A List of Things I Love About Gardening
Over the past year I have had the unique privilege to interview more than 100 gardeners on the gardening podcast. We have discussed everything from 300 year old English gardens to sprouting lima beans on a wet napkin. When you think about the term “gardening” it’s natural that you filter it through your own experiences, isn’t it?
For example, I was surprised to find how different rose gardeners are from those who grow vegetables in containers on their patio. Yes, we all love our gardens, but because it’s such a huge concept with so many participants there is plenty of room for self-expression, experimentation and lots of unique experiences.
What do YOU love about your garden?
I’ve cobbled together a lovely list of ideas for you that are unique to me and my garden. Some you will agree with, and some will land with a thud.
That’s what’s so great about gardening! Scan the list, and leave me a comment below with your thoughts. Are you passionate about something specific about your garden?
The past two seasons my wife and I have become somewhat obsessed with unique varieties of tomatoes. Not the boring ones from the grocery store…old strains of heirlooms have caught my attention. The flavour of a garden-grown tomato is incomparable to anything commercial from the store! Last year we had 23 varieties, this year we have a somewhat more manageable 14. Watch for an upcoming interview with an owner of an heirloom seed company sharing the secrets to growing gorgeous tomatoes.
I grew up eating sunflower seeds. Roasted and salted in the shells. Pop a handful in your mouth, and spit the shells on the ground. It was a right of childhood passage. But as a gardening adult, nothing compares to the flavor of growing them yourself, cutting the heads off in October, painstakingly pulling them out of the head, soaking them in brine and roasting them in your own oven. Last year the bluejays attacked my sunflowers, leaving me with only 4. This year, I have a plan for them!
When I was a kid, my brothers and I went to a “U-Pickem” strawberry farm. At age 7, it’s like being giving the keys to a candy store! Eat 1, pick 1. After a while, it’s eat 2, pick 1. After an hour stooped over in a hot field, it’s eat 5, pick 1. Remember how sticky and red your hands, face and t-shirt got? Today I have a small patch of yellow strawberries in a raised garden bed. The tricky part is finding enough straw to cover the bed up in the fall before the frost.
I must confess…I came into this blog intimidated by Rosarians. I had a mental picture of an elegant British lady like Hyacinth Bucket, clubs with fancy aristocratic experts, special sprays, tools and clothing and tons of atmosphere. All of those preconceived notions about growing roses went out the window after meeting Karen Docksteader from Weeks Roses. She generously hooked me up with a dozen plants with awesome names like Neil Diamonds, Smoking Hots, Pretty Lady, Watercolors Home Run, Miss Congeniality and Sunshine Happy Trails. She taught me that roses are beautiful, durable, and there’s nothing to be scared of.
As a kid growing up my favorite dessert was rhubarb-strawberry crumble. If you’ve never tasted rhubarb, let me caution you…grabbing a stalk from the garden and taking a big crunch will NOT be the delicious experience you’re expecting! I learned the hard way that the #1 ingredient in a rhubarb pie is SUGAR. I just got my first plant going in my garden this season, so it will be at least until next year before I get my first harvest. I expect it to have a footprint nearly a meter wide, so if you plant a rhubarb in your garden leave a solid 2 feet around it to give it room to grow.
At our previous garden I used to see these purple flowers growing wild in the border between the ditches and fields. They are a distant cousin of the daisy, and the ancient Greeks named it echinacea which means “sea urchin” as a descriptive term for the center of the plant. Being into natural remedies, I was familiar with echinacea as a cold preventative. As a beautiful plant for your garden it’s hard to top the purple cone flower. The bees love them too!
My neighbor is a pumpkin farmer. The first week of October you can see his staff loading the bright orange pumpkins on a flatbed to take to market. His #1 enemy that month is the white-tailed deer which stomp on them and then eat the insides. We gave up trying to grow them in our garden and instead buy a couple for decoration for Halloween and for eating. The inards become a pie, but my favorite are the seeds. We soak them, roast and then season them to munch on. Not as good as the home-made sunflower seeds but a close second.
I have become OBSESSED with hot peppers! It started with a simple Naga Viper that I found in the back corner of the garden center. It had a warning label. I was curious as why a pepper would be so dangerous. After I tasted what 1.2 million Scovilles actually meant, I was hooked. This year we are growing 3 kinds of Jalepenos, a 5-color Chinese pepper related to a Habeneros, a Naga Viper, and 2 Trinidad Scorpions.
