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I insisted on keeping a tight grip on the garden. Then I let my wife help.

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: June 6, 2019
  • Published June 6, 2019

My wife, Jude, in our Anchorage garden. (Jeff Lowenfels/ADN)

I was a wee lad around 6 years old when my father infected me with the gardening bug. He did so by letting me go to a nursery with him. He drove the old Jeep down to Crossroads, where there was a nursery I had been by a million times. Wow, it sure looked different from within. There were no brothers on this trip, so Dad might have just been babysitting and so had to take me along. He didn’t have to let me choose a plant of my liking. But he did.

I remember holding a 2- or 3-inch pot with a lantana start in it on the short ride home. This was my very first plant and I was hooked. Sometime shortly thereafter, my grandfather cemented things by letting his grandkids all choose something from the Sears catalog that cost less than $25. I chose a strawberry garden, actually just a set of concentric, aluminum rings. The first circle was laid out in the garden and filled with soil. Then the next, smaller ring was put down and filled. After 5 rings I had a really big, six-foot in diameter, 5-foot-high, soil-filled, wedding cake. It was then populated with strawberries. Well, I never looked back.

I picked the flowers off the plants the first year as that was the advice back then to increase the eventual crop (no longer). And over the next few years, there was plenty. How about your children? Your gardens should be pretty much in. Now make it their turn. Why not take them to a nursery and let them buy a plant or a cell pack of starts? Or give them their own plot? If my experience proves me out, all you need to do is give them space to garden and get out of their way. In fact, it is not just your children, but your spouse as well! Again, I have direct experience here.

For years I insisted on keeping a tight grip on things gardening because I felt my reputation was on the line. What visitor could avoid the comparison between theirs and ours, I thought, so they better be perfect. And, only I could make sure of that. Pretty humble, huh? Also a good way to ensure you don’t get any assistance from the family. Well, arthritis and wisdom from aging are changing that and now my wonderful wife has become the main gardener hereabouts. And you know what? Things look just fine, maybe even better. And, it is such a pleasure to see my lovely wife out there, happily planting away and merrily working in the yard. And that is not just my arthritis speaking! (Well, maybe partly so.)

Gardening can be a lot of work, enjoyable sure, but it is still work nonetheless. Our property seems to get larger every year. What a joy to wander outside after writing a column, only to discover the raspberry patch has already been cleaned of last year’s canes and this year’s have been properly pruned and primed. What a joy to work side by side with someone who has a reason to take pride in the gardens and yard besides living here! And it is more than a joy to have a second set of eyes that can point out a few peonies that need caging or delphiniums that needs defoliating.

Jeff’s (and Jude’s) Alaska Garden Calendar

Plant a Row: Don’t forget to plant one row to feed the hungry and then you take the harvest to someone or someplace that needs it.

Potatoes: Keep about three or four inches above the soil level as you hill.

Sawflies: They are attacking your gooseberries. I have not heard of a good control, but they don’t harm the fruit that will amazingly be produced on a naked shrub!

Delphiniums: Defoliating caterpillars can be hand-squished or sprayed with any product that contains Bt.

Nurseries: Visit. Buy stuff to fill in voids in your beds and plantings. Look for sales.