The garden grows well with a few exceptions, and I am surprised.

It took forever for the weather to warm up in April, and it stayed rainy and cool throughout May and early June, so I thought the plants would suffer. Instead, they seemed to love it.

The rhododendrons that survived the winter in good shape bloomed profusely. But some rhododendrons in particularly cold or windy microclimates suffered severe damage where the leaves weren’t covered by snow. They had full, lush leaves up to about 4 feet, and the rest of them were dead.

We pruned the dead parts away, waited until after the plants bloomed, and then pruned a bit more to improve the overall shape.

But the rest of the rhododendrons were lovely. We have one late-blooming Rosebay rhododendron located in dense shade that bloomed for the second time in the 15 years or so that we have had it. It was a rescued plant, so we had expected it to take some time, but it really looked gorgeous this year.

The kalmia — also mostly rescued plants — did very well too. They stand out in the shade with 3-inch florets.

Another early-blooming variety that did well this year was Rodgersia, which is 3 to 4 feet tall with dark, crinkled foliage and conical blossoms that last for several weeks. If you have a shady, wooded area in your gardens, you should plant several of these. They have gone by now, but the foliage still looks great.

Now, in late July, any delay caused by the early cold weather has long disappeared. The astilbes are early, lush and sturdy. The bee balm, especially the red “Jacob Cline,” is spreading and looking great.

The cimicifuga, another striking plant that stands up to 8 feet tall with long, lacy, footlong blossoms, has been spreading. For the first few years, we had one lonely-looking plant with a couple of blossoms, and this year, they are beginning to fill in along our entrance garden. And those blossoms should last quite a while.

We planted a lot of alliums in a new garden alongside our driveway, and the drumstick alliums are still looking great, covered with bees. We started it as an effort to clear out multiflora roses, honeysuckle and bittersweet, and it now looks like a well-established flower garden. If things follow the typical pattern, it will take only a year or two until it starts looking overcrowded.

The year’s disaster so far has been strawberries. Last year was awful, because of the very early spring with one late frost that damaged all the blossoms. But this year, I expected they would come back.

They didn’t. We got a couple of quarts in mid- to late-June, and about a quart a week for a couple more weeks for a total of about four quarts, and that was the end of it. We ended up buying quite a few strawberries, but the season ended a lot sooner than we wanted it to.

The sad part of it all is that by not recognizing we had problems before this year, even after we plant new strawberries next spring, it will be 2013 before we have a decent crop again.

The raspberries look quite good, although a couple of weeks away, and the blueberries are having a middling year.

The peas have been great. We have picked about nine gallons of peas over the past three weekends, and while production will slow down, I probably will be able to pick some peas as you are reading this.

But the Sugar Snap peas have been fantastic — with a minor engineering problem. In past years, the vines would climb our pea fences to a bit more than 4 feet and then flop over, limiting production. This year, I used 10-foot boards for the fence, put on the 4-foot fence and, when the vines grew past 4 feet, added a 3-foot fence on top. Production has been wonderful. Nancy froze some; we gave a lot away. It looked like the season would be long.

Then the wind came up, all those vines acted like a sail, and the poles snapped at the ground. I’ve propped the peas back up, and hope to pick for a while yet. But next year, we will have 7-foot fences and stronger poles.

We planted potatoes in the garden, as we always do, but also planted two bags of potatoes to put on the patio. The bags have holes in the side, and you are supposed to be able to reach in and find new potatoes as soon as the potatoes have blossoms. I did a bit of searching, and haven’t find any yet. But it will be interesting to see how the potato bags work.

The squash are just beginning to produce, and the lettuce and chard are looking good. We are trying chard in pots on the patio too, but they wilt if we go more than a day without watering. If we do it again next year, we will use a plastic pot instead of a clay pot.

So all in all, the garden has been good, it has been fun, and it has kept me entertained. Nancy has cut a lot of flowers to bring inside. And we have also had a bit of food.

What more could we want?

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at

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