Just outside our back porch is our herb garden. My wife is an amazing cook, and having fresh herbs is a delight. In jolly old England every country estate had a kitchen garden, and plenty of herbs was a necessity. Each season we plant a little differently based on winter kill and garden center availability. This year we have parsley, mint, lemon thyme, Thai thyme, anise, lemon balm, oregano, tarragon, sage, cilantro and spearmint.
Being married to an amazing cook is awesome! Having fresh garlic and onions fills the kitchen with sensational aromas. This year we planted purple and white garlic in November. The green tops were 6 inches tall by April. Our onion patch includes scallions and red onions. The scallions are the most versatile, being in dishes as diverse as salads, wraps, and Persian Thai chicken and rice.
Why do I have frogs on the list? By late August our indeterminate tomatoes are so tall that there are big shady cool spots in our raised garden beds. Invariably when I am picking tomatoes I’ll disturb a giant green frog in the garden. Being trained in martial arts I leap 3 feet backwards and assume a combat stance. I don’t know if the big frogs come into our garden to stay cool, eat bugs or just to hang out. We have a large pond behind our property, so there is never a shortage of that magical frog singing late at night when you open the window.
I am probably more of a vegetable gardener than a flower gardener. But there is something magical about the tiny forget-me-nots. In medieval times it was the enduring symbol of love when a knight went off to battle. The pale blue is the most well known type, but apparently there are nearly 100 variations. The famous author of Waldo, Henry David Thoreau wrote “It is one of the most interesting minute flowers. It is the more beautiful for being small and unpretending; even flowers must be modest.”
The humble eggplant is one of those vegetables that you either hate or love. I used to hate them. The texture, the flavor, none of it appealed to me. Last year we found a unique heirloom variety from Taiwan called the Ping Tung. Our friends at Baker Creek are the best! That long skinny purple aubergine is absolutely delicious on the barbeque grill. This season we are growing several plants just so we have plenty to eat this summer.
About 15 minutes away from us is an apple orchard. When I used to live in the big city you bought apples trucked in from 1500 miles away in a plastic bag at the store. Every September we love going to the orchard to pick fresh apples. Last year we picked over 40 pounds of macs! Peeling, coring and prepping them for making and freezing apple crisp is a big job. It’s remarkable how much better food tastes when you have genuine perspective on the work involved in creating it.
I’ve noticed the number of bumble bees in our garden is on the rise this season. We’ve been increasing the number of flowers each season, and have eliminated nearly all poisons and chemicals that might harm the bee population. The lilacs, chives, roses, purple cone flowers, gaillardias, and nasturtiums are very popular with the huge bumblers. They rarely bother us except to fly by and say hello as they go about their daily tasks.
In our back flower bed the previous owners had planted 2 shrubs. At least they thought they were shrubs. As a couple years went by the little shrubs grew into what my gardening friend called “a junk tree”. They would spread runners and choke out anything near them. In the middle of the rainiest April in years I dug them out by hand from their clay soil. It was messy, horrible work. I replaced the junk bush with a cherry shrub. This year I should get the first taste of fruit from my efforts.
I recently read that the North American population of monarch butterflies is down over 80% in a decade. One of the constant topics in the podcast is planting pollinator-friendly gardens. This year we unsuccessfully tried to grow 2 varieties of milkweed. We are going to attempt a third shortly. It’s proving to be a challenge. Butterflies are gorgeous in the garden, and it’s worth every effort to support their population.
Once upon a time the municipality in most towns had a budget for spraying weeds on town property. As society evolved it realized that the haphazard spraying of toxic poisons may not actually be in the best long-term interest of the voting humans living near it. Learning to relax and embrace the common weeds growing in our lawns and gardens is better than blasting them with chemicals. It’s often a futile battle when your neighbors and town councils don’t stop the wind from blowing weed seeds from property A to property B. The dandelions in our back yard are filled with little bees and other tiny pollinators.
Every time you turn on the TV you hear about the brutal drought hitting parts of America. A big podcast conversation has been the responsible transformation of water-intense spaces into drought tolerant gardens. I love my pebble garden. We have a space covered in gravel stones the size of grapes. We lined the space with small raised flower beds, herb beds and container gardens.
More Great Gardening Links:
- how to grow stupendous heirloom tomatoes
- more great tomato ideas
- how to garden in zone 9a
- meet the amazing Tyrant Farmer
- 10 gardening bloggers that I enjoy reading
Please leave us a comment below, and thanks for sharing our photos on social media!
What do YOU love about gardening?