Interim Report on Lambert’s 2018 Garden

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

This is not the prettiest garden I’ve ever had, sadly; although it suits my purposes admirably, as we shall see. I went out around 5:00 this afternoon and took photographs of it, some of which you see below.

I started gardening in 2006-2007, when first my personal economy collapsed, and then the entire economy. So I concentrated on learning how to grow vegetables in case I needed to feed myself, and learned something of permaculture. However, I gradually discovered that what I really enjoyed about my garden was not growing vegetables, especially since vegetables mean work — I don’t like work — even when sheet-mulched, but sitting in it while working. Here is a frontal view of my office:

Running that orange power cord from the house, across the garden, to a “desk” so I could plug in my laptop is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself; I encourage those of you who work from home on laptops to try it. (Note that although the sun keeps the air warm, I have arranged to sit in shadow, so I don’t get reflections on the screen. Sometimes if I get up too early, I have to drag the desk to follow the shadow around, but who wants to get up early?) The shovel at left, behind the man-bag, I keep there to dispose of any gifts left for me by the cat.

Here is a view of the garden from my desk; this is what I see when I look up from the screen. In past years, I’ve counted as many as twenty-three species of flowers from this vantage point, but my ecology is simpler this year. However, the original garden design is still holding up: In the background, the filbert trees and raspberries are providing both food and privacy (and in the case of the raspberries, protection, from the prickles). You can see the blur of a passing car between the trees in the background, but it’s very doubtful they noticed me. And we have our invasive species: I forget what the spiky plants in the foreground are, but the red flowers are bee balm; hummingbirds like it, and I saw my first one the other day. Birds are happy with my garden, despite the presence of a predator; birds love a mess. I hear them singing throughout my workday.

Here is a “mass of color,” in this case the blue flowers of borage, which has happily invaded what used to be the vegetable beds.

Here is another mass, of basil, another invasive species. The sunflowers at right are self-seeded; I have a lot, but most have not yet flowered. My principle is to see which plants appears, each year, and then either leave them alone, weed them, or move them. Here, I transplanted some Black-Eyed Susans from a patch near my desk, because they’re one of my favorite flowers and I want them to propagate; they had a dieback last year, for some reason.

Here is the cat, visibly posing in what used to be a sheet-mulched vegetable bed. Unfortunately, last year an unruly tenant ran his dirt-bike over the beds, ruining them; I didn’t feel like rebuilding the beds, and so I abandoned vegetables entirely. Here, I ripped out an enormous quantity of weeds to expose the soil, and then scattered wildflower seeds, which have sprouted as you see. In about four or five more weeks I should have a pollinator-friendly patch of flowers, some of which I hope will reseed themselves. You can also see borage, raspberries, and violets; I have lots of them.

I forget what these flowers are; I bought them at the Farmer’s Market.

Stage One of my gardening every year is to get the beds going that are next to the sidewalk where the church ladies walk past; I don’t want to give rise to comment in the town (the central function of these beds). You can catch a glimpse of my desk in the sunlight at top right; and in front another mass of self-seeded sunflowers, a patch of wildflowers that’s sprouted, with some grass I haven’t pulled; a few orange self-seeded poppies, shut for the evening; those yellow thingamajigs that are, I think, a weed but are really fighting their corner hard; peonies; filberts; hostas… The flowers whose name I forget… The whole arrangement is quite pleasant to look at.

Quack grass. After I weed-whacked the area. Maybe I should plant some sort of wheat here; even though wheat is a grass, it would still be better than this horrid stuff!

* * *

All in all, an inordinate amount of pleasure for very little investment in money or labor. I heartily recommend gardening. How is your garden coming?

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


      1. Oregoncharles

        Red + the blue of shade = magenta.

        Quack grass is one of the worst, but has a very intriguing smell when cut or bruised.

        I’m interested that filberts grow there, AND that you call them that. They’re a major crop here, right after grass seed and christmas trees. But Oregon stopped calling them that years ago; they’re “hazelnuts” now, a more widely recognized term. Filberts are European hazels. And I’m surprised that they’re hardy enough for Maine; they bloom in January!

        I haven’t arranged to work sitting in the garden; wouldn’t be hard, in the afternoon.

        A gardener should always have a shovel handy. In our case, it was for the possums our then dog would kill; if I didn’t give them a decent burial, she would wait until they were good and ripe and roll in them. they made good fertilizer.

      2. skippy

        It is hard Lambert, you should see some of the conversations I’ve had with clients on colour. Don’t even want to get into light refraction, per se units surrounded by other buildings with heaps of glass bouncing light around differently during the day.

        I was only joking, envisaged you having a tree stump or something similar.

  1. PlutoniumKun

    Thats really lovely.

    I’m even more restricted on space – I live in an urban apartment with just a balcony. This year I added herbs and kale to my usual tomatoes and lavender and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my crop from such a small space (helped by our record breaking hot summer so far). It all looks nice and green on a bare urban street and there is a particular pleasure in going out in the morning to harvest some sprigs of parsley and mint and thyme with some kale leaves to add to my morning smoothie – the tomatoes and peppers and chilies are coming soon.

    1. johnnygl

      Balcony only, huh? Don’t forget to make use of the vertical space. Vining plants like squash, melons, that sort of thing. They can grab onto almost anything to hoist themselves up and i find the huge leaves provide some shade (and biomass if you want it) to other plants during a hot sunny season.

      Also, it’s a fun conversation piece if you can offer guests some balcony-grown watermelon or honeydew!

      Or, butternut squash stores well for months if you want to feed yourself later.

      I’ve had good luck with discarded seeds from food i bought at the supermarket.

