Roll Back Those Winter Blues With An 'Edible Landscape' Colorful Vegetables Offer Welcome Harvest

Green Piece

November 11, 1990|By Miriam Mahowald | Miriam Mahowald,Contributing writer

ROLL BACK THOSE WINTER BLUES WITH AN 'EDIBLE LANDSCAPE' COLORFUL VEGETABLES OFFER WELCOME HARVEST BALTIMORE SUN (BS) - Sunday, November 11, 1990 By: Miriam Mahowald Contributing writer Edition: Final Section: Howard Page: 22 Word Count: 879 MEMO: COLUMN: Green Piece TEXT: Deceptively warm September and October days lured gardeners into thinking that this year the cold weather might arrive late.

But fall usually sneaks up on us, so that one calm night frost crystals cover the lawn and tender foliage turns black. It happened again, right on schedule: frost just before Halloween. It signals the finale to most Howard County flower and vegetable gardens, ending the annual beauty of impatiens and zinnias, and the taste of vine-ripened tomatoes and peppers.

But for at least one Ellicott City gardener, the first fall frost signals not the end of the growing season but a new gardening phase.

Louisa Thompson plans and plants a true "garden for all seasons" outdoors. For her, the winter garden may be the most important. She needs to be in the winter sun. Like many people, she has learned that she becomes depressed during the winter due to a lack of sunlight, and being outdoors an hour or two a day is great therapy. The winter garden provides a pleasurable winter activity. Ornamental plantings that also provide shelter and food for birds are a part of her landscape. But the focus of winter interest is vegetables.

Winter ventures in the yard include harvesting thinnings or outer leaves of lettuce, kale and spinach, removing plants that have died, replacing mulch, turning the compost, working up soil if it's unfrozen and dry enough, and watching and listening to the birds in the garden and at the window birdfeeder.

Louisa's 3-year-old gardening project is an ambitious one. Her goal is an edible landscape for her yard that is exceptionally visible to the public. It's a sloping, corner lot, mostly facing a busy street. The existing trees, a couple of dogwoods and Bradford pears and a few larger oaks, have set the patterns for developing planting beds. Many colors and shades of green and purple lettuce, kale, Chinese cabbages, chard, beets and herbs create a subtle fall groundcover. Clumps of alliums, including onions, leeks, chives and garlic, add their blue-green spikes as accents.

The garlic chives are exceptionally attractive now, showing off their globe-shaped seed pods. Some of the vegetables are planted to provide fresh harvest for the table and they are always planted to be observed. Thompson has chosen varieties that will continue to be interesting for as long into winter as possible. Quite a few can be counted on to look good until spring.

Finding varieties suited to winter growing in our area is an ongoing project. By searching through mail-order catalogs for unusual plants, Thompson usually finds seeds in catalogs from Nichols, Vermont Bean Seed, Shepherds, Cooks Garden, Thompson and Morgan, and sometimes Harris or Parks. Seeding is a year-round project; seeds have to be sown at the right times to produce plants for each season.

Thompson says this is her first true garden. But she has been an active armchair gardener, diligently researching books, magazines and catalogs since her first experience growing on her own. At her first apartment home, the value of good soil preparation became evident when she noted a great difference between plants she grew in containers and those that struggled to survive in a small strip of soil beside the building. A rental home provided a little more space for her hobby, and even afforded a spot for her first small compost pile.

Thompson has taken an interest in environmental conservation, beginning at home.

She remembers her grandmother's compost pile, built long before it became fashionable. She says her first gardening memories are of helping dead-head the petunias in her grandmother's summer garden. She did not much like the chore; the smell was unpleasant. But this year, Thompson grew petunias, fondly recalling the memory: "The horrible smell made me so happy," she said.

Following her grandmother's environmentalist lead, she is an organic gardener; chemical pesticides and fertilizers are not used. Thompson prefers to crush insect pests between leaves or her fingers, or treat them to oil or soap sprays.

Composting has become an important part of her gardening activities.

This fall she asked her neighbors to drop off their bagged leaves at her house instead of putting them out for trash collection. She shreds those leaves that need it as she puts them into her compost bins, making sure they are moist, and anticipates the improvement the compost will make to next year's gardens. Some of the leaves are saved to add the needed carbon to summer's greener garden wastes, so the composting process will continue year-round.

Like most gardeners, Thompson finds that raking leaves and cleaning up the garden make up much of the fall garden chores. But in Thompson's garden, clumps of purple reblooming iris are only a hint of the many plants that are still going strong, and she's busy harvesting and planting .

*Green Piece features local gardening tips and profiles of county gardeners every Sunday. It is written by Miriam Mahowald and Mary Gold, two county residents blessed with green thumbs.

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