November 21, 2017

Winter’s Teasing Fuels the Imagination

Galium odoratum - Sweet woodruff

Credit: Johannes Otto Först | Wikimedia Commons - Galium odoratum - Sweet woodruff

• By Janine Pineo •

Winter’s teasing warm spells are fueling my imagination.

Imagine, if you will, a raised bed shaded by an apple tree. The 4-by-8-foot expanse has been home to many plants over the years, mostly herbs, but last year it was apparent that the shade is too shady now that the apple tree is all grown up.

What used to be a large clump of oregano, started from seed, has jumped the bed and now grows in a lush hedge around the sunnier base, leaving but a small stand clinging to the south edge of the bed.

There’s a lovage plant that still shoots skyward every spring. And a row of sorrel, started in the vegetable garden, was thriving there last year after it was transplanted the year before.

That’s about it, which means more than two-thirds of the bed is empty.

Oh, so empty.

But it wasn’t hard to imagine filling it as I started working my way through the seed catalogs.

When my eyes fell on a listing for sweet woodruff, I stopped short. Galium odoratum is one of the loveliest little plants you can grow in the shade, its tiny, snowy flowers forming clusters above pointed leaves in the spring. If the plants are happy, they may turn into a lovely groundcover.

I’ve grown sweet woodruff off and on over the years but haven’t had any for the past several since the last plants died off. It’s a dreadful oversight for such an adorable plant.

So I ordered a packet.

Alchemilla mollis - Lady's mantle

Credit: Rasbak | Wikimedia Commons - Alchemilla mollis - Lady's mantle

I halted again when I came to the listing for lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis, a perennial favorite for years. Its charm, for me, stems from the fact that water droplets on the leaves look like drops of mercury.

As I thought about it, I could see the fanlike leaves with their pale-green hue providing a striking counterpoint to the rich, green leaves of sweet woodruff. I could see the chartreuse blooms with their otherworldly glow, happily lightening the dappled shade beneath the apple tree.

So I bought a packet.

My perusal of the Fedco Seeds catalog came to a screeching halt when I read the listing for Wizard coleus, Solenostemon scutellarioides: “Resplendent in a kaleidoscope of colors: rose and ivory edged in green, deep velvet burgundy centered with flame, bronzed pink. … The colors are strongest in deep shade.”

The imagination was in full swing at this point, dreaming of lush, velvety petals of rich color providing yet more contrast to the lady’s mantle and sweet woodruff leaves. I could see it all clearly, and what’s more, I even could feel the heat of summer sun, hear the drone of bees in the oregano blossoms nodding about the edge of the bed and even smell that rich herb as the sun warmed the masses of oregano leaves.

So I got a packet and moved on to even bigger reveries.

I have a much grander imagination when it comes to the vegetable garden, and as usual, I have gone a wee bit overboard.

I seem to have ordered about 19 pounds of potatoes to plant. That may be about 4 pounds more than last year – I am too afraid to check. I keep telling myself I can find a place for them (insert look of disbelief here), but I am pretty sure that with 15 pounds last year, I had almost too many to fit comfortably in my two rows.

I will find a place for my favorite varieties, such as Viking Purple, Salem and Dark Red Norland.

I will.

I am attempting to limit my mad desire for summer squash by counting how many greens and yellows I have listed. But then I say to myself that this one is a crookneck and that one is a pattypan and I convince myself I need just one more of a different shape and color.

Trust me, I can justify having 15 types of summer squash very, very easily.

I do have my annual favorites and have added two more to that ever-burgeoning list. From Fedco, I have decided that Spineless Beauty zucchini is a delight to grow, mostly for the fact that the stems of the plant are spineless.

That means I don’t end up scratched and itching after picking my dinner. And it produces a good crop of green fruit, not too dark and not too light, with an excellent flavor of, well, summer squash.

From Johnny’s Selected Seeds, I like Meteor, a yellow zucchini that is also spineless. This means I can have the matching pair in both colors.

If only all the other summer squash were without spines, my joy would be complete.

I can picture it, an entire backyard full of summer squash that doesn’t scratch or poke or force me to wear long sleeves and pants when it’s hot and humid.

I have enough of the sleeves and pants thing in the frigid winter.

Although it would be worth it if I could go pick a squash right now.

First printed in the Bangor Daily News in February 2011.