Monday, January 18, 2016

What's On Your 2016 Gardening Agenda?

     So, Gardening Friends, what is on your gardening agenda for 2016? Although we have only just passed the middle of January, already I can sense the increasing minutes of sunlight that will eventually fuel the coming seasons growth. Though there is snow and cold ahead of us, it isn’t too soon to begin planning for the coming gardening season, however you choose to engage with it.
     Perhaps you are perusing the seed catalogues that have begun to arrive, in search of the varieties of vegetables and/or flowers you want to grow? Will you select old favorites or opt for new, untried varieties? Perhaps you are planning a visit to some admired garden(s), that you want to experience in person, first-hand? Will this be a “Day trip,” or are overnight accommodations required? Be mindful of any change in growing zones, if you want to bring home ideas that you pick up on the road.  If Santa didn’t arrange it, perhaps you want to put getting a copy of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days guide to public and private gardens on your “to do” list?
     When not browsing through seed catalogues, I have been enjoying reading Andrea Wulf’s engaging book, Founding Gardeners, The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2011. She writes of the relationship that Washington, Jefferson, Madison and (John) Adams had to their surrounding landscapes in the newly independent United States, and the impact of that relationship on their ideas about government and politics. Especially in this, an election year, this book has made for particularly interesting, informative reading. Also, one of the frequently mentioned locations in the book, Bartram’s garden in Philadelphia, Americas oldest botanical garden, which supplied many of the native plants these men cultivated, is now on my list as a “must-see” garden destination.
One of our Fall garden activities the results of which will extend into the Spring, was the Wrapping-of-the-Fig-Tree, (a Vern’s Brown Turkey variety), now about five years old. For the first three years of its life, it was grown in a large cast stone pot. It was brought into the basement “Limonaia” for the Winter, where it grew well enough, but never produced much fruit. Then, encouraged by stories of them surviving the local (zone 7a) Winters, I un-potted it, and planted it in the ground on the south side of the house, where I hoped that the combination of the southern exposure and radiant heat from the bricks would help it to survive. Last Spring, as the garden began to “green up,” we watched each day for some indication of the fig returning to life. And we watched. And we watched. And we watched some more. When nearly everything else had begun to produce fresh growth, there was still no sign of life from the fig.
     I had about given up on it, and was preparing to dig out the stump, when, brushing away leaves from the very center of the tree at ground level, I finally discovered a tender new green leaf, right at the heart of the plant! Over the course of the season, the tree did indeed thrive, doubling in size AND producing fruit, despite having endured one of the coldest, snowiest Winters on record. But, could we avoid almost losing the tree again? I remember, as a child, watching over our back fence in the Fall, as our Sicilian neighbor Charlie, would bend his fig tree over until it was prone with the ground, then mound it over with soil and tar paper, effectively burying the tree. It was always miraculous to me, when in the Spring, the tree was uncovered and filled with budding green leaves. I wondered if now, I could devise an alternative way to protect our tree?
     Last Fall, we decided to take no chances this Winter, and came up with a plan for increasing the trees protection.  Four eight-foot metal stakes were driven into the ground close to the tree’s roots to form a rectangle. We opened the bottom of a thick-sided cardboard box and pulled it over the trees stalks, down to ground level, then, using the four stakes as support, pulled another open-bottomed box over the upper portion of the tree stalks. We used straw as insulation, to fill in the open space between the trees branches and the cardboard boxes. Then, we used two heavy-duty black plastic trash bags, one with its bottom cut open so that it could be pulled down to the ground over the stakes, to enclose the straw-filled boxes. The other plastic bag fit over the top of the stakes and covered the exposed upper portion of the tree, providing a wrapping for the tree. The black plastic trash bags overlap, allowing air to circulate, but the tree is protected from the worst of the chill winds, ice and snow. Come Spring this year, we will see if our efforts to protect the tree are successful.
     Keep gardening!


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