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THE LAZY BERKSHIRE GARDENER: Week of August 10, 2023

After cutting back leggy annuals and harvesting herbs, consider making a “Monet salad.” I had pansies, nasturtium, and arugula flowers (cilantro would be good, too)—all edible—to dress up the usual garden greens.


We’re about halfway through summer, but gardeners tend to think in terms of the future. In those terms, it is fall already. No! I resist. Take time now to study your plantings; don’t list what needs to be done, but study them for what interests you. Maybe you would like more of a certain color or more birds or more butterflies visiting your gardens. Make note of what’s working and think about what you can do to have more of that positive. Gardening is the most fun when we have success. Look broadly and ignore the holes from grasshoppers and beetles. Pests are part of our ecosystem.

Speaking of success: Take pictures of your winning combinations. Like how that container looks now? Take a photo, and if you still have the plastic tags, take a photo of those, too. Now you have an idea of what will look good next year. Best part of taking photos with our smartphones? Files are dated! That planter looked like that in August, not in June, for example. We forget how skimpy things look when just planted, and it helps to have a reminder that plants grow!

They grow and stretch only to get leggy sometimes. After cutting back leggy annuals and harvesting herbs, consider making a “Monet salad.” I had pansies, nasturtium, and arugula flowers (cilantro would be good, too)—all edible—to dress up the usual garden greens. Very pretty and tasty! Summer squash blooms could be added as well. I call it a “Monet salad” because that’s what The Art Institute in Chicago called their flower salad. It looks like a pastel impressionist painting. So much better than throwing those bits into the compost!

I have mentioned my roses are struggling to open a flower without it being consumed immediately by beetles. I have missed the flowers this year, but the plants are just part of a greater scheme. To keep something always blooming, the concept for this flower border was rugosa roses, catmint (Nepeta), daylilies, and perennial brown-eyed (or black-eyed) Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida). The perennial Rudbeckia bloom later than the annual Rudbeckia hirta mentioned last week. They will flower for a month or more now, and, thankfully, after my rose struggles, not much bothers these tough guys. The clump will spread, too, in a good way.

Perennial Rudbeckia fulgidafulgida’ is a reliable, mostly pest-free addition to flower borders. One plant becomes many and turns into a bouquet. Just watch for slugs.

From the vegetable garden, I’ve enjoyed a few cherry tomatoes, but the larger beefsteak and Black Krim, medium-size tomatoes were not ripening last week. The warm weather of the weekend will hopefully get things going. Daytime heat will linger around the garden plants into the evening. If you want to push things along, red plastic is available to put under your tomato plants. The red light reflected under the plant helps ripen the fruit. Also, the red will absorb the day’s heat and slowly release it through the night. Our coldest night-time temperatures are usually right before dawn.

I am happy with the size of this year’s vegetable garden. Zucchini plants have provided a few medium size fruits every few days. Bush beans continue to flower as long as I pick daily. I will keep harvesting so that plants keep producing and will remind the house-sitter to do the same when we are away. Onions and shallots should be pulled up when leafy tops turn brown. Use bruised onions first as these will be the first to spoil.

More vegetable tips: Plant spinach now and keep soil moist. It will sprout more quickly and also not bolt as quickly since daylight is strong but decreasing. Do you grow cauliflower? I don’t but probably should. I think it’s outpacing kale as the go-to vegetable. For whiter cauliflower, tie the leaves over the head one to two weeks before harvest.

Keep weeding and scouting for problems in shrub or perennial borders. Boring. I just keep reminding myself that preventing weeds from going to seed means fewer weeds later. Remove any diseased leaves or broken branches now before fungus spreads. Put diseased foliage in the trash. However, be very careful about reaching into where you can’t see. Wasps’ nests could be hiding in the foliage, and wasps become very aggressive in August through October.

While large paper wasps and hornets can be painful, if not dangerous, other insects do help in the garden. Take this week’s insect for example that I spotted—yes—while weeding! The net-winged beetle caught my eye on the blade of a daylily, and I quickly looked it up before smooshing it. I proceeded not to smoosh. This net-winged beetle (Calopteron terminale) could have been caught amongst leaves damaged by another pest. But it would be innocent! They eat dead wood, slime molds (left by pests like aphids), nectar, pollen, and other small insects. The bright orange band is a natural warning that predators will find it nasty to the taste. Broken wings emit a foul-smelling toxin called pyrazine. Learn more about this fun beetle like I did at this post from the Adirondack Almanack. Lady beetles emit the same type of chemicals—which you may know if your home has been inundated with beetles in the fall.

A good bug! Net-winged beetles have relatively soft wings. They start out eating dead wood and grow to eat slime molds, nectar, pollen and other smaller insects. This one is most likely an end band net-winged beetle, Calopteron terminale.

In the spirit of nothing going to waste at my house, we chose not to grind down a tree stump and instead left it as a pedestal for a large container. (The dead stump could attract interesting beetles, I realize). This year, I opted to plant my Gladiolus bulbs, peacock orchid (Acidanthera) bulbs, and Crocosmia bulbs among the former tree’s splayed roots. The roots created little pockets where the lawn mower couldn’t reach. Since we use the weed trimmer sparingly, the tell-tale blades of the bulbs appeared and grew with only minimal damage—ahem—once the trimmer’s operator (no pointing fingers) realized the plants were wanted.

I overwintered these summer bulbs in my basement last year. That is another success! (I won’t mention the basil I started that never grew beyond one inch tall.) Bulbs we don’t overwinter are tulips, daffodils, snowdrops, crocus, alliums, and more. Check your notes from spring and make your shopping list. If you order from catalogs, now is the time to put in your order. Garden Centers may take requests for large orders, but, otherwise, you will find spring-flowering bulbs (that you plant outdoors in October-November) available in mid-September.

Use what nature provides to create an arrangement. Summer flowering bulbs bloom among the roots of a tree stump that serves as a pedestal for a large container.

Fast forward and the container with a huge salvia upon a pedestal has a skirt of gladiolus, crocosmia, and soon acidanthera all making a big flowering arrangement. If I were growing the gladiolus to cut for vases indoors, this weekend would have been the time. The first flowers at the stem bottoms have opened and the rest of the buds are just starting. But I like the show outdoors; so, I can be lazy and just enjoy.

I call myself the Lazy Berkshire Gardener because I don’t want to work too hard in my gardens. I want to enjoy them. I find it easier to observe my landscape and let the compost happen, the water pool up or daisies to self-sow. I look for ways to do the minimum task for the biggest impact. For example, mulching is better than spraying and much better than weeding all season. I look for beautiful low-maintenance plants that thrive in or at least tolerate my garden conditions. Plus, I’m willing to live with the consequences if I miss something.


The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.

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I mentioned spongy moth caterpillars briefly last week. I hear Columbia County in New York has a tremendous outbreak now.

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The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.