questions, anyone? (or, careful what you ask.)

questions, anyoneP EOPLE LIKE TO ASK ME QUESTIONS, GARDENING QUESTIONS. It’s been happening for a couple of decades, and lately, well, lately it’s getting worse (better?). More urgent, you might say, as in more urgent garden questions than ever. Take the recent case of April from Kansas, who found out about me from Marilyn from Kansas, who found out about me from…well, hmmm, where did she come from?

APRIL OF COAL CREEK FARM had this rooster, you see, and this 8-foot square of dirt beside her porch steps (left), and just needed a suggestion for one good shrub, the very right shrub, please Margaret, tell me what to plant there. Poor thing, I got her to dig up her whole front yard (and Walkin’ Charlie the rooster would have kept doing that for much less time and money). So be careful what you ask me for: Look how she ended up.

I AM A VETERAN answerer; my own sister, Marion, left (shown doing what she likes more than gardening), trained me well, in the bad old days when we didn’t talk much. Her “urgent garden questions,” left on my voicemail, were the bridge that she built to reunite us.

AND OF COURSE WHEN YOU LECTURE about gardening, which I have for years (and will next do this Sunday, July 26, at The Berkshire Museum in Massachusetts), you answer questions. When I was co-host of “Homegrown” on Sirius Satellite Radio for two years, I answered live questions twice a week for an hour or two at a time. And working for Martha, people figured I’d know everything, like Martha (after all, our names start with the same three letters, don’t they?).

YES, SO MANY QUESTIONS: There was a notable inquiry by email not long ago from Alicia in Portland (aka Posie Gets Cozy), who had (shall we say) a little “issue” with her potatoes. Things in her new garden had started off beautifully (left). Let Alicia tell you how it went (“how not to grow potatoes 101”), and meanwhile read a craft-and-beyond blog I never skip—hers—even though I don’t craft, exactly.

THERE WAS THAT QUESTION from Marilyn (left), or maybe Marilyn (the most amazing baker, as in: you need to cruise her blog for recipes, or for slightly unusual stories like one about her fear of pears) didn’t ask anything, but just gave me lots of recipes and tips and sent April over to do the questioning. I get dizzy sometimes.

shauna and bean
THEN SHAUNA FROM SEATTLE (yes, the wildly popular famous Gluten-Free Girl, mother to gardener-in-the-making Little Bean; that’s them in the photo by Clare Barboza) wrote to tell me she’s growing lovage, with its celery-like flavor, and sorrel, which got me thinking where in the world my own lovage and sorrel had got to. I don’t even recall Shauna’s question, exactly…was it maybe about the pickles she was making?, hmmm…but the answer on this end was that I bought a new lovage and some sorrel seeds.

AND THEN CAME ONE who didn’t ask an urgent garden question, exactly, but in whom I saw a kinship of a different kind altogether, and wrote about her. When I happened on the blog of Jennifer Rae Atkins, called The Daily Mammal, I found another woman who, like me, wants to be studied up and ready to answer as many of the natural world’s questions as she can. The proboscis monkey to the left, by Jennifer, is one that doesn’t live here in the garden and make trouble. I may live in a Cabinet of Curiosities, but Jennifer lives with a mission: To draw every one of the earth’s 5,000 or so mammals, one day at a time. And it’s not her job; she just does it. Wow.

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN? It means I love the internet, where there is connective tissue among all of us (whether we know it, or one another, yet). I’m even hosting a contest aimed at expressing that…but that’s another story.

Urgent garden questions are always welcome in comments (we’re closing in on 7,000 there so far!), or on the Urgent Garden Question Forums (where I hope you will help one another to answer questions, based on your own insights from experiments in your own yards).

You can email me, of course, but between Marilyn and April (oh, and Paige; I almost forgot that Paige asked stuff, too) and Alicia and Shauna and yes, my sister, Marion…the inbox spilleth over.

And besides, questions received in emails stay private—meaning the answers aren’t shared and that seems a shame, since we gardeners all tend to have the same issues over and over and over again, don’t we? So ask away: Anybody else have an urgent garden question?

