A perfect tomato eases the pain of a lousy summer

It's hard to imagine that there was a time when I had very little interest in growing vegetables. You might not know it by looking at my vegetable garden, which is in a sorry state this year, but I get so much pleasure out of growing my own food.

Last night, I asked Mr. Much More Patient to bring home a piece of fish for dinner, knowing that we had rice or pasta in the pantry and that I could walk out to the veggie garden and find some kind of vegetable. I actually didn't know what might be ready (since there were no zucchinis on that were big enough it ended up being Swiss chard), but I knew I'd find something out there. I love that feeling.

a perfect tomato

But even before I had a real vegetable garden, there were tomatoes. I love tomatoes. Correction, I love homegrown tomatoes (the ones you buy in the store in winter bear absolutely no relation to a real tomato and probably shouldn't even qualify as one). I've been growing them as long as I've been growing anything. In fact, I suspect the first plant I ever stuck in a pot and put out on a miniscule patio at a first apartment was probably a tomato.

Which is why this summer of bad weather feels even less like summer: there were hardly any tomatoes. All of my tomato plants in the veggie garden at home faltered. Some of them appearing to just fade away, others apparently the victims of some kind of blight. I can't tell you how sad I am about it. To me summer isn't summer without homegrown tomatoes.

I've been supplementing my tomato requirements at the local farmers market, but I did have success with the one plant I put in a pot on the patio, which enjoys a super sunny and warm location.

And the other day, I picked what I think is probably the most perfect tomato I've ever grown. It was about the size of a softball and perfectly round, without so much as a scar on it. Shiny and red, it was equally as delicious as it was pretty.

And it made this horrible tomato summer just a little more tolerable.

What were your successes and failure in the vegetable garden this year?

OFFICIALLY ON NOTICE

This is the time of year when I start taking stock of garden with a long-term view. In general terms, it's easy to spot areas that need attention and improvement. In some cases, though, it's identifying plants that I need to take a hard look at.

And I am officially putting two pretty important plants on notice. It's time to shape up or get shipped out.

The first, I'm very sad to say, is the fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) in the little terraced garden off the deck. (See a schematic view of what gardens are where here.) I planted it as the centerpiece of that garden in 2011, so this should have been its "leap" year (plants are said to "sleep" the first year, "creep" the second year and "leap" the third year), but it has done anything but come into its own. It's trunk is still quite skinny, showing very little growth since we planted it. It has gained some height and width but it's very odd how the leaves are sort of clustered at the ends of the branches. I've counteracted that problem by allowing a clematis to grow up it, which helps quite a bit, but it still looks sparse to me.

I fell in love with the idea of a fringe tree because my mom has a beautiful one that is gorgeous and dense and absolutely laden with flowers. Of course hers is much older than mine but neither of us remembers hers ever being so sparse. And worse yet, the flower situation was horrible this year.  I think there were maybe two flowers on it. There is a chance I may have a female plants while my mom has a male plant as the flowers are showier on a male. Female plants will eventually produce fruit as well, but I've seen no sign of that.


I do like the large leaves of the fringe tree and its bright yellow fall foliage, but given that it is one of the last trees to leaf out in spring and the flowers have been disappointing, the cons are currently outweighing the pros.

Given that trees are expensive and slow growing, I'm inclined to just hang in there with the fringe tree for one more year, but if the perfect replacement tree pops up, you never know, the fringe tree may have to go. In either case, it's definitely put up or shut up time for the fringe tree.

The second plant that I'm putting on notice that it might be on its way out, is there through no fault of its own. I'm speaking of the 'Cancan' climbing rose on the front of the house. Despite a beautiful display of flowers in late spring or early summer (and a few repeat blooms right now), every year this plant is absolutely eaten alive. In previous years aphids have been the problem. Earlier this year I found a sawfly larvae infestation on it. I thought I had it handled, but the leaves are now skeletons. Its shabby foliage looks absolutely horrid.



I don't think there's anything wrong with this climber. And in many ways, it's a good location for a rose: southern exposure, next to the house, nice and warm in the winter, etc. But this garden is a tiny strip of soil maybe 3 feet wide between the house and the patio. Rain doesn't reach it much and I don't really know how deep the soil there is.

I was better about watering there this year than I have been in the past and I really was babying the rose. It's my belief that insects are opportunistic and usually prey upon plants that are compromised in some way.

This year, when the nearby window box was full of orange flowers, I realized that the bright magenta blooms of 'Cancan' don't look so great with a lot of color combinations I tend to plan in the window box.

