Throughout April and May I spent many days forced inside by rain and drizzle coupled with temperatures in the 40s, complaining about the garden chores I was unable to get to.

But then I reminded myself about last year’s drought. The garden – and the gardener – is a lot happier this year. While I have hand-watered the containers and the vegetable transplants, using water that has yet to run out from our three rain barrels, I haven’t dragged the sprinklers out at all, and we have been getting fruit and vegetables since early May. That counts as success.

In my season-opening column about my plans for my own garden, I declared this to be the Year of Fruit, and happily my declaration has come true.

Strawberries had been a major concern. Last year, we ate fresh strawberries for about three weeks, even though the berries were scarcer and smaller than they should have been, and we had none left over to make jam. We weeded, renovated and fertilized the patch, had strawberries for about four weeks this year, including enough to make a double batch of jam. But the berries were still small. We will plant a new row next spring and try to keep the current one going for two more years, until the new row is ready for picking. Eight years from a strawberry bed seems to be the limit.

I vowed to get blueberries from our 13 new high-bush plants this year, and we have succeeded to a limited extent – picking three (count ’em, three) ripe blueberries already with a few more coming. Only five of the 13 bushes produced anything, but I think I held off the winter moth by spraying twice with dormant oil spray early in the spring. As the bushes become established, we will get more fruit.

Raspberries have been outstanding; read last week’s column if you want to know more.

We might get a crop of peaches this year, although the 3-year-old Lars Anderson has only one peach on it right at the moment – which is OK because the tree is still small. The Reliance, which had been old for a while, didn’t make it through the winter, and I cut it down. The Red Haven, however, has a good crop – if I can get to them before the wildlife (birds, squirrels, chipmunks) does.

The two Viburnum cassinoides, also called witherod viburnum or Northern wild raisin, that we planted are healthy. The one that gets more sun had two blossoms and has a bit of fruit, so if the birds don’t eat it first we can find out how they taste. If the birds beat us to the fruit, that’s OK; we’re growing them mostly for their ornamental value, anyway.

The vegetables have been good so far. We have been eating peas since July 4 – when we barely had enough to feed four people along with the traditional salmon. I got them planted about 10 days later than normal because of the rain, and the continuing cold slowed them further. For the last two weeks, though, we have eaten all we wanted.

When I wrote a column last winter about new catalog offerings, Pinetree Garden Seeds had sold out of its purple-podded Sugar Magnolia snap pea. When they got the peas back in stock, I ordered them. They grow well and are gorgeous, especially when the pods are about an inch long, with the dark purple standing out sharply against the green foliage on vines that grow up to 7 feet tall. In the kitchen, though, they are slightly more fibrous and not as sweet as the original Sugar Snaps.

The asparagus produced well, and we had our first meal of them on May 15. In the new bed that I planted last year, 19 of the 25 crowns have some growth this year and about 15 look robust. I don’t know if that is typical, but I am happy, and we should have a pretty decent harvest from the new bed beginning next year. We weeded the old bed extensively early this spring, and that produced well until we stopped cutting in late June.

The Flashy Trout Back lettuce that we ordered from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, with red splotches darkening to maroon on light green leaves, is attractive and tasty but not quite as productive as the Red Salad Bowl we grow for our main crop. But I like thinking about fishing for brook trout while I cut and eat it.

Tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and beans all look good, but as of July 20 the only actual production has been two Sun Gold tomatoes. They should provide us some great eating from now until the end of the season unless some unexpected disaster hits – always a possibility in gardening.

We’ve got plenty of plants in containers on our patio, and most are doing very well. The coreopsis – in several different varieties – has been especially productive, and Prince Tut – an Egyptian papyrus – is a favorite. Our container plants make the patio such an invitingly beautiful place to sit down and relax. And the daylilies, all of which we purchased and planted at the edge of the patio, are especially gorgeous this year.

Elsewhere, the flowers have been productive except for the hydrangeas, which for some reason have been slow to blossom for many people in the Greater Portland area this year. But the shrubs – lilacs, viburnums and ninebark – have been productive. Black-eyed Susans, poppies and pink baby’s breath started showing up in the vegetable garden in mid-June and continue to do well.

In a section of wooded understory that I recently stopped mowing in an effort to have a more natural, wildlife-friendly landscape, we were pleased to see a large swath of native white campanula. My wife, Nancy, said she had planted some several years ago, and she thought it had disappeared. Perhaps it had just moved and didn’t come into its own until I stopped mowing.

My goal now is to figure out what other things I can improve by doing less work.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at [email protected]

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