First perennial garden

>> Wednesday, September 12, 2007

With all this talk about first garden memories, see Robin’s Nesting Place and May Dreams, I just want to say that I am currently working on my first garden. First perennial garden that is.

When growing up we didn’t have a garden. My paternal grandmother had some shrubs around her home and a few bulbs and my maternal grandfather always had a vegetable garden. Mom said her family always had a vegetable garden for as long as she could remember. I learned a few things from him about gardening and that is where I attribute my love for gardening. The love for gardening was always repressed though due to lack of time, space and confidence.

While still living at home I would get the urge to ‘pretty up’ the homestead and place a few annuals here and there around the house, things like marigolds, four-o’clocks, snapdragons, etc from seed packets I would find at some neighborhood store.

I wasn’t old enough to drive yet so I couldn’t go to a nursery to see what was growing. Being from Indiana we were surrounded by corn fields and soybean fields so I guess I was always exposed to some sort of vegetables growing around me and my aunts and uncles all had small garden plots. In my first ‘baby steps’ toward gardening I didn’t really learn much except that annuals die over winter.

I read about composting and mulch and manure and thought all of that seemed a bit ‘exotic’ for someone just starting out and was geared more toward the ‘bigger’ plots that I knew I could never have.

When I left home for military service and was never in one place long enough to start a perennial garden, the idea of gardening just kept getting pushed further down the list of things to do ‘in the future’. I did have several vegetable gardens, small patches really, mainly just to do it. I approached these plots as testing grounds for things like mulching, double-digging, pruning, and using steer manure. Originally, the idea of putting steer poop in where I am growing something I am going to eat was a little gross but I had faith in the fact that my grandfather swore by it and I therefore went bravely forth and piled it on. I was somewhat surprised that it didn’t stink the place up like I had anticipated and the tomatoes were really tasty. And since they tasted so much better than what I got from the local supermarket, I was hooked.

Naturally, the next thing I tried to grow was sweet peas and string beans. Some of my most endearing garden related memories is of spending time with my great grandmother on her farm in Somerset Kentucky. I would help her feed the chickens and pick eggs (and watched in awe as she would wring the neck of a chicken to eat for supper that night), milking and feeding the cows and picking food from her huge vegetable garden for supper. I am not sure just exactly how big it was but the last time I was with her I was nine years old and that garden seemed ‘huge’.

She canned a lot of stuff like cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, even watermelon rinds (a very sweet treat which I have not found a match for). She even grew tobacco! To me, at the time, that was the most amazing and exotic thing I had ever seen growing in a private garden. But my fondest memory was picking string beans and then ‘snapping’ them for supper. It’s difficult to get that same feeling back but those memories will stay with me forever.

The sweet peas and green beans I grow are nothing compared to that sweet memory of what my great grandmother shared with us but my search continues. I have never tried growing heirloom vegetables or anything very exotic but I am looking forward to trying some this next year.

As I said earlier, this is my first attempt at growing a perennial garden. And I am taking baby steps attempting to not ‘over-plant’ and crowd everything I want in my limited space. I have seen many gardens that get over crowded and over grown and the gardener looses interest in it and the garden just looks like hell. I am trying real hard not to fall into that same trap.

This year I have experimented with a couple of different trellises to see what style I like and to test my carpentry ability, so far I am pleased with one, a tower with four legs that come to a point and stands about seven foot tall. I put cherry tomatoes on it and it appears to be holding up pretty well. Another trellis is very simple, two 2x2’s stuck in the ground with another 2x2 attached at the top and then a grid work of twine to allow peas to grow up them. This one did not work out as well as I had hoped and I will need to improve on it for next year.

My next experiment will be with row covers. I have four raised beds and plan to attach pvc pipe to make frames for the covers made of some sort of cloth. I have seen pictures and seen other people use something similar but have not yet tried them. The idea of extending the season is appealing to me. This year my vegetables are coming in bit later than other bloggers I have read in the same growing zones as me so this tells me that I should start everything a bit earlier next year. But with the winter season as long as it is here my only way of doing this is to use row covers to protect them from frost.

Almost all of my gardening experience has been with vegetables. The few perennial plots I sparingly started last year with bulbs turned out somewhat okay, I lost a few bulbs to rot because of the clay soil and have since added more organic matter in hopes of overcoming that problem. I am also resigned to the fact I will need to add great amounts of organic material every year to combat this problem. I may be pushing it a bit by putting in so many flowers before seeing if that additional organic matter is enough to overcome the wetness tendency of the clay but I have been putting off perennial gardening for so long that I feel I need to just jump in. I have already lost some plants this year and I am trying to figure out if it was because of the water holding ability of the clay or if I am not watering enough. I don’t yet have the experience level to just look at stressed out plants and immediately know what caused the stress. But I am learning quickly about transplant shock. Now if I can figure out how to identify stress from too much or too little water I will have made great progress.

As far as perennial gardening, this is my first and I am taking lots of pictures and lots of notes. Someday, hopefully, I will have a garden equal to those many wonderful, beautiful gardens I see on my favorite garden blogs.


Blackswamp_Girl October 26, 2007 at 11:28 AM  

Greg, what a great introduction to you and your gardening background. I can't wait to read more about what you do with your place in Utah!

By the way, I have had trouble using twine for trellising, too. It seems that no matter how I fasten it to the 2x2s or how tight I string it, it ends up sagging... is that what happened with yours, or did you find another pitfall? I ended up stapling some wire animal fencing on the frames instead, and that's at least worked better.

Greg W October 27, 2007 at 5:01 AM  

Thank you for your comments. Sagging is exactly my problem with twine. I like your idea of using animal fencing (chicken wire?) I am considering using concrete wire reinforcing mesh because of the larger openings so I can reach the peas, or beans, from either side. I'll have to wait to see how theory vs practice works out. Happy Gardening.

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