Looking Back on 2017

Submitted a year ago
Created by
Henry Homeyer

A Good Gardening Year

This was a good gardening year for me. Although we had some rainy times, and some hot, dry times, overall the weather was conducive to good plant growth. As usual, I tried a number of new things. Here are some of the things I tried this year.

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In the vegetable garden I grew a new potato variety that I liked a lot called “Magic Molly”. It is sold by Fedco Seed Coop as a fingerling, but if you let them keep growing, the potatoes get to be quite large. I love the color: a purple so deep it is almost black when picked. It is dark colored inside and out, and keeps its color quite well when cooked, so it is good-looking in a stew. Some purple potatoes turn gray when cooked, which is less appealing.

Magic Molly with Kinnebecs and Red Pontiac new potatoes

I tried a new (to me) tomato this year, a hybrid from Burpee Seed Company called Brandy Boy. I met the CEO of Burpee, George Ball, at the Chelsea Flower Show in London. He told me that Brandy Boy was earlier than Brandywine, my favorite heirloom tomato, and that it had disease resistance that heirlooms don’t have. He said that the flavor was comparable to Brandywine, and I agree. Very tasty.

In order to get Brandy Boy this year I had to buy plants from Burpee – I only learned about it in late May, much too late to start plants from seed. But I’m glad I did, it gave me a chance to try it this year. Next year I will plant seeds indoors in April, which is much more economical. I checked my local nurseries for plants last May, but no one had any.

A perfect tomato from my garden (not sure which variety, probably Defiant, a hybrid that is late-blight resistant)

Over the years my vegetable garden has gotten shadier and shadier. Now I don’t get direct sun until mid-morning, and it gets behind trees in late afternoon. So I get about 6 hours of prime sun, with sun filtered through trees at other times. I compared notes with other growers who get bigger yields, and know that sun is a major factor. I would cut down the offending trees, but most are on my neighbors’ property. Sigh.

I planted strawberries last summer, the first time in years. Strawberries are short-lived perennial plants – three years is about all one generally gets from a planting. The first year the plants will bloom, but growers advise picking off all the blossoms so that the roots and plants will develop better. I did that, and anticipate a good crop next June.

Strawberries mulched for winter

Most strawberries are sensitive to length of day, and produce heavy crops only in June. But now there are day-neutral plants, and everbearing plants that will produce some berries all summer and into the fall. This time I chose a June-bearing variety as there is a new insect pest, the spotted-winged drosophila that is mostly present late in the season. Hopefully this fruit fly won’t arrive until my crop has finished producing.

In the flower garden I tried a new biennial, angelica (Angelica archangelica) and was delighted with it. This is a tall plant that produces globes of deep purple florets in globes about two to three inches across. Not only is it gorgeous, it attracts bees like crazy.

Angelica is a bee magnet

Like all biennials, angelica only blooms at the end of its second year of growth, then dies. I planted some of the seeds this year, but if I want it to flower next year I will have to buy another plant, and this one cost even more than a perennial flower. That leads me to believe it is not an easy flower to grow.

I was delighted to see that I finally have the proper soil for my sea holly, also called Eryngium. Sea holly has wonderful bluish flowers with spiky appendages around the globe-shaped blossoms that resemble globe thistle.

Sea Holly or Eryngium does well in really poor soil, which is hard to find in my garden.

I have tried numerous times to get the proper soil to accommodate its needs, and finally got it to over winter and flower in year two. It hates good rich soil, and will only overwinter in sandy, nutrient-poor soil. So I created a spot for it by digging up some driveway soil and replacing my good soil. Bingo. It worked.

This was a great year for daylilies, which continued to bloom through much of September, even varieties that are normally finished in mid-August. I have no idea why they bloomed for such a long period, but enjoyed the show. You may not think of daylilies as cut flowers, but a scape (stem) cut with multiple buds will continue to open the buds and bloom, day after day. Just place the vase where it gets some good direct sun each day.

Daylilies photographed on September 22, a month later than normal.

I planted 2 woody plants this summer: a catalpa tree and a shrub called button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).  The catalpa will be a large specimen tree on a section of lawn that I always left for badminton. Given how little I play, I gave the lawn over to a magnificent flowering tree. It is 10 feet tall, and will get to be 40 or so, blooming in late June and into July. It’s fragrant, too.

Catalpa (not mine), I look forward to blossoms on mine in a few years.

Button bush, a native plant, likes moist soil and sun to part shade. I have plenty of moist soil, so planted one near my brook. It produces neat, round white blossoms in early summer.

Lastly, my night-blooming Cereus finally  bloomed for the first time. It was the most exciting, dramatic and fragrant blossom I have ever had. The trick? Starve it of water for a couple of months, then water it and bring it outside on a somewhat shady deck in summer. 

Night-blooming cereus only blooms for one night - every few years!

I wish you all a great gardening year for 2018. May your veggies produce well, your flowers surprise you, and the Japanese beetles fly past your roses and land next door.   

Use your Christmas tree all winter- as mulch. Read about it by clicking here. 

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