As another gardening season approaches, it’s natural to look back on the joys and challenges of the previous year. And let me tell you, 2023 threw my garden a real curveball with record rainfall that tested not only my plants’ resilience but mine as well! But even in the toughest conditions, there are lessons to be learned, flowers to enjoy, and plans to be made for a bountiful new year.
So, join me as I dig into the dirt (metaphorically, of course!) and share my journey.
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A Year of Watery Woes & Blooming Triumphs
While every garden season has its ups and downs, last year felt like a rollercoaster ride of downpours. The incessant rain presented several challenges:
- Disease pressure: Constant moisture created a haven for fungal diseases, which took a toll on some of my favorite plants.
- Plant struggles: Most of my vegetable plants struggled to thrive in the saturated conditions.
- Drowning seedlings: Starting seeds outdoors proved tricky, with many succumbing to soggy soil.
However, amidst the challenges, there were also victories:
- Hardy heroes: Some plants that ended up thriving. Their lush growth added a vibrant counterpoint to the challenges.
- Experimentation pays off: Some new varieties proved successful in the less-than-optimal growing conditions and I will definitely be planting them again this year.
- Sharpened skills: Adapting to the conditions made me a more resourceful and adaptable gardener.
Lessons Learned from Last Year’s Garden
Victories in the Veggie Patch:
The usually thriving vegetable section of my garden also had its challenges but I did have a few victories too!
Last season I planted a few new vegetables including potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and onions. They all produced a nice harvest at the end of the season and I am going to be planting them in 2024.
To grow potatoes I used these grow bags with various varieties of seed potatoes (I bought them at Walmart)
In the above photo, you can see the potatoes growing in the bags along the fence. They were great space savers too, I tucked them behind this raised bed in what would have been wasted space.
Growing Potatoes in Bags
- Buy seed potatoes with eyes already formed. A couple of days before planting cut the potatoes into large chunks, aiming for 1-2 eyes per chunk. This time lets the cut edge scab over a bit and will help prevent rotting.
- Fill the grow bag: Add a 4-inch layer of moistened soil mix to the bottom. Fold down the edge of the bag
- Plant the potatoes: Place sprouted potatoes (eye end up) evenly on the soil surface, spaced 6-8 inches apart.
- Cover and water: Gently cover potatoes with 2-3 inches of soil mix. Water thoroughly to settle the soil.
- Sunlight and location: Place your grow bags in a sunny spot (6-8 hours of sunlight daily).
- Watering: Water regularly, keeping the soil consistently moist but not soggy. Aim for 1-2 inches of water per week, adjusting based on weather conditions. The fabric of the bag allows for drainage.
- Earthing up: As the potato stems grow, gradually add more soil mix around the base of the plants, covering up exposed stems. This encourages tuber formation and protects developing potatoes from sunlight. Repeat every 2-3 weeks until the soil level reaches about 4 inches below the bag rim.
- Signs of maturity: Wait until the potato foliage starts to die back and turn yellow. Stop watering at this point. Wait a week or so before harvesting.
- Harvesting: Carefully tip the grow bag onto its side or gently dig into the soil to harvest potatoes. A wheelbarrow works great for this task.
Another vegetable that thrived in my vegetable garden last year was Brussels sprouts. Even if you aren’t a fan of them I suggest planting a couple because they are super fun to watch grow throughout the Summer.
But my #1 Favorite plant to grow was artichokes!! They are the coolest-looking addition to my garden. The farm around the corner from me sells the plants in the Spring and this was the second year of growing them. I will always add them to my beds from now on.
Even with the excessive rainfall that we had the plants still thrived and developed flowers (the part we think of as an artichoke).
Mixed Beds Are The Way to Go!
One thing that I will be doing in my 2024 garden is to mix my garden beds in the vegetable section of my growing area. What I mean by that is I planted each raised bed with a combination of vegetables, flowers, and herbs. Not only did it make for a cottage feel to my garden all of the beds looked so pretty (even if the growing season was pretty lousy overall!).
In the garden bed above I planted sunflowers, onions, basil, a patio tomato, borage, and marigolds.
From Flops to Future Wins: Addressing challenges and missed opportunities
The most heartbreaking part of last year’s garden was my cut flower garden took the biggest hit from the excessive rain last Summer.
