The distancing requirements or the Covid-19 virus have prevented NCTV from filming “A Walk in the Garden with Liz Davey” at my home. In spite of the restrictions on all of us, all of our gardens continue to grow. I want to share a few of the things I am doing outdoors and some of the gardening tasks that I have been doing inside in early May. Since I can’t be with you live just yet, I have put together a photo scrapbook to show you what is going on at my home and in my garden.
So far, May has continued the “colder than normal” pattern of April, with a hard frost on May 9th. Yet, the cherries, apples and crabapples and viburnums continue putting on their spring show. The coolness has slowed down growth of perennials and prevented me from putting seedlings in the shed. The south side of my shed’s roof is Plexiglas which lets in the sun but the shed’s temperatures approach the outside temperature at night, in spite of achieving high temperatures on sunny days.
A new addition here is a wildlife camera which we place in various locations to see what creatures visit our property at night. So far we have seen muskrats, rabbits, deer, coyote and fox. It is a great quarantine activity!
Bird houses were put up by early May and are being used by nesting birds, primarily wrens although the bluebird house near the garden is being used by bluebirds.
The perennial herbs continue to expand and in addition to sorrel and chives, I now have thyme, lovage and parsley to use in the kitchen. Lovage in small amounts is a good substitute for celery and is great in potato and macaroni salads. I look forward to adding some tender herb plants in the next few weeks: rosemary, lemon verbena, lemon grass, basil and cilantro. The latter two will also be planted as seeds in the vegetable garden but I like to have a few plants to provide an earlier harvest
The late daffodils and tulips are still providing a bit of color but most of them have now finished blooming. I cut off the spent blooms from daffodils, tulips and hyacinths to prevent them from forming seed and I will let the foliage ripen until it turns brown and is easily removed. This provides energy to the bulbs which will provide next year’s blooms. Grape hyacinths, primroses, and miniature iris are providing a bit color in the garden along the many shades of green emerging foliage.
I have been dividing some of the perennials that have outgrown their allotted spaces and either transplanting the extras to a new area or potting them up to share with others. I had four yards of mulch delivered and have been spreading this around plants once any new perennials have been added and any plants divided and transplanted. In addition to suppressing weed growth and improving the look of the garden, the mulch will provide organic matter to the soil as it breaks down. Lily foliage has emerged and I saw my first lily beetle of the year on a sunny day last week. These red beetles are foreign invaders that can decimate lily plantings. A small specific predicator wasp was released in RI a number of years ago and it seems to have had an effect the last few years, as I have seen fewer of the beetles. None the less, I do check for them and destroy any I find before they can lay eggs and that has helped to control them on my lilies.
Spring is the shade garden’s most colorful season. Hosta plantings continue to expand in the shade garden adding various shades of green. I continue to add slug control pellets around the plants and spray them every week or two with deer and rabbit repellent. I have also divided a few larger hosta clumps before their leaves fully unfold.
Ferns are also emerging. I have planted a few ferns, but most of them here have just came up on their own in the shady moist areas they prefer. I have been enjoying a few native wildflowers: bloodroot, mertensia, and uvularia also known as Merry Bells, and yellow dog tooth violet.
The large “umbrella” leaves of mayapple have also emerged. It has a tendency to spread, so give it some space and also be aware that by summer it will be gone only to return next spring in increasing numbers.
Non-native tall bleeding hearts, tiny epimediums, doronicum (AKA leopards bane) and the blue flower sprays of brunnera are in bloom.
On one of the days that was over 70 degrees, I added the pump, waterfall and skimmer to the pond to provide the circulation that will help keep the pond free of mosquitoes and debris. I add natural enzyme products to help break down organic material so that the filtration in the waterfall and skimmer can remove it. The fish are now being fed regularly and I am converting from cold season food to their regular summer food. As the water becomes warmer, the fish require more frequent feedings. I have not yet added the tropical plants to the pond. I kept them alive indoors over the winter, but I will move them to the pond soon, typically around Memorial Day.
After many years of successfully using only an electric fence around the vegetable garden, last year’s rabbit invasion indicated a need for some changes. I spent much of April making improvements to my fencing system adding an inner three foot rabbit fence and placing three electrified wires ten inches outside of that, making sure one wire was low (to hopefully prevent digging animals) and one is high (to repel deer.)
The peas that were planted in April have sprouted and I have put up a mesh fence to support their vines. Seeds planted in late March in the cloche will soon be ready to provide baby kale and arugula for salads. The seeds of cold tolerant plants planted last month have germinated: spinach, lettuce, beets, carrots, radishes, and cilantro.
The rest of the garden has been planned on paper and the cages for tomatoes and tomatillos have been placed in the garden marking the spots where these plants will go later this month. Cabbage, kale, broccoli and Brussels sprout seedlings will be planted in the next week or so, preferably on a warm cloudy day with light rain in the forecast.
The strawberries are blossoming and because of a frost forecast for May 8-9; I covered them with two layers of Remay which I hope prevents the blossoms from damage. I will leave them covered until the weather improves and frost is no longer predicted.
Rhubarb grows easily in our climate and is pretty much trouble free, lasting for years in the garden. Rhubarb is ready now for harvest and over the next month I will be making some favorite rhubarb desserts.
My indoor plant collection continues to grow as seedlings are transpanted into larger pots or cells and the tender bulbs of calla lilies, pineapples lilies, begonias and caladium are started in pots. Cuttings taken last fall of tender perennials from containers have rapidly expanded as I have continued to pinch back top growth to promote new shoots. Tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos have been transplanted to pots, burying them deeply to cover their stems which will form new roots. I plan to move them to the shed for a few weeks before planting them in the garden. I could also harden them off by moving them outdoors gradually, placing them outside in the shade for a few hours each day and then gradually increasing the time outdoors and the amount of sun they receive until they are ready to plant in the garden. This eliminates the transplant shock of moving plants from indoors to the full sun garden. By early June, I hope all of the plants will be outside.
In The Kitchen
I look forward to making this rhubarb custard tart every spring. The light custard compliments the rhubarb’s tart flavor.
Rhubarb Custard Kuchen
To make the crust combine 1 ¾ cup flour, ½ teaspoon baking powder and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Cut in ¾ cup of shortening to make fine crumbs. Combine 1 beaten egg and 1 Tablespoon of milk. Add to crumbs and stir to form dough. Pat the dough into the bottom and ¾ inch up the sides of a 9”x13”x2” ungreased pan.
Fill with 4 cups of sliced rhubarb. Mix together 1 ½ cup sugar, 2 Tablespoons flour and 1 teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the rhubarb. Mix ¾ cup of milk, 1 egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla and pour evenly over the top of the sugar mixture on the rhubarb. Don’t worry if it looks dry in places. Bake at 425o F. for 20 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 350o F. and bake another 15 minutes or until rhubarb is tender. Cool on rack. Cut in squares. Serves 12. Refrigerate leftovers. Good warm or cold, it’s a taste of spring!.