“Loaves and fish” in the garden

Part one:  Canna lilies and blackberries. (These plus shiso, miscanthus and forget-me-nots brought unexpected blessings.

After moving to Virginia, I wanted small fruit in my garden. Blackberries were familiar to me—eating them at least—from boyhood on the farm. At the nursery, the plants were something under three dollars. Real estate in Virginia was nearly three times the cost of that in Michigan where we had sold our previous home. Money seemed tight in 1989. But I splurged on three plants. Over several years, by rooting plant tips, I had enough plants to fill the space allotted to blackberries.

Several years later our church started a food pantry garden. The blackberries at home continued to set new plants, so I transplanted to the new garden enough starts over several years to fill two forty foot rows. One year we picked three gallons of blackberries from the patch. I made a new friend who moved to the area who wanted blackberry starts. He dug out a half-dozen or so.

By 2002 I had moved to a new location and was having a grape arbor built. I asked the builder if he wanted some blackberry canes. I had transplanted enough to fill my new thirty-foot blackberry patch. He said someone had given him some. When he identified the donor, I realized it was the same person who had gotten starts from me a number of years earlier.

From my extravagant purchase in 1989, we have eaten nearly 25 years of black berries—some years the birds got more than we did. The food pantry clients and the workers in the food pantry garden had the joy of blackberries. Friends gave bushes to friends from the starts I had given them. The loaves and fishes had been blessed.

Canna lilies fall in the same basket. I heard that someone was setting some canna lily rhizomes at the curb. I picked up a box with maybe a dozen roots. Planted several in my small garden, the rest at the food pantry garden. After daughter-in-law Karen used the canna’s red spike in a flower arrangement, we started taking the flowers to Patchwork Pantry for clients with the gladiolus and zinnias. The spreading cannas were taking more space than we wanted to give them. The next spring, the youth pastor and his crew dug out several bushels of canna roots to take to the Gift & Thrift store. I went to the local garden store to see what they charged for canna roots, they were charging $2.25 for scrawny dried out roots. I asked about them and was told that the primary growers in New England had significant losses of their crop.  Ours sold quickly at $1.50.!

cannas-corn-e1505829159295.jpgCannas are tropical plants requiring protection or inside storage for the winter in Virginia. We have found that heaping dry leaves over the stalks (chopped down to 6″) to a depth of 20” to 30” prevents winter kill of the rhizomes. One year the cannas had spread too far, so we did not protect one patch. That winter was mild and the cannas survived. More rhizomes to sell!

We cleaned up our rhizomes and took those with several eyes to the Gift & Thrift. The ones that didn’t look good were put in the shade, watered until they sprouted. Then we potted them for sale. One of my helpers, a student formerly from the Ukraine, said they ate the rhizomes where she came from.  In my surprise, I didn’t know how to ask if that was part of the normal diet.

Another year we stored rhizomes in vermiculite for winter storage. Funds from the sale of six or so boxes of rhizomes helped fund a trip to a youth convention that summer. Last year our small patch of cannas thrived, growing to over 8’ feet. Some rhizomes were 2”x6”. The growth was so strong the roots pushed apart the boards of the garden bed (held by 3 deck screws). It was time to harvest the rhizomes. I supervised the digging of a 4’X6’ bed of cannas, we pulled many loose roots plus a dozen or more pots to take to Gift & Thrift.  This was the 20th year of cannas.  (Shiso and forget-me-not in part 2)

Basil bounty, plundered peperomia My plant rescue hobby

At the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale you can buy plants people donate.  Some plants come unlabeled or lose their labels.  Others are lack appeal (poorly presented, not healthy looking, etc.).  Plants that do not sell by Saturday afternoon are sent to Gift & Thrift of Harrisonburg .  I have been offered peace lilies, wax plants (hoya), peperomia and others that are unlikely to sell at the store.  I get a lot of satisfaction in restoring these to health.

Last fall the peperomia (couldn’t tell what it was when I first saw it) had two leaves at the top of a 6″ stem.  There seemed to be life in the plant.  So, I cut off one stem just above what appeared to be a bud and put the the stem in water to root.  Soon I had plants that looked like the picture on the left.  When the stem sent out a new shoot, I cut off the other one and placed it in water also.  A month later the plant looked like the picture on the right.  I sent the picture to Garden Web where I found out that I had a peperomia.  The first plant has gone to Gift and Thrift for sale, the second from the rooted cuttings is still in my sun room.

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Basil bounty

The plant sale was over.  Upwards of 20 dozen 4″ pots of basil plants remained.  Since the Community Center did not want to care for them or have another sale, they chose the compost pile solution.  I determine to rescue as many as possible..  I took 3 or 4  flats and prepared them for the Gift & Thrift of Harrisonburg where I volunteer.  When these were nearly gone, I went back to Our Community Center and they still had 3 or 4 more flats of basil plants.  I called Gift and Thrift and suggested they reduce the price.  Then I started cutting out all but one plant in each pot (there had been 5 or more) and fertilizing the plants.   When sales nearly stopped, I still had around 7 dozen plants.  So, I gave some to neighbors, then took some to church to give away. I heard a group was starting a community garden.  They accepted nearly 4 dozen pots.  Now, 6 weeks after the sale, I am down to 5 dozen pots of 6″ plants.  Of those,  21 will go to Patchwork (food) Pantry next Wednesday.  Then I will only have 42 plants left!

A bee in my bonnet

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Bee balm

The small plant in a big pot stumped me for the first year.  I set the pot in a sheltered place for the winter hoping it was frost hardy.  The second year in the pot it had one small bloom which I did not recognize.  Since it was growing well, I set it in the ground the next spring.  By mid-June I had the plant you see above and a friend helped me identify it as a new type of dwarf bee balm (Monarda).  A nice reward for patience (perhaps a balm for my impatience).

Peace with the cat

I am a peace advocate. and I like peace lilies.  When my last peace lily looked good, I reluctantly donated  it to the  Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale.  I was pleased it brought a good price.  The next year three single stem peace lilies came to  Gift & Thrift of Harrisonburg from the sale.  I dumped out the three, preparing to create a new potting.  They had been potted in clay and none had good roots.  I set them in a 6′ pot.  After a period, two of them died.  So I repotted the remaining one in a smaller plant in a better potting soil (after checking the Internet).  After “sulking” for awhile on a shaded patio for the summer, it finally began growing.  Two years later it is a healthy looking plant and I expect a white spathe any time.  The plant would look better if our daughter’s cat had not nibbled on several leaves.  I have talked to several cat owners who have agreed that peace lilies may be especially tasty to cats.  Now to find a way to make peace between the plant and Feliz the cat!