grow them successfully. By the way, Cupressocyparis is a cross between Chamaecyparis nootkatensis and Cupressus macrocarpa. They’re sometimes called False Cypresses.
Hardy to Zone 7 is a true cypress I planted as a trial – Cupressus sempervirens ‘Swane’s Golden.’ It’s a very narrow, columnar Italian cypress that should top out at about 18 feet. I’m not sure it’ll survive the winter here, but I’m giving it a try.
Finally, I planted several clumps of two ornamentals I adore – Ophiopogon planiscapus or black mondo grass (Zones 6-9) and the equally attractive Hakonechloa macra, better known as Japanese forest grass (Zones 5 maybe, Zone 6 and south for sure). Black mondo is a slow grower, so it’s a tad expensive compared to the more familiar green varieties, but it’s cool. I mean, hey, how many black plants are there? Japanese forest grass is a show-stopper as well. Both need shade, and together they make for a killer combo.
I sowed 200 pounds of fescue, a relatively new type that’s been inoculated with several strains of beneficial mychorrizae fungi. I’m convinced that the fungi have real value, but time will tell. Basically, I’m just trying to maintain an acceptable ratio of grass to weeds, on the order of 75:25. I’m not a manicured lawn nut. I’d rather have a meadow, but city ordinances prevent me from doing that.
With any luck, I’ll get a good deal more planting done. By this month, it’s safe to pot up tropicals, which is something I get a bit carried away with at times. I love palms, and I get them pretty cheap from a guy who hauls truckloads of them from Florida and sets up shop at an old gas station. I’ll probably take a few banana plants off his hands as well.
I’ll also be filling all my containers with annuals and perennials. That’s the one gardening task my wife, Carrie, and I do together, but it
doesn’t always go well. She likes lots of color in containers, to the point where the patio always looks like a fourth of July celebration. I’m more of a monochromatic guy. Somehow we manage to compromise, which is a requirement for any lasting relationship.
I’m getting a new shipment of conifers from my buddy Rich (see this month’s “My Garden Gurus”). I usually pot them up and grow them in containers for a year or two just to see what conditions they like best, especially in terms of exposure. I’m like a kid at Christmas when the boxes show up, because Rich never tells me what he’s sending.
I’m sure I’ll do plenty more planting, and when I do, I’ll give you an update.
“Why be influenced by another person when you already are one?” – Martin Mull
“There ain’t no rules around here! We’re trying to accomplish something!” Thomas Edison
“Everything I did in my life that was worthwhile I caught hell for.” – Earl Warren
“We had a quicksand box in our backyard. I was an only child, eventually.” -- Steven Wright
“The most important time you can spend in the garden is the time you spend not gardening.” – Paul James
“The worst part of success is trying to find someone who is happy for you.” – Bette Midler
”In spite of the cost of living, it’s still popular.” – Kathleen Norris
“Some mornings it just doesn’t seem worth it to gnaw through the leather straps.” – Emo Philips
“A clear conscience is often the sign of a bad memory.” – Unknown
“Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?” -- Unknown
“To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” – Mahatma Gandhi
“Adults are obsolete children.” – Dr. Seuss
“You don’t stop laughing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop laughing.” – Michael Pritchard
“You have to live life to love life, and you have to love life to live life. It’s a vicious circle.” -- Unknown
“My karma ran over your dogma.” – Unknown
IN MY GARDEN
I’ve been busy in the garden lately. And that’s a good thing. After traveling for months on end last year, writing and taping 26 new episodes of my show, and dealing with the four-month after-effects of surgery to repair a ruptured bicep (ouch!), my place was in sorry shape. And I still had (have) issues to deal with following a devastating ice storm in December, 2007, that destroyed 16 mature trees and radically altered the look of my place (and my bank account balance).
But hey, I’m not complaining. I’m too busy to complain! Here’s a rundown of what I did in March and April, just to get you all up to speed, and a peak at what I plan on getting done this month.
March was a crazy month weatherwise, a meteorological mixed bag to say the least. For example, toward the end of the month we got nine inches of snow one day, and by the end of the next day, with temps in the 70s, it was gone.
Despite the weird weather, March is the month for getting vegetables in the ground, and that’s exactly what I did.
The Veggie Garden
Those of you who’ve watched my shows for years know that I used to have a large vegetable garden (over 2,000 square-feet large), plus a small orchard and greenhouse. I’ve scaled back considerably, and now have just three 4-foot by 8-foot raised beds, plus a couple of smaller beds. But it’s amazing how much food I can produce in those beds. For example, just one of those 32-square-foot beds will yield 80 heads of lettuce, 60 onions, and close to 100 carrots. And that’s just the spring stuff!
After applying a hefty dose of compost to my beds and loosening the soil a bit with a broadfork, I planted lots of cool-season vegetables in the middle of the month – arugula, carrots, lettuce (lots of lettuce), mesclun, mizuna, mustard greens, onions, potatoes, and spinach. I left room for successive sowings of the carrots, lettuce, and spinach to avoid being inundated by a single crop all at once.
