Uh Oh

Perhaps there are no mistakes in gardening, only things that have to be learned the hard way. And since every year is different, a gardener never runs out of things to learn. Case in point: I started four varieties of tomatoes from seed in February, and nursed them along through the end of winter. For several weeks they have been living outside under a plastic tunnel which protects them from frost and the wind. It gets pretty warm in there, even if there’s no direct sun. So I was unprepared for a warm sunny day (especially since it was snowing just a few days ago), and fiddled around on other projects this morning. When I finally opened the tunnel to have a look inside, I saw that most of my baby tomatoes had been cooked. Oh no! Some of them can be saved, but I will be starting over.

Another case: I am a proponent of what could be called “free-spirited” gardening. I have some degree of tolerance for plants doing what they do. I was also duped by garden designers who say things like: ” For winter interest, leave grasses and seedpods standing in flowerbeds.” I’ve done this in the past, but for some reason, I have a bumper crop of seedlings this spring. All of the grasses I left standing for aesthetic reasons have given me the gift of babies in inconvenient places. The larkspur, california poppies, and violas have sprouted prodigiously. I don’t mind a few of them wandering around the garden to add some random whimsy to my flowerbeds. I’ve potted up a few extras to give away. But the rest of them are being ruthlessly pulled up or scuffled back into the dirt. This summer, there will be more disciplined deadheading after flowers finish blooming.

Garden and learn!


Two days of relatively mild weather lulled me into thinking it might be OK to plant peas. I’ve had the bed ready for a couple of weeks but held off because of snow in the forecast. I’m growing Alaska Bush Peas this year. I figure anything that is named after Alaska will probably manage to survive the long unsettled Cle Elum spring season.

I also planted some sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) I had started. They are about three inches tall now, and ready to start climbing. The sky is clear tonight, so I covered the new plantings with some fabric row cover. I expect to see frost in the morning.

So my horticultural therapy continues…I tour the garden to see what’s new, observe changes in the sprouts and seedlings. Violets are blooming and smelling heavenly. The radishes are burgeoning, and I anticipate baby lettuce in a week or two. I move dirt, pluck tiny dandelion rosettes and maple seedlings that come up from the several thousand that helicoptered down last fall and winter. As I tend the garden, I suppose that I am also tending myself.

I heard the first hummingbird zinging around last night.


March is going out like a lion. When the clouds lifted today, I could see fresh snow on the trees just above town. It is a matter of faith then that I took sweet pepper seedlings out of the heated propagator and transferred them into larger pots. Right now I cannot imagine the consistent warm weather and long days that will make these plants bloom and set fruit. If I took these plants outside right now, the cold wind would flatten them. By morning they would be black and limp.

But July will come. It always does. It takes faith not just to plant the seeds, but to nurture the seedlings in a sheltered spot and believe that the warmth will come. It takes faith to decide when to plant the seedlings outside and leave them to take nutrients from the sun and soil. It takes faith to believe that fruit will be harvested.

It’s not only peppers. There are tiny tomato plants on my porch, and tender annuals, and basil just planted today. April may bring both lashing storms and benevolent sun, but these seedlings will stay in till I have faith that summer has arrived.