      1. Carey

        Thanks for these tips, since I too have just a balcony these days, and am trying to
        improve my tiny garden, despite the un-greenest of thumbs.

        Cool to see your garden, Lambert; very nice!

  2. Clive

    I’m rather despairing because, unlike Lambert, I don’t mind gardening / yard work in the least, possibility the main reason being that apart from walking everywhere it’s my main form of physical exercise (finding gyms not a little intimidating; but I can easily spend three or four hours of fairly hard physical toil in the garden).

    But I’m with Lambert on the dislike of work so I’m not casting nasturtiums — it’s not laziness, it’s economy of effort. It all depends on what your garden means to you and it’s a very personal thing.

    So, a long winded way of saying I put a lot of time and trouble into the garden. This year, like PlutoniumKun, we’ve had one of the hottest and driest summers on record. July, for example, is currently 4.3 degrees (centigrade) warmer than the post-1911 long term average. And only 5.3 mm (what’s that’s, about one-fifth of an inch?) of rain in nearly three months, all of which for fell in a single thunderstorm. I planted drought-tolerant border plants when I redesigned the garden from scratch, which was a bit of a gamble — but now those plant hardiness Zone 7 (roughly climate Zone 4 equivalent) plants are finding it a little too warm!

    But the lawn, oh my heck. It’s a disaster. I’m very torn about irrigation, I have never watered the lawn and never intended to start. Of course, in England’s predominantly soggy climate, it’s not usually necessary. But this year, it’s like it’s been attacked with Agent Orange. I must confess, I’ve been sorely tempted to get the sprinkler out. I’ve resisted so far, but now it’s becoming a niggle and an itch I’m having to consciously refrain from scratching.

    I’ve possibly lost perspective so maybe readers could bring me back to some semblance of reasonableness — I will post a picture if readers are interested enough to offer to voice an opinion.

    1. skippy

      Hay Clive there are heaps of stuff that you can add to your lawn or what garden patch that assists water retention, not only that but broad range temperate grass seeds really help.

      1. Clive

        I’d not thought of that. I’ll probably need to re-seed anyway after the abuse the weather has heaped upon it this summer. I was always sceptical about “drought tolerant” grass, but I’m guessing you’ve had experience and it really does resist dry spells?

        1. skippy

          Yeah Clive I’ve gone down the track after 14 years in this joint and the climatic variances in Brisbane during that period. Aside mono culture, even in grass, is not really realistic long term or appropriate to how dynamic bio nature exists. Personally I view lawn as soil retention and not purely as a ascetic, hence I need grasses that flourish and ebb due to environmental factors.

        2. johnnygl

          I haven’t tried it, but i suspect mixing in a little clover with the grass might give things a boost, along with the mix of breeds suggested by skippy. I have often noticed the perkiest parts of lawns that are mowed and otherwise neglected tend to be the parts mixed in with some clover (not by design, but by nature’s randomness). We get hot summers and dry spells here in MA.

          My best guess about reasons why this happens: 1) nitrogen fixing and 2) a little extra shade for the soil and 3) diversity brings resilience.

        3. perpetualWAR

          Actually adding clover helps lawns with less watering stay green as it needs less water. Clover also covers up any yellow spots from pet urine and assists the bee population. My neighbors are aghast that rather than having a golf-course-type lawn, I encourage the clover by spreading clover seeds.

          1. JohnnyGL

            Per my comment above… the clover mixing thing actually does work? I had a hunch it might based on random observations around here.

            I might add some to my own lawn and make it a bit more resilient. It gets a lot of sun and has a tendency to dry out.

            Or maybe I just need to plant some stuff to shade the lawn some more?

          2. Oregoncharles

            At home, I plant white clover INSTEAD of grass in bare patches;; the grass will arrive soon after. I’ve seen an entire lawn of clover, but it didn’t stay that way very long – grass seed is a main industry here, and grass is the default plant, short of blackberries. Only problem is stepping on bees barefoot; part of childhood, in my experience. I remember lying on my back looking at a foot about twice its normal size. I made it.

            1. Lambert Strether Post author

              I’m a big fan of white clover and I do the same thing. I’m going to sew some shortly; it grows very fast. I just wish it would outgrow the weeds at the start of the season!

      1. Jonathan Holland Becnel

        “Suburban Safari: A Year On The Lawn” by Hannah Holmes says the same thing!

        I had no idea that Sparrows and Crepe Myrtles are invasive species.

        And that cutting ur lawn all the time releases shit into the air.

    2. Oregoncharles

      Oregon is summer arid, despite our reputation, so lawns go dormant here if not watered. We do, a little, because we’re on a well and rather self-contained, but most grasses will survive going dormant in the heat. As a professional ;) i’d advise waiting it out. If it’s going to die, it already has, and early fall is the best time to replant (yes, some grasses are drought tolerant, and a mixed planting with flowers will also be more resilient, as well as prettier), so that’s the time to water if need be.

      You may also be facing restrictions on watering, in which case you need to prioritize.

      Longer term, spreading sawdust or woody compost on it also helps, and mulching rather than catching the clippings. Don’t cut it too short, but you probably know that.

      Unfortunately, drought really enables the deep-rooted weeds like dandelions.

      In the way of things, you’ll probably get a deluge next year.

      1. Clive

        Even the dandelions have succumbed!

        The only water use restrictions are my conscience. Oh, that, and the c. £2.50 / 1000 litres water charges we have (apologies, too late in the day for mental arithmetic done accurately but it’s around $3.40 for 250 US gallons. Which doesn’t go far on a 50 ft x 50 ft lawn…)

  3. clarky90

    Years ago, Lambert? Yves? linked, to “Forest Gardening with Robert Hart”, here on NC

    My life was changed. Heartfelt thanks!