So I'm starting to think that maybe I need to look for another climber for that location. I'd love for it to be a rose, but that may be a fool's errand given Cancan's fate. Whatever goes there, I think I need to do a thorough job of amending that soil heavily and see if that helps plants stay healthy.

I wish plants read blogs. Maybe these two would shape up if they knew that I'm deciding their fate.




ENJOY THE BEAUTY INSTEAD OF MOURNING THE SUMMER

It's a bittersweet time to be a gardener. My enthusiasm for the small but important jobs around the garden has long since waned. I did some edging this weekend and it was all I could do to will myself to do it even though it was a job that was way overdue and one that I'm always happy with the results of. Some parts of the garden are just coming into their own, while much of the rest of it is looking tired. Even though I'm still calling this The Year Without a Summer, it seems like ages ago that all the foliage in the garden was bright and fresh and new looking, devoid of bare stems where deer or rabbits have nibbled or skeletized leaves where slugs have feasted.

I have a hard time not thinking about next year already: what needs to be moved, what areas need more plants, what just isn't working. What I really should be doing is enjoying the beauty of the garden right now. Because there's a lot of beauty out there to be enjoyed. I just have to enjoy it at face value and not think about how the end of the gardening season is getting closer.

What's happening in your garden these days?

Without question, Rudbeckia is the star of the late summer garden. Although the bright yellow color can be a bit jarring and can be difficult to combine with other colors, Rudbeckia, more than any other plant, defines the season for me.
The nasturtiums, all planted from seed, continue to provide great color in the garden and fill in the holes where other plants have failed.

The Korean feather reed grass is so beautiful this time of year when it sends up its delicate plumes.
'Neon' sedum is starting to show off and the bees adore it.
The oldest of the hydrangea 'Limelight' shrubs that I have in the garden is the biggest it has ever been, at least 7 feet tall and equally wide. It will get a serious pruning next year to keep its size a bit more manageable, even though I don't mind the behemoth as is.

Speaking of 'Limelight', the first blooms are starting to show a tinge of pink. As beautiful as it is, it makes me sad to see it.
In this wilder area of the garden, the Monarda have finally finished blooming and the Rudbeckia has taken over. All except for that one Echinacea. That pink with the bright yellow doesn't work, but somehow the combination doesn't bother me in this area.

A few tools to add to the collection

A couple weeks ago when I shared my favorite tools, I suggested that there might be a few gaps in my already expansive garden tool collection. Well, I may have filled them.

I think the most glaring omission from my collection, I think, is a fork. Digging forks have a lot of uses but the two instances I think call for one most are digging up a plant for division or transplanting (in theory you would cut fewer roots but just loosening the soil and pulling up) and working soil amendments in.

I've also seen them used quite cleverly to divide a plant by placing two forks back to back in the center of the plant and then rocking and prying the plant apart.

I told you about how I have an almost inappropriate love for the Ladies Garden Spade from Garden Tool Co. so when I saw that the Ladies Digging Fork by Sneeboer was on sale, I couldn't help but order it. I love the looks of it, especially since it has the same slightly smaller handle that the spade has. The tines of the fork are flat and wide so I can see it being especially useful for working in soil amendments. Unfortunately, I've not had a chance to really put it through its paces yet, so I can't speak to how much I like it, but I will say it looks very pretty hanging with my Sneeboer spade.



I also mentioned that I would like a hoe that works on both the push and pull stroke. Garden Tool Co. has a lot of hoes but I wanted something that looked almost lethal. I'm beginning to feel like the best garden tools might also serve as excellent weapons in the event of a home invasion. The Royal Dutch Hoe certainly would. The thing that really makes it different is that it has a small handle perpendicular to the hoe. This way you can grab it and really go at those weeds with your thumb facing up, rather than to the side. I like it.



I haven't done a lot with it yet, but in my initial test I was super impressed with how it tackled big weeds. Most hoes are better suited to small weeds, but this thing tackled some mature weeds in my beds.

I can't think of too many more gaps that need filling in my collection. Sometimes I think I might like a really small pruners that I could easily keep in my pocket for when I'm just roaming around the garden, not really gardening, but I doubt I'd remember to grab it.

Speaking of roaming around the garden, that's about the only kind of gardening I've been doing lately. Is anyone else sort of "done" with the garden for right now? I know I have to get back out there, if only to keep the fall chores at a manageable level, but it's hard to be amongst all the trauma that's in the garden this year.

Have a great weekend!