[inter and succession planting, nasturtium, mulberries]

In 1810, English essayist Charles Lamb wrote: “Nothing puzzles me more than time and space; and yet nothing troubles me less, as I never think of them.” Obviously, Charles was not a gardener. I spend a lot of time thinking about time and space in the garden, and out there this morning was particularly proud of one result of that “trouble.”

That source of pride is a bed 20 feet long by 3 feet wide that’s overbrimming with luscious greenery. I planted it back in April, 4 rows, one of radishes, one of mustard and arugula, and two of various varieties of leaf lettuce. The radishes are long gone and the mustard and arugula are just now going to seed, but the lettuces have a little more time left in them. The bed is packed so full of garden plants that hardly a weed peeks through anywhere.
As the lettuce passes its prime, all will not be over for that bed. I could wait, pull the lettuce, and then plant a later crop of, say, bush beans or endive. But, with a nod not to Mr. Lamb, I meshed space and time 3 weeks ago, removed a clump of plants every 2 feet down 2 rows in the bed, and planted sweet corn. Now, the sweet corn is looking tall among the waning other plants and, in a few weeks, the bed will be lush with only corn stalks.
The growing season here isn’t long enough to squeeze another crop in after the sweet corn in harvested in September. But maybe, if I plant some quick-maturing radishes in amongst the stalks in the beginning of September . . .
Plants that are too easy to grow are sometimes not given their due, and nasturtiums are, I think, one such plant. Wherever you poke the pea-size seed into the ground, you get, just a few weeks later, a nice, sprawling patch of round, blue-green leaves and colorful flowers. That’s what I do here and there in the bed near my terrace and near my garden gates every year.


That small amount of effort gets me not only beauty but also something tasty to eat. The leaves and flowers are edible. Most edible flowers have a subtle flavor, if that; nasturtiums have a strong – a nice, zippy – flavor. The name nasturtium means “nose twist,” sort of like what horseradish does, a relative. Nasturtium flavor is more mellow and the plant doesn’t spread, at least not year after year. Nasturtium’s bright color also adds visual appeal to any salad or spread.
Mulberry is another plant that’s not usually given its due. Sure, wild plants abound; except in deep woods, I could probably find at least one mulberry tree within a quarter of a mile from wherever you put me. (It’s the second most common “weed” tree in New York City.) And yes, the fruit is usually very sweet but lacking in character. But nobody’s knocking marshmallows, which are even sweeter.
Not all mulberries taste the same. Check out the taste of a number of wild ones and they’ll run the spectrum from almost pure sweetness to those with a bit of tang. They also vary in size. Both size and sweetness depend also on growing conditions.
Named varieties of mulberries, with bigger and/or better tasting fruits, exist although they are not well-known. I grow four of them. Illinois Everbearing has been around for over a half a century and is one of the best. I have on good authority that Oscar (a funny name for a mulberry) and Kokuso taste very good, and ordered (from www.whitmanfarms.com) a plant of each this past spring. I also ordered a Gerardi Dwarf tree, now with about a dozen fruits ripening on 2 foot tall plant still in its pot.


The flavor of Gerardi Dwarf fruits are said to taste almost as good as those of yet another mulberry, the black mulberry (Morus nigra) which, in my opinion and that of many other fruit lovers, may be the best-tasting of all fruits. Lest you believe that all black-colored wild mulberries you’ve seen are Morus nigra, they’re not. Fruit color and species names of mulberries are unrelated. Illinois Everbearing, which is a natural hybrid of white mulberry (M. alba), from eastern Asia, and our native red mulberry (Morus rubra), bears jet black fruits. (For more on mulberries, see my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden.)
Black mulberry is native to the mild climates of southwestern Asia and grows well only in Mediterranean climates. Unless, that is, it’s in a pot, which is how I grow black mulberry, bringing it down in winter to my cool basement, along with figs, pomegranates, and other fruits native to southwestern Asia.
I’m looking forward to tasting Gerardi Dwarf mulberries, which should make a cold-hardy, decorative plant that, like other mulberries, is easy to grow.