    Plants/trees/flowers in orderly rows always repelled, rather than attracted me. A cruel, cruel prison for plants. But, here was a forest-garden (The Garden of Eden!) that suddenly made perfect sense to me. And a teacher. (Robert Hart)

    I am learning to love plants. I am interested in what they do, and how they live their lives. Slowly (years and years) figuring out how to feed their soil and put them in spots that they “might” (or not) like. Learning to listen.

    My garden is developing a life of it’s own. I found Angelica by the harbour and planted it in the front yard by a wormwood bush. Somehow it disappeared from there, and made it’s way to the back yard, beside the elderberry.

    “Volunteers” arrive. Watercress is growing in the front yard! Where did they come from? The birds? A bok-choy inexplicably decided to grow beside the front steps.

    I struggle against English ivy and an annoying plant called cow parsley. I foolishly allowed one cow parsley to flower (big pretty white flowers) and seed. It’s prolific, and does not, ever, give up!

    Herb-robert (crow’s foot) is growing randomly. It has a fox-musk smell.

    Small shelf fungi and mushrooms are appearing on the old logs/branches I am using for edging.

    There are many birds! There is a bird sanctuary on the other side of the hill, and the young birds spill out everywhere.

    1. rd

      I highly recommend this recent book:

      It goes through garden design looking at both ecological functions as well as aesthetic. There are good plant lists at thew back by region that identify native plants and the ecological functions that they serve. A good ecological garden will provide a mix of cover, larval food (generally leaves) for lepidoptera etc., flowers for pollinators, and seeds for fall migrants and over-wintering critters and birds.

      Some plants (hello dogwoods – Cornus genus) provide all of these. Others (ferns, mint family, etc.) provide only one or two. If you have non-native plants, which usually are not a good larval food source but often provide very good pollen and nectar, then incorporating native plants with high larval usage (goldenrods, asters, oaks, willows, dogwoods, maples) provides a complete, well-balanced ecosystem, even in a small space.

      My current primary garden challenge has been to find good native flowering species for May-June color in upstate NY in sunny wet and dry conditions. The woodland species generally have lots of options for April-early June flowering, but less so herbaceous plants in the meadow environment.

    2. Oregoncharles

      “Herb-Robert,” aka stinking Bob. We also have several equally noxious relatives. They’re geraniums, believe it or not.

      Actually, sounds like your place is a bird sanctuary, too. We also have a lot – the Audubon winter bird count sometimes comes here, as we also have riparian ground.

      I’ve systematically planted fruit and nut trees, plus the place came with about 20 filberts (hazelnuts). I try to keep the actual garden to flowers and shrubs, though. Certain trees would love to take over. Lilacs do get the size of trees, and we also have native creek dogwood and ninebark defining the edge.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      > My garden is developing a life of its own.

      That’s what makes it fun! I abominate bark mulch, because it’s very sad to see a plant isolated in a lonely sea of bark mulch. That plant should be out competing and co-operating with other plants!

  4. Jen

    When I bought my house a dozen years or so ago, the area behind the house was a thicket of saplings and brush. A few years ago I cleaned all that out and created a garden around a few features that caught my eye. I’ve filled it with bee balm, balloon flowers, cat mint and phlox. It’s a big happy mess. I also planted a row of hydrangea at the edge of the woods. I’ve been conducting a natural experiment in the open area of what is now a creditable back yard. Various types of grass and moss are growing, and I’m leaving it alone to see what works. There is one variety of grass that seems to be winning, as it were. It’s gradually forming larger clumps and closing over the open spots. In this very dry year it seems happy, too, unlike the wretched affair that is my front “lawn.”

    Clive, I can sympathize with you about your lawn. Mine looks like a hair transplant gone badly wrong – some decent growth around the edges and a lot of pathetic little tufts in the middle. I’m not inclined to put any work into making it better, so I’ve started planting flowers in the sections that have gone completely bald. Eventually I hope to turn most of it into to a garden. I still need a few clear paths for the dogs to chase tennis balls.

    My continual challenge is finding plants that I like, but chickens don’t.

  5. thoughtful person

    Lambert, what do you do about mosquitoes? I think you have them in ME. Here in Va, we have a fan and various other repellant things. Maybe you are covered up since ME is always nice and cool?

    The pink flower looks like it could be cosmos or a relation.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Cosmos! Thank you!

      On mosquitos: I don’t have them during the day. They come out in the evening, which is too bad because I’d like to work late out here but can’t.

      Black flies I did get, but happily the season was very short.

      1. rd

        I have found that a healthy ecosystem garden doesn’t have a lot of mosquitoes, especially during the day. The birds eat them during the day and if bats are roosting, they snack on them at night.

      2. 4corners

        Yes, definitely cosmos. I have a sulphur yellow variety that produces lots of volunteers. I deadhead most of them but let others go to seed, which I collect and give away. In my neighborhood I saw some growing in a parking strip that were almost 6 feet tall. I couldn’t help myself from breaking off a few seeds to try this year. (Who knows… maybe it was Slim’s house and now she understands why that stranger was out staring at her yard.)

        Another plant I have grown to love is holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum). It’s pretty, tough, and makes a fantastic tea.

        Thanks for sharing, Lambert. Seems like many of us find solace in the garden, and boy do we need it.

  6. Steve H.

    Years of trying and this is the first time I’ve been eating vegetables. I had a mulberry tree leaning toward a house next door, and when the arborist came I had him take down all the large trees. I wore my body down laying them east/west, and what I planted in the ground along them has just exploded, enormous leaves, vines that outrun my efforts to keep up and guide. The earth under the old woodpiles is expanded about a half-foot higher than the base level, and these new ones are at an interface with the wood, red clay, and a fine aglime pile I landscaped with.

