Leonard Moorehead, the Urban Gardener: June’s Perfect Days

Sunday, June 10, 2018
Leonard Moorehead, GoLocalWorcester Gardening Expert

PHOTO: Leonard Moorehead
June is Eden. Lettuce, mustard, cress, arugula, sugar snap peas, fill garden beds. Kale is a single ruffled square, and in the, what the hell department, white and red stemmed Swiss chard, contrast very nicely in diagonal rows. Beets are fine to overplant in small spaces, I pull the smaller plants and add the delicious leaves to the harvest basket. Crimson amaranth and arugula escapes from seed beds and survives permanent mulches. Much of the harvest from a diverse garden is from grooming volunteers from more concentrated plantings. A few are bolting now, unobserved as June captures all of our attention. There’s lots to enjoy in Eden.

Roses dominate sunny locations. Many city parks, arboretums, and historic homes are great introductions to roses. Visit rose gardens in the morning or evening. Make an annual pilgrimage, such as Providence’s magnificent Roger Williams Park Rose Garden. Countless generations of brides and grooms admire hundreds of labeled roses each June. Far sighted civic leaders turned over a large north south lozenge shape bed, Victorian cast iron arbors support rambling types, bush, tea, and floribunda varieties are grown. Fragrance is as still as the morning dew upon each bloom. Every conceivable color, variegation and shade are well represented. Note those most healthy, those where your feet pause. That’s the rose for you. 

The venerable RI Rose Society is one of many volunteer gardeners who assist the park’s over- burdened gardeners. Join a garden club, such as the RI Dahlia Club or the RI Wildflower Society and pursue interest with other like- minded folks. Garden clubs offer comradery often as a lively exchange of favored plants between members. All hold annual sales or auctions of varieties adapted to succeed in our local climates. Practical advice is abundant too. Community gardens offer similar esprit de corps, form a meet up group of your own. 

Perennial herbs and flowers can be your best friends. Comfrey arrived in the 17th century to my old town. All colonists required its presence close to every home. Comfrey’s vitamin packed leaves and flowers are easily dried as an essential ingredient in medicinal herbal teas. Comfrey tolerates modest soil. Root divisions are the easiest way to expand a clump, especially when kept under thick mulches. Comfrey encourages neighbor plants, its tea is an ancient nostrum for those plants unlucky to not grow nearby. Frequent harvest encourages rapid leaf growth, left to its own, comfrey falls over in yard long stalks, small purple blooms attract bumbles and other pollinators. 

Nothing colonizes thick mulches to greater effect than the mint family: Spearmint, Peppermint and Chocolate mint pioneer donated wood chips long before any other plant. Like comfrey, the mint family assists microbiological life within humus. Our cultivated crops are healthier and more robust in alliance. Mints are easily tugged out of thick mulches. I tug mine into the top of the annual heave compost heap. Although covered with layers of torn brown paper leaf bags, mint tucked into and under the paper quickly spreads across the heap. Its leaves and roots moderate evaporation and retains moisture over the leaves. Dry leaves are inhospitable to earthworms and microbes, moist and shaded leaves transform into excellent compost. 

Explore less common mints such as Pennyroyal. Low growing pennyroyal is a certain indicator of moist soil. The leaves contains most intense mint flavor found in the garden. Oil of pennyroyal is a natural flea replant for pets and their loyal friends, the gardener. Thickset and a lovely green, pennyroyal thrives in cool, moist shady margins. It is easily, like its menthe cousins, propagated from root divisions. Never bothersome, pennyroyal creeps onto pathways between stones as well as the edges of the annual leaf heap. 

Roses are not the only show stoppers in our gardens. Penstemmon offers lovely purple pink blooms in sunny to semi-shaded borders. The patch next to the rambling roses does well in roses’ afternoon shade, allium, daffodils, tulips and perennial geranium succeed one another in the same space, each a constant display. Thin a bit when especially crowded, fold over mature spring bulb leaves and secure next spring’s future. Replant any bulbs pulled up from loose humus rich soil, separate smaller bulbs and tuck in. 

Guide strawberry runners as you pick the last supreme strawberries. Peg down the runners and tuck into mulch the new plants forming on the runners. Harvest lettuces, they much prefer the shoulders of the garden seasons. Our soils have reached the warm temperatures for beans. 

Beans fascinate home gardeners. Each of us has a favorite, many in New England recall Saturday night’s supper as a savory bean pot and franks. Beans do very well as a successor vegetable to spring greens. Old standbys such as Kentucky Wonder pole beans save space grown up tall trellises. Plant French horticultural pole beans and enjoy not only tasty green beans but also abundant red and white flowers. Save mature beans for next year. 

Large plantings of beans ignores the home growers nurture. Separate bean types, bush or pole, intersperse cucumbers, summer squash, between clumps of beans. Predatory insects are less successful nuisances among diverse plantings. Many beans mature in the 60-70 day range, Plant in June and sow into the beginning of August. Ignore any prejudice towards mingling ornamental and food crops. Enjoy picking beans between widely planted Stargazer lilies. The Stargazer’s climb high above the beans without shading legumes from full sunshine. Neither root system nor foliage competes for light or nutrients. 

Pinch or clip back apical meristems, or the growing tips, of chrysanthemums and asters.  Lateral side branches will sprout out, thicken the clump and double the number of fall blooms. 

Thick mulches are great defenses against crabgrass, lamb’s quarters, Lady’s Bed Straw and grasses. Cast a vigilant eye over the garden, pull up acorns, walnuts, and maple seedlings. Shepherd’s Purse matures in June along sidewalks and disturbed soils. Avoid introducing mature grass seeds, purslane, and Shepherd’s Purse (so called as the seeds resemble petite purses) into the garden. Store in paper bags mature seed bearing weeds and bury in 8”-18”pits beneath conifers or under fierce competitors such as bamboo. 

June is a high water mark in the garden calendar. Enjoy the show, harvest spring plantings and put in warm weather flowers and vegetables. Fill in vacant places with zinnias and Four o’Clocks.  Tidy up, get that last bag of gladiolas into the ground, nibble fresh mustard for nose tingling experience. Bend from the knees, move gently among bumblebees, listen for the mockingbird’s defiant song, and wear a hat. Flickers of tiny iridescent color whizz by? You have company, hummingbirds are here for the summer. June is Eden. 


Leonard Moorehead is a life-long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit trees.

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