Spring in New England has been kind to us gardeners. Temperatures have been on the cool side; weekends were not washout; there was a fair amount of cloudy days, so a lot of gardening work was accomplished, at least by me. I was bitten by the gardening bug as a young child following my grandparents around their gardens when we visited. Throughout most of my life, time in the garden has been very therapeutic, this spring even more so with the unexpected loss of a much-loved spouse. While the veil of loneliness creeps over me inside the house, outdoors it dissipates as we were opposite gardeners. My husband was a morning person and would be out at 7 am or earlier weeding, watering, and tending to his vegetable garden or other outdoor chores. I needed a few cups of coffee to get going on the weekends and after finishing indoor chores, would head out later in the day and during hot weather tended to follow the shade. So, while being alone inside is still very sad and difficult, being by myself to tend to the gardens feels more normal.

Two of my indispensable gardening tools. Photo by dmp2022.

That being said, there is not enough time for one person to keep up with all the outdoor chores so not as many vegetables are being planted but more flowers are. It’s just delightful to be able to collect enough flowers to fill vases in the dining room, kitchen, bath and bedroom, especially colorful or scented ones. Plus, the local garden club I belong to has a ‘flower show’ at the town’s Old Home Day Festival over Labor Day weekend.

Some of the floral arrangements at the Charlton Garden Club’s annual flower show. Photo by dmp2021.

I had already started a number of tomato and pepper plants in late winter planning for lots of meals with stuffed peppers and jars of my special chili sauce as well as fresh and canned tomatoes.

The only consistent animal pest problem we have had is racoons raiding the sweet corn – of course on the night just before it is ready to be picked! So, my husband had erected a fence around the garden we grew sweet corn in but not around the other two beds as they were typically not bothered – until last year when the rabbits ate most of the beans. Our plan was to fence this section in this spring.

 In the fenced garden bed, I planted 11 tomatoes, 4 cultivars of sweet peppers, a couple of eggplants, sweet potato slips (Beauregard), 4 varieties of cukes plus some zinnias, carrots, beets and Swiss chard. To reduce the amount of weeding necessary, I lined the paths with newspapers covered with animal bedding and placed a heat-treated straw mix around the plants. Some weeds will inevitably poke through, but many can be suppressed by a light covering of some type of mulch.

Fenced in and planted vegetable garden number 1 by dmp2022.

Last weekend I tackled the garden plot by the shed. Except for the strip of rhubarb and green onion bed, which I had previously planted with greens and garlic, there were plenty of weeds to deal with.

Vegetable garden number 2 before weeding. Photo by dmp2022.

Among the weeds were hundreds of self-seeding annuals like tall verbena, nigella, nicotiana, tall ageratum, bupleurum, and a few ammi. I transplanted a few of each and added a bed with butternut squash and nasturtium seeds, one with Japanese white hull-less popcorn and filled the other two small beds with seeds of zinnia, cosmos, marigolds and some others. In part of the bed I planted brown mustard seeds. My sister made the best sage mustard recipe last year and I am hoping to be able to harvest seeds, we’ll see how that goes.

Planting popcorn seeds. Photo by dmp2022.

Most of the third vegetable garden I covered with black plastic as I am limited to how much time I have to tend all the gardens, the house, and work full time. I did plant one whole framed raised bed with sunflowers and calendulas though. A few volunteer sunflowers had already shown up so I thought I would plant more. The birds really enjoy the seeds (don’t grow all pollenless varieties) and I am thinking Mr. Rabbit, who I’ve been watching nibbling the clover in the lawn may be the culprit that chomped on a few of the sunflower leaves. I sprayed what was left with deer and rabbit repellent so here’s hoping for the best.

I struggle with the mulch to keep down weeds to save precious time and my back versus providing an organic fortified, cooler, moister situation favoring those invasive snakeworms. While 2 inches of any type of organic mulch would likely keep weeds to a minimum, this provides a perfect habitat for these ecosystem destroying invasive pests. So I typically apply only a light covering of mulch, be it shredded bark, cocoa hulls, shredded office paper, untreated grass clippings or purchased seedling/garden mulch straw products.

It was a bit disappointing this evening when I went out to water newly seeded vegetable hills and rows to notice blades of grass rising through the winter squash bed that I had covered with Lucerne Farms gardening mulch. Since this product claims to be heat treated, I suspect that the sprouting grass seeds might be from the Mainely Mulch I had placed around the tomatoes planted in this bed last year. The Lucerne product claims to be heat treated and therefore, free of weed seeds capable of germinating.  I had used Mainely Mulch in the past with no problems but with all the rain we got last year, it seemed like any seed left in the mulch germinated. My weekend plans are to go through all the beds I just planted and pull the weeds when small.

Finished vegetable garden number 2. Photo by dmp2022.

Oxalis in the mulched herb garden is another challenge – it is so ubiquitous. I pull and pull and still see more plants.

My plan is to just upkeep what I can, not to harvest more vegetables than I can handle or give away and enjoy lots of flowers (if the rabbit doesn’t eat them).

I hope all of you have had a much happier and productive spring than me but at least it is just mostly maintenance now and the planting is done.

Celebrate the summer solstice!

Dawn P.