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Experimental Gardening

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Gardening is good for the soul and gives you the opportunity to experiment with new or unusual plants. This year I experimented with a few things.  Some were successful, some were learning experiences.

Tomatillos: A friend gave me two starts. I gave one to a youth garden where we help and planted the other in my raised bed. