Leslie’s ornamental plum tree is in bloom. Photo by Leslie Cox

Duchess of dirt: Vegetables, edibles and flowers all coming along

Leslie Cox

Special to The Record

Tomatoes in July?

I am not betting money on eating homegrown tomatoes that early, but the weather lately has raised our hopes. The bet is decidedly hedged in our favour, however. Not only were my tomato seedlings further along this year but they were transplanted into the greenhouse on May 6 – earliest date ever!

Fingers are crossed we will be eating our own tomatoes in about two months. Hoping we will also enjoy a productive season so we can harvest green tomatoes in the fall. Slowly ripened under newspaper layers in beer flats, we stretched our 2018 tomato harvest into February this year.

Next on the list: keeping up with the rhubarb. I cannot believe just two weeks ago I wrote about checking for harvestable-size stalks. Since then I have made two batches of rhubarb crisp and have 4.5 pounds ready for a double batch of rhubarb chutney. So begins this season’s round of preserving.

Word to the wise: if you want to chase your kids out from underfoot, make a batch of rhubarb chutney. Works on my kids, and grandkids, as they cannot stand the smell of cider vinegar simmering on the stove. Funny how they love the finished chutney, though. Hmm… do you think the cider vinegar smell is their excuse for getting out of helping?

My morning walkabout of the perennial garden the other day disclosed a sad sight. Several flowers on my ‘Little Leo’ leopard’s bane, (Doronicum orientale ‘Little Leo’), were hanging face ground-ward from two-thirds up their stems. To date, nine of the 14 stems have succumbed. Sure do not remember seeing this phenomenon last year.

First thought was slug attack as they are pretty adept at climbing up stems. Did not see typical chew marks on damaged stems though. No signs of any aphids either. It appears the vascular system inside the stems has simply collapsed. All in roughly the same spot on the stem. Weird. Wonder if the plant was demanding more water than I was giving it. A possibility since this plant is sitting atop the roots of my large silver maple tree. But the whole plant would be drooping if water was an issue.

Duly noted the rhododendron beside ‘Little Leo’ has not suffered from lack of water because it is covered in white blooms right now. The ‘Mandarin Lights’ azalea is also brilliantly lit up with tangerine-coloured blossoms. At six feet tall and four feet wide, you need your sunglasses just to walk past when the sun is full on this shrub.

Sadly, the azalea sawflies (Nematus lipovskyi) were landing on this shrub in swarms so the challenge will be on, given its height, to eradicate the larvae by hand when they start to appear. And that should be any time now, if they have not hatched already.

According to a 2014 study conducted at Charles University Botanical Garden in Prague, azalea sawfly eggs hatch in 7–10 days. The researchers noted this alien pest first appeared in the Botanical Garden in 2010. Nematus lipovskyi are actually native to the eastern seaboard region of the United States.

The hatching timeline means there are likely some larvae now, but seeing them will be a challenge of its own. Not only are these worms minute at the first instar stage but they are an absolutely perfect match for the green colour of the azalea leaves.

Speaking of matching, the first bloom on my mom’s tree peony has burst open. (Name unknown.) Just in time to compliment the opened buds on my Clematis ‘Kakio’ nearby. Such a shame the tour groups visiting our garden missed the show by a day.

Want to see our garden? We are open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 to 4 or by appointment. Dates are noted on my website: duchessofdirt.ca

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca and her column appears every second Thursday in the Record throughout the spring and summer months.


The Clematis ‘Kakio’ and tree peony in the Cox garden are both blooming. Photo by Leslie Cox

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