The lack of sun made it slow-growing for all of the annual flowers that I had planted from seed. I planted my zinnia seeds at the end of May but by the end of July, the plants were only a couple of inches tall! Normally it’s about a month from seed to flower.
Once the sun came out in August the zinnias did eventually grow up and flower but the crop wasn’t hardy.
In anticipation of future dried bouquets and projects for the website, I planted 3 beds filled with flowers with the sole purpose of being dried in the Fall.
Sadly, the beds sat almost empty all Summer long because just about everything drowed!! But I am going to try it again this season, so fingers crossed!
So what were the winners for 2023 that beat the elements and ended up thriving??
- Sunflowers-all varieties that I planted
- Cosmos- all varieties that I planted
- Celosia ‘Asian Garden’
- Bells of Ireland
Pulled it off in the knick of time:
- Zinnias (not a total loss but not a banner year)
- Dahlias (were smaller than they should have been but did flower til frost)
Successes in the garden:
Sowing the Seeds of Success: My Indoor Seed Starting Plan
Why start seeds indoors? There are many reasons!
- Cost-effective: You can grow a diverse variety of plants for a fraction of the cost of buying seedlings.
- Unique varieties: Access hard-to-find or heirloom varieties not readily available at nurseries. So many more flowers are available to you when you grow from seed.
- Early blooms: Get a head start on the season and enjoy blooms earlier.
For an in-depth guide on starting seeds indoors, check out my comprehensive blog post here: Seed Starting Basics
However, for a quick refresher:
- Choose your seeds: Select varieties suited to your climate and starting times.
- Prepare your space: Set up a well-lit area with warmth and ventilation.
- Start early: Follow the instructions on how many weeks before planting outdoors to start your seeds based on your last frost date.
- Sow with care: Follow proper sowing depth and spacing recommendations. Every seed packet has instructions on how to grow that variety.
- Nurture your seedlings: Provide consistent moisture and adequate light.
This year I am increasing the amount of flowers that I am starting from seed and also buying a couple more grow lights and adding another table. Today’s LED grow lights are so much lighter than the old-school long bulb ones which makes it more convenient for the home gardener.
Before you start your garden planning check the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map and find your location, that way you will understand your frost dates and when it will be safe to plant outdoors.
Anticipation Blossoms: Seed Selection
Do you have to buy flower seeds online? Definitely not, you can start a beautiful cut flower garden by grabbing seeds at the home improvement store or Walmart.
But the benefit of ordering from a seed company is that you have so many more flowers and varieties to choose from!
There are many reputable resources for buying seeds online but I order from 2 companies that are both local New England businesses.
Here is the list of seeds I ordered from Select Seeds. You can see I am planning a wide assortment of flowers for the cut flower garden to use fresh and also plenty of varieties I am planning on growing to use dried next Fall like the Globe Thistle, Love-in-a-Mist, Billy Buttons, and Stawflowers to name a few from my order.
A Final Sprinkle of Inspiration
How do you start your planning? For me, it starts in the cold days of January. As soon as the new seed catalogs are available. Although it’s easy to scroll a website there is something very nice about having a physical catalog to thumb through and mark, plus you have the details of each flower right there. You can request catalogs on most of the seed websites.
Recommended Gardening Books
More Cottage On Bunker Hill Gardening Help
Planning out your garden? You don’t need a fancy planner, just grab a few sheets of graph paper, a ruler, and a pencil and draw a sketch of your garden area to scale.
Start to figure out your garden layout before you actually start the planting. There’s always room for changes before you get outside but this gives you a visual of how much space you have and lets you figure out how to plant each bed.
Grow With Me Gardening Series
This is part of the Grow With Me Gardening Series here at Cottage On Bunker Hill. I want to teach you ways of starting, maintaining, and enjoying gardening. I will share all the tips & tricks that I have learned over the years growing both vegetable and flower gardens here in the Northeast.
I’m excited to share my progress and discoveries throughout the season. Let’s make this year a garden filled with vibrant blooms, delicious harvests, and hopefully a little joy!!
Shop my gardening favorites! Raised beds, plant supports, & tools to make your garden grow.