It is that time of year again! I really do enjoy sharing my love of gardening each season with all of you. And I love sharing my garden. So much so that this year I offered live garden tours. Of course, the first day I had to settle for a live video tour instead of having live people! But, a few of my coworkers showed up for a hot morning tour of my garden, so it was not all a bust.
There was a lot to be thankful for in 2023. We did get the rain we needed early, making it perfect for May and June flowers. And the summer natives powered through the heat waves of July and August without missing a beat. Fall was very dry, but we got the rain just before it was too late. I did a lot more sheet mulching, both in the potager and the landscape, so you will see some of that here. The best results were with the tomatoes and the watermelons. But the creation of new beds is a lot easier without the aid of glyphosate.
New Ideas Put into Practice
What were some new things you did in your gardens in 2023? One of the first things I tried was electroculture. What is that? Electroculture is the use of electricity from the air or aether in aiding the growth of plants. I did this by using copper pipes, and copper wires wrapped around bamboo. By placing the copper near the plants you want to improve, you get added growth, moisture retainability, and insect and disease resistance. At least, that was the idea. For some things, I thought the insect resistance was a bust, but for others it seemed to work great.
Electroculture Results: Year 1
I was really wanting to see if electroculture could reduce the amount of Japanese beetle pressure in the garden. And I got mixed results. My biggest concern is the fruit trees, mainly cherry, apricot, and plum. These always get hammered by these pesky beetles, so new solutions are needed. In the case of the plum tree, I did not see any less beetle pressures, but the growth of the tree doubled in trunk diameter and canopy density. So there is some growth benefits. (And this is in another drought year with no added irrigation).
I also used copper piping around the luffas and tomatoes, to see if they would be better as well. In the case of the luffas, I went from a year with only 10 to 15 fruits (2022) to more than 40 fruits in 2023. And I grew fewer plants too. The vines were so thick they they were growing into the Meadow Garden. Pests were not an issue either. The tomatoes I planted in my first sheet mulched area, started in summer of 2022. This area I covered with cardboard, soiled hay and goat manure, and leaves and let it sit until planting time in 2023. The tomatoes had no pest problems (I never saw a hornworm or fruitworm). And they produced very well. Although, I think I need to plant less Green Zebra and more Mortgage Lifter.
This is an old term for the time of year when you make maple syrup. 2023 was my first year for making maple syrup. I got the idea more because my wife uses maple syrup in cooking and coffee than for any other reason. I have wanted to do it for awhile now, but the warmer winter of 22-23 let me get a handle on it. I tapped into both of my mature sugar maples, as well as 3 large black walnuts. The walnuts have a high sugar content, though not as high as sugar maple. And they taste different.
I burned the first batch, cooking it down over an open campfire in the front yard. But the following batches I did over a stone oven I built in the back of the Meadow Garden. I ended up with around half a gallon of homemade maple/walnut syrup. Yum!
In the Medicinal Garden
While I have always planned to grow or use more plants for medicine, 2023 was the first time I really got into it. Along with foraging, my family and I grew and gathered a lot of medicinal plants, In the garden, I planted a variety of flowers and herbs both for beauty and medicinal usage. These included:
- Various mints
Did you know that there is a plant or herb for every kind of ailment? And oregano, which I grew a TON of, has a lot of healing properties, for a variety of problems. I hope to provide a simple forager’s guide to medicinal weeds in the near future.
Coming in 2024
In late summer of 2023, we were rocked to find the the gas company was to clear a line through our land above where their main line went through. I was very surprised, because they cleared a 20 foot wide path along the line, above which were growing mature hickories, and many other trees. It even went through my pawpaw grove, and I had to move 3 seedling pawpaw trees.
But after the clearing was done, we were left with a 20 to 40 foot wide strip of trees along our drive which had me thinking. Recently, I thought of adding a redbud collection to the garden, and what better place to put it than in this area, along the cleared land! So, in 2024 I will start building my redbud collection.
