Weekend Notes: Disappearing Berries, We’re Jammin’, and Flop Goes the Perennial

Disappearing Berries. As they are ripening very early, the birds are consuming the berries of fall and late summer much earlier than normal. The black currants continue to ripen, as they do throughout the summer. In addition, grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa) berries are eaten as soon as they turn greenish white, so you almost never see the white ripe berries. The books say that the pedicel turn bright red, but my C. rasemosas haven’t read the books, apparently. Some of the pedicels show some good color, but most are just plain green. On the plus side, some of my gray dogwoods are yielding berries this year after I had almost despaired that they would ever do so.

Unripe gray dogwood berries with red pedecils.

The black elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) are almost half gone.

Wild black elderberries.

The cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) berries are mostly gone. This is unexpected because V. trilobum are often uneaten until after the winter freeze, and many write that their berries remain untouched through the winter.

Cranberrybush viburnum berries

What will the birds eat when these berries are gone? There is a bumper crop of crabapples this year, they’re just turning orange now. There are also snowberries and coralberries; these will not be ripe for weeks. Still, you have to wonder if the food supply and the timing of the bird migrations may be getting out of sync. At least for  now the cardinals, robins, cedar waxwings, and other fruit eaters have plenty to choose from at the Garden in a City.

We’re Jammin’. Our son Danny, his girlfriend Caitlin, and their friend Megan came over to make blackberry and peach jam with Judy. They had purchased a large supply of beautiful fruit at the Evanston Farmer’s Market, some of which ended up frozen. Making jam seems deceptively simple: you just need the fruit, sugar, and pectin. The blackberries have to be crushed, and the peaches scalded and peeled. I asked Judy if I could include the recipes on my post, and she pointed out that it was the recipe on the box of Sure-Jell pectin, which can also be found on-line.

Our share of the loot.

Their efforts yielded six half-pint jars of blackberry jam and five of peach jam. Afterwards, they rewarded themselves with blackberry gin fizzes, just as our pioneer ancestors would have. I stayed out of the way, my role was limited to going out to get the bottle of gin.

Flop Goes the Perennial. Since the rains have returned, it seems that my gardening tasks these days consist almost entirely of the following: 1) keeping plants from flopping; 2) mowing the lawn; 3) keeping the grass from sneaking into the flower beds; and 4) picking tomatoes. Of these, it is the anti-flopping duty that seems to be the most time-consuming and exasperating, though I think I have made a substantial contribution to the profits of the bamboo stake industry. (Weeding has not been a big problem because at this point there’s no bare ground left.)

In the land of the giant flopping perennials (my front yard).

A partial list of my floppers includes the following: cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum); downy sunflower (Helianthus mollis); Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum and ‘Gateway’); anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium); New England aster (Aster novae-angliae); and – oh, hell, it seems like just about everything, and that’s after I’ve cut a lot of stuff back in May.

Now, you may say this is only to be expected when you grow so many plants in the 4X Big and Tall size. To this I say, dream no little dreams, and plant no little perennials.

Reach for the skies! This cup plant wanted to lean so badly that it pulled masonry nails out of a brick wall.

I think part of the problem is that my soil may be too rich, causing excessive growth and floppiness. I’m going to have to swear off of compost for my perennial beds and see if that helps. In the meantime, do you know where I can find a supply of 10′ bamboo poles?

12 Comments on “Weekend Notes: Disappearing Berries, We’re Jammin’, and Flop Goes the Perennial

  1. It is a whacky gardening year indeed! Half my garden looks like November, and the rest is a mishmash of various months. I’ve never seen so many Japanese beetles or butteflies. My tomatoes are taking sooooo long to ripen. My daisies were done blooming in two weeks where they normally last two months. The list goes on. If I find any ten foot poles growing, I’ll send them to you.

    • You remind me that, as always, I should count my blessings. The JBs have not been too bad here, and my tomatoes have come in early. Some flowers finished soon, but others lingered surprisingly long. Haven’t seen many butterflies, though, maybe you could send me some?

  2. The cotoneaster berries have been disappearing – I’ll have to pay more attention to the other shrubs. Usually I don’t feed the birds through the summer because of little interest on their part, but this year they clean out the sunflower seeds fast. And they keep checking the sunflower plants for edibles. Have you considered growing your own bamboo? 😉

    • The goldfinches have started eating the seeds from some of the plants. There is never a lack of interest in food among the birds around here.

  3. At least we can’t SEE your staking! Some of the plants, though, I am surprised you have to stake, as I never see them staked or flopping around here. Too much water? Not enough? Too little sunlight?

    Beautiful color on the jams. I need to get going and can some things as well. So far a zillion green tomatoes in the garden, they’ll probably all ripen at exactly the same moment. I like the determinant tomatoes because I don’t have to stake them, but…

    • I can’t believe it’s too much water, though I have been doing an unusual amount of supplemental watering. And in this location there’s pretty full sun. I think it’s probably a need for leaner soil.

      Have you tried using up some tomatoes early by making fried green tomatoes? I love those.

  4. Oh yes…the flopping perennials…the story of my life (well, my garden life)! Too rich soil is often the culprit…too much shade, too much rain during spring, etc. I don’t fertilize anything (well, might fertilize my lilies this year). I find that for the really big/bulky plants that 10′ lengths of rebar work best…I push at least 2-3′ into the ground (if I can). Works great for large grasses and Eupatorium.

    • I don’t fertilize either, but I have put down some compost, which I will no longer do. Rebar, really? Oh well, I do live in the rustbelt.

  5. We don’t have overly tall perennials, I do have delphiniums that need staking back a little. I tend to let plants flop a bit so that they lean drunkenly and wave around a little, it suits the garden and my style. I let the shorter plants grow and flow out onto the grass. I like brushing past plants, with my ankles brushing fuschia flowers and echinacea bouncing off my shoulders while sunflowers arch overhead.

  6. I don’t expect everything to be ramrod straight – a lot of my plants lean, and the overall effect of my flower beds is rather lax. But some stuff will be almost horizontal if I don’t intervene. Also, the taller the plant, the more problems it creates if it’s flopping over.

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