Hello again from Sarah Graves, writing to you from beneath fourteen feet of snow in Eastport, Maine, and what better location for some gardening dreams? Snow is the poor (wo)man’s fertilizer, after all, and considering how much of it we’ve gotten we should all be harvesting giant string beans and house-sized tomatoes come August. Personally, I feel I put up with enough “fertilizer” all year round, but never mind; at left is a hydrangea that came as a “free gift” (my favorite kind!) with a nursery order. They’re not supposed to like wintering indoors but this one didn’t read its own instructions, apparently.
At right is a three-dollar Walmart orchid, about a year old. It’s in a north window and has been re-potted once, with new bark chips, and given a half-hour water plunge each week. For that piddling amount of trouble it has repaid me with big purple blooms that last and last, even putting up a whole new stalk of them instead of going dormant as I’d expected. The one you see here is the tail end of the flowering. I’m going to clip off the flower stems soon, and hope it takes a well-deserved rest. I don’t know what to do to make it take its nap, though, and I confess I’ll be watching to see if it stubbornly puts out even more flower stalks from the small bumps on the bits of stalk remaining. If you’ve got three bucks and a north window, you might want to bring one of these home.
African violets like north light, too. This one is an offspring given to me by a neighbor who was trying to find homes for a lot of violet babies. That’s the trouble with violets; if they do poorly, they sulk and glare accusingly while drooping flabby yellow leaves and refusing to bloom. Happy ones, though, grow madly, flower exuberantly, and produce so many offshoots that you’re forced to divide them, and then what do you do with all those bouncing infants? Here also is a packet of seeds that I’m planning to start indoors soon, under the same lights I’m using now for more of the African violet baby-boom. Last year’s nursery-bought tomato plants had plenty of stem but not much root system, a deficiency I’m hoping to cure this time around with a nice fluffy seed-starting mixture, better-balanced nutrients, and lots of TLC overall.
Thomas Jefferson grew cardoons in his wonderful garden at Monticello, where today’s gardeners have recreated many of the flower and vegetable beds that flourished when he was there. The plant has beautiful blue flowers and grey-green frilly leaves on thick, celery-like stems that can be cooked and eaten — if you are very hungry, that is, and very determined. Because the thing is, first you cut the leafy portion off the stem, then peel off the tough stringy parts, then chop the trimmed stems and parboil them. And then you egg them and bread them and fry them, which seems to me like a whole lot of work for a vegetable dish. Nevertheless I am determined to try them — growing them, I mean, not necessarily eating them — this summer, mostly on account of the flowers.
Here is a cardoon in bloom. I think you’ll agree it’s worth an experiment. Blue flowers are a particular favorite of mine, and spiky, ball-shaped blooms are also right up my alley. They give variety to the shapes in the garden, and since I tend to combine colors with the abandon of a toddler playing with crayons, it’s good to have plenty of blue to help pull it all together. White works well also, so there’ll be lots of white lobelia and Shasta daisies, white phlox, and if I can find any some white coneflowers. Oh, and white dahlias? I’ll have to order some. I’m a little afraid to go up to the attic to check on the dahlias we do have; ordinarily they winter over nicely there, wrapped up in newspapers and brown paper bags, but this winter has been a (insert expletive here) so fingers crossed — for the dahlias, and for spring which believe it or not really will be here soon.