The Corona virus has been a horrible event but a good thing for the gardening world. There may have been toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortages, but there were also seed shortages, with some seed companies experiencing sales twenty times higher than last year. As a lifelong gardener and proponent of the activity, I’m delighted.
The largest surge in horticulture was in home grown vegetables, followed by organic gardening, and indoor plants. As new gardeners enter the realm of vegetable growing, I suspect that they visualize tidy plants loaded with fruit, when in reality the vegetable garden is rarely a thing of beauty. Growing squash, cucumber, or zucchini vines are fine before borers and powdery mildew attack. Tomato plants look their best two months after they’re planted but can quickly become a tangle of heavy stems. This may not be the case in other parts of the world, but in our high humidity and buggy summers, it’s a given. Who cares one might think, it’s about the harvest and indeed it is, with the ultimate realization that ugly fruit might be better fruit.
Space restrictions may be a problem for some homeowners, corn needs to be planted in rows with a minimum of three for wind pollination. The vining vegetables, squash and cantaloupe, become enormous in their sideways growth. Even compact varieties are substantial at five square feet. A work around is growing them vertically, which will also serve pole beans and snap peas. A common mistake with supports for climbers is underestimating the weight and potential height. A typical “garden center” trellis will not do. My most successful support has been landscape timbers sunk in the ground with a metal rod at the top to connect them. I use inexpensive sisal twine staked in the ground to run the vines up, which is great for the first year, but wears too thin for a second, which is perfect, I compost what’s left and start with new string each year.
Not all vegetables age into unattractive adults. Bush beans and peppers may need staking but are handsome enough to grow in a summer flower border. Cool season vegetables such as kale, Swiss chard, beets, and lettuce can also be spectacular in containers or flower bed. Herbs will certainly work in ornamental yet functional roles. Parsley (a biennial) can be a stunning filler plant, as well as chives, sage, rosemary, and cultivars of thyme.
As any new gardener will learn, gardening may seem like a battle between good and evil. As a long time servant of the craft, my evil list has shrunk considerably. Things that were once vetoed, like underground bees, aphids, powdery mildew, and even poison ivy (in small doses) are now accepted. The observant gardener, with time, will learn how perceived adversaries are not evil, or that the battle to control them is the wrong thing to do. In my opinion evil comes from invasive exotics like the emerald ash borer, the spotted lantern fly, Japanese stilt grass, Russian olive, or the callery pear (the Bradford pear’s offspring). Not to be too critical and tip the scale in a negative way, I believe that any beginning gardener will soon learn that the balance between planting, growing, and harvesting is a journey of delight where the gardening Gods deliver random moments of perfection.