Seeds of Change
Seeds of Change

An Introduction to Dr. Candace Benyei’s Gardening Library

Heeding the challenge of young climate activist Gretta Thunberg, and having been a Farmer since I was seven and going on ¾ of a century, and being a sustainable community advocate, this library of articles is designed to enable anyone to embrace this Green Earth and live a healthier and more satisfying life. I will endeavor to provide tips and resources towards making households better planted (in both the broader and more specific metaphor), whether it be flowers for the soul, fruit trees to re-imagine the Garden of Eden, or organic vegetables to feed the body incarnate. Hopefully I can even help with sustainable and deer-proofed landscaping. I also invite you to visit our farm at 29 Giles Hill Road, Redding, CT, but please by appointment only.

Initially you need to decide what new garden you would like to create, or what old garden you would like to revitalize. Would you like an organic vegetable garden? A kitchen herb garden? A cut flower garden? Fruit trees? A children’s garden to teach the young ones about the life cycle of edible plants? So tromp around your property and notice what your soil type is like – wet, dry, sandy, rocky (we have a lot of that in Redding), clay-like, open or mostly forested. There are garden strategies for every situation. For instance, rocky terrain can host an ornamental rock garden OR one can utilize raised beds to provide the soil depth necessary for vegetables. Sandy soils drain well but need organic matter to help retain moisture. Clay-like soils retain moisture but need organic matter to lighten them up so they drain better. Wetland soils can support a variety of moisture loving plants like blueberries, winterberries (both ornamental and beneficial for birds), ferns and the like. This information can help you decide how you want to proceed.

And while this may be elementary for many of you, plants come in two broad types – Annual and Perennial. Most vegetables are annuals, (asparagus is a perennial), as well as many familiar flowers and grasses like oats, rye, and yes, crab grass! Annuals must be replanted from seeds every year, even if you see them as young plants at the garden shop. Onions come as “sets”- tiny bare root bulbs, but they were started from seeds, too.

There are some outliers, called biennials, that live for two years and only flower or fruit the second year. Holly hocks and Sweet William are biennials. And some plants have what are called bulbs, and some have corms, which store the plant’s nutrients and sprout forth in the Spring. Iris has a fibrous corm, and daffodils have bulbs. Some bulbs are winter hardy in our area, making them functionally perennial, and some, like those of Canna lilies, are not.

Perennials last from year to year, unless they are what are called “tender perennials” in your growing region, where they will die if it gets too cold. You can determine what region you are in by looking at the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. The latest version is 2012. It is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, in Fahrenheit, divided into 10-degree zones. Most of Redding is in Zone 5. Chives, rhubarb, many herbs, most ground covers, and many flowers like peonies, some types of asters, lily of the valley, roses, and evening primrose are perennials, as are most flowering bushes like forsythia, quince, hydrangea, and wisteria.

Perennials are also of two types – deciduous and evergreen. The aforementioned flowering bushes are all deciduous, which means they lose their leaves in the winter. Rhododendron, azalea (there are also deciduous varieties of azaleas), and other shrubs like mugo pine, creeping junipers, holly, and the boxwoods, are evergreen perennials, keeping their leaves or needles all winter. Tress, are by nature perennials (or they wouldn’t grow into trees). Some are deciduous like oak and maple, and some are evergreen like pine, spruce, chamaecyparis, and arborvitae. Most folks use evergreen perennials as foundation plantings as they hide the foundation of the house.

So as your tastes dictate, read on!