Columns, In the Garden

Things to Try, or Not

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Oaks are pretty for us and food for caterpillars and wildlife.

by Henry Homeyer

CORNISH FLAT, N.H. – Are you in a rut? Spring is here, but most of us cannot plant anything outdoors due to cold nights or wet ground. Yes, you can plant seeds indoors and baby them until early summer, but that requires a place to grow them and lights to keep them happy. So maybe you should put on your thinking cap and decide what you want to do later on, and do some research.

For starters, you could join a plant society, of which there are many. If you love daylilies, join the American Hemerocalis Society. You will find people who love daylilies, too, but have much more knowledge than you ever will. You will learn how to collect seeds and to hybridize daylilies of new colors. Truth be told, there probably are no more new daylilies – someone has tried pretty much every cross of two varieties. Still, hundreds more are named every year.

Or what about the International Aroid Society? The Arum genus has a diverse collection of plants from skunk cabbage to Philodendrons to Colocasia yams. The Plumeria Society of America is focused solely on the 11 species of Plumeria – known as Frangipani in English. Hostas? Wildflowers? Boxwood or Bonsai? There are societies for each and every group.

Any easy project indoors would be to start an avocado tree. Avocados ripen in California starting in spring and going through summer. Winter avocados won’t usually sprout from their seeds: they have been in cold storage too long. The classic method it to perch a seed in a glass of water using three toothpicks to keep its bottom just kissing the water. Put the point end up and the fat end down. I cut one open recently, and it was already sprouting, so I planted it in a mixture of potting soil and compost. I let the sprout just peak out above the soil line.


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Catalpa blooms for me in late June into July.

I have grown many avocado trees over the years, generally by recognizing the shiny leaves in my compost pile. So I know that you don’t have to suspend the seed in water, they will be glad to grow in compost. When I lived in West Africa I was able to buy avocados for a penny or two apiece, and often fed them to our cats. Cats love them because of their oil content. I have a five-foot tall avocado tree growing in a 12-inch pot that lives as a house plant in winter, and goes out on the deck in summer. It started life in the compost pile.

Try to remember the favorite flowers of your grandparents, or your parents. This would be a good time to ask your mom, for example, what did her mom really love? My grandmother, who died in 1953, loved peonies. My mother, may she rest in peace, dug up one of her mom’s peonies and moved it from Spencer, Mass., to Woodbridge, Conn., and grew it for decades before I came along and divided it in the early 1980s and brought a part of it to Cornish Flat, where I live. The peony I got is called “Festiva Maxima.” a highly fragrant double white, with splotches of red inside: blood from a fairy princess, I think.

If your Grammy loved roses, study your yard and figure out where one could go in loving memory of her. And do a little research now if you have never grown roses. Roses are easier to grow now than they were 40 or 50 years ago when Grammy was growing them. I love the “Knockout” series of roses. The Knockouts are not fragrant, so they do not attract Japanese beetles, and they bloom for months. They are highly resistant to diseases. They don’t have long stems, but sometimes I have dozens of blossoms at once for months.

Think about planting an oak later in the month. Many gardeners don’t think of planting oaks saying they get too big, or grow too slowly. But it has been proven that oaks are the No. 1 best plant to support our birds, pollinators and mammals. And you can even plant a sprouting acorn now.

Oaks probably grow faster than you think. I planted several bareroot oaks in the spring of 2021. They were as thick as a pencil and only a foot or two tall. In two years many of them have taken off and are three feet tall or more, and will be ten feet tall in less than five years.


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This avocado tree lives inside all winter, but goes on the deck in summer.

Want a fast-growing flowering tree? Plant a catalpa. They are native and the flowers are amazing. Fragrant, attractive. The leaves are huge, big enough that Native Americans used them for diapers for babies, I’ve read. I bought a 10-footer five years ago and now it is already a shade tree: 25 feet tall with a 20-foot wide crown.

What else can you do? Grow a lot of something you love, starting from seed. I love rosemary, and recently bought a packet of seeds and planted 50 seeds. If all goes well, I will have plenty to share.

I will grow them on an electric heat mat (designed for use with seeds) as they germinate best at temperatures in the 70s. Once they have germinated I will grow them under very bright LED lights, and will transplant them into rows in my vegetable garden in mid-June. Of course I will keep some in pots, and grow them on the deck.

Lastly, plan on growing a vegetable you have never grown before. Me? This is the year of the tomatillo. I did grow one once before, but only one plant and they are not self-pollinating. So this year I plan to plant three or four. They are big plants, as big as tomato plants. You might try tiny decorative pumpkins, or huge ones. Or rutabagas.

Dreaming is part of being a gardener. Dream big. You’ll be glad you did.

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