View from the Garden: Using Winter Studio Time to Cultivate Technique

The relatively warm weather on the horizon is not pleasing to me! I actually enjoy the cloudy and cold weather and even like the shorter days. I know many people like to escape the cold but this is the time of year when I go into my art studio for long hours at a time and any traveling I must do is an interruption. During the season, gardening fulfills my creative compulsion to “make things.” By about September, I begin to daydream about that upcoming studio time.

However, I do keep my fingers in gardening. I was recently researching single stem tomato growing just to see if there are any new suggestions or techniques. I found that cucumbers and zucchini can also be grown this way. I grow tomatoes using this cordon technique and have for many years. The plant is grown tied to a stake. As suckers are produced, they are removed, sending all of the energy and food to a single stem. The fruit is raised off of the ground, preventing disease and rot. The single stem plant makes the same large root ball it would if it had been allowed to develop all of the suckers, and the fruit then gets all of the nutrition this large root ball makes. The tomatoes are larger and easy to see. Monitoring disease is easy. The plants can be planted as close as 12 to 18 inches apart, making it easy to grow more tomato varieties in a smaller space and leaving more space for other plant varieties. The rows of tomatoes with their fruit clearly displayed add much beauty to the garden!

While I probably should have realized that cucumbers and zucchinis can be grown on a single stem, I look forward to getting these sprawling vines off of the ground, reaping greater fruit production and the ability to monitor disease on these plants this next year. I will also plant some bush cucumbers and zucchini for comparison.

I also look for new plants now. Seed and plant catalogues are arriving in a deluge. Gardening magazines at this time of year are sources for new plants, as well as favorites of well-known gardeners and nursery people. The plant nerd in me rejoices, and I make lists of possible plants for clients and myself. I must admit that I can, have, and still do spend many hours doing this. These lists are in preparation for the “real” lists that will be made later in the month when I actually plan out gardens and make orders.

I also like to study soil at this time. Care of soil is the basis of gardening. It’s the flora and fauna in the soil that feed plants so they must be nurtured. Soil science still seems complicated to me, but I’m determined to keep learning gardening techniques that feed the soil. Peter Garnham, a local farmer and gardener, is offering a series of articles in Horticulture magazine on soil and I’m looking forward to reading them.

I also cook more at this time and go regularly to The Milk Pail for apples. They have several varieties and I’m happy to be able to support a local grower all year.

When I went outside to fill the bird feeders and put out corn for the squirrels the other day, I found that several plants in the garden are surviving the cold and snow. They are green and look, even now, prepared for spring. Digitalis purpurea, lineria, alcea and lychnis coronaria are self-seeding biennials and are preparing a display for me. The autumn fern “brilliance” is still green, and the arum italicum is in its leaf form, adding summer-like green to the border. The blue-green foliage of rue brightens dark leaf layers in the borders. Oriental poppy foliage brings the color scarlet, which is greatly anticipated! On many other plants, new growth lurks near the soil surface. Or, in the case of peony buds, the signs of spring are just below ground. Verbena bonariensis and rudbeckia “goldstrum” are there. Buds of trees and shrubs are evident. They’re just just waiting to swell, preparing this year’s leaves and flowers. I’m comforted knowing that the garden is waiting there for me.

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. Visit jeanellemyersfinegardening.com.

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