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Into the Garden with Dr. Elissa Kramer

I started gardening because I wanted to grow food. We bought a piece of property in the Hudson Valley 13 years ago and built a fenced garden with raised beds and places for fruit trees and perimeter beds about 12 years ago, well before we even had a place to sleep. For me, to write about gardening is an act of hubris. I am self-taught and have no certification, just 12-15 years of mistakes, and, once in a while, successes. I rely heavily on the tidbits I glean from professional and fellow amateur gardeners.

This time of year, I am chomping at the bit to get into my garden. I am filled with optimism. The daffodils, scilla and Camassia quamash bulbs are blooming. The hellebores showed-up in March and I cleaned the dead leaves off them. They are looking quite proud. I have the latest-blooming Galanthus bulbs ever. I can see the leaves, but no flowers yet. The allium announced their locations, but they will not bloom for a while. The peonies are poking up and their supports are in place. I await their exuberant blooms in a month or so.

Aside from the hellebores, I have trimmed the tops of grasses down and some of the “wild” flowers we planted late last summer in our staged meadow. We aren’t supposed to clean the leaves out of the gardens yet because of the beneficial insects hiding there. Today’s column in the New York Times by Margaret Roach says to wait for a string of 50-degree days. I had hoped for the last week of April, but I have had to wait for this first week of May. However, the weeds are popping up and some of the invasives. Mugwort and Canada thistle are the bane of my existence. They need to be dug up and, for the life of me, I can’t get down to the roots of the thistle and can’t pull up enough of the mugwort roots. I will pull out the organic herbicide to tackle that. I fear it will be a spring- and summer-long project.

In my herb garden, the tarragon is re-sprouting, as is the bronze fennel and the lovage. The chives are abundant! The angelica is almost a foot high. The rue has begun to sprout green leaves, as has the sage, and, of course, the unrelenting mint is popping up where it grew last year and in some places it shouldn’t. Then there are the herbs I failed to dead head last year, or harvest before it flowered: borage, cilantro (everywhere), maybe parsley. I see their beginnings throughout. It is chaos, but do I really care? Also, where is the dill? I see its cotyledons down in my vegetable garden, but so far nothing here. But I must stay my hand. I know it’s too early to seed the basil, and the dill and maybe even the parsley directly. I will wait until I am much farther into May.

We have had such a warm spring that my friend Betsey Ely suggested I seed the spinach and peas at the end of last month. I am glad she did. The tips of snow peas are poking up already and the spinach cotyledons are showing! I even saw some escarole sprouting, but I may have to seed that again or just wait for warmer weather. However, my French breakfast and Stargazer radishes went in this week as did two kinds of carrots. Radishes are usually quite quick, but carrots always seem to take forever to grow and I don’t expect to see actual carrots until summer. Fingers crossed and breath held.

I do grow flowers in my vegetable garden. I have a mess of calendula, nigella (Love-in-a Mist) and larkspur just starting all over the main peripheral flower bed. The truth is I am cheap and if I can get new plants from last year’s, why not? I will have to pull some of them. The same goes for the lupines. A bunch of last year’s plants sprouted their distinctive leaves, but I will transplant the seedlings outside the fence. It took a long time for it to dawn on me that the deer and rabbits don’t really find lupines tasty.

The delphiniums I started from seeds about four years ago are sprouting. I started Jacob’s Ladder last year and they are coming back. The phlox that Toshi from Wethersfield gifted me last summer is coming back, but only one of the anemones seems to have survived. I hope that it is just early. I am waiting for the coreopsis, however. But one can’t keep a good monarda down; true to form, it’s back. Usually, I donate the extra monarda to a friend, but with social distancing, I am not sure she will take it. The Lamb’s Ear is back and the parsley I planted as a border. One actually can have too much parsley, it turns out. The rhubarb is mostly oxalic acid-rife leaves so far, but the sorrel is edible and almost plentiful enough to start harvesting. It is a reliable perennial in my raised bed. What’s next? I think I may be able to start beets in a week or two, and lettuce and arugula. I am hungry for the greens!

Almost all my seedlings are started indoors. I hope they don’t get away from me before warm weather shows up reliably. Last year the tomatoes and peppers were flowering before I put them in the ground, but they didn’t seem to fruit any more quickly than the year before.

Timing is everything in the garden and the weather is so unpredictable. The blessing of this pandemic for me is that I have the time to hover over the seedlings, the herbs, and the beds and the time to make notes about how things are progressing. Maybe this year I can stick to that practice.

Dr. Elissa Kramer practiced Nuclear Medicine at NYU Medical Center for over 25 years where she also served on the faculty as Professor of Clinical Radiology. She and her husband, Jay Newman, split their time between New York City and Millerton. The couple has lived in the Dutchess County area for 13 years and are long-time supporters of the Dutchess Land Conservancy. Dr. Kramer started gardening when she retired 13 years ago and has had her hands in the dirt ever since. When she’s not in the garden, which she loves to share with friends, children and grandchildren, you can find her riding out with the Millbrook Hunt, supporting Greenwich House and BalletCollective in New York City, as well many other local organizations.

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