I base my decision on what to plant primarily on what I like to eat, but how much space a crop requires plays a role as well. For example, I love cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, but they take up too much room. Besides, all are available at the farmer’s market from local producers, and they’re organically grown.
I planted all the veggies from seed, which I prefer to broadcast rather than plant in straight rows. (Rows represent wasted space, and watering rows is a waste of precious water.) I thinned the seedlings for the first time about two weeks later.
March is also a maintenance month. And man, did I do a lot of maintenance. I cleaned out my
barn, taking everything out and putting it all back in an orderly fashion (yes, I’m a neat freak). I sharpened all my tools, gave them a
good coating of oil to protect against rust, and rubbed all the wooden handles with boiled linseed oil. I cleaned and stacked all my containers (over 100 of them, mostly terra cotta). I spent an entire week, several hours a day, doing nothing but weeding – by hand mind you. When it was all said and done, I had six large wheelbarrows full of weeds, which I used to create a new compost pile. I then applied 88 bags of pine-bark mulch over the course of two days to my ornamental beds, and that was on top of the existing deep layer of leaves left over from the previous fall. I spent several days pruning damaged shrubs and small trees that I’d neglected since the ice storm, and transplanted a number of them to new spots. And I did a considerable amount of tidying up. Beyond that, I didn’t get much done.
Over the course of several days, I repotted 16 bonsai and created a dozen or so new ones
from plants I’d been growing in pots and in the ground for several years. They included a couple of Picea, a Pinus parviflora, several Chamaecyparis (obtusa and pisifera), two Gingkoes, an Osmanthus, and a juniper. I got hooked on bonsai a few years ago, and it would appear
Strangely, bonsai represent the antithesis to my normal approach to gardening. In the garden, for instance, I intervene as little as
possible. I keep pruning to a minimum, allowing plants to grow however they prefer. I use very little fertilizer. I water as little as possible. And yet bonsai demand constant pruning, weekly fertilization, and daily watering. I guess it’s a yen-yang thang.
It happens every year. Just as my veggies are putting on their first true set of leaves, the meteorologists forecast a freeze. Mild freezes, say in the range of 28 to 32 degrees, aren’t all that unusual or troublesome this time of year. But in the middle of the month temps below that can cause serious damage. So when I saw a prediction for an overnight low of 23, I freaked.
Grabbing every blanket in the house (which turned out to be 14 – who needs 14
blankets?), I covered all my veggies, plus
a few prized Japanese maples that had just begun to leaf out.
I lay awake that night wondering whether I was the only person on earth who was contemplating the potential damage to my plants on the cellular level. Would ice crystals form in the cells and spread like a preschool cold throughout the tissue? Would it warm up too quickly the next morning, causing those cells to rupture? Would the leaves of my maples have the crispy texture of French fries cooked in duck fat?
Well, as it turns out, the temperature dropped to a mere 29 degrees. I was at once relieved…and pissed. I’d spent a lot of time protecting my plants for naught. And I spent even more time removing the blankets and folding them – neatly, of course.
Two days later, with no signs of a freeze on the horizon, I began planting my warm-season crops, which I’d left room for when planting the cool-season stuff.
From seed, I planted beans (pole and bush), cucumbers (on a trellis), and squash. From transplants, I stuck in eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. Now I know it’s blasphemous to some to say this, but I’m not a big fan of growing tomatoes, although I love to eat them. They’re a gangly plant, prone to all sorts of diseases here in my neck of the woods, and a favorite snack of squirrels, who take them off the vine the morning of the same day I plan to harvest, and sit on a tree stump munching away, staring right at me with a look that says, “Thanks. Got any salt?” Still, I plant them every year hoping that maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to enjoy at least one or two ripe, juicy fruits. I’ll keep you posted.
I also created a new raised-bed herb garden in which I planted basil, chives, fennel, lovage, marjoram, three different oreganos, 12 Italian parsley plants (I love parsley!), three types of rosemary, and three types of thyme, all as transplants. These are my favorite culinary herbs, and I use them every day in the kitchen. I also potted up another dozen herbs in containers – mints, sorrel, and more parsley -- and for those of you who are short on space, that’s the way to grow.
More weeding. A bit more pruning.
have to overwinter in the garage. (It’s rated to between 20 and 30 degrees, or Zones 9-10.) Kumquats are tasty treats, and fairly easy to grow. ‘Nagami’ is the tastiest of the lot, and very prolific. It’s a slow grower, and in a pot won’t get much taller than four feet, if that.
I planted a ‘Nagami’ kumquat in a pot, which I’ll
Leyland cypresses get a lot of bad press, in part because they’re overplanted. But a new introduction, the gorgeous golden Leyland
cypresses (Cupressocyparis leylandii Golgonda’) is worth considering. I planted five of them to replace trees that were removed following the ice storm. They’re fast growers, adapt to just about every soil type, and they hold their gold color even in the heat of summer. Dependably hardy to Zone 6, I know folks in Zone 5 who