The Block Island Times

Gardening Times

By Fred Nelson | Jun 21, 2012

Ordinarily I would be recounting how the gardening season is progressing around the island. However, as some folks know, Muriel and I have been detained here in Englewood, Fla., for an extended season due to a couple of medical calamities that have required continued care beyond our normal return to Block Island. With a bit of optimism we hope to be back by the end of the month.
Right after I submitted my last column on selecting and planting trees around the home, the Sarasota Herald Tribune had a headline in its “At Home” supplement that would have summed up the subject just fine: “It’s not just a tree. It’s a commitment,” it said. Another quotation: “Choose wisely. The right tree will improve your landscape; the wrong tree will cause problems.” I concur, if we don’t take the time now to plant a significant tree for the future benefit of the home or community environment, who will?
Since we shall not be home until late June, I am adjusting to the fact that my vegetable garden will be too late for most of the significant crops — tomatoes, peppers, squash and beans — to amount to much. I have just planted a few tomato seeds to see how they might make out with such a late start. The plants that are currently on the market will be too large to take home, and the price that they want for a simple potted plant would cover the cost of buying fresh tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market. I mean no reflection on the “market,” but it’s not the same as picking your own. Anyway, our asparagus and rhubarb didn’t go to waste thanks to friends and neighbors.
Each year folks inquire what the name of the red flowering tree is that blooms so profusely along our driveway on Beach Avenue. Our neighbor, Phyllis Tupy, informs us that it is currently in full glory. This is a red flowering form of Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa). Further down the driveway is a white one. When we were going to a nursery to purchase these, a former fellow island horticulturalist said that Chinese dogwoods would not grow well on Block Island. I decided to plant one anyway just to make sure. Both the pink one and the white have flourished each year for over a decade. The Chinese dogwoods are different from the more common flowering dogwood, Cornus florida. These occur naturally in many areas in the Northeast and bloom earlier in the season.
From what I can see around the community here in Florida, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of folks cultivating a backyard garden. Some grow a few plants in planters in late winter when the temperature is more favorable. Once the calendar works into late May and June, the temperature during the day runs from the low to high 80s and the humidity is stifling. The night time temperature seldom goes below 80. Not the kind of weather one would enjoy working in a garden. Nor are many vegetable plants especially vigorous in this environment. Tomato plants do not pollinate well with temperatures in the 80s. While the winter here was very dry, we have started to get some showers but not the heavy rain that has taken place in the northern reaches of Florida.
Florida has a number of flowering trees and shrubs that add color to the environment. There is quite a variety and many seem to flower continually. Flower gardens are in evidence and seem to grow well as long as they are tended to, especially watering during the dry spells. “Gated” real estate developments expend lavishly on landscapes with shrubs, trees and palms. In fact, even before some developments have started to build homes the street frontage is heavily landscaped. This supports the often noted fact that a well-landscaped property will sell more quickly than a poorly or unlandscaped one.
“There is nothing like the first hot days of spring when the gardener stops wondering if it’s too soon to plant the dahlias and starts wondering if it’s too late.”
Henry Mitchell
The Essential Earthman (1981)

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