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Planting Mania!

Fri, Jun 22nd, 2001
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Virginia CooperMonday, June 25, 2001

'What is one to say about June - the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade?'
Gertrude Jekyll, from On Gardening

This week has been a marathon of planting. Potatoes, onions, peppers, four packs of squash, melons, broccoli and cabbage; this year I am trying celery for the first time. I used to think we were too far north for celery, but I have a neighbor who grows it every year, at least I have seen the little seedlings in her cold frame in the spring. Maybe that's the secret, she starts it early.

Hopefully by the time you read this, I'll have planted a few lettuces, carrots, green beans, and the colorful swiss chard, 'Bright Lights.' This chard is so beautiful you could plant it in your flower border and everyone would wonder what was that exotic thing. Reaching over two feet tall, the deeply corrugated dark green leaves have luminescent stems of burgundy, white, pink, yellow or peach. It falls into the category of those dark leafy greens we should eat. 'Bright Lights,' or Rainbow chard was first seen by this author, through our local Seed Savers catalog. Lately it's been available at many other seed companies, as well as, other Seed Savers favorites: 'Grampa Ott's' wonderful dark purple Morning Glories and the speckled 'Moon and Stars' Watermelon.

As for planting, I know I am way behind where I should be, but this rainy season has really slowed things down. The good thing is that I have really made some headway into eradicating the thistle colonies. When the ground is wet, with a good glove for grip, you can literally slide them right out of the ground. Deep taprooted plants do work hard to break up hard packed ground, and I have been more than generous in letting them do just that. But enough is enough. These thistles, along with the dock brothers, (yellow & bur) have been rude guests, they've taken over too much room and are invading the other more civilized guests.

The hardest weeding we ever do is really the easiest. Thinning out our precious seedlings seems so cruel, but it is critical. Carrots appreciate growing room and should be thinned to 3 inches apart or we see crooked twisted roots, wrapped in an earthy embrace, (hmmm, that doesn’t sound so bad...)

If your chrysanthemums survived the winter, they should be pinched back now, halfway down. Pinch back again before the fourth of July, never after. This will give you those great billowing mounds of color this fall, with no flopping or sprawling, guaranteed. Unlike my Sedum, 'Autumn Joy' which flopped last week. They don't really pinch back too well, I probably should have divided it this spring.

Time to keep a vigilant eye out for pests. Plant nasturtiums along with your cucumbers to repel cuke beetles. I did this last year and made so many pickles, we're set for a few years.

Once it warms up a little more we may begin to see more aphids and spider mites. A strong blast of water from the hose can send them on their way.

Summer reading for this author has included (besides a little Gertrude Jekyll), a wonderful book by author Sara Stein, called My Weeds. It's so good, next week I promise a full book report.

If you have a gardening question you can send it via email to or write to the Reader's Mailbag in care of the Journal.

Virginia Cooper

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