The Violet Fern

Creating Art & Gardens


Potager Plan 2016

It’s that very most favorite project of mine around this time of year … planning the Potager (vegetable garden) and ordering seeds! It doesn’t matter if you are in cold country or closer to the equator I’ve found, one still gets the gardener’s itch.

Yes, even though I try to have some amount of discipline and control, I went crazy! It’s time I revamp most of my seeds anyhow and well, they are stored in a box in a dark closet in my (frozen) house so how viable will they be anyway? I’ll find out. Yet, one more gardening experiment. Last year I stored my seeds in our heated garage so technically they did not freeze because the garage remained heated while we were away.

Before I migrated, I managed to move my office/studio to a slightly larger room in the house and I set up my seed station so that I am ready to start seeds the day after we get home? Last year I started seeds in my little greenhouse but I think it was still a little too cool to get things off to a really good start so this year I am going to germinate them indoors under lights and when I pot up they will go into the greenhouse. That is my strategy anyway.

Thank goodness I am not returning home to this!

Now I’m actually looking forward to getting back to my newly moved and reorganized office.


My seed station is to the right in the photo above in front of another window.

This year I’ve gone back to some of my favorite seed sources. Although Baker’s makes me drool – I mean, that catalog! – I don’t think the seeds do as well for me because of climate and locality as Johnny’s or High Mowing. It is from Johnny’s and High Mowing that I’ve ordered the bulk of my seeds from this year. I also ordered lots of flowers from Renee’s and even though she is in California, her seeds have always done well for me perhaps because most are annual flowers geared to grow fast?

Here it is my annual sketch/plan for the Potager, before I delve into my plant list for 2016. You can view previous years here, here, here and here. I am still missing 2014 (that was the COLD year that I didn’t escape even for a week). It’s fun to see the changes in the Potager over the years. You can click on this year’s plan to zoom in.


So, what am I growing?

If I had to pare it down to the bare minimum these would be my staples:

I enjoy peas early in the season. Not so much radishes but I am going to try some again. I am also going to try cucamelons again because they are just too cute and too fun. I like squash but we can get wonderful squash from the nearby farms, still so much fun to grow your own.

I am into colors so I have begun mixing colors i.e. black, red, gold tomatoes or purple and white eggplant or green and purple basil. Aside from that, the darker more colorful varieties are tooted to be higher in nutrients or antioxidants so win, win.

So, here is the list.

I’m going to make use of the greenhouse now that I’ve evicted the hornets. I will grow some things in large pots I’ve saved from purchasing shrubs.
GREENHOUSE/PEPPERS: Early Jalapeño Hot Pepper (so I can make one of my favorite vegan snacks/dip), Black Hungarian Hot Pepper
GREENHOUSE/EGGPLANT: Little Finger (black), Gretel (white)

HERBS (Annual)
Basils: Lime, Genovese, Purple Ruffles, Purple Dark Opal and Sacred
Cilantro: Caribe and Calypso (will be planted among the Squash – forgot to add that to my sketch!)

Spring Blush Tendril
Tall Telephone


Dinosaur or Lacinato (my favorite)
Curly Roja Kale
Kalettes! (Last year I restrained but I just have to try these!) Snowdrop and Mistletoe (The circled K on my sketch)

I prefer growing pole beans.
Blue Coco (I have been wanting to try!)
Runner Painted Lady (I love these for the hummingbirds)

Swiss Chard (going back to Bright Lights)
Belle Isle Cress
Forellenschluss Lettuce

Summer: Ronde de Nice
Fall: Honey Bear (a mini Acorn!)

For slicing and salads: Yellow Brandywine, Indigo Rose, Copia
For sauce: Speckled Roman
Cherry: Sun Gold, Supersweet 100, Indigo

I grow a staple of flowers in the Potager as well.

I like to mix Morning Glory on the trellises so when a vegetable vine is done there are still some pretty flowers to look at. I’ve also mixed in Cathedral Bells in the past – beautiful. The Morning Glory just comes back so no extra work for me.

Nasturtium is a must for eating, and companion planting.

Calendula reseeds itself valiantly as well as Borage. Borage is a bee magnet.

I will also try, try, try to tuck in some Sunflowers! Ants be damned. Last year they toppled their stems like trees by chewing around the base but hey, I moved that entire raised bed to the other side of the Potager so probably will not have ants again (I hope).

I am very excited for another year of gardening – THIS IS THE YEAR I can finally harvest my Asparagus – and can’t wait to also try out my new patio right in the garden so I can watch everything grow!



