The January Gardener
Gardening on Paper
January is the time that gardeners start their gardens. We garden on paper, planning what we will grow in our gardens or how we will improve our landscapes this year. Three ways that gardeners prepare for the growing season are to review last year’s garden, check out what’s new in the catalogs, and use available resources to learn more about gardening!
Review the 2012 Garden
If you did any kind of gardening in 2012, this is the moment to take a critical backward look.
The easiest thing to do is to remember the real successes: the abundance of aromatic basil, the brief but magnificent peonies, the tender green beans, the blueberries!!
Be sure to review not only the pleasures and surprises but also disappointments of the season. Be honest.
My pea plants, for example, never had a chance this year – something (and I suspect a critter with long ears) nibbled off the leaves as soon as they appeared. I saw some netting that protected greens from a resident bunny at the City Natives gardens last summer, so I might try growing bush peas with netting this year.
I am certainly not going to give up growing peas! Planting peas on St. Patrick’s Day is the opening of the garden season here in Boston. By that time in March we are tired of seeing the lumpy soot-blackened piles of snow, wearing the clumpy salt-ringed boots, dealing with the winter-weary hat hair, and we really need to have the fresh vision of spring that gardening brings. So I will find a way to grow peas.
And last year’s tomatoes tasted amazing and the cukes were delicious and the zinnias were colorful and went on and on past October. But if I am totally honest, I have to admit that my experiment with kohlrabi was disappointing. Yes, those little bulbs looked just like the pictures, and it was kind of cool to grow something different from my neighbors, but it didn’t taste that special. It will not get a spot in this year’s garden.
Limited space makes for tough decisions. Over the years I have learned that squeezing all the plants that can theoretically fit into the paper garden is not the best way to grow the real one! When I draw my plan for this year’s garden, I need to remember to plan in space for the plants to grow and for me to move around in the garden, too.
Check out the Catalogs Ah, garden catalogs and the dreams of summer sweetness they bring!
Don’t forget to check for improved versions of plants you’ve grown forever. For example, the tomatoes in my garden have long suffered from late season blight. By mid-September many of the plants are skeletons just holding on to the last clusters of fruits. Now there is a new All-American Selection, the Jasper Cherry Tomato, which has been developed to resist late blight while keeping that sweet mouthful of flavor. I just may replace one of my Sweet Millions cherries with a Jasper this year.
(For a close-up view of the competitive process that results in the All-American Selections, anyone can visit the trial gardens at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in Wellesley. There is even a way to look the candidates over and cast a vote for the American Garden Award for the most popular flower; it’s a kind of American Idol for flowers.)
I can’t help paging through the slick paper eye-candy photos, even though my true loyalty is with the more sustainable catalogs from Fedco and Johnny’s Selected Seeds; see my previous January column for particulars.
When you start browsing seed catalogs, you notice right away that seed packets have gotten really expensive. $5 for a packet of seeds! And as urban gardeners, we often only have room for planting only half the seeds in a packet. See if you can get together with a gardener or two in your neighborhood or community garden and share some seed packets, maybe of something you’ve never grown before. Or join other city gardeners at the seed swap described below.
Sign up for a Gardening Class
Boston gardeners are a lucky crew! We have so many free or low-cost ways to improve our gardening skills, and even come home with free seeds or a worm bin. A selection of local gardening programs are listed here:
Boston Natural Areas Network’s Second Annual City-Wide Seed Swap.
Saturday Jan 19 1-3 pm. Free. Gardeners and garden educators will be sharing seeds from their sure-fire favorite plants, and what they have learned about growing them. If you have saved seeds from some of your favorite plants, bring them to share. Advice on spring garden planning will also be available.
Sustainable Hobbies Series: Window Gardens
Sunday Jan 20 2-3 pm $7 (discount for Audubon members)
Explore growing everything from micro-greens to sugar snap peas right in your kitchen window.
Saturday Feb 2 1-2:30 pm $7 (discount for Audubon members)
Create compost all year around. Learn how worm bins work, how to create your own bin and keep it thriving. Browse working worm bins/composters to see if it is a good fit for you. Bring a plastic container and leave with your very own worm bin.
Pruning in Winter, Arnold Arboretum
2 sessions (select one): Saturday January 26 or February 2, 9 am to noon $48 (discount for Arboretum member)
Learn the reasons for pruning and what to consider when pruning dormant trees, shrubs, and vines. The arborist will demonstrate techniques, give guidelines for determining which plants benefit from winter pruning, and explain how plants heal from pruning wounds. Note: this workshop teaches ornamental pruning techniques; it does not provide information on pruning for fruit production. (See below for that.)
Saturday Feb 23 1-4 pm Location to be determined Free
Routine pruning is vital for healthy fruit trees. In this hands-on workshop, experts will demonstrate basic tree pruning techniques and guide you as you help tend your fruit trees. Pruning tools and equipment provided. Registration required by contacting 617-542-7696 or email@example.com.
Saturday, March 16, 9:00–11:00am $30 (discount for Arboretum members)
Knowing what and when to prune, and how to do so, are important as you manage your home landscape. Learn the basic techniques for pruning ornamental shrubs for optimum health and beauty. Topics including pruning cuts and tools; thinning and reducing overgrown plants; shaping and encouraging new growth. Annual Gardeners’ Gathering http://bostonnatural.org/calendar.asp?M=3&D=30&Y=2013 Saturday March 30 11 am - 4 pm Free Lectures, demos, hands-on workshops on gardening, garden education, community gardening.
You could also browse some of the very knowledgeable garden blogs and how-to videos on the internet. I love to browse Professor Leonard Perry’s website, Perry’s Perennial Pages, which includes everything from beautiful photos of perennial gardens designed to be used as desktops to a full on-line course on Herbaceous Plants. (A photo of a “living wall” in Madrid -- a blank city wall that was planted with thousands of plants -- that I saw on this website may be one of the many motivators for my upcoming trip to Spain). The encyclopedic photos of grasses, ferns, bulbs, you-name-it, make you think of just tossing all those garden books on your shelf. (AND the website doesn’t have any blinking ads.)
Winter may not be long enough for all the good paper and electronic gardening.