  1. naomi says:

    I just check in occasionally. I really like your garden though little you grow I can grow here in NOLA. I have managed to get a few toads in the last month of so (and maybe frogs early in the morning), so I enjoy the frog boys. If you don’t know about it already, here’s a good site for frog lovers – http://www.nwf.org/frogwatchusa/index.cfm .

  2. Barbara says:

    Thanks for the edging tool advise and link. After looking at the photo of your edger, I went out and narrowed my eyes at my similar tool. Maybe my old edger just needs a sharper edge, I thought. So off I went to the Thursday farmers market where a fellow sometimes comes to offer sharpening services. Yes indeed, he said. My edger was about as dull as it could be. So it’s gone home with him, to be returned Saturday morning “better than new”.

  3. Carmen says:

    Oh Margaret!!!! Can i just say you are a God-send!!! I found you through April and I am so glad I did! I have found so many answers on your site in the last day or two that I’ve been searching for on the web (maybe I’m not the “Google-Queen” that my husband says I am?). Anyway…thank you a thousand times over!!
    Here’s a question…I know you should rotate crops but I have some permanent trellis-type things that my dear hubby built. Can I plant my tomatoes on the other side of the trellis next year and then the following switch with beans or cucs or something? (I hope that makes sense…I just spent the last few hours out in the garden and I am spent!) Now off to shred some zucchini…

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Carmen. The thing about soil-borne problems (whether fungal or viral or actual pests) is that that aren’t just in the very spot where the old crop was the previous year, since the soil is not in some way segregated or walled off from other nearby soil, unlike in, say, two separate pots.

      Ideally, we would all have three such trellises, and they would not be right next to each other, and we’d rotate tomatoes, or beans, cukes/squash, a three-year cycle, working in lots of compost in between and taking good care of the soil. I can barely rotate on a two-year cycle, and as more and more trees and shrubs here get big, bigger, biggest, I have less and less full sun for my vegetables, further reducing my rotation spots. Challenging!
      So if you are “rotating” to just the adjacent other side of the trellis, that won’t be enough.

      So basically we each do the best we can, on as long a cycle as we can between replanting in the same spot. Not ideal, but do your best…preferably more than the distance from one side of the same trellis to the other, though, if possible.

  4. Kathy says:

    I would like to turn an acre in NE Kansas (previously used for brome ) into a wildflower meadow with minimal time and effort. Is it possible?

    My plan is to take seed heads from flowers and grasses in my established bed, toss them into the field and let nature run its course.

    Am I crazy or do you think it might work?

    I would like to try this with russian sage, coneflower, black-eyed susan, yarrow, prairie dropseed, little bluestem, etc.

    What are your thoughts?

  5. Jane Mooney says:

    Hello, I started converting my north side front “lawn” to a shade/woodland garden last year. We started by spreading compost over the whole area (1500 sq ft), planting some stewartia trees, enkyanthus, virburnum and then shade loving perennials (hosta, ferns, solomons seal, etc). The perennials are a work in progress, there is a lot of empty space that I hope will fill in over time with the spreading ground covers etc. Then we applied a pine blend mulch.
    My question: What is the best maintenance for this garden to fertilize and keep weed free? This spring, should I remove the mulch and put down more compost, then reapply mulch? Thanks for any helpful advice! Jane

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Jane. If you prepped the soil nicely, with that compost and such, You should be good for a bit. I use a mulch that gradually breaks down into the soil versus nuggets or big pieces that are woody (here’s my mulch thinking) so that it serves the mulching purpose PLUS slowly enriches the soil. I top that up each year. As far as weed-free, that means your mulch layer for some suppression, as you already applied, plus weeding, weeding, weeding. Plan to make a quick pass through every bed every week or two and grab any unwanted babies that are emerging before they take hold and are hard to manage. Prevention=success.

  6. Zita Swindells says:

    Hi Margaret,

    I absolutely love your podcast!

    A couple of quick questions:
    What is the best, quickest, and most foolproof way to propagate clematis?
    And how aggressive is showy goldenrod? I recently bought one at a local native plant sale and am now wondering if it will take over my perennial bed.

    Thank you!


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