Rekindling the Romance

It was a dark and stormy day … bracing myself here for what they are calling a 10-20 year storm with damaging high winds. Yes that bitch Wicked Witch of the West is back big and bad, and in our faces! No s*** yet, just November rain. It’s not dampening my spirits so far. I’ve spent days – maybe even over a week! – in my own garden and the weather was/has been perfectly, unbelievably, magically beautiful. It’s as if the Universe parted the skies and granted me all my wishes! Crisp cool air, clear blue skies – THAT is how I remember my favorite North Country Fall. One warmer day I even had to take off my fleece because man, that sun was still warm and I was working it baby – in a tee shirt! In November! Sweating in MY garden! Can life get any better?

I came to the realization that my true wish is to spend everyday, all day in my garden! It truly is my passion. I feel whole. I feel myself again. I feel better, rejuvenated, calm, spent. I feel love, joy. I feel feelings I didn’t know I was missing. Yes, this is the romance my garden and I used to have. The birds were flocking and singing as if it were Spring. The dirt was deliciously dark. The sun gloriously gold. The leaves and stalks brazenly husky. The weeds were amazingly tall but I conquered. I hacked. I shoveled. I raked. I hoed. I clipped. I pulled. I dug to China. I whimpered. I groaned. I moaned and swore like a sailor. And you know something? I can’t wait to get back out there again! I want to move mountains of weeds and plants. I want to finish my little back yard patio. I want to put in my new Woodland Edge path … I want to skip winter and jump right into Spring. I don’t need a break – I want to garden!

For weeks, maybe even months, I have been pondering how I can redesign my garden so that I can maintain it. I didn’t realize how heavily it upset me to see it grow so wild and out of control. I don’t mind wild but well, it was getting quite rambunctious. There’s wild and then there’s unkempt. I first started noting “problem areas” – areas that sucked up my time or that repeatedly needed my hand. Then I contemplated how to make them easier to maintain so that they could grow and flourish without my whip of control.

I started with the Potager which I haven’t posted much about all Summer because it was such a mess. The first thing I did was clean out the greenhouse. I never did take down the hornet’s nest when I should have and well, seeing those guys work so hard  building, I just didn’t have the heart to destroy it. So, I avoided the greenhouse … can you tell? (Yes, that is a grape vine growing in through the vent from the nearby fence.) Believe it or not I did put down weed fabric under that stone – don’t ever ask me to advertise weed fabric ha ha! Lesson: take down the hornet’s nest immediately!





It was so satisfying to bring the greenhouse back to life! This year I will be starting my seeds indoors however as I think the nights are still a bit cool for seed germination in the greenhouse. I’ll then transfer the seedlings out to the greenhouse to harden off and grow up strong. I’m not sure what I’ll grow in the greenhouse over the summer. Maybe I’ll start some fall crops to keep the produce coming. Maybe I’ll grow some pots of peppers or other heat-loving plants. I never did get the red noodle beans to take off, or the Malbar spinach. Maybe a big pot of each of those because I feel the problem is our climate here in Northern NY and gosh I really want to see those things grow!

I decided to “consolidate” the Potager and grow only out of raised beds because they are easier to maintain and weed. So I moved one of my raised beds that was nearer the compost pile (aka mountain) to where I had the “teepee tomato tower.” I also repurposed the old cold frame (pre-greenhouse days) into another raised bed. Now the productive food-producing part of the Potager is about three quarters the size it used to be and I will only be growing veggies in raised beds. I decided I am going to dismantle the teepee – it just isn’t working for me – it feels “in the way” – and is difficult to weed around.






It feels much more open and welcoming now. The above picture is already old. I have since weeded out all of the invasive Rudbeckia Laciniata (wheelbarrows full!) and the paths, and she’s looking pretty good. I planted some horseradish near the rhubarb because I love both of their large leaves and thought they might work well together. I have other plans for where the horseradish used to be. All my beds are now topped off with compost and leaves and ready for the Winter.

Here is an up to date picture. I have several bricks I just purchased to redo a nice edge for the beginning of this path so that the grass doesn’t creep in.


My rustic arbor suffered a little damage in a storm we had prior to this one happening at the moment (let’s hope she holds up!). The main roof brace/line broke and part of the frame of the roof also broke. Breaking up is so hard to do so I am going to use some of the branches from the teepee to reinforce these parts of the arbor to see if I can make her last a few more years. I think the trumpet vine is what is holding her together! As I have mentioned before, my plan is to train the Trumpet Vine into a living arbor.



