In the Garden:
Upper South
July, 2008
Regional Report

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Life with a garden offers unending possibilities to learn new things about nature.

Summer's Abundance and Adventures

Songwriters notwithstanding, summer days are neither "lazy" or "easy" if you're a gardener. Just when you've got everything planted, mulched, and tended, the picking season comes on full force. Not to mention deadheading and dividing. And ohmigosh, it's time to plant the fall garden. Still, all the work does have its rewards. My garden may not be perfect yet, but it has never been more beautiful or more productive. Here are some of the highlights so far this year.

Berries and More Berries
The perfect spring for me is one with no frost when the berries are blooming, and this year was perfect. This was the first year that there were enough red currants for me to pick, rather than just letting the birds have a handful. The young gooseberries, too, are just starting to produce, and I can see that my efforts are well worth the while. The best varieties yield large, sweet-tart, colorful fruit that is divine. After four or five years the bush cherries have also finally produced some fruit. Their best attribute is that they're easy to pick without a ladder.

The blueberries, of course, are as productive as ever. The original 4 bushes are some 20 years old and still going strong. Weeding, mulching, and fertilizing has made them better than ever. The downside, as I watch the eight new plants grow, is that patience is required, as they are slow growers.

The blackberries are going bonkers. Why are these so expensive in the stores? It's like falling off a log to grow them. They're just as easy to freeze as the blueberries, delicious on morning cereal, and to-die-for in pancakes, particularly with walnuts added. Plus, they're also high in fiber and nutrients. Because I prune my everbearing raspberries back in the spring, the late-summer crop is yet to come on. Thank goodness.

A New-Found Appreciation
What makes us do the opposite of our parents? Whatever the reason, I used to denigrate my mother's beloved daffodils and daylilies. Now I eat those words with a spoon. Take daylilies, for instance. After those years when the gardens weren't being tended, what survived? You guessed it. Daylilies. Yes, I still believe that they should be integrated in among other perennials, coordinating colors, heights, bloom times, etc., but it really is a pleasure to walk around the garden and see the many forms and colors.

While on the tried-and-true, let me praise annual flowers, especially the old stand-bys like marigolds, impatiens, petunias, and zinnias. For nonstop color through the summer months, they can't be beat. Plus, if you want a different color scheme next year, it's easy to change with annuals. They are the unsung heroes of the garden. Annual vines are also a great addition, and for better or worse, many of them readily reseed. For instance, I've been transplanting cardinal vine all over the garden this summer. The hummingbirds love me.

Eating Well
Last summer was my summer to preserve the garden's bounty by canning. I'll be eating on that for years to come. This year, other than a major project to make fruit liqueurs for Christmas presents, freezing is my mode of preservation. Quick and easy. I keep the blanching pot on the stove, the vacuum-sealer at the ready. Actually, I've cut back somewhat on the food crops this year. Okay, an off year for me is to grow only 50 tomatoes. And I did get a bit carried away with the 200 feet of potatoes. But otherwise, there really is somewhat less. Still, it's amazing the amount of food that's being produced.

Hopefully, many of you also grow vegetables. If you've never tried to preserve some of the bounty, the first place to start is by buying the widely available Ball Blue Book of Preserving, which has information on basic canning, freezing, and drying, plus lots of other recipes and details on "putting food by."

Living the Wild Life
Sometimes, when I'm out working in the garden or even sitting at the computer, I think that this must be what it feels like to live in an aviary. Because of the surrounding trees, shrubs, and flowers, plus the year-round feeders and nesting sites provided, there are a wide range of birds that inhabit my garden. Of these, both the house and Carolina wrens most often bring a smile to my face. Yes, the house wren is a bully and sometimes-bad-guy, but oh, how wonderfully they sing. The houses I provided for them on the porch have afforded not only domiciles for them but entertainment for me.

As to other critters, there's certainly no dearth of squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, opossums, raccoons, and deer. With each of them I've reached a certain detente, mainly with the use of repellents around prized plants.

Then there are my snakes. Which first introduced themselves by falling unceremoniously from the high branches of the 60-plus-year-old silver maple just outside my house while in the process of, well, making more snakes. Certainly, I knew that there were snakes around that tree over the years, thanks to left-behind skins. But little was I aware of the extent of their habitation. The good news is that they are not poisonous, being a subspecies of rat snake indigenous to my area. Still, who knows just how many of them there are. So now I'm investigating snake repellents. At least honeybees have moved into one of the hollows in which they previously hung out.

Among the things that I can say about life on the farm, is that I eat great food, get plenty of exercise, and am never bored.


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