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Reflections on successful gardening experiences

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”

— William Blake, “Proverbs of Hell,” 1908

Despite its inauspicious title, William Blake’s poem delivers an uplifting message about how to live life actively and joyously, respecting the rhythms of nature and learning from our own and others’ experiences.

In that spirit, and as it is harvest time, I want to share a few of this year's successful gardening experiences (see my blog for lessons from my not-so-successful experiences).

Blake tells us, “To create a little flower is the labor of ages,” which provides a humbling, yet hopeful, perspective on my endeavors to grow vegetables and flowers from seeds.

In the kitchen garden, I enjoyed the most success growing an heirloom indeterminate tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) called "Abraham Lincoln"

I transplanted seedlings into individual 25-gallon cloth containers in early June — relatively late in our growing season — and they grew quickly. Despite the summer heat and late start, my Abe Lincolns have produced several pounds of fragrant fruit on each vine, and I’m still picking!

Introduced in 1923, these dark red, meaty tomatoes taste even more than what you’d expect from heirloom flavor. I’ve taken to eating mine on bread with a bit of mayo and black pepper; each bite is like tasting the summer sun.

As a bonus, my "Abraham Lincoln" tomatoes were easy to keep healthy and certainly lived up to their reputation as highly resistant to disease and cracking. However, I lost a few to tomato fruitworms, 1-inch greenish larvae that tunneled into the fruit. I handpicked the worms from the plants when I saw them, and I was able to thwart their voracious appetites by picking the fruit a little earlier from the vine and allowing the tomatoes to ripen indoors.

By the way, I learned it’s not harmful to eat a tomato fruitworm — don’t ask!

Like all tomato plants, my heirlooms appreciated consistent watering, which I accomplished through automatic drip irrigation connected to the containers, plus I saturated the soil with a hose once a week. They also benefitted from a boost of nutrients after they were planted and before they set fruit. Covering them with row cover when the temperature soared past 95 degrees helped to minimize blossom drop.

Next year, I’ll plant my Abe seedlings earlier so I can be more selective. By leaving just one or two fruits on each cluster, the tomatoes may grow up to 1 pound each. I’ll have to see if the larger fruits are as tasty — what a mouthwatering experience to look forward to!

In my flower garden, my favorite seed-grown perennial this summer was Verbena “Purple Top” (V. bonariensis), a 4-foot-tall verbena with dark green, branched stems that didn't need staking, and clusters of tiny but profuse lavender flowers that were fragrant, attracted butterflies and lasted through the summer (a few are blooming still). Better still, the plants did not need a lot of water and held up against pests and the summer heat like champs.

It wasn’t difficult to grow my verbena from seed, though they required a chilling period and darkness to germinate. I sowed the seeds thinly in cell trays, placed the covered trays in a large zip-close bag, and refrigerated for 3 weeks. After I took them out, I covered the trays with a towel until I saw growth. Then I uncovered them and grew the seedlings in the greenhouse.

My verbenas have produced seedheads that can be harvested for sowing, but I’m told verbenas self-seed readily in the garden (and might even become a bit aggressive). My plan is to cut back the verbenas after the first hard frost and mulch for overwintering. I’m excited to see what comes back next spring. In the meantime, I’ll keep in mind Blake’s advice that “the thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.”

— Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Share your garden successes by emailing her at rnowak39@gmail.com or on her blog at: http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.