It’s getting very hard to work outside in the garden, especially in early evening. No, not because of the heat. Not because of mosquitos either. The difficulty comes from the intoxicating aroma that wafts into the air each evening now from the row of lilies just outside the east side of my vegetable garden.
These lilies are not daylilies, which are mildly and pleasantly fragrant. Wild, orange dayliles are common along roadways and yellow and hybrid daylilies, often yellow, are common in mall parking lots .(That’s not a dis’; the plants tough and beautiful, and I’ve planted them also.) Neither are these lilies tiger lilies, which lack aroma and sport downward turned, dark red speckled orange flowers with recurved petals.
My fragrant lilies are so-called oriental hybrid lilies, which are notable for their large flowers and strong fragrance. The favorite among those I grow is Casa Blanca. The flowers are large and lily white (what’d you expect?) except for the threadlike, pale green stamens emerging from their centers, with dark red anther capping their ends. Casa Blanca would be worth growing just for the look of the flowers; the fragrance, very sweet and very heady make this bulb a must-grow.
Casa Blanca’s stems rise to about five feet tall, their upper portions circled with almost a dozen of those large blossoms in various stages of ripening. In the past, staked, persimmon orange, Sungold tomatoes have grown in that bed, and the tomato and lily plants looked very pretty mingling together. (Tomatoes were, after all, once grown as ornamentals.)
This year I am growing broccoli and lettuce, recently transplanted, in that bed; the lilies look gawky there with their present low growing companions. No matter, though. The fragrance alone makes Casa Blanca worth growing, a fragrance which, by the way, carries over in the cut flowers which, sitting in a vase on the kitchen table, make for a heady atmosphere each evening in the kitchen also.
Turning to another of the senses . . . taste. Blueberries. In spite of drought, the bushes are loaded. Blueberries, like most other fruits, make flower buds the year before the buds open so last summer’s rains could be contributing to this season’s abundance. With the dry weather, though, the berries could be shriveling or dropping. They are not.
Yesterday morning, my wife Deb harvested 6 quarts of plump, juicy, delectable berries from just one
bush, the variety Berkeley. And that was in addition to the few quarts harvested from that bush a couple of days ago. Not to mention the oodles of berries still on the bush.
Not to brag, but the average yield of a blueberry bush is 3 to 5 quarts. My blueberry bible, Blueberry Culture (Eck and Childers, Rutgers University Press, 1966) states that “proper cultural practices can increase the yield to as much as 25 pints per bush.”
My Berkeley bush will easily top that 25 pints, the result of my adding sulfur for acidity and soybean meal for nitrogen each fall, timely watering during the plant’s formative years, a topping up of existing mulch each fall with a 3 inch depth of wood chips, wood shavings, or leaves, and pruning every spring. Also, a net during the summer to fend off birds and careful picking of only dead ripe fruit by Deb.
As I write, rain is falling, much needed rain. Occasional thunderstorms fool many a gardener into thinking that the soil has been thoroughly wetted. But such rains, like today’s, are often only a drop in the bucket.
The only way to know for sure if enough rain has fallen for plants to really slurp up water is to check the soil or measure the actual amount of rainfall. The same goes for watering. My friend Bill tells me he waters his plants every day. Every day! How much? It could be too much or too little, and probably is one or the other. I like to quantitate things so I measure rainfall or watering, as well as soil moisture, in a few different ways.
First, measuring water added to the soil: The ideal is about a 1 inch depth of water per week, which is equivalent to about a half a gallon per square foot of surface area. For hand watering a young tree, with an estimated root spread of only a couple of square feet, I fill the watering can with a gallon of water and sprinkle it on. Rainfall, or the water from a sprinkler, could be measured with a straight-sided container. I use a rain gauge whose tapered body can break down the measurement into tenths of an inch, readable from indoors with binoculars. I also use a digital rain gauge that records rainfall in hundredths of an inch -- not that I or anyone needs that much accuracy -- and transmits to a readout conveniently located on a kitchen cabinet.
I usually measure the actual moisture in the soil with a handy little meter attached to a probe (a Rapidest Soil Moisture Meter) that slides a half a foot down into the soil. I sometimes have doubts about just how accurate this gadget’s accuracy so occasionally check it by digging into the soil to feel for moisture firsthand. Other electronic methods of monitoring soil water, which I’ll be looking into, are gypsum blocks and, not very gardenesque sounding, digitized time domain transmissometry.
I was over at Bill’s house last night with my handy-dandy Rapidest soil probe. The meter’s dial said that his soil was too wet.