[caterpillar yew, grape training, prune bay laurel]

The hardest part has been getting the caterpillar to smile. This caterpillar is about 20 feet long and 3 feet high, 5 feet to the top of its antennae, and it lives near a wall along the front of my house. It’s green. It’s a yew.
The caterpillar started out conventionally enough. Like so many gardeners and new homeowners, I succumbed to the enticement of inexpensive evergreens – in this case, 5 innocent-looking, small yew bushes – to dress up the bare front of my house. Once planted, they would contribute to the ubiquitous gumdrop school of landscape design. That was over 25 years ago.



Well, at least I decided not to shear them into exacting gumdrops. Pruning with a hand shears once or twice a year kept them informal. My plants never suffered neglect, a good thing because too many innocent-looking, small evergreens get neglected, outgrow their surroundings, and gobble up homes. I can still look out from my windows.

A couple of years ago, inspired by local plant sculptor and stone artist Keith Buesing, I decided to morph my informal gumdrops into a giant caterpillar. Repeated shearing has finally released a caterpillar from the mass of greenery. Not that my caterpillar is anatomically correct: I carved out two eyes from the foliage and am still working on the big smile, the latter to keep the creature looking friendly.
After “smiling” and trimming the caterpillar today, I put away my hedge shears, reached for my pruning shears, and set to work on the grapes. With many varieties of table grapes – including seedless Vanessa, Mars, Jupiter, Somerset, and Glenora as well as seeded Lorelei, Briana, Alden, Swenson Red, Edelweiss, Swenson White, Campbell Early, and New York Muscat – there will be plenty of flavors. But I want to make sure each variety tastes its very best, for which pruning is key. Pruning balances the crop load so enough leaves pump each berry with flavor and keeps the plant bathed in sunlight.



In this part of the country, most grapes, including my own, are trained to the traditional 4-Arm Kniffin system, with a central trunk and two fruiting arms running off in opposite directions at 3 feet and 5 feet above ground level. My grapes got a makeover this year because of my visit, last summer, to Purdue University’s experimental grape plantings.

Now my grapes are emulating Dr. Bordelon’s “high-wire cordon” grapes, each of whose vines has a trunk rising to almost 7 feet, then splitting off into two permanent arms (“cordons”) running in opposite directions along a wire at that height. Fruiting shoots grow downward off those arms. (I train my plants with two trunks, each topped by a single cordon, as insurance against losing a trunk to our more severe winter cold.) My job is to position those shoots and prune them so that none originate closer that 6 inches apart along the cordon, so that they don’t tangle, and so that the bunches don’t get shaded by more than 4 layers of leaves. I’ve done that and everything looks tidy, airy, and drenched in sunlight.
One more job with the pruning shears, and that is to get to work on the bay laurel. This tree is 20 years old this year and, if never pruned, would be 30, or more, feet tall. It’s only 5 feet tall.

Planted outdoors, the bay laurel would also be dead. Our winters are much too cold for this native of the Mediterranean region. My bay laurel calls an 18 inch diameter flower pot home so it can move indoors in autumn to spend winter near a sunny window in a cool room.
Every couple of years or so, I slide the root ball out of the flower pot and cut 2 to 3 inches off all around the ball to make room for new potting soil when I put the plant back into its pot.
Each and every year, though, I cut back the top. The plant is pruned as a “standard,” that is, in the shape of a small, idealized tree with a straight trunk capped by a ball of foliage. Sort of like a lollipop. I take my hand shears and shorten some branches and, where growth is too dense, completely remove other branches. A hedge shears is not the tool to use for this job because they would leave mangled the big leaves of a plant like bay laurel.

Besides looking very pretty, this lollipop of a tree offers fresh bay leaves, which have a delicate flavor that hints of olive oil, another Mediterranean plant.

[kiwiberry, corn 3, D. Austin rose]

A trip through Pennsylvania last week, on the way back from a lecture at the Millersville Native Plant Symposium, finally afforded me a convenient opportunity to stop in for a visit with David Jackson at KiwiBerry Organics (www.kiwiberry.com). David was not easy to find, as he’s nestled deep in the hills and back roads of rural Pennsylvania near Danville. Finally, after driving past acres and acres of forest alternating with corn and soybean fields, I came upon a hillside beribboned with neatly trellised hardy kiwi plants (Actinidia arguta).

