2023 Gardening Year In Review – Kathy Goddard


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Signs showing 2023 in the past and 2024 in the future in a sunflower garden.

Editor’s Note: The lateness of this article is due to me, not Kathy. Thank you for reading!

Late in 2022, I moved into a new rental. There isn’t really any garden space I can use for making new beds, but it does have a nice-sized open deck that wraps around the front corner. There’s plenty of room to do some container gardening.

My Evergreens

The first thing I wanted to do was find some sort of evergreens to create a bit of a privacy screen from the view of the road out front.  Something nice for the summer that I could also decorate for Christmas. I wanted specimens that were already a decent height and not something that would eventually outgrow a container. 

To add to the challenge, a small herd of deer are also regulars in the neighborhood, so whatever I decided on also needed to be something they wouldn’t want to browse, which shortened the list considerably!

At the local nursery, I managed to find Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Blue Surprise’ that ticked all the boxes. 

It’s a beautiful silvery blue-green, grows up to about 150 centimeters (4 feet), and doesn’t grow more than about 60 centimeters (2 feet) wide, which is perfect for containers. The specimens I bought are already a good 91 centimeters (3 feet) tall, so with a bit of added height in the containers, they’re just right.

Then I had to find containers. 

I live in grow zone 6a, so I wasn’t sure whether ceramic pots would withstand the winter, but I wasn’t completely sold on big plastic pots either. 

In the end, I managed to find some locally-made wooden planter boxes that were just the right size: 50x50x50 centimeters (20x20x20 inches). They were big enough to give the tree roots space to grow for a few years without being too big to manage on the deck. 

The planters were raw wood, and I wanted to treat them with some sort of stain or preservative so they’d withstand the elements. I came across a new product called Lifetime Wood Treatment by Valhalla Wood Preservatives Ltd., which I really like because it’s non-toxic, eco-friendly, and you just mix the powder with water to use. Once it’s applied and dries, it gives the wood a nice-looking aged-barnwood patina.

Then, I mounted wheels onto the planter boxes, so I’d be able to move them around once I planted the trees. The wheels also keep the planters up off the deck surface so dampness doesn’t collect underneath and stain the deck.

So, my “blue mountain” trees were the first things I added to my container garden. 

They looked great all summer, the deer didn’t browse them, and they looked beautiful with Christmas lights. I’m so happy with them.

A Rose

After the evergreens, the other thing I really wanted was a rose, one with a fragrance that would make a nice cut flower. 

Most of the newer hybrids have been developed primarily for good disease resistance, which is important, but for me, the joy of roses is in their fragrance. I prefer to buy my plants in person – I have yet to buy any plants online other than seeds – and I found a hybrid tea rose called John F. Kennedy that fit the bill. 

It will only grow 91-121 centimeters (3-4 feet) tall and wide, which means it will be several years before it outgrows a container. It flowers throughout the summer and can tolerate hot summers. Its crisp white blooms are also on the larger size. 

I planted it in a pot about twice the size of the one it came to give it room to develop some decent roots. Also, I gave it enough soil so it wouldn’t dry out too fast in the summer. 

I managed to get two blooms before the deer discovered it and managed to lean over my temporary fencing, knock over the pot, and strip all the foliage. 

Next year, I’ll need to put up some better fencing to keep the deer at bay.

Fresh-Cut Flowers

I love fresh-cut flowers, and I used to have a great selection of garden plants to choose from before I moved across the country. So, over the summer, I decided to add some selections to my deck. 

My limiting factor is that whatever perennials I put on my deck, I need to provide winter protection. Small pots left outside on the deck would probably freeze, so I needed to be able to bring them inside for winter. 

I managed to accumulate several different colored echinacea, a purple and a white Veronica (speedwell), and a couple of splendidly fragrant trumpet lilies with flower heads so big they made a beautiful cut flower all by themselves. 

These lilies are new OT lilies (hybrid crosses between Oriental and Trumpet lilies); one’s called Bud Light (a white trumpet with a yellow stripe down the center of each petal), and the other is Zelmira, a pink with apricot overtones and a chartreuse throat. 

They gave me several weeks of single-cut flower heads since the flowers developed and opened in stages going up the plant’s stem.

I had a nice mix of cut flowers this summer, and I think I’ve just about hit the maximum I can accommodate if I have to bring them inside for winter. Or, I’ll take some time next year to figure out a setup on the deck where I can push all the pots together and insulate them for winter protection. 

I might also set up some old-style incandescent string lights, weave them amongst the pots, and turn them on when temperatures drop. Those lights give off just enough heat to keep the air temperature around the pots just above freezing. I used this trick to protect a Meyer lemon tree I was growing in zone 8a for several years.

Growing Produce

I didn’t just grow flowering perennials on my deck this summer, though. Also, I grew a variety of produce, including tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, squash and for the first time, sweet potatoes.

I have a large self-watering planter I’ve used for several years to grow tomatoes on my deck. It’s about 91x35x40 centimeters (36x14x16 inches) with a reservoir that holds about 8 liters (2 gallons) of water. 

The reservoir has an overflow release, so if we get heavy rain, the planter won’t get water-logged. It’s the perfect size to grow two or three tomato plants. I like to use it for tomatoes because, with the reservoir, there’s less chance of them drying out between waterings. 

It’s important to keep tomatoes evenly moist to avoid blossom end rot and split fruit. This year, I planted it with two tomatoes and a cucumber plant. 

I also had three other pots of tomatoes, plus two more cucumber plants. The cucumbers I decided to try this year were a smaller variety called Pick a Bushel. It was described as a high-producing bush-type plant (good choice for container gardening) good for pickling if picked early or eating when about 15 centimeters 6 inches). 

I was harvesting tasty salad cucumbers most of the summer.

This year, I also decided to try growing sweet potatoes in a container. They’re a little more finicky to grow and harvest, but I wanted to try anyway. 

I had some sweet potatoes I’d purchased from a local farm stand, so I knew they weren’t treated with anything and were also locally grown, so they’d be adapted to local conditions. 

In February, I took a couple of the finger-sized ones, laid them in a shallow pot of damp soil on top of my fridge, and waited. Eventually, after several weeks, I actually managed to get three or four slips growing. 

I put the pot on a sunny windowsill, and when the slips were 10 centimeters (4 inches) or so, I cut them and put them in water to root. Once they had, I planted each one in a 10-centimeter (4-inch) pot of soil until I was ready to plant them outside. 

I planted one in each of two 40-centimeter (16-inch) pots on my deck and a couple in my sister’s garden. The ones on my deck grew long, healthy-looking vines all summer. I left them for as long as possible before the first expected frosts in the fall. 

Finally, I dumped out the pots and harvested a handful of sweet potatoes from each one. I put them on newspaper in a shallow cardboard box and put them back on top of my fridge to cure for several weeks. They need this curing time to form a hardened skin so they’ll store better. 

I ate my first one a couple of weeks ago. A sweet potato never tasted so good!

Next year, I’ll definitely grow tomatoes and those same cucumbers again. 

Not sure about growing sweet potatoes again; they’re a lot of fussy indoor stages to start with. 

One thing I’ll need to do is improve the fencing around the deck to keep deer from getting at anything again. They didn’t kill my rose bush, but it was certainly set back and didn’t flower again after the deer stripped it. I’ll also need to think about how to protect all the containers for winter if I don’t want to bring them all inside again.

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