The area from where I moved the raised bed is now going to be a little backyard patio sitting area! I love to sit out in the garden high summer for happy hour and around dusk. I miss these evening dates we used to have. I have two chairs I keep in the lawn that need to be moved each time we mow (yes, I still have some lawn). So, I thought by making this area into a paved patio I could reduce the amount of weeding I need to do and also have a permanent sitting area. Eventually I would like to acquire some nice wooden Adirondack chairs. I am pretty excited about this new side of the garden, granted it is next to the compost mountain, but backside. I am using large 16×16 pavers to make an approximately 5′ x 5′ patio.


I “framed in” the Asparagus with some bamboo edging I acquired from a friend so that it, too, now has sort of a raised bed. I used it to frame up some paths, too – more defining.

About two years ago I acquired some plants from our local garden club that I thought were Baneberry. I thought great! these will be perfect under the Eastern White Pine so that’s where I planted them along the fence behind the White Pine. They grew really well – yay! Then they grew to approximately 12′ tall! Hmmm, not any Baneberry I know. What I think I have is Red Elderberry. It bore beautiful white plumes of flowers this summer but I didn’t notice any berries as it was smashed between the fence and White Pine and I think birds probably picked them off. Anyway, I dug those three “little” plants out of there and planted them between the new patio area and fence/property line (just left of the Asparagus – yellow – you see in the photo above) to offer up some coziness and privacy (plus I really look forward to eying those beautiful flowers and the birds eating the berries from my new hot seat!). I am a little worried about them through this storm as they are newly planted and the winds are predicted to be up to 60 mph! I hope, and think, they should be okay.

Red Elderberry?

Red Elderberry?

Another problem I had/have (probably for the next few years at least) is the prolifically propagating Rudbeckia Laciniata. I love this plant but I finally decided it has to go! It is marching over everything and all I can say is the conditions in this part of the garden must be its perfect mate! I have some along the Nice Driveway that never really took off at all and struggles. My condolence is that I will plant some on our lake property in a moist area, because it is native, where it can run rampant over 5 acres. The birds and bees will miss it here but hey, I just offered up some Red Elderberry. We can banter.


Wheelbarrow full of stalks of Rudbeckia Laciniata

My decision was completely validated when I weeded around my poor Blueberry Bush – at least two wheelbarrows full of Rudbeckia alone! I dug it up from the front of the shed, too, and moved my repurposed trellis to this spot closer to the path so I can grow some beautiful, annual vines up the shed. Where it was, on the other side, was difficult to get to and tend. Also, this large perennial smothered my cute little window box on the shed. Now, I can plant it up and appreciate it.

For years I have struggled to maintain a river rock path through this bed. I give up! Instead I planned a smaller path just to the window box for planting and tending and opted for “fake stone.” Bigger and easier to keep weed free. A good relationship is about compromise, after all.



I can now see the Winterberry I have planted in this area, too. I just ogle over those bright berries this time of year. The birds can now get to these berries, too. See? We can work it out.


Red Winterberry


Orange Winterberry, Ilex Winter Gold

I also did some work out front – mainly weeding, weeding, weeding. My neighbor decided to use hay to create her beds and I’m wondering if I now have hay growing up through my front gardens? I couldn’t get it all but it certainly looks better. I pruned up the Crabapple and planted some great bulbs beneath her for more Spring color: Crown Fritillary in Orange and Yellow, and another cute smaller Fritillary, Fritillaria Michailovskyi. I moved some poppies to the front, too. We’ll see if they take off next year. I planted a Pasque flower out front, too, with red blooms – oh, can’t wait!


The Crabapple out front through my window.

I stopped my ravenous race around the gardens repeatedly to admire the leaves of the Pin Oak which, sadly, are going to be lost with all this wind. I’m glad I paused when I did.


There’s lots of love going on here. I have many more dates planned with my garden. Lemonbalm eradication, a stone path through the Woodland Edge so I can better control the bindweed. I am a tried and true organic gardener but even I recognize that some things need a different approach. I am going to use an herbicide to kill the bindweed next year. This decision was not made lightly. I will be very careful in my application. My plan is to soak cotton balls in an herbicide, cut the bindweed off and dab the remaining portion of stem with the cotton ball. I have to. It keeps getting bigger and spreading and is now also along the fence in the Potager. It’s time to try a new strategy.

