Patricia Oakley
Patricia Oakley
Patricia Oakley is a church organist and a fiber artist and has lived in Goshen since 1998. At one time she thought she wanted to live on several acres in the country but found out she prefers living in a city where she can walk or bicycle to all the places she wants to go. Every summer she converts more and more of her lawn into a garden.

In Praise of Perennials: Unopened seed packets taunt this gardener

Perennials have a place in a garden for those who find themselves a bit late for spring planting.

Posted on June 16, 2014 at 11:00 a.m.

9f034acf-db28-4315-8955-7462c54dfaThe pile of seed packets seems to taunt me.

I work on a farm. It is the middle of June. Surely I would have completely planted my garden already.

But time has a way of slipping away. My year of work at Clay Bottom Farm came to a close on May 30. Somehow I thought that I would plant the rest of my home garden the following week. I had forgotten that I was going to be away the first week of June. So now it is the end of the second week of June and, though I planted a few more rows of vegetables, I still have a big pile of unopened seed packets. Clearly I need to rethink this year’s garden strategy.

This is why I do love having perennials growing in my garden. I never have to worry about making sure to get those plants in the ground at the appropriate time. They just keep coming back year after year. In my garden, the perennials include fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The fruits are the pear and cherry trees, the blueberry bushes, the raspberries and the strawberries. Rhubarb and asparagus are a welcome sight in early spring. There are herbs — oregano, mint, sage, lavender. Hops and cardoon add a bit of exotic flavor to the mix.

Some annual vegetables, such as kale, are not technically perennials but do reseed themselves and are able to grow back yearly without my intervention. Sunflowers spring up from seeds the squirrels left behind last year. Our compost pile is also the home to whatever squash feels like making an appearance.

And even though I haven't planted many most of the seeds that I purchased in a frenzy of wishful thinking during our long, cold winter, I did manage to add to my collection of perennials. We planted two more blueberry bushes to replace those that died over the winter. The front yard is becoming a little orchard with new peach and apple trees, several hazelnut bushes from Arbor Day, and some unusual berry bushes (Seaberry, Autumnberry, and Wine Raspberry) from a relatively local business, Oikos Tree Crops in Kalamazoo. In subsequent years I will expand my variety of fruits.

I also discovered some interesting perennial vegetables to add to my main garden, including sorrel with its lemony tart taste, strawberry spinach that produces both spinach-like leaves and sweet red berries, seakale (from Sherck Seeds, a wonderful source for locally produced seeds) which has edible shoots, leaves and flowers, and salad burnet whose dark green leaves can be added to salads for extra flavor.

Perennials are great to have in a garden. But I still do want all those other vegetables that I need to plant every spring and summer. Fortunately, some vegetables, such as lettuce, can be continuously planted throughout the growing season. So I’m not too late. Slowly, but surely, I’ll get around to planting some of those remaining seeds.


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