Garden Census: June

A view of our woodland back garden, almost impossibly lush after a good rain. Everything is lush: this morning I rode up a nearby street carved out of a ravine, and the smells of rain and soil were so rich I felt as if I could still plunge my hands into the waters of the buried stream that still runs beneath it.

My secret rooftop garden is also lush, and this is something of a wonder, because late in the winter a raccoon breached a vulnerable corner of the eaves and, after making itself a den, gave birth to five kits. We listened to this burgeoning family cavort along the roofline for weeks (waiting in order to ensure the kits were large enough to survive out of the den) before calling a wildlife removal company to have the raccoons humanely evicted. Before their removal, however, the raccoons destroyed most of the plants I had begun to set out on the deck, and trampled my garlic, which had been growing serenely since last fall.

Between having to remove plants to less sunny environs or replace them entirely (several tomatoes and eggplants were lost to our cute but destructive visitors’ nightly rampages), I think I lost about three weeks of the growing season before I was able to return rescued plants to the top deck. And yet; and yet: the potatoes are big, the tomatoes are catching up quickly, the eggplants are blossoming (and a couple of plants are starting to set fruit) and even the hot peppers (Apaches, my favourite because the plants are compact and produce prolifically, and the peppers are bright red, hot but not outrageously so, and dry wonderfully for winter use) are producing.

I’ve also managed a first harvest for drying of some of the herbs (catnip, rosemary, sage) and, of course, go out at dinnertime almost every day to snip a few leaves of parsley, basil, tarragon, thyme or oregano) for salad. Every year I try to expand the varieties of herbs I grow: this year I’m up to 34 kinds (about 25 separate types if one excludes varieties; e.g., of thymes. sages and basils). I love their sweet or secretive smells, and the long cultural histories associated with so many herbs. My retirement fantasy is to one day operate a market garden focused mainly on culinary, medicinal and ornamental herbs.

I’ve also managed, for the first time ever, to grow zucchini plants that seem likely to produce. Zucchinis are supposed to be one of the easiest garden vegetables to grow, but because our property is mainly shaded at ground level and space is at a premium on the sunny verandahs and decks, I’ve never afforded squash plants adequate room to grow and as a result have usually lost them to powdery mildew or squash borers. But this year I’ve set a zucchini in a big urn in my secret rooftop garden and it seems to be thriving.

It’s also a great year for non-cultivated harvest: we managed a first mulberry pick a few days ago from a nearby street tree, and my raspberries, growing almost wild along a walkway between the garages, are burgeoning two weeks earlier than usual). I love raspberries more than any other fruit, and I love these raspberries especially because my thick, wild patch started out as a few surplus seedings my mother gave me from her garden many years ago.

What else is going on in the garden right now? Milkweed! It took years for us to establish even a single milkweed plant, but now we have seven or eight in the front garden, and their blooms are beloved by bumblebees and Monarch butterflies. And also: perilla! Last summer a neighbour gave me some perilla when we stopped to admire her garden. I read that it self-seeds readily, and so over the winter was careful to save the soil in the container where it had grown. This spring only a single plant popped up, and I was a little sad–until I started to see perilla in some of my other pots. I love its minty-licorice taste, and hope my volunteer perillas continue to multiply.

And garlic: here is a clutch of garlic scapes I managed to pull from the front garden. Almost two decades ago my mother gave me some of the serpent garden she grew around her front step to ward off witches, and it has grown pretty much wild in my own front garden ever since. No witches, either, or rather: only the good kind.

And finally: I will end here with a glimpse of the second floor verandah, which has taken a neoclassical turn of late. I bought these painted metal urns last weekend at what was probably the first yard sale I’ve attended in well over a year, and which hopefully will not be the last!

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