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Lowenfels: Questing for a horticultural Fourth

Jeff Lowenfels

There are few rules garden writers have to keep in mind when writing a column. I should know after all these years, right? One of them is that when a column falls on a serious holiday then it should be related, in some regard, to that holiday.

So here we are in Alaska on the Fourth of July. And I am stumped as to how to connect Independence Day to gardening. It is a good thing this does not happen every year!

Oh, sure, if this column appeared in Texas instead of Anchorage, I could do something that ties in watermelon to the picnics we all attend. Or if you were reading this in the Oklahoma paper, you would probably be rolling your eyes because Lowenfels once again invoked the Broadway musical, writing about the corn versus the height of an elephant's eye.

The Oregonian would have a column on cherries, which are ripe in that state though the crop has not been a bountiful one due to an extra long, cool, rainy season. The word is still out on the hardy Montmorency cherry trees you can buy and grow here in Alaska. If you have one, help it be pollinated.

Popcorn would be the tie in Indiana, peaches in Atlanta and peanuts in Mississippi. You get the point? Cabbages just don't cut it for the Fourth. Just make sure you are looking for slugs, as they are starting to appear.

This mandatory hort-holiday garden column rule would also be difficult to comply with in some of the other states, but not nearly as difficult as here. We don't really grow much by way of fruit to celebrate this time of year, though strawberries might do if the garden columnists in Michigan hadn't used them last year. So pick yours and be happy. They should be ripe.

New York? Well somehow I would manage to connect the Fourth to love for baseball, the state's many stadiums and eventually to the fields' grass and lawn care. It's a formula they teach us at The Garden Writers University. We are always taking care of lawns, watering mostly now, so it really wouldn't make a great holiday column in Alaska.

These connections between gardening and the Fourth of July have to be real, not forced, like the ones I come up with and reject. How about firecracker hot peppers? No. I can't do that. Besides, I just made up the name, and not everyone has an outdoor greenhouse needed for peppers. Too trite too. So just pollinate yours and forget a column.

I just can't bring myself to use lilacs this year, even if they did bloom so late that lots of fragrant purple will be joining red, white and blue on the Fourth. In addition, a lot of folks lost all or part of their shrubs this year, victims to early thaws and late freezes despite their stone hardiness when it comes to cold. Same with mock orange and our honeysuckles. Ouch. Nothing to celebrate there this year.

Lilies are already being taken by the columnist for the Hartford Press, I assume. Southcentral's seem to be doing fine, having survived the weird weather that took so many of the other perennials considered hardy. That's why I can't write about peonies, which took such a hit this year, along with so many spring flowering bulbs that simply didn't make it.

I could do something on greenhouse tomatoes. The unusual 70-degree days have really produced a bumper crop of flowers and now ripening tomatoes. Again, not everyone has an outdoor greenhouse (which must have doors or vents open to allow pollinators to get in this time of year to ensure a bumper crop), so a column on them wouldn't be very American Fourth of July-like.

How about mint? If you didn't contain it early this spring, it is spreading into your garden. Ah, but doesn't the columnist for the Kentucky Journal's include this in her mandatory Derby Day connection? We don't want someone's second-hand hort connection.

What is left? Dandelions? As much as I have gained appreciation for how plants live from the second book (read it yet? "Teaming With Nutrients"), I will not declare dandelions a worthy topic for the Fourth of July. Besides, the first flush has passed and we really don't have many flowers until late August -- which means now is a great time to say adios to them. Dandelions are not a July 4 flower.

So, I give up. It's the Fourth of July, that is all. And that is enough. Instead I will call on all Alaskans, as good Americans, to enjoy all the joys that your and others' plants give you on this day, be it in the yard, on the trail or on a stream.

 

Jeff Lowenfels' books can be ordered online: tinyurl.com/TeamingWithMicrobes and tinyurl.com/TeamingWithNutrients

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HARVEST STAKE: THOSE DELPHINIUMS AND THE PEONIES THAT MADE IT.

 


Jeff Lowenfels
Gardening