What’s a hardy kiwi, you wonder? These fruits are cousin to our fuzzy supermarket kiwifruits, with a few notable differences. Hardy kiwifruits – or “kiwiberries,” as David and his partner Holly Laubach call them – are grape-sized and have smooth skins, so can be popped into your mouth just like grapes. Inside, they’re green with black seeds, just like fuzzy kiwifruits, except that hardy kiwifruits’ flavor is much sweeter and more aromatic. (I know this from what others say and because I have about a dozen fruiting vines myself; I devoted a chapter to kiwifruits in my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, available at https://leereich.com/.)
What really dazzled me on this visit was the beauty of the plants and the care that is lavished on each one of them. The beauty was no surprise because hardy kiwifruits, since their introduction into North America from Asia at the end of the 19th century, have been grown mostly as ornamental vines for clothing arbors and pergolas.
Lavish care further enhanced Kiwiberry Organics plants plants’ natural beauty, starting right at ground level with the neat, weed-free strips in which the plants were growing. Weeds were not kept at bay with herbicides, but with careful use of a grape hoe, pulled by a tractor, that rolls over the soil to bury weeds in the soil ridges beneath the plants. From the ground, each plant rose as a sturdy trunk up the the center of a T-trellis whose 8-foot-wide arms are joined by wires running down the length of the trellis. At trellis height, the trunks branch into two permanent arms that run along and are supported by the middle wire. Fruiting arms growing off the two fruiting arms reach perpendicularly out to the outside wires.

I’ve tasted David’s kiwiberries and can attest to their especially fine flavor, the result of careful training and pruning that lets the plants bathe in sunlight. Excess growth is pruned off throughout the growing season to reduce congestion. Fruiting shoots draping down over the ends of the outside wires are repeatedly shortened. Stems that will yield fruit-bearing shoots for the following year are positioned in readiness. All this pruning is in addition to dormant pruning in winter.
My only regret with this visit was that the plants were in flower – very pretty, but I would rather have been tasting fruit.
June 6th: My third planting of sweet corn went into the ground this morning. Rumor has it that backyard gardens are too small to make sweet corn worth planting, especially when supersweet corn is so available at farmstands and markets. Not so!
This latest corn planting went in between lettuce plants in a bed that has been home to 4 rows of early season salad fixings, including arugula, radishes, mustard, erba stella, and 4 varieties of lettuce. That bed now yields more than can be eaten on a daily basis, plus I have other beds of greenery.

So I sighted out 2 rows in the bed and every 2 ft. in each row yanked out a clump of greenery to make space for a clump – a “hill” (cluster) of 8 seeds – of sweet corn. Once those corn seeds sprout, I’ll thin the seedlings out to the best 4 plants. Once those “best 4 plants” start growing strongly, the salad fixings between them will be well past their prime and I’ll just pull them out, leaving the corn to thrive alone in the bed.
All sweet corns are not created equal, and planting sweet corn lets me choose which varieties to grow. I’m partial to old-fashioned sweet corn. It’s not nearly as sweet as modern supersweets but has a rich, corny flavor. My favorite variety, Golden Bantam, was the standard of excellence for sweet corn a hundred years ago.
Not everyone is a fan of Golden Bantam today; my friend Kit says it tastes like “horse corn.” Still growing your own corn lets you seek out and grow whatever variety you like best.
David Austin (http://www.davidaustinroses.com/american/advanced.asp), rose breeder extraordinaire, has done it again, with Strawberry Hill rose. Two plants of this variety went in last spring near two south-facing, brick walls. One of them, the one in more sun, is now drenched in soft, pink blooms. As with many of Mr. Austin’s roses, the flowers have the shape of old-fashioned, cottage garden roses and the bushes are full bodied and robust. I was a little disappointed in the lightness of the fragrance, “fine myrrh” for this variety. But “every rose (and even Strawberry Hill) has its thorns.” Everything else about the bush makes it a winner.