I have a volunteer shrub(?) growing in Hosta Row that I thought was chokeberry but it certainly does not display chokeberry’s incredible Fall colors so I’m not sure what it is. Because I have limited room now I think I will remove it because what I really want is to plant a patch of Spikenard! Spikenard will also offer berries for the birds. It’s all about give and take. I am very excited to grow Spikenard.


To be replaced with Spikenard!

Hosta Row still needs some cleaning up but I limbed up the White Pine a little for passage and so that I can plant something underneath. I am considering a hosta or two and starting a patch of low bush blueberries or perhaps try Baneberry again! I will order it myself so I know it truly is Baneberry.


Hmmm what to plant beneath?

Don’t think those pine boughs went to waste …


Who knows I may get another day or two to spend with my lovely garden before we set off on our winter adventure. I sure do hope so. I will kiss her good bye and remind her that absence makes the heart grow fonder?


What’s Growing: Red & Green

It’s been some time since I’ve posted what’s growing in the Potager!



This year I am experimenting with tasty food and color as I have been so inspired by Robbie at Palm Rae Urban Potager. I am growing a red and green kale, purple and green basil, red and orange Swiss chard, etc. and I am liking the results. It makes the Potager more ornamental. I have noticed that red and purple varieties don’t seem to grow as fast as green – interesting. I have a black and white eggplant planned too, but the plants are slow growing. They are tucked in the green house until they get a little larger along with cucamelons. The cucamelons finally took off a bit and I planted them earlier today. I hope to be tasting these little watermelon like fruits soon. Last year I planted them way too late.


Salad bed: Broccolini, Bulls Blood beets, Toscano and red kale, lettuce

Also tucked into the salad bed is something new, Watercress. I love its peppery taste. It's going to flower and I'm going to let it set seed.

Also tucked into the salad bed is something new, Watercress. I love its peppery taste. It’s going to flower and I’m going to let it set seed.


Green and purple basils


Colorful chard and a small hibiscus, Zinger, for tea, not yet in flower.


Two kinds of Hibiscus are in the center of the basil/chard bed. Zinger and this Sweet Hibiscus, Manihot whose leaves are edible. I confess I have yet to try because she’s so beautiful!



Strawberries have gone wild and are now growing up the paths. I have been eating them for breakfast for days now. They taste so sweet. I share them with the Robins and a sly Catbird who is my garden companion lately. Although I love strawberry rhubarb crumble, I have to find a recipe for rhubarb chutney or something because I just don’t make desserts. I don’t care either way because I love the large leaves of rhubarb and think it’s a beautiful, architectural plant in the garden. I cut the flower off this year because I heard it makes the stalks taste bitter but since I didn’t even harvest any … next year I may let it flower again because the flower truly is stunning.


The Asparagus Forest. Next year I can harvest. It’s been a long wait.


I planned to train these squashes up this wire panel but WOW look at those leaves. Not sure that’s going to happen. We’ll see if it becomes more vine-like as it grows. I planted Zephyr, a little round French zucchini Round de Nice, and a tiny butternut. The nasturtium I planted alongside for a good campanion has leaves almost as large as the squash!



I just planted my tomato seedlings so they look tiny and a bit sad but seem very sturdy so I have high hopes. The cherry tomatoes – Sun Gold, Black and Coyote (a white variety) – I will prune up this other wire panel. Volunteer Grandpa Otts morning glories are in the mix, too. Color, color, color. That is Chamomile and Calendula both of which propagate freely throughout the Potager, and an ornamental clover, Trifolium Rubens, you see on the other side of the panel.


Oh, but there is trouble in paradise! I have an ant problem in the squash bed. I am trying to grow sunflowers there as well. The ants have eaten the stems! I resorted to Borax. I am telling you ants are taking over the world. Every rock I overturn, every sandy soil I dig in – ants, ants, ants!


Ant eaten stems of Sunflowers. I am trying to reroot them in water because I have in the past successfully.

I also was introduced to leek moth on the best garlic I have ever grown!


Leek moth damage


Leek moth larva


Leek moth damage and frass

I sat diligently and pruned off any infected leaves and plucked cocoons for close to two hours. It was an emergency surgery but so far all is looking good.


Surgical tool


Surgically removed larvae


Leek moth cocoon

But now I have some squatters in my greenhouse! Not necessarily bad, but it may become problematic if they decide to get territorial.


I like to share the Potager but c’mon! I like to sit in the backyard with my feet in the grass and watch and listen to this part of the garden grow. What are you growing?