How It Started … How It’s Going

Well, my winter vegetable garden looked great this fall and winter — until we got temps at or below 10 degrees Fahrenheit for two nights in a row, a few weeks ago!

How it started …
How it’s going.

Almost everything collapsed in a heap of frozen mush. So last weekend, I cleared out the debris, leaving a few hopeful stems that were still green in case they might sprout leaves again. Even my parsley died! The Bull’s Blood beets seem to have survived; the pansies will come back; a couple of kale plants are trying to regenerate. That’s all, folks! Sigh. Even the Swiss chard gave up the ghost.

Interestingly, some of the lavender in another part of the garden has survived very well (“Phenomenal”). The “Black Scallop” ajuga around it looks discouraged but not defeated. I will probably plant more cool weather vegetables in a while, but not until February at the earliest. Any suggestions? I’m in Zone 7, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Cartoon character Jack Frost
Jack Frost; image from Rankin/Bass.

Fall? Update

We’ve had a busy fall, all in good ways, but now things are settling back to normal — except the weather. It went above 80 degrees this weekend, which is extraordinary for November, even in the South. One bonus: the fall foliage is still gorgeous, especially on the Japanese maples, though not on the same scale as New Hampshire, which we visited in October. We had just missed the absolute peak, with all the red maples, but there were still plenty of orange, gold, yellow, and brown vistas to make us happy. And the swarms of mosquitoes that tormented me all summer are gone.

New Hampshire lake

We went to the Lakes region for a week to see my father-in-law, who is in his 90s and lives in assisted living. He was in fine form, and we loved being able to spend leisurely time with him every day! We treated ourselves to staying at our favorite bed and breakfast for the week, which was heavenly. They fed us such large breakfasts that we didn’t need lunch and mostly had wine, cheese, and charcuterie for dinner, with an occasional lobster roll. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but we only eat lobster in New England, because it just doesn’t taste as good anywhere else, no matter how quickly they ship it inland.

On this visit, we flew into Portland and spent the night of our arrival in Maine, staying with one of my cousins who now lives there year-round with his wife. Like me, he has inherited the hopeful gardening gene from our grandparents, but he is horticulturally challenged by the much shorter growing season in Maine. Noentheless, he proudly showed me the ropes and ropes of fresh garlic has had grown and is drying in his shed; and I proudly described the one shallot I succeeded in growing this year! Not sure what happened to the others I planted; I think they got pulled up by the yard crew I hired to clear out the overgrown summer veg garden.

I’ve been on leave from my job this fall, in a sort of trial run of retirement. I’ll go back on December 14 and see how I feel then. I must say, I’ve really enjoyed being able to do all kinds of things around the house and garden without feeling time-pressured! If I don’t get to a task on a given day, it doesn’t have to wait for the weekend. I still have a lot of de-cluttering to tackle, though. What I’ve confirmed, though, is that I have plenty of interests and activities to stay happily occupied when I do finally retire! And removing the stress of my workplace has done wonders for my health, which was the whole point of the leave.

And now, it’s onward to Thanksgiving, several family birthdays, and Christmas! Meanwhile, I still have to deal with the tomatoes I picked when we expected freezing temps a couple of weeks ago (it did get down to about 34 degrees for a couple of nights). And wouldn’t you know — with the recent higher temps, I now have more green tomatoes on the vine! I’ve let some of my basil keep growing and flowering, mostly for the benefit of the pollinators who cluster there and around my asters and wild ageratum.

I’ve just found a local source for “Coral Bells” kurume azaleas, to replace a couple that have finally died after decades of service along the walkway in our front yard. They must have been at least 40 years old, as they were planted by the former homeowners who died of old age in the late 80s (both their age and the decade). “Coral Bells” is no longer as widely found as it must have been at one time. I used to be able to find them as needed at the State Farmers’ Market, but not this year. All anyone seems to sell these days are the Encore azaleas, or the really short gumpos. I’m so happy to have found replacements! We have a large hedge of them on both side of our front walk, and now I can fill the gap with ones that match. Do you have any cherished plants that are now hard to replace?

