March 23, 2009

Perennial Potager

This week we're supposed to get snow. After an abnormally warm week of close to 70 degrees we'll only be close to 40 for the high this week. But as I posted earlier, this is the time we've been dumped on before (and it was more like 7 ft than 3, cuz the drifting did cover our truck). I think we're south of the dumping going on right now - close to the Wyoming border and out east on the prairie.

As I cleaned up all my perennial beds this week: cutting back most everything (this is the first time I've cut all the raspberries to the ground, they're volunteers in two perennial beds with peonies, lilac, etc, because of Monte bringing the dirt up from the woods, but they're everbearing, meaning they fruit on new stalks ... I hope), shredding all and adding it to the compost bin, and tossing manure and compost on all the beds, I was reminiscing ... I don't know if I've ever been able to clean out the bed on the north side of the house, our front porch, this early. There's usually a snow bank. And some years! ... like when the guys shovel off the porch roof, and then Dawson decides he wants a snow cave, and ices everything ... it doesn't melt till mid May!

I think I'm thee compost queen (other than Martha Stewart, tho she doesn't do most of her own labor any more). It's a joke of ours: I don't want jewelry and such stuff for Mother's Day, just make me a nice compost bin! After going thru many that just weren't right, I'm now content. In our large lower 6ft fenced garden, the compost bin is working. And up by the house, where my gardening is enlarging, I've got a beautiful three-bin one - beautiful cuz Monte linseed oiled it.

I've read of other people's daffodils done blooming and even lilacs by now. I'm at 8,000 ft. Tho I grow most plants for zone 4, we still have only 90 frost-free-days give or take, which isn't long! In some areas I've created micro-climates and have gotten zone 5 plants to survive. So I'm just now seeing the green tips of flowering bulbs poking out and early flowers: snowdrops, crocus, and dwarf iris. And looking at my photos, I see that last year's did not poke out till mid April! So we're warmer this year and not much winter snow.

Of all the library books on kitchen and cottage gardens, my favorite, which I've decided to own, is Designing the New Kitchen Garden - An American Potager Handbook by Jennifer R Bartley. I was reminded of college classes - I started out with a nutrition major and switched to Landscape Architecture (I didn't finish either since Monte and me had married in the midst of my schooling and he was done with schooling and ready to start life, and the life I prefer is everything having to do with home and I didn't need to go to work elsewhere). This book starts with a brief history of kitchen gardens: monastic to the French ... It's a book I'm going to read every word of, with lots of colored pictures, many of them hand-drawn showing her landscape architecture background - like birds-eye views, isometric views, and cross-sections, along with lots of charts.

I've got a lot of work to do this spring. Since with Dawson's rock work last summer (I posted pictures of it last late summer)(and he just did some more yesterday) I've now established a bed strictly for herbs, I have a large old bed with a mixture of perennials I'm going to move. It's very sheltered by the house from the cool wind and is probably a zone 5. It's going to become the very warm summer veggie bed. But I think I'll leave the existing current, gooseberry, and jostaberry bushes there. As I've mentioned before, I was told I can't grow tomatoes here, but I do, very successfully. But I've always had to put them in the same spot and use walls-of-water. I'm thinking more of the need to rotate (yet tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are in the same family ... hmmm).

I'm trying blueberries again. I called in on a local radio garden show and the "garden wise-guys" suggested I put 95% peat in the planting hole (I actually called to ask about using pine mulch in our area: pine needles). Good to know, I knew I needed to add some peat in our very alkaline soil, but I'd not have done that much. Our lower garden, is now going to be more berry, fruit (dwarf trees and bushes) oriented. I'm adding more this year. Chokecherries and rhubarb were already there from an old homestead planting maybe a hundred years ago.

But what fruit to put up by the house? I'm doing all the veggie growing at the house mixed in with the perennials from now on (I should say "most all", since I don't know what other years will bring. I may go back to doing my mass broccoli planting or winter squash down in the lower garden. Some years I freeze 30lbs of broccoli!). I already have two dolga crab apple trees up here, but am thinking of adding a honeycrisp apple. What I have to think thru is our late frosts. If things blossom too soon, no fruit ... My lower garden is on the edge of the woods with lots of aspen and might not be as warm earlier ... those are the mini-climate thoughts I have to deal with. And should I put strawberries up here too (I am putting some in hanging pots this week in my greenhouse).

Jennifer writes, "Potagers are places of restoration that provide food and nourishment. A deep and mysterious relationship exists between food and having our spirits lifted, and this relationship is profoundly and ultimately tied to the garden." I couldn't agree more. "Potager"? It's root is from French meaning a soup of broth with vegetables, but for Europeans  the word has come to mean a vegetable garden. 

A Alfred Austen wrote, "Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are". Well ... mine is very much a tapestry with informal clumps of color, form and height ... chaotic yet harmony ... romantically gentle, with not very straight lines, striving for more curving paths ... fragrant, and flowers to cut and adorn inside my home. My gardening is a huge source of nourishment for me, both the exercise it gives me, a quiet place to read, pray, and think, and feel in sync with nature (God's heart's other "book"). It's both a sensory and emotional pleasure - beauty out my windows, with even winter visual pleasure.

Years ago I had a bunch of books from the library on the history of art. I remember one talking about the cottage gardens and the practicality of growing fruit and vegetables amidst beautiful flowering perennials and annuals. Some artists walking the back country roads fell in love with these peasant gardens and we now have paintings of them.

In a blog I love, Wisteria and Roses, Debbie posted a picture of one of Monet's famous paintings. I have a book called Artist's Gardens (I think it's out of print) and it shows how artists have been inspired by gardens, even creating their own beautiful gardens. Monet created a water garden with a bridge. He also redid the front entrance garden, much to the classical formal gardeners of his time's disgust, full of nasturtiums - I love it! I always grow nasturtiums (their foliage and flowers are edible, with a peppery flavor, and their seeds can be pickled as capers).

I really need to end this post and get on with finishing my garden planning and scrapbook - my goal for this cold week. But I feel I need to add a bit more on Martha Stewart. I have her first books before she became famous. She did used to do most all her yard work herself along with her husband. I love her gardening book, and there's a cookbook that shows her yard with the mixture of perennials, veggies and fruit, and chickens. I had the same chickens as hers with the eggs that became her signature colors. I think Martha gave America something very needed. She put the heart back into the beauty of homemaking, attracting people back to home.

"What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it."  :-D
- Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in a Garden
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