TOMATOES? Herbs? Hydrangeas? I do love getting your questions. Here’s a fine trio that scampered into my morning mail . . .
Dear “Stephanie Gardens”:
I love your columns, but you never talk about growing vegetables in a city garden. Heirloom tomatoes, Beefsteaks, Jersey? Yum.
Much as I also love tomatoes, I have but two small garden patches, both lounging in varying degrees of shade, which makes growing anything beyond pots of herbs on the marginally sunnier back-porch steps nearly impossible.
That said. Ahem. Those Big Boys and Beefsteaks are fruits, not a vegetables.
Says Britannica.com: “Tomatoes are fruits that are considered vegetables by nutritionists. Botanically, a fruit is a ripened flower ovary and contains seeds. Tomatoes, plums, zucchinis, and melons are all edible fruits, but things like maple “helicopters” and floating dandelion puffs are fruits too.”
Bet you didn’t know that about dandelion puffs. Neither did I until 20 seconds ago.
One year I tried growing cherry tomatoes in the window boxes, where we do get decent afternoon sun. The idea of little red fruities dripping about amid the geraniums and ivy was enchanting. This did not work, possibly because I’m a slug about watering, and window boxes with thirsty plants need constant maintenance—in this heat, fragile plants might need watering every day—particularly in the brutal afternoon.
I do grow other fruits or, more specifically, the occasional fruit. The Meyer lemon has been limping along for five years, and every other year or so it blesses me with a lemon. I grow it mainly for the blossoms, which smell heavenly and cheer up my solarium several times each winter. Right now it is in the garden, where it summers, and is sporting one tiny fruit that may or may not ripen to edible size.
Dear “Stephanie Gardens”:
I have rosemary, basil and mint plants on my balcony. It gets plenty of sun. I water regularly. But they are all sluggish growers. They are limp and placid—not worth cutting to use (mainly to muddle in a cocktail). Is my mistake keeping them in small pots, or should I drink more cocktails to forget their stunted state?
Bouquet de Hyacinths
Placid herbs are just the worst, aren’t they?
It’s possible they’re getting too much water. Do you let the soil dry out between waterings? Stick your finger in the pot first—and if the soil is damp, don’t.
You could also be right about the pots. Those cute little things one picks up at places like Trader Joe’s are not just inadequate in size, they rarely have drainage holes, leaving the plants to wallow and roots to rot. You don’t need huge pots, an eight-incher should do.
Your rosemary and mint plants will continue to grow—inside, in a sunny window, if it gets to freezing—and will need repotting someday. Basil, however, is a one-season wonder; when fall approaches, make and freeze pesto, or just dry the leaves to carry you through to next spring.
Of course, you can just tell people you grow only muddling herbs, but you’ll need a certain look.
So much of gardening depends on costuming and authoritative attitude, I’ve found. Try a smashing caftan and a jeweled cigarette holder (unlit is fine, it’s the effect you’re going for). A British accent always helps—Americans will buy off on anything announced in those plummy tones.
You don’t happen to have one in your pocket, do you?
Dear “Stephanie Gardens”:
I have two Annabelle hydrangeas that look gorgeous for two minutes in spring. Then it rains hard and they droop. We put in trellises to prop them up before they bloomed, but it wasn’t enough. Last week we staked them with wire that looks very unattractive. Any suggestions other than Super Glue?
Also. When do you prune lavender?
Ah. What a beauty Annabelle can be, with her dinner-plate-scaled white flowers blooming nonstop spring through fall. That is, when she’s not splayed out like a drunken octopus, limbs flopped under their own weight.
Annabelle is not the only big-flowered—or big-leafed—garden plant to suffer so, and like you I
consider most wires and cages and trusses unattractive.
Some years ago I discovered these clever metal garden stakes with a ring on top and an
opening to fit around a stem. They’re green, so they blend with the plant, powder-coated so they don’t rust, and come in various lengths, from tiny to support a single orchid to 30 inches, which should take care of Annabelle.
You don’t need one for every branch, just for the main stems, and you can often feed more than one stem through a single support. Four or five stakes should do for a big bush.
As for pruning lavender, have I got a video for you. Lavender pruning by Marianne Binetti for Osmocote, which makes excellent fertilizers, by the way, takes you, fearlessly, through a twice-yearly shearing and, as a bonus, shows you how to make sachets with the clippings.
LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” doesn’t have all the answers, but she’ll research some if you submit questions to her. You can just add a Comment to this post, and the question will be forwarded to our Green Acre columnist.