    My mint just flowered yesterday, I’m hoping to see the variety of bees and wasps that glinted in the past.

  7. katenka

    Lovely! And I second thoughtful person’s ID of your Farmers’ Market flower — that looks very much like cosmos.

  8. Paul O

    I am no gardener but wanted to say that I enjoyed both the article and the comments.

    What about moss for a ‘lawn’ rather than grass? I have seen a couple of segments on moss during BBC flower show coverage this year but have no idea how it pans out environmentally when all factors are account for.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I wanted to create a mossy path at one point, because I thought it would feel nice under my bare feet, but never got round it it; that would be work.

      However, I have a number of ferns in one shady spot that I am going to move to a public-facing shady spot…..

  9. Samuel Conner

    Wonderful, Lambert!

    I’m curious about the neighbors’ attitude toward the height of what you have adjacent to the street and the sidewalk. Presumably it’s very different from what neighbors on either side are doing?

    I’ve thought about putting fruit bushes or trees in my front to provide a screen and food, but haven’t worked up the courage for that yet. I keep my front more or less tidy in conventional (wasteful) lawn form, but have an agreeable chaos in the back.

    For those who dislike the physical work but want the results (I’m one of them; find it hard to get moving, but once started the inertia carries me onward), I’ve found it helpful to think of the annoying labor of digging and weeding as a form of life-prolonging exercise. One of my siblings is a physical therapist with lots of older clients. She’s a gardener too, and has mentioned to me that she has not yet met a centenarian who was not a gardener — the “functional strength” once develops and maintains in that activity is really useful in preserving mobility and balance later in life. And there are significant mental health benefits too.


    Regarding the quack grass, I have a similar problem that I have been laboriously attempting to control with double digging. Perhaps it would be enough to weed whack, put down a cheap barrier material, and plant an aggressive annual spreading species through the barrier to shade anything that pokes through the barrier. I’m going to try that with my waiting to be planted “chamoe”/Korean melon plants (yes, soooo late. The only on-time plantings in my garden are the volunteers, which generally show up where I don’t want them), which spread to about 10′ x 10′ and produce loads of fruit. These plants are zero maintenance once established, and are not hard to start from seed.

    1. Carla

      For very handsome shade in a front yard, but admittedly not food, I saw a magnificent river birch on my morning walk today. Its several trunks of gorgeously peeling bark springing from a common root mass gave the tree a giant shrub-like aspect, and the glossy dark-green leaves were very appealing. Oh, I WANT one!

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > she has not yet met a centenarian who was not a gardener

      Words to live by….

      My situation is such that I am not blessed with neighbors; institutional entities on all sides.

  10. Eclair

    Lambert, I like your gardening philosophy of just seeing which plants appear and either going with them, weeding them out, or transplanting them. We moved back into my spouse’s parents’ house. It has been neglected since the death of his dad, 20 years ago, since my brother-in-law is more interested in mechanical toys than in house and yard maintenance.

    So, there are three acres, roughly two of lawn and one of woods, which consists of lots of dying ash trees and a small swamp. Brother-in-law has left a basket-ball court sized dump of wood, cut for the now defunct outdoor wood furnace; some of the logs are 4 feet in diameter. It is a perfect ecosystem, hosting daisies (leave alone), golden rod (judiciously weeded), thistles and yellow dock (those go for now, but they are useful, so I should find a place for them), some tall pink things whose name escapes me (encouraged), wild strawberries and raspberry bushes (keep), one huge honeysuckle bush (just found out last week that it is considered an invasive species here in NY, so it will have to go), lots of vetch (let run riot in certain border areas because the bees love the blossoms and it is pretty) and …. the daughter of our neighbor identified this last week … a flourishing deadly nightshade bush, with gloriously delicate deep purple and yellow drooping flowers. I looked it up and it is considered very difficult to grow! And, of course, the woodchuck, since where else would a woodchuck chuck but in the woodpile?

    I am getting rid of lawn; putting down cardboard as I collect boxes, in areas that I have outlined with logs and fence posts that I have hauled from the resident woodpile. I ordered a truck-load of compost from the local garden store last fall, and shoveled it 3 or 4 inches deep over the cardboard. The front of the house faces SE, so that is my kitchen garden, with herbs, day lilies (moved from the back of the house), and some iris we brought from Colorado. I planted 100 teeny red onion starts, patches of spicy salad greens, borage, dill, sunflowers, peas and red chard. The onions, borage, greens and chard are flourishing. Sunflowers and dill, for some reason, just won’t make it. The hop vine that I planted to twine up the tacky wrought iron support for the front porch wants to climb to heaven and has just started to produce flowers.

    I sit on the porch and what used to be a silent patch of grass, is now a busily buzzing community of flowers and pollinators; lots of bumble bees, some honey bees and clouds of tiny, waspy things. And the noisy hummingbird!

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > a basket-ball court sized dump of wood

      You can do hugel culture! I did that with my own wood scraps from when I had the wood stove; it was very successful.

      1. Eclair

        Lambert, yes, I am experimenting with hugel culture. My current Bible is Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture and he talks about this. I discovered a couple of pee vee’s in the garage and used one to wrangle some logs into place on a slope (although I did not dig a ditch!), dumped in some soil from the many piles of it my brother-in-law left about the place in his excursions with his beloved earth-moving equipment, and have planted winter squash. So far, so good.

        My plans far exceed my physical ability to push wood around, however. I work, then I take a week off to recover from ‘shoveler’s shoulder!’

