The Block Island Times

Winter hardy camellias

And don’t forget the coffee beans
By Fred Nelson | Jun 13, 2013
Courtesy of: Fred Nelson The beautiful camellia.

About three years ago I purchased a “winter hardy” camellia. For those of us in the truly senior age bracket, the camellia was one of the main corsage flowers for presentation to our dancing partner for the prom of the season. The act of purchasing this evergreen plant was more for my intrigue to see if it was really winter hardy here on Block Island, since it is primarily grown in greenhouses or as a native plant in the southern regions of the country.

My interest in plants that may be a bit different from others, is that I am encouraged to see how different our environment might be from that in the mainland and its local effect on a particular plant. Past indulgences included planting a Crape-myrtle that had been designated as winter hardy.

As folks who have traveled in the South know, Crape-myrtle is one of the main flowering trees from Florida up through the Carolinas. It is used along the highways as well as home landscapes and parks, where the choices of varied flower and foliage color add interest and beauty to any landscape. My Crape-Myrtle has responded well to our Block Island winters.

Another experience occurred when a local Island horticulturist had warned me years ago that Cornus kousa, the Japanese Dogwood, would not survive here. I found here that my gamble was worth it. While the camellia didn’t thrive for the past couple of years, neither did it show any effects from two winters. There was no “winter burn” on the leaves. This spring the plant is sprouting vigorous branches and will be considerably larger after this growing season than the past two years put together. My interest now is whether or not any flower buds will develop this fall and bloom either in late fall or next spring.

Just in case anyone is holding back from planting impatiens this year due to the threat of downy mildew that is generally spreading over a large part of the country, particularly the northeast, there are some substitutions that you might consider planting. First, if you plant impatiens and they should become infected with downy mildew, remember that there is no current control. Some selections that should prove effective in place of impatiens include: New Guinea impatiens, coleus, fibrous begonias dusty miller and torenia. Personally, Muriel and I found that the fibrous rooted begonias did very well over the years that we maintained the flower garden at the Harbor Church. They come in red, pink and white flower color and they also have bronze leaf varieties as well as green leaves.

I finally had to plant my tomato plants that I potted in one gallon nursery pots just three weeks ago. They grew too tall to fit under the top of my cold frame. Now, if the weather will finally settle down to a seasonal temperature range they should be in good condition to start yielding in late July. I regret to report that I failed to get any decent germination from my seeding of beets, Swiss chard or carrots. So, I shall cultivate the same area, reseed and hope for better results this time.

As I have mentioned several times in the past, harvests from the garden can begin as early as the first of May providing that you have taken the opportunity to plant an asparagus bed or put in a few rhubarb roots. The benefit of these plants is that they are perennial. Both of these crops are well over 25 years old — and they appear to be vigorous enough to sustain us for quite some time yet. We have enjoyed the “fruits of labor” from these crops almost daily and Muriel has been busy employing many samples from her recipe files. In addition to enjoying the fresh products we have enough of each crop frozen to keep us fed well into the fall and winter.

Last fall, for whatever reason, I failed to harvest any seaweed to apply over my vegetable garden. In order to introduce some organic matter into my garden I have been collecting the coffee grounds from the Depot. I spread the day’s collection on a tarp and dry them out and am storing them in a bait barrel. The barrel is just about full and that will be enough for next fall.

Regular or decaf?

Coffee grounds are widely used in many parts of the country for use as organic matter and fertilizer to be mixed into the soil. In fact, Starbucks is a great proponent of the practice and encourages their stores to support the effort. There are a couple of benefits to collecting coffee grounds. One, the coffee maker doesn’t have to sell them to the Transfer Station so this keeps the grounds out of the landfill. Second, it is a valuable source of organic matter as well as some nutrients. “The grounds contain useful amounts of phosphorous and potassium, are a low-level source of nitrogen and also contain minor amounts of calcium, magnesium, copper, and other trace minerals, carbohydrates, sugars, some vitamins and some caffeine. It is noted that grounds are particularly good for tomatoes, roses, azaleas and blueberries.

As with any soil amendment, use the grounds in moderation.

My garden will never make me famous

I’m a horticultural ignoramus.

—Ogden Nash

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