Planting 2018

I’ve blogged it a dozen times if I’ve blogged it once: I am not a gardener. (The record says I’ve blogged it more than once. For starters see “My Dinghy Garden” from 2011 and “Down in the Dinghy” from 2012.)

Rosamond, my paternal grandmother, was a spectacular gardener. My mother, Chiquita, was a pretty good gardener but according to her she didn’t have a green thumb so she wasn’t a gardener at all. I managed to avoid gardening even after I moved to Martha’s Vineyard, where everyone and her sister, brother, parents, cousins, and in-laws has a garden. It is actually easy to avoid something that all your friends are doing, especially if you are cussed enough to think you’re a nonconformist.

However, I was seduced by the green side of the force after my neighbor-landlady moved her horticultural efforts from the little dinghy out back to the much larger garden patch near the compost. My specialties from the beginning have been cherry tomatoes and basil. Basil because pesto. Cherry tomatoes because cherry tomatoes halved, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with kosher salt, and slow-baked in a low oven (about 200 degrees F) for a couple of hours are one of the world’s great taste sensations. Who knew?

Since I live in a studio apartment where all available flat surfaces are piled high with books, notebooks, folders, and loose papers, starting seeds in early spring is out of the question. I start with seedlings, and I get my seedlings from Vineyard Gardens, the nursery across State Road from the West Tisbury post office and up-island Cronig’s. Every Tuesday, Vineyard Gardens offers a senior (over 62) discount of 20% off everything, so there I was yesterday afternoon, hauling my little wagon around and collecting plants, potting soil, and a packet of basil seeds.

When I got home, of course I had to drop everything and get planting.

I started with the windowbox, which isn’t attached to any window. It’s built into my deck railing, but “deckbox” sounds funny. Over the years I’ve tried different flowers in the windowbox, but in recent years I’ve gone for petunias with some sort of purple in them.

Hardy 2017 coleus

I love the way coleus catches the light, so I always have at least one in a pot on the deck railing. (One or two have survived tumbles from that railing when the wind blows hard enough.) Last fall I brought my two coleus inside. They made it through the winter in pretty good shape. On warmish early spring days I’d put them out to soak up a little sun, then bring them in at night.

One night I forgot to bring one of them in. I’d set it on the railing for some reason, and when I came home after dark I didn’t notice it. That was an ice disk night so the poor coleus got frosted. It never recovered. Its surviving sister is now outside 24/7 and much prefers direct sunlight to what comes through my west-facing window. Yeah, it looks rather leggy and probably would have benefited from pruning at some point, but since I’m not a gardener I don’t know much about that.

I did bring a new coleus home from Vineyard Gardens yesterday. It’s taken up residence on the deck next to the windowbox. I promise to move it if the wind gets to blowing real hard.

The rest of yesterday’s haul consisted of four cherry tomato seedlings (two Sungold, one Rose de Berne, and one whose name I forget but I think it has “honey” in it), two basil seedlings, a packet of basil seeds, and a two-cubic-foot bag of potting soil. (Two cubic feet of dirt is heavy, by the way, especially when it comes in a floppy bag that’s hard to get purchaase on.)

Cherry tomatoes to come

The seedlings are now duly planted. Two basil seedlings, of course, won’t yield much pesto even if they flourish. This is why three long planters and one medium pot are now sown with basil seeds. The seedlings are mostly harbingers of things to come.

Basil does quite well in containers, I’ve found, though last year wasn’t a great year for basil and the resulting pesto was at best so-so, probably because the proportion of parsley to basil was too high. I think the summer wasn’t consistently hot enough to make the basil happy. Basil likes hot.

Presiding over the dinghy is the grandmother of all chives. I planted it as a seedling in 2011, or maybe 2010, and it’s survived every winter since and come back every spring greener and more tenacious than ever. I’ve tried to thin it out by pulling out strands of it, but no dice: the dirt has firm hold of its roots. It’s still usable, but no way do I need that much chive, and it’s taking up room in the garden that could be devoted to other things — like basil. Maybe this will be the year I dig it up, or maybe not.

If Medusa decided to give up snakes, she could come back with my chives for hair.

Chives gone wild


About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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4 Responses to Planting 2018

  1. Karen says:

    Well I am definitely going to try that slow roasted tomato thing – so easy! And of course this is the first year I did not plant cherry tomatoes – just the big variety.


    • Devilishly easy! I’ve never tried it with full-size tomatoes, but I imagine you could do it with slices. It might take a little longer. One of my favorite things to do with big tomatoes is slice them then sprinkle each slice with minced onions and fresh basil. Might have to try slow-baking them too!


  2. Ellen says:

    If you like rosemary, I have found it grows well in a pot. One year I left it out too long and it froze, but was still tasty so I was able to keep picking it all winter. (Guess it was “freeze dried” …)


  3. I am more often a plant killer than a gardener…However for one spectacular year after my mother passed away from cancer, I made lush blooms out of a reluctant, sandy Florida apartment soil…I refer to it as my Memorial Garden, and figure I must have had help since I have never been able to repeat the results — not even in a potted plant.


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