    2. HotFlash

      Eclair, sounds like your nightshade is not the deadly but the woody, far less toxic. Deadly has a bell-shaped flower, kind of like foxglove only single, and dark blue=black berries. Woody has flowers very like a its relatives tomato and potato, with the petals a beautiful purple and the berries tomato red. More on differentiating from The Poison Garden. I let it grow in a couple of places because it’s pretty and hardy. My neighbours grow yew, datura and elder, so I don’t feel as if I am a singular Threat to the Neighbourhood.

      1. Eclair

        Phew! Thanks for the correction, HotFlash! The berries are indeed bright red. So glad I need not post skull and cross-bones about the property.

      2. vlade

        Yew berries are edible (seeds are poisonous, and leaves are worse. Pollen is somewhat poisonous, which may be a problem)

        Elder flower are great – tea from dried (good for colds), syrup, cordials from fresh.. Berries make great jams too, or fruit wine if that’s what takes your fancy. Just be careful, as they must be prepared, as raw are a very powerful laxative. Elder bark is poisonous, but even that can be used (very carefuly!) in remedies.

  11. taunger

    First season for the vegetable garden in our new homestead. We built 4′ by 15′ mounded rows, and seeded a variety of vegetables from kale, chard, spinich and lettuce to brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, etc. Bought some tomato and pepper seedlings, and because we can, have a few cannabis clones nestled in as well.

    We also tried growing directly out of decomposing straw bales, as our property sits low in a flood plain, and the water table/soil composition limits drainage.

    Greens have been prodigious, and only the spinach bolted badly during the heat wave we recently had. In the end, we have too many greens; we can process and freeze kale and chard, but the lettuce and mustard greens are too much, and would be better use of space to put in peas and beets for more winter storage. Squashes are good, but unruly, as building trellises has been delayed (read: cancelled). The straw bale experiment has not gone well, and we will build additional soil/compost mounds in those rows next year.

    Hopefully we will be able to get more of the property cleared to start establishing a pretty mess like Lambert’s garden next year. We already have bee balm, joe pye weed, goldenrod, and countless other wildflowers on the land; but it would be nice to get together a space where I could work, or we could sit in the evening and enjoy the flowers.

    Then, it’s on the planting the chesnut and apple orchard. 10 year plans need execution soon, if I’m ever to enjoy those homegrown chesnuts …..

  12. ambrit

    We here Down South (North American Version) have been having bouts of heavy rain, as in an inch or more an hour during rain burst events, interspersed with week long dry spells.
    This area being a holdout of the “Middle Class American Dream Experience” (TM) front lawns are almost manicured affairs. We in the ‘Not Quite Right House’ tend to let the front lawn go uncut for a few weeks at a time. When the neighbours begin to slow down and stare when passing by on the street, we know it’s time to don our ‘protective camouflage’ and cut the grass. The grass clippings go onto the amateur compost heap at the back of the rear yard, where there is an alleyway. The ‘volunteers’ from said heap get transplanted to better spots.
    Our main ‘problem’ is a fast growing trash tree known to locals as the ‘Popcorn Tree.’ (Chinese Tallow – Sapium Sebiferum.) This ‘monster’ will take over a yard in a few years. They grow quickly, displace local varieties of plants and no local animals eat it.
    The other local problem is, you guessed it, mosquitoes.The Asian Tiger Mosquito has arrived on up from the Gulf Coast. Those little buggers are aggressive and leave a welt and sometimes a rash when they bite. So, Citronella candles, or Citronella plants in pots are de-rigueur when sitting outside during the Spring, Summer and Fall here.
    Our flower cohort (all these being in our yard, no less,) includes: Magnolia, Honeysuckle, Wisteria, Black Eyed Susan, Crepe Myrtle, Gardenia, Camellia, Azalea, Amaryllis, Trumpet Vine, Jasmine, Hydrangeas, several varieties of Rose that I planted for Phyl and a whole host of little ‘wild flowers’ here, there and everywhere. The good thing about this eclectic mix is that the flowers bloom at different times of the year. We thus have something in bloom most of the year round.
    Down here, one thing we have to accept as a cost of being outside is sweat, and lots of it. I’ll have to change my shirt or tee shirt at least once a day when venturing outside, for any reason.
    All I can say is, enjoy Mastodon hunting season when it arrives.

    1. ambrit

      Getting ready to go into one of the neighbours yards, with encouragement no less, to pick figs. They have a ten foot tall fig tree, and they don’t eat the fruit! Figs are ripening now here. Chase the birds away and pick more than we need. Cook and freeze or can the fruit. Nothing like home grown, even if it’s someone elses’ home. We have a small fig tree we planted a year or two ago on the rear fenceline.
      The comment from ‘linda amick’ mentions a real potential problem for gardens going into the future; the increasingly chaotic weather patterns. I haven’t seen much, really, any scholarly work being done on this problem.
      Anyway. Don’t give up. Nature doesn’t.

      1. Oregoncharles

        Figs dry beautifully, and make a good candy substitute. I cut off the stem and cut them in half lengthwise for drying, but you don’t have to. they do fit in the drier better,and dry faster.

        I munch on dried fruit and nuts all day.

          1. Oregoncharles

            Well, then there are the chips, ice cream, and muffins. I try to mix it up, and keep the ice cream to the minimum.

        1. 4corners

          I had some elderly Greek neighbors in Salt Lake City (zone 6) that coddled a fig tree like it was a prized pet. Late fall they would roll out a jerry-built hut to protect it from jack frost. Zonal denial.

