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The Madness Is Upon Me

I really need to start a master list of plants I’ve given up on.

It would be much more useful than “plants I’ve killed and will try again” which is a very very long list at this point.

Also, when I make stark declarations in the middle of August that I am DONE this is MADNESS and from now on I will grow nothing but tomatoes and basil in the vegetable garden GODDAMNIT, I really need to write that down and perhaps have it witnessed, because here I am at the end of January wondering if I’ve got room for those dwarf snow peas after all.

And the vegetables are the easy part. When Prairie Nursery and Prairie Moon Nursery send out their catalogs and I find myself going “Why do I not have ramps? Ramps would be a great idea!” and drooling over the blue cohosh (which is a very expensive plant to possibly kill, and I am a bit nervous) I need a clear, laid out plan that says “This goes here. Nothing else will fit.”

Actually, what I need is a sign taped to my computer saying “YOU HAVE NO PLACE TO PUT IT SO PUT THE CATALOG DOWN.” That would cover most eventualities.

I should not be thinking of blue cohosh. I should be thinking vines. I have space for vines. I made space for vines. I’m thinking two Carolina jessamine, then a coral honeysuckle, then two jessamine, then a coral honeysuckle in the full sun area. Might mix it up with American bittersweet in the shadier sections. I do not need wild cucumber. It’s an annual and not edible anyway. WHY DO YOU TAUNT ME, CATALOG?

There are so many empty places in the garden. They never warn you that you will live with eyesores for years and years and years, that parts will be gloriously lush and other parts will still be a dead zone under pine trees, that lots are scraped and that stuff isn’t DIRT, it’s subsoil and self-respecting plants won’t grow in that and it’s really not your fault, that your yuccas will grow in the moss and the moss will grow in the yuccas and both will apparently be happy and dear god what is wrong with this picture?

This is the season where I stare at the garden and realize how many things need fixing and how many things I am completely unequipped to fix. I realize what a large garden I have made and how many years it’s going to take to fill it. (All the years. All of them.) I am simultaneously paralyzed by too much space in which hardly anything will grow (that grove of oaks and hickories and all those cedars! Mature trees one might kill for, and I stare at them and wish they were ten feet back on the other side of the fenceline!) and too little space in which nearly anything would grow, having painstakingly hauled manure and topsoil and mulch for multiple years to make it habitable.

I want a cottage garden that overflows with exuberance, and did not realize how often that meant that an exuberant plant would eat its weaker neighbors. I want to grow fascinating vegetables and end up having to glove up and root out the cardoons which were supposed to be annuals, goddamnit, and why did no one mention that they will re-seed like Satan on a bender?

And can I grow artichokes in a whiskey barrel?

And why did I wait so long to discover ferns? Why did no one beat me over the head with ferns until I listened?

And why are there never enough tomato cages? They work great for pea trellises—by the time the peas are dead of heat stroke, the tomatoes are just starting to need cages. Chop the peas at the roots, move the cage three feet, there you go. Except that I need more tomato cages so I can grow more peas.

And why is it only January, when there’s so much gardening to be done?

Originally published at Squash's Garden. You can comment here or there.

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Best thing I ever did for tomato support was Mel Bartholomew's standing trellis design from _Square Foot Gardening_. Drive 2 upright sections of steel pipe into the ground. Slip a loop-top tent stake into the top of each one, and run another section of pipe through the loops, making a crossbar across the top. Hang netting or twine from crossbar. It's STRONG (unlike a tomato cage) and you can reach all the tomatoes (unlike a tomato cage) and it's trivially easy to take apart and requires almost no storage space (unlike a tomato cage). Works nicely in a raised bed or long planter box.

Also works beautifully for climbing beans and peas (sugar snap peas! snow peas! scarlet runner beans!). When they're done you can just cut down the twine and dead vines together and (if you used biodegradable twine) fling the whole thing in the compost pile.

I have neighbors who are MAD pack-rats for any sort of building supplies. They had some leftover 5'x10' (may have been even larger) sheets of concrete mesh: steel wire welded together in about a 6-inch square pattern, and they rolled them into cages and used them for their tomatoes. They were fantastic!

Here's exactly what they did:


Ooh! I'll have to try that one of these days...

I actually have a bunch of these. They are not ideal as they have sticky bits of metal, but I probably have some to spare if you want to give them a go.

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