Excerpts by Henry Lane Hull

To say this year has been strange in many ways would be a trite understatement. In addition to all of the medical and political happenings, from my experience gardening has been bizarre as well. 

In the late winter, I started off enthusiastically planting a variety of tomato and pepper seeds, expecting great results. They germinated and grew abundantly, and I planned to give seedlings to friends. Not only did I not have plants to give away, I had very few to plant myself.

As adult plants, the tomatoes that survived have produced lengthy vines, some over eight feet long, but their production of fruit has been negligible. The only ones that gave us much of a return were the yellow cherry and pear-shaped vines, but even they were less fruitful than in previous years.

The peppers were also weak in production, except for one hot banana variety. This past year, I did not winter-over any peppers, as I usually do, by bringing them inside—often to my Good Wife’s consternation—but this year, I have a few that are potted, ready for the transition to our kitchen. If they produce, perhaps she will become more receptive to the winter-over process. Peppers can live for several years if brought inside during the cold months and kept from drying out.

As far as successes go, my highest achievement came with herbs, which have flourished. Lemongrass has done especially well, to the point of my being able to keep a Thai restaurant supplied, if necessary, but I have not been asked for any fronds. Our two plants are five years old, and have survived well, again spending the winters indoors.

Basil, Greek oregano, chives, garlic chives and parsley have thrived. We have several types of mint, all of which are healthy and make for delicious teas. Raspberries also did well, with daily bumper crops over several weeks. Blueberries were equally productive, although the bushes despite their age (10 years) have remained small. I place all of our family coffee grounds and tea leaves around their base to contribute to the acidity of the soil. They seem to like it.

Our greatest success has come with three apple trees and two pear trees I planted almost 15 years ago. I used two Freedom and one Liberty apple trees to insure good cross pollination. Freedom and Liberty are named because they are resistant to apple-cedar rust. Given the prevalence of cedar trees in the Northern Neck, resistant varieties are essential for continued growth.

The apples’ fertility has been impressive. We have had more home-grown apple pies and cobblers than ever. The pears have done well, the fruit reaching maturity, and although we lost one tree to fire blight two years ago, the remaining trees have stayed healthy. Ironically, part of the root of the tree that suffered from the blight, an Atlantic Queen, continues to send up shoots, but coming from below the graft, they are not of significance.

Two years have passed since the Japanese persimmon gave us any fruit, the dearth being caused by low production and hungry squirrels, the latter of which do not appear to mind eating bitter, unripened fruit. I planted the tree over 30 years ago; it did well until half of it died several years ago, but a new shoot has come forth, filled with luscious-looking fruit. I am anticipating this fall witnessing a reappearance of my Good Wife’s magnificent persimmon bars. For the past two years, I was in persimmon-withdrawal due to their absence.

Lastly, a pecan tree I planted as a whip almost 50 years ago has never produced edible nuts. They are routinely water-logged and worthless. In recent years, the tree has suffered severe storm damage, but this year it is giving us a bumper crop of beautiful pecans. I hope it is not its swan song.

I do not play golf. I rarely go fishing. I do not play cards. I do not play tennis. While missing all those wonderful pastimes, I spend my leisure hours in the yard. What I have described above is the result of never having yelled, “Fore!”