    2. rd

      Native trees and shrubs that support a wide variety of native caterpillars and other insects will encourage bird populations that will then eat your mosquitoes as well. Birds feed insects to their young, so they will only nest and hang out where there is a food supply. Seeds and berries are a small part of their diet, mainly in the fall when they are stocking up for migration or in the winter if they over-winter.

      The flowers are good for the insects that flit through your yard, but it is their larvae that are the mainstay of the bird diet.

  13. 4paul

    This is a wonderful discussion.
    +1 Lambert “one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself” (I put an old slow recycled desktop and kvm on the back porch and left it – put a tarp over it when not using it. Wasn’t fully outside b/c of the next point:)

    echo thoughtful person’s question “Lambert, what do you do about mosquitoes” (I’m that guy, if there is a mosquito within ten miles it’s on me)

    +1 Paul O’s discussion of “moss” / “ground cover”, ie grass substitutes. Many of them aren’t soft to walk on, but up north the soft little stuff should grow. I haven’t figured it out for my house in Fla yet.

  14. linda amick

    I have gardened yearly since 2006 in Georgia. Given the intermittent soft rains in the past and warmth usually highest in the low 90’s my gardens flourished with little effort save weeding.
    For the past 5 or 6 years gardening here has become less and less viable. There is increasing heat and humidity. There is also rain shortages. Most often vegetable plants must endure extreme heat and then torrential rains. It is a recipe for dead plants.
    I purchase veggies from a co-op and small farmer report that now they must install tunnels in order to get yields as they must now work to control temps and water.
    Sigh. No wonder food is getting so expensive.

    1. Oregoncharles

      I gather that in SoCal and Texas, gardening moves to spring and fall, avoiding summer. Winter, even.

      You probably need a whole new set of crops for the conditions you describe, but I don’t know what they are. Dry tropics, essentially.

  15. DJG

    Are you writing above that bee balm is an invasive species? It is part of the prairies here in the Great Lakes States and has made it into many local gardens. It also attracts bees, which is comforting during this shortage of bees. I prefer the pale blue variant–an elegant flower even with its topknot. Is it not native to Maine?

    The plant that you call basil seems to be in flower and looks more like one of the many kinds of thyme to me. Or do you have a kind of small-leafed Italian basil? And why didn’t you pick the leaves before the plants flowered to make some pesto?

    To replace the quack grass, you may want to put in sea oats, which is notoriously hardy and produces “oats” that look as if they were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. An attractive and tough plant.

    1. DJG

      Pink flower with “fernlike” fronds does look like cosmos, which is common here.

      Do you eat the borage? It is one of the first “weeds” of the garden and comes highly recommended. It is still used in Italian cookery. It is good as a stuffing for ravioli, with some cheese to temper it.

      You should invest in a copy of Honey from a Weed by Patience Gray to determine how much of your greenery is edible. You likely still have a “vegetable garden” there, just not in orderly rows.

    2. Carla

      What Lambert called basil looks like oregano to me. In proportion to the other plants in the photo it would be awfully big to be thyme.

      That said, Lambert — I love, love, love your gardening posts & photos! Keep ’em coming! (Also, it’s admittedly great fun to be able to weigh in on them in Comments.)

    3. HotFlash

      I think it’s probably the honeysuckle that’s the invasive. USDA lists at least one variety of non-native honeysuckle as an invasive, many states list more. Search on invasive plants for your state or province. There are native honeysuckles, which are considered OK. Identification is very important. And most of the govt websites have lousy pictures. As to the monarda/beebalm, it is native. This discussion is best summary of what I found online.

      1. rd

        Non-native honeysuckles are a major invasive problem in upstate NY. When I encounter them on my property I cut them down and spray the stump with poison ivy killer – that usually does the trick. i do the same with multiflora rose, anotehr non-native invader that takes over in similar areas that the honeysuckles take over. Between them, they can smother shrubs and trees.

        If you are looking for a relatively short climbing vine that attracts hummingbirds, I highlyy recommend Lonicera sempervirens, native to the Eastern US. It blooms all summer and fall and comes in pinks and yellows. It is less invasive than trumpet creeper, another great native plant for hummingbirds.

  16. david lamy

    I truly dislike mowing! Thankfully our estate has large gardens throughout.
    My wife and I are in the midst of our annual battle over which invasive species to dynamite. She is for dispatching the wisteria which I adore as it obsures the house. I am not partial to the wild parsnip but upon reflection its resemblance to some truly nasty varieties is probably great for ensuring privacy. We should let both thrive!
    Happy Summer…

  17. William H Duncan

    Looks a little like my garden in Minneapolis. A corner lot, I planted the boulevard in wildflowers in 2006-7. In 2010 I ripped up 90% of the turfgrass. Now I have 30 fruit trees, 200 species of plants, and nature does most of the work. There are 10 types of fruit ripe right now. I also grow veggies. In 2010 I grew 200lbs of potatoes.

    It reaches peak jungle this time of year. Which is when the citations start arriving from the city. While some of my neighbors love what I have here – there are fruit all along the sidewalk and I have a sign out, “feel free to sample, no gathering please”, other neighbors seem to despise it with a visceral passion, and look for things to call the city to complain about.

