The other weekend, birds were chirping. Bees were buzzing. Yet, here I was, hacking paths in the jungle of my vegetable garden.
I love to grow things. I’m a journalist who interviews horticulture experts and home gardeners. Plus I went through Penn State’s Master Gardener program. So there’s a wealth of ideas and tips guiding me in the garden. Still, best-laid plans of monarda and mint often go awry.
Living in an old home, your failures and successes grow from the gardeners of the past. With a home built in the 1860s, that’s a lot of fails and wins.
Take the flowering dogwood tree in the yard. It’s gorgeous and supports more than 100 species of moths and butterflies. Compare that to the kousa dogwood, which supports zero native insects. Thank you person who used to live here.
Then there are weeds left alone to become trees. These trees of heaven have attracted the spotted lanternfly, the latest invasive pest in Lancaster County. Thanks a lot, person who used to live here.
Our house wasn’t occupied year-round for a decade before we bought it. You can see this as a gift of nature showing what works.
It’s also the gift of 10 years of invasive plants running wild.
Take the gooseneck loosestrife, a plant with pretty white flowers shaped like goosenecks. It’s considered a thug by many gardeners, but I’ve used it as a tall ground cover for now. My strategy is to remove a patch of loosestrife and plant in the bare spot. So far, allium rise above and bloom like big purple Death Stars. Later, white verbascum pop up, followed by yellow coreopsis then goldenrod and purple aster.
The vegetable garden was a square plot lined with landscaping fabric and covered with weeds. Tearing the fabric out was oddly similar to ripping off one of those pore strips for your skin.
This garden is huge, so we’ve spent time fighting the weeds between the plants. A thick layer of grass clippings works. When it’s too rainy or hot to mow, things get out of hand fast.
This is how I ended up cutting out those paths to the tomatoes, kale, tomatillos and peppers.
The next day, my husband saw the weeds between the paths. He composted the kale and then mowed down the weeds.
That took care of the mess but it seemed so wrong.
There is an excuse. I went to the hospital when I usually plant spinach seeds and peas. I came home with a tiny baby and orders not to pull weeds.
Since then, the baby and I have gone outside to stare at the branches of the cherry tree, watch the cardinals on the dogwood and roll around on the violets in the lawn.
The garden doesn’t look like a magazine spread, but that’s OK.
Every year, I learn something new. Sometimes, there are tiny victories as we make this space our own. Sometimes the lessons come from failure.
I learned a porch post was not load-bearing when a big rain weighed down the wall of vines we anchored to the porch. The post was simply wedged between the floor and the second story. After the rain, it popped out.
Some things have worked out. After interviewing a gardener who mixes edible and ornamental plants, I planted garlic bulbs next to spring-blooming bulbs. The grape hyacinths escaped the critters and bloomed for the first time.
There’s a rocky, weed-covered space where I’ve added perennial plants to attract pollinators. It’s slow work, but the bluestar is replacing the dandelion and the globe thistle is replacing the weed thistle. Butterflies and moths seem to like every plant as much as I do.
If there was one regret, it’s the asparagus. I’ve always wanted to grow my own and then, surprise, an asparagus stalk sprouted underneath a bird nest at our old house. (Thank you bird who used to live there.) It takes three years to harvest asparagus. In year four, we moved and the asparagus came along. This past spring would have been fair game for a first harvest but in the hubbub, it slipped my mind.
The asparagus was one plant I wish was spared. Think about those tender stalks, fresh from the garden as winter melts away. I was coming to terms with planting some new crowns and waiting three more years.
Imagine my surprise when just a few days later, the asparagus shot up.
Resilient, just like our gardens.