The garden year is just about over. I still have to clean out the raspberries and finish raking the leaves – but I consider raking a household chore rather than gardening.

The season wasn’t too hard, because we had plentiful rain until August (I didn’t irrigate until September), and the days were seasonably warm.

Based on the goals we set for ourselves, this year was a success. Could it have been better? Of course. But we added a lot of flowers to the garden, and the food-producing crops all did well, some better than ever.

One goal was to produce softball-size onions. I previously had planted only storage onions, which will keep in the cellar until the following spring. Yes, they did keep, but they were usually somewhere between the size of golf balls and tennis balls. When my wife Nancy wanted a lot of chopped onions for a recipe, she would have to buy big onions from a market.

The plan was to put a stop to that.

It started by purchasing seedlings for Walla Walla and Ailsa Craig onions, sweet varieties of onions that probably will keep only until January. I also purchased two keeper onions, Redwing as a red onion and Cipollini, which had been a favorite keeper from previous years.

When I researched garlic to improve that crop, I learned that I should give the bulbs more space. Since garlic is related to onions, I tried the same for the onion crop. And I bought some special onion fertilizer from Dixondale Farms, a specialty company from Texas.

As a result, the onions were a huge (pun intended) success. The Ailsa Craig and Walla Walla are big – by our standards if not compared to onion photos in catalogs. We will never eat them all by January and have already given some away. The fertilizer and extra space in between plants even made the Cipollini and Redwing larger than we’ve ever had before.

We’d also set a goal for ourselves regarding peppers. We wanted to have enough to eat during the season and to cut up and freeze for winter by a little succession planting. No major changes there, except to remove any volunteer flowers such as poppies that interfered with the peppers getting all the light they need.

That simple adjustment worked. We had a lot of bell- and banana-shaped peppers turn bright red. When coastal Maine had its first freeze warning in early October, I picked all the large green papers – and was only mildly disappointed that the frost didn’t hit us.

I made one adjustment in our plans for strawberries. I had planned to completely remove the beds that had served us well for the past eight or so years. We planted a new bed three years ago, and that is doing well. Instead, I left a single one-foot row of plants from the older planting to see if it shows the vigor a new planting would have. If it doesn’t, I will buy strawberries to plant in 2021 for a new bed.

In a column in June, I wrote that the plan to improve the lawn in the backyard had failed. I wanted grass only in the bare spots and intended to let the violets stay where they were.

In June, it seemed like the grass seed I had put down was doing better in the nearby ornamental gardens than in the lawn. But as the season progressed, the grass filled in the bare spots, and Nancy successfully weeded out all the grass in the adjacent beds – although she hasn’t entirely forgiven me for the extra work.

We have also been adding blossoms to the same backyard space. The hydrangea arborescens “Haas Halo” that we planted in the spring still had remnants of blossoms when October arrived. During the season, the leaves drooped during dry spells, and I gave it many buckets of water from the rain barrels.

We also planted more than a dozen day lilies, which we also hope will give us a lot of future midsummer blossoms.

We purchased a “Red Dragon” contorted hazelnut to replace the Harry Lauder walking stick that died. We kept it in a pot on the patio all summer, and when it was time to find it a permanent home, we decided against the now mostly shaded site where the previous “Harry” lived (and died) and chose a more prominent place in the front yard with more sun.

We chose “Red Dragon” because it has red leaves early in the season, although the leaves can turn green as the season progresses. It also is supposed to be resistant to Eastern filbert blight, which is probably what killed the previous “Harry Lauder” – if it wasn’t the shade.

My biggest surprise of the season was Torch Tithonia, which I planted as seed Memorial Day weekend. Nancy saw some that a friend was growing last year and bought the seeds, one showing red-orange flowers and the other yellow. I planted it, not knowing what it was. (I’ve said before that she is the real gardener in the family.) The seeds grew well, with attractive, soft and fuzzy leaves. Finally in September, the Tithonia that had grown seven feet tall started producing about five beautiful red-orange flowers a week. A bit later, the 5-foot Tithonia produced a few yellow flowers.

The frost will kill it, but it has become my favorite new plant for this year. It added some joy, and that is often hard to come by.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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