    It is being reinspected today. I do a better job of keeping the sidewalk clear, and otherwise maintaining the gardem every year, but some people just can’t and won’t get it. They wouldn’t be happy unless I sprayed the lot and planted monocultural turfgrass. But this is vibrant, abundant nature at work and play, and it makes me VERY happy :)


  18. The Rev Kev

    Unfortunately I do not have a gardener’s bone in my body. Having said that, I can appreciate a really beautiful garden and if I had one, I would like it to resemble yours. I am afraid that the only trees that I have growing at my place came to be there through a Darwinian process. I planted them and those that did not die of neglect went on to thrive. Racehorse trees do really well here.
    Lawns are boring and are artificial as well as being a lot of work. When the grass gets too high here I use a two horse-power lawnmower as in I let in two horses. It works. The best looking gardens always seem to be complete ecosystems which is why your cat looks completely at home in your garden. After all, every ecosystem needs a dominant predator to keep things in line.
    Had a friend once from Cyprus and when he move into his new home, he and his family planted trees and vines that would bear fruit so that over time, their garden would give a continuations bounty of fruits such as passion-fruit, mandarins, figs, etc. Not a bad philosophy that but he was a gardener by nature.

    1. perpetualWAR

      I have just moved away from Seattle into a delightful SMALL house with a relatively large garden. Sadly, the garden has been neglected for quite some time. My lab loves this and he has created a super-highway for ball retrieval. But, in this super-highway, I keep thinking that I should plant some fruit-bearing trees and possibly tough ground cover to allow for lab fun. As what gives me great pleasure is his joy for play.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Think through how to plant trees first.

        Don’t be like me; tomatoes were my “gateway plant,” but five years from when I started, I was thinking “If I’d planted trees five years ago, I’d have fruit by now.”

        1. 4corners

          Yeah, how many people saw no green in their thumbs because of prima donna tomato plants. I like your approach of planting lots of different things and seeing what thrives. But I can’t help myself; I’m growing a dozen rare-ish chili peppers this year and find myself constantly worried about their well-being.

        2. Wukchumni

          I too started with veggies, and they were fun, but boring as all get up, to be frank.

          With fruit trees it’s a different story, they are akin to kids in a fashion, and you get to watch them grow up and mature before your very eyes.

          Here’s what’s in the apple orchard presently, by variety:

          Arkansas Black
          Aunt Rachel
          Ben Davis
          Beverly Hills
          Black Twig
          Bramley’s Seedling
          Cinnamon Spice
          Colorado Orange
          Dixie Red Delight
          Dorset Golden
          Flower of Kent
          Hudson’s Golden Gem
          Husk Sweet
          King David
          King Of Tompkins County
          Lady Williams
          Mollie’s Delicious
          Pink Lady
          Pink Pearl
          Red Astrachan
          Red Belle De Boskoop
          Red Delicious
          Red Fuji
          Red Gravenstein
          Rome Beauty
          Sierra Beauty
          Stayman Winesap
          Tydeman’s Late Orange
          William’s Pride
          Yellow Newtown Pippin
          4 in 1 (Fuji-Mutsu-Jonathon-Gala)

        3. rd

          The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. – Chinese proverb

          The key is to understand the growing conditions they need and their eventual size. Planting the large stately trees (oaks, maples etc.) a significant distance apart allows for shrubs and small trees (dogwoods, hornbeams, etc.) to be planted between them. You can plant flowering crabapples etc. now in between young trees that will eventually get large, so you enjoy the flowers now and simply remove those trees several decades later when they no longer get enough light. That is the classic forest succession.

    2. Oregoncharles

      the original lawns were sheep pastures, so your “lawn mowers” are pretty traditional.

  19. ambrit

    Skynet has eaten a comment of mine that I saw go up on this thread an hour ago.

  20. Patricia

    Your garden is lovely, Lambert! 3 years ago, I moved out of Detroit to small Michigan town with daughter and husband, 2/3 acre on a hill. It had some lawn and rest going back to wild. Our front yard is now perennials flowers, herbs, strawberries, black raspberries, currants, gooseberries, 2 cherries, 2 plums. I leave queen Annes lace, milkweed, wild violet, goldenrod, and a couple weeds whose names i dont know. Reward has been big increase in butterflies and various bees.

    At bottom of hill, daughter and son keep large veg garden, including cold kiwifruit, hazelnuts, hops, blackberries, 2 pear and 2 apple. Everything is just starting, really. Some losses due to wilts.

    Huge undertaking also because soil needs much remediation but fortunately we three enjoy it. Chronic issues with water because rain has been so variable and temps run 5 degrees (f) higher than normal, over all.

    This year we are seeing beginnings of balance between insects and predators: plenty of garter snakes, praying mantis, ladybugs, and bats.

    Our main focus is finding plants that can handle more drought and heat than zone would indicate. Also, just generally tougher plants since extremes sometimes bring colder than usual. Keeping our eyes open!

    1. ambrit

      Yes. Some stretches of Interstate and State roads around here are now being seeded with native wildflower varieties. The idea, I have read, is to start up a mini ecology of self seeding verges and medians.

  21. EAU

    in the second photo, the finely leafed plant in the foreground is probably either Euphorbia cyparissias, or Linaria vulgaris, difficult to tell at this resolution. The tall one with broad leaves is Macleaya cordata. I would party w/ that cat.

  22. Alternate Delegate

    We garden seriously for yield, and eat greens out of the freezer all winter. The tomatos have been going strong this year, with abnormal heat and drenching rains for the Midwest, and we just got the first ripe cherry tomatos. Zucchinis and cucumbers are producing, lettuce pretty much done, beans just starting to come in.

    We were worried because we hadn’t seen any honeybees or bumbles yet, but today they finally started showing up. We’re thinking about getting into beekeeping, although we would have to set them up them at friends’ places outside town. (Yes, in theory we can have them in town, but the rules don’t work in practise.)

    Flowers. Oh, those things. Violets and dandelions are done, plenty of clover, some milkweed (and monarchs), a few marigolds from the market to guard the garden.

    1. 4corners

      How very severe: “we garden for yield”. But I like it, and wish I had the T-shirt!

      I’m going to go check on my frivolous gourd crop.