“Coral Bells” azalea; Photo by Claudia Zuidema on Pexels.com

Coneflowers and Goldfinches

Goldfinch on purple coneflower

Here we are in mid-August, and between my two-week absence to visit my dear father-in-law in New England and the plentiful rain and heat, the weeds are running rampant in my garden. However, the same conditions mean the several coneflowers I added to a flowerbed this spring and summer are also flourishing, and this weekend I spotted a pair of goldfinches among them, feeding on the seeds! Although I’ve had a few coneflowers in the same bed for a while, I’ve never seen goldfinches visiting, so this was a real treat.

Like many bird-lovers, I took down feeders this spring at the advice of various organizations, because of the current outbreak of avian flu that is having a particularly bad impact on wild birds. The more they are encouraged to congregate (like at a feeder), the easier it is for them to become infected. I’ve missed the colorful presence of the usual cardinals, wrens, and others, so you can imagine my delight when a goldfinch couple appeared: the vividly yellow male, and the yellowish brown female. I hope they stay around!

I’ve been planting more and more flowers and other plants that appeal to birds and pollinators. They are also beautiful — the bed where I’ve added coneflowers has a soft sunset/twilight color scheme, because it catches the late afternoon sun, and coneflowers now come in many pretty shades of pink, coral, purple, etc. that blend beautifully with the daylilies I have there. The ruby-colored monarda I planted years ago seems to have come into its own this year, and is spreading nicely; it has been visited regularly by hummingbirds and butterflies, who also appreciated the flowering vines I had in my vegetable garden last summer. (I planted fewer this year, because last summer’s bean vines took over the whole bed!). Our small back yard already has many bird-and-bug-friendly features, like plenty of tree cover and areas where leaf litter is undisturbed. Sadly, though, we no longer see fireflies in the back of our garden as we used to. I blame the ubiquitous mosquito-spraying in our area.

We drove up almost the entire Eastern seaboard to visit my FIL in New Hampshire, and the whole way up and back, I couldn’t help wondering WHY so few interstates include plantings of native wildflowers, in spite of the Federal Highway Administration’s wildflower programs. I saw hundreds of miles of grass along the sides and up the middle of highways. Imagine if more, even most, of those miles were planted with native milkweeds and other highway-tolerant wildflowers for the endangered monarch butterflies and other pollinators! I know there is a partnership among several states to plant monarch-friendly flowers along the “Monarch Highway”, Interstate 35 — I wish there was a similar partnership along Interstates 95 and 85. If there is one, I didn’t see any evidence of it, though I appreciate the wildflower plantings on Interstate 16, the highway that leads to the coast.

Does your area actively cultivate wildflowers along public rights of way?

Goldfinch on purple coneflower
Goldfinch on purple coneflower; image by Will Stuart, from audubon.org

Winter Vegetable Garden

My replanted winter vegetable garden! Some of you may recall that I had high ambitions, last summer, of posting regular snapshots of my summer vegetable garden in the new raised beds I had built for my garden last spring. Alas! Between summer trips to see family, and a long, hot, wet summer, plus planting too many bean vines, my summer vegetable garden turned into a veritable jungle, complete with aggressive mosquitoes.

So this fall, we cleared the whole thing out, pulled hyacinth bean vines off everything (seriously, they went everywhere!), and started over with cool season vegetables and flowers. I have beets with gorgeous maroon leaves; Swiss chard with brightly colored stems; red mustard; curly kale; broccoli; cauliflower; parsley; and, of course, pansies. 

Among my containers, I still have lots of herbs that are flourishing; and several roses that have decided to embark on a third or even fourth flush of bloom. Yes, we’ve had unseasonably warm weather; and on Boxing Day, yesterday, it was in the mid-70s! No wonder my poor roses are confused. But the warm weather will help my vegetables get a good start rooting, I think, before it turns cold as expected in January and February.

Are you able to garden at this time of year? What will you grow? Happy New Year to all, and may 2022 bring us increases in health and happiness.

My renovated winter vegetable garden

Saturday Snapshot, May 8

My Saturday Snapshots mostly focus on the vegetable garden, which you can barely see in this photo in the back left corner, but I couldn’t resist sharing this photo of my Louisiana iris in full bloom, with the late afternoon sun lighting them up at a slant.