Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Road Trip and the Late Spring Vegetable Harvest

After taking off the Memorial Day weekend, I am back online this week. The long weekend gave me a chance to get garden chores caught up. When you have a lot of container plants, as I do, repotting each year can take up an amazing amount of time.

Last Tuesday, I paid a visit to East Fork Nursery near Sevierville, TN. East Fork is a wholesale and retail nursery owned and operated by Vivian Abney. Accompanied by a friend, I made the trek from Knoxville in search of a Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) cultivar called 'Sekkan-sugi.' This variety has gold-tipped branches that I thought would look great in my backyard garden with the darker foliage of a Magnolia 'Little Gem' that I dote on. Unfortunately for me, Vivian's trees are too large to fit into my Toyota, so I will have to return later with a larger vehicle. Never one to pass up a beautiful plant when I see it, however, I had trouble choosing from Vivian's wide selection of beautifully grown, healthy conifers and azaleas.

Especially azaleas. Vivian is passionate about these flowering shrubs. She has a great selection of evergreen varieties, but the deciduous types abound in her offerings, and it was to these that I was drawn. Some sixteen species of azaleas are native to the eastern United States, and Vivian has them all. She seems especially fond of the flame azalea, Rhododendron calendulaceum, with its seemingly endless variations on orange, yellow or red-orange blooms. They take a long time to grow from seed, but the wait is worth it. Flame azalea in bloom is a late spring treat throughout the southern Appalachians. In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gregory's Bald is said to have the finest display to be found anywhere in the world.

Despite the allure of flame azalea, I left the nursery with a fine specimen of sweet azalea, Rhododendron arborescens. Pure white flowers with crimson stamens and pistils grace the dark green foliage. In bloom now, it follows the earlier species like piedmont azalea, R. canescens, and precedes the summer azalea, R. prunifolium. But the real attraction, as you might guess from the name, is the delicious fragrance, which the plant is not shy about producing. We had to roll down the car windows on the way home. With the azalea sitting in the back seat, the fragrance soon became too much of a good thing. Throughout the week, the plant has perfumed an entire corner of the garden. Several other deciduous azaleas are fragrant, but R. aborescens outdoes its cousins in this department. Like other azaleas, it thrives in moist, organic soil that is well-drained and not too fertile, with an acidic pH. Morning sun with afternoon shade suits them perfectly, although they will tolerate full sun with ample moisture. Adding pine bark to the growing bed helps with both pH and moisture retention. I look forward to enjoying this plant for years to come.

We observed many other great plants, from the weeping eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) 'Rapberry Twist' to miniature evergreens no bigger than a grapefruit. If you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary for that special spot in your garden, ask your local independent garden center if they can get if for you from East Fork Nursery. Or contact Vivian yourself:

East Fork Nursery
2769 Bethel Church Road
Sevierville, TN 37876

Veggies Maturing Now
With the unseasonable heat we have experienced recently, early spring crops like lettuce and spinach are showing signs of going to seed, if they haven't already done so. We have harvested all the broccoli, leeks and cabbage, storing the excess well-wrapped in the refrigerator. We will have coleslaw for summer barbecues, and leeks to make chilled vichysoisse for a more formal meal.

Potatoes are beginning to bloom, a sign that baby new potatoes lie waiting just beneath the crown of foliage. I recommend using your fingers to probe the soil gently if you want to steal a few. Digging with a tool can injure developing tubers, and reduce their storage life considerably. If you want potatoes for storage, wait until the foliage has almost completely died back, another month perhaps, before you dig. Shake off most of the soil, spread them out on newspapers or an old sheet, and allow the potatoes to cure in a cool, dry, shady spot for about a week, after which they should keep for months. Once cured, you can gather them into baskets to save space. Don't refrigerate potatoes, however, or they will become sweet-flavored, and don't store them in an airtight container. The tubers need to breathe.

I tend to associate early June with peas, and this year's crop has arrived right on time. We are growing a new (to us) cultivar from Burpee, 'Super Snappy.' The vines are short and almost free of tendrils, so the plants tend to lean on each other and need no trellis for support. This makes them a great choice for a small space garden like ours. Best of all, they produce sugar snap peas that are truly huge, at least twice the size of regular Sugar Snap, with excellent flavor. (See image above.) We are going to plant these again for a fall crop.

On Wednesday, June 5, I will be at a table at the UT Gardens Farmers Market. Visit the market for fresh local produce, honey, baked goods, natural cosmetics and much more, and stop by my table for help with your gardening questions, or just to say "Hi!" The market is open every Wednesday from 4:00 to 7:00 PM and is kid and pet friendly. Bring the family and enjoy the flavor of east Tennessee.

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