Those summer-like days in early May drew me like a magnet to a garden shop on Route 23 in Davenport. Everything was beautiful and healthy looking. I spent a fortune on seedlings of the same plants that I had already bought seeds for. Maybe they’ll remain on the door of the refrigerator, I was thinking to myself, or maybe I’ll plant them anyway, to see which comes up better. I heard the voice in my head whispering, “Don’t plant until the end of May!” Did I listen? No. It was sunny and oh so warm. Surely cold days were behind us. I was so anxious to get started. I planted the peas, broccoli, basil, thyme and rosemary in containers on the deck, and petunias and pansies in flower boxes in front of my house. They looked so pretty. Certainly those could take a slight frost if it should come. It was getting late and time to put the garden tools away. The rest of the plants would have to wait in the cold frame.
The next day was sunny and even warmer. The plants in the cold frame became scorched. The cold frame was like an oven on broil. I brought them into my unheated sun porch, cut off the dead flowers of the dianthus and hoped for the best.
I prepared for a long Mother’s Day weekend in New York. The weather forecast spoke of a cold front moving in, possibly with frost at night. While I was away, I heard that Andes had snow, strong winds and freezing-cold nights. It was hard to enjoy my weekend when all I could think of was my poor, unprotected seedlings.
You’ve heard me say, year after year, DON’T PLANT UNTIL AFTER MEMORIAL DAY! I hope my readers are better listeners than I am. Most of the plants froze to death.
In the meantime, I’ve taken the dahlia corms from their winter resting place under the staircase in the unheated basement, prepared the soil with compost and other nutrients, and planted those. They’re already coming up, along with cosmos and hollyhocks that were planted from seeds of last year’s crop. Lilacs are blooming profusely, replacing the display of forsythia. Bleeding heart is gorgeous and the leaves of day lilies and iris are quickly rising to cover the daffodils as they turn brown and die down.
Driving (or walking) along Route 28, I see that trees are flowering and lawns are at their prettiest emerald green. Farm stands are opening in Shandaken and other nearby places where we can buy almost-local vegetables from towns that are in slightly warmer zones than ours. We no longer have to depend on those that come from far-away places that have spent time traveling and wilt days after arrival.
The weather, as you’re reading this column, has become reliably warm. The soil is probably fifty degrees and it’s time to plant tomato seedlings, either purchased or that you’ve grown from seed indoors. There are so many varieties, but I stick to those that grow in fifty to sixty days, like Early Girl or cherry tomatoes. Unless they’ve gotten a head start in a greenhouse, it’s been my experience that tomatoes need more sunny weather than Andes can give them (or maybe it’s just here in Palmer Hollow). You know your property and how much sun you get. By mid-August, I sometimes get frost at night and have to cover the plants every evening and uncover them in the morning, to take advantage of a few more sunny days to ripen the tomatoes.
I’m reading a book called, The Gardener’s Gripe Book by Abby Adams. It’s not so much a “how-to” book as it is a “what am I doing wrong” book, written in an amusing way. It reminds me of myself and all the problems that I have in gardening that, or in spite of, make me try and try again. Cara, my daughter, whose many cards illustrating my garden frustrations have appeared in these pages, made me this one for Mother’s Day: