Berkshire Garden Journal: Gardening with Mom in mind


As I work in the garden this Mother's Day weekend, I'll see many plants that evoke thoughts of my Mom. Among these are deciduous azaleas whose profusion of iridescent blossoms always left her in awe. The flowers of lily-of-the-valley are opening now and remind me that their sweet fragrance was her favorite of all scented flowers -- mine, too.

And then there is rhubarb. Rhubarb? Yes, rhubarb; I still have visions of Mom toiling away in the kitchen each May stewing the chopped stems of rhubarb, most of which she'd preserve for winter consumption. Memories of Mom will always be as close as the nearest plant.

Put "Help Mom" at the top of your "To Do" list this weekend. Giving her a helping hand with gardening tasks may be the best Mother's Day gift; certainly it will be the most appreciated. Mom may say "it's the help that kills you," but she doesn't mean it.

♣ Harvest some rhubarb for Mom. Pull off the stalks as opposed to cutting them. Only use the petioles (leaf stems) but not the leaf blades, which contain high levels of oxalic acid. Never pull off all the stalks from a plant; take only a third or fewer at one time. Use the rhubarb to make a rhubarb cobbler for Mother's Day dinner.

♣ Harvest asparagus. Unlike rhubarb, asparagus spears should be cut off at soil level with a sharp knife rather than pulled or snapped off.

Do not harvest any asparagus from beds two years old or younger. With beds three years old, harvest for three weeks; for beds four years old, harvest for four weeks, for beds older than four years, harvest may continue for eight weeks.

♣ Thin early sowings of carrots, beets, and radishes. Save the thinned beets for their greens which Mom can add to salads.

♣ If Mom got a late start on the vegetable garden, help her by sowing seeds of leafy greens such as lettuce, arugula, radicchio, mustard and spinach.

An easy way to plant all of these greens without having to buy packets of each is to buy a packet of mesclun. Mesclun, a French word meaning "mixture," is a collection of many different leafy greens. Sow seed of mesclun in blocks or wide rows that are about 2 feet by 3 feet. When the greens are 3 or 4 inches tall, use scissors to cut off the leaves as needed.

♣ Edge the lawn where it butts against flower borders by using a flat-bladed garden spade or half-moon edger. When edging, cut 6-inch deep slices into the soil at the edge of the lawn. Lift and discard sections of grass which invaded the flower border.

♣ Apply organic mulch around trees in lawn areas but avoid creating mulch volcanoes. A mulch volcano is a high mound of mulch piled as high as 10 or more inches against the trunk of a tree.

It may take a few years, but eventually a mulch volcano will cause serious and often fatal damage to the tree trunk. Mom won't like that.

Keep the depth of mulch at no more than 3 inches and never pile it against the tree trunk.

♣ Apply 10-10-10 or similar analysis fertilizer to perennial gardens. As an alternative, spread compost around plants in flower borders.

I prefer the compost approach since the compost not only supplies nutrients but also improves soil structure.

♣ Check the surface of soils of Mom's potted house plants. Soils with high content of peat moss can become crusty and shrink when the soil gets too dry.

As a result water, applied to the pot runs off the surface of the soil (does not penetrate) and down the inside of the pot without wetting the soil. Break up the crusty surface.

OK. I know what you're thinking: "Forget the ‘To Do' list. Mom gets a box of candy this year."


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