40 year old colony), it's his primroses that are the real gems. Here,  blue Primula capitata. The street was full of candelabra types and many species were planted around the garden.

As we were leaving Kris and and Altons' farm, I saw this taped to a mature Amur Cork Tree (the property is like an arboretum with countless specimens of rare or interesting trees). Clearly, it was hastily attached to this trunk with a soulful purpose and message which we can call appreciate.


  1. Mystery orange flower resembles Dimorphotheca Sinuata Orange Glory, but I can't see the rest of the plant. Bud form I think rules out a Coreopsis.

  2. "True plant people understand, and overlook the extra flats of tomatoes that never made it into the garden, or the old crumbled bags of promix on the deck shoved under a lawn chair - not to mention the towers of black plastic pots everywhere." THIS! I had my garden on tour this summer and wrote about it a couple of posts ago. I'll never do another plant specific tour again. I want plant people in my garden who care about the entire thing. Congratulations on your book deal! I'll be first in line to read it. You know what a fan I am. Your garden is lovely this year. Keep having fun Matt. I loved this post. I remember when I "retired" from being a legal assistant to raise my children, and I had that same feeling. It was like being let out of school for summer. A lifetime of summer vacation even though we still work. ~~Dee


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