In the Cut Flower Garden
During the summer of 2022, my wife began selling cut flower arrangements locally around our area. These came mainly from the garden perennials and zinnias which I grew. So, in 2023 I planned and planted even more flower for the cut flower market. While we do not have the space or resources for long rows of perennials and annuals, I continue to shrink the lawn and add flower and vegetable beds.
I planted more baptisia, which is a great cut flower in May and June, more zinnias, and more annuals for cut flowers. In the end however, she mostly used the zinnias and native perennials from the Meadow Garden and Entry Garden areas. Some of the cut flowers we have include:
A few of the additions (hopefully) for 2024 include:
- Common boneset
- Joe Pye
- Brazilian verbena
Meadow Garden Update
What is new in the meadow? In its 5th year since conception, the meadow really flourished and expanded. I included a small section of yard which included my gold-leaf smooth sumac and up to the sycamore tree. In the fall of 2022 I added some more grass cultivars of little bluestem, and again in spring of 2023. Also, I added several native species from High Country Gardens, all of which I promptly forgot about (I hoped they grew and thrived).
For the first time since 2019, I attended the Kansas Native Plant Society’s Annual Wildflower Weekend (AWW) in September 2023 in Central Kansas. And a photo I took of the Meadow Garden at sunset won a 1st place prize in the photo contest. The AWW is a great place for native plant enthusiasts to gather and share information and knowledge all while looking at native plants on location.
In the meadow I plan to continue using fire as the main tool for spring cleanup, and will continue to weed out the annual and western ragweeds growing along the edges. I plan to add several new plants of giant rudbeckia (Rudbeckia maxima) to get some more bang out of those giant, silvery-blue leaves. And as I add fruit tree on the north side of the potager, I will likely be looking to add another meadow there as well.
Garden Potager Update
The vegetable garden has always been more of a problem than a progression here. Why? Because as a landscape gardener, I have simply put it on the back burner. But, with increased inflation and food prices, growing my family’s food has never had more precedence. So, in late fall and winter of 2022-23, I began creating more raised beds and in-ground beds using a hügelkultur/sheet mulching mixed method. I built raised beds with cedar poles and filled them with cardboard, logs, branches, leaves, straw, and compost. In-ground beds are made by laying down cardboard, straw, soiled hay, and compost.
One of the biggest changes to the potage started after the season was over. I began to tear out the stone wall I put in 7 years ago, and started to create a new bed along the south side of the gardens. This bed will be 6 to 12 feet wide, and run 100 feet long when finished, with a middle walkway. It will have both perennials and vegetable crops in it. I will have circles of annuals and herbs which can flower to improve pollination and attract beneficials.
In 2023, I grew watermelons, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, and grapes best. The raised beds really needed more compost, and regular watering to be able to grow better.
The Entry Garden
In front of the house, in 2022 I added a rose arbor for my wife after she expressed a liking for a particular rose. I was not able to get that rose, but we had a similar variety at the nursery. It bloomed really well in 2023, and I also added another rose for her. It was the first time I had ever bought a landscape rose, the Peach Drift Rose. In the future, I suppose I will be adding rose varieties which have larger rose hips and petals, to use for their medicinal properties.
The Monarch Waystation was not yet edited nor removed to become the medicinal plant garden, because I love all the natives in there, and all the life they attract. There were more moths, beetles, bees, and overall insects in my landscape in 2023 than 2022, though butterfly numbers were down. It was also the latest I have ever seen the purple milkweed bloom, way into May and almost June. Usually, it is blooming in early May. Across the drive from the Monarch Waystation, I build a produce stand for our farm, Windmill Woods.
Favorite Flower Scenes
And in case you just wanted to gaze at the beauty of the landscapes, here are some photos of the gardens. Enjoy!
I really enjoy sharing my gardens with you, so I hope that you enjoy seeing them. Here is looking forward to another beautiful year!