  23. Oregoncharles

    I just wish beebalm and basil were invasive for me – I have trouble growing either. Most other herbs do great; rosemary will make a large bush here, and bloom blue in late winter.

    I think our problem with beebalm, and some others, is that slugs eat them off as they come up. Basil just requires babying.

    It looks like a very comforting garden. Even just masses of green make us feel better about the world. And as you say, birds love it. I do wonder what the fine-leafed plant in the near view is – I can’t tell whether it’s a spurge or wormwood.

    Borage is edible, tastes like cucumber, and beebalm makes a good tea.

    1. rd

      Make sure you have tried both Monardas – Monarda didyma and Monarda fistulosa. sometimes one does better than the other. There are also a number of cultivars of both with differing vitality as well as looks.

      Mt. Cuba did a really good Monarda plant trial a few years ago:

      Chicago Botanical Garden also did one:

      If things do well in both Mt. Cuba (Delaware) and Chicago, then you know that variety is really robust and will thrive in pretty much any local in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest as those two sites have significantly different soil types and climates.

  24. Oregoncharles

    Afterthought: That “basil” might be oregano, also a weed here (speaking of weeds, from yesterday) but a useful one. If it’s perennial and spreads in the ground, it’s oregano.

    1. Punxsutawney


      Oregano does quite well here. I still have some volunteers around the garden from a planting a decade ago. And of course, useful.

    2. Alternate Delegate

      Our oregano (yes, it’s a weed) is wrong for the kitchen, but the bees love it – a lot. And it keeps blooming for a long time. Basil goes bitter once the heat hits, but purple basil lasts a little longer.

      If you want, you can kill slugs with the little grains of iron wrapped in bait (“sluggo”). The iron is really only poisonous to the slugs, not anything else. You do have to reapply after rain because the bait gets washed off. It does work.

      1. Oregoncharles

        It’s actually iron phosphate, so doubles a fertilizer when it breaks down. I just wish it wasn’t so expensive, but I keep it out there.

        and pruning shears work, too, albeit very messy.

  25. Punxsutawney

    Ahh…I see your picture of Borage. I planted some in the garden a couple years ago here in Oregon and to say the least, it reseeds itself with vigor. I’ve had to pull up a number of starts this year. Left on it’s own in good soil it get’s quite large with those beautiful blue flowers.

  26. Frank

    Link to some pictures of my Green Mtns VT garden.
    The colored ‘tubs’ are plastic drums I bought for around $15 each. Cut them so that there’s two with a bottom and the middle is a ring that can just sit on the ground and be filled with soil to create a raised bed.

    Mixture of things – the hop Bine ( not a misspelling ) provides a nice setting for the humming bird feeder. Brussels sprouts, beans, basil, peppers and so on. Small quantity of each and flowers – flowering tobacco, plume poppy, snap dragons and …. Notice the scaffold/ladder pressed into service as a bean trellis.
    Three hazelnut bushes survived an extended period of below zero temps and some as low as -20. They are unprotected in winter and fully exposed to the nw wind. Looks like my first big crop.

    As for lawn – I just mow ( mostly using a scythe ) some paths through mine and leave the red clover and etc for the butterflies. The grass looks restful waving in the breeze and the birds and rodents use the seed.

  27. blennylips

    I’m not a gardener, but fascinated by flowers. This passage recently reminded me of the magic (Tolle’s “A New Earth”):

    EVOCATION Earth, 114 million years ago, one morning just after sunrise: The first flower ever to appear on the planet opens up to receive the rays of the sun. Prior to this momentous event that heralds an evolutionary transformation in the life of plants, the planet had already been covered in vegetation for millions of years. The first flower probably did not survive for long, and flowers must have remained rare and isolated phenomena, since conditions were most likely not yet favorable for a widespread flowering to occur. One day, however, a critical threshold was reached, and suddenly there would have been an explosion of color and scent all over the planet if a perceiving consciousness had been there to witness it.
    Much later, those delicate and fragrant beings we call flowers would come to play an essential part in the evolution of consciousness of another species. Humans would increasingly be drawn to and fascinated by them. As the consciousness of human beings developed, flowers were most likely the first thing they came to value that had no utilitarian purpose for them, that is to say, was not linked in some way to survival. They provided inspiration to countless artists, poets, and mystics.

  28. meeps

    Would that more work stations were like yours, Lambert. Laboring in such an environment must at least minimize the incidence of head, desk. :)

    The pink cosmos and borage grow all the way out here in Colorado, though my plants didn’t reseed this season. My garden is, frankly, an embarrassment this year. I’m contemplating a move so I only planted patio pots. Then, Mrs. Doe birthed two fawns a couple weeks back and damned if she didn’t regain her strength helping herself to my flowers and chili peppers. Miffed as I was, Ferdinand and Tortimer are entertaining, and mama looks pleased so I let it go. The tattered remnants she left behind are making a comeback.

    I don’t know how lavender fares in Maine, but she left those planters unmolested and they are gorgeous; lavender and rosemary with pink, purple and white alyssum to carpet the bottom layer.

    For gardeners who don’t like hassling with veggies, culinary herbs are an unfussy option, yet they bring so much to the table. We don’t generally do dairy here, but made an exception for this pairing: fresh grapes with a few slices of naked or drunken goat cheese, drizzled with beech honey, garnished with lavender flowers. Those diminutive blooms balance the flavors perfectly. Or watermelon slices topped with a tiny bit of crumbled feta and fresh mint leaves. Agave drizzle. Yum. I friggin’ love summer.

  29. freedomny

    This is lovely! I also like black eyed susan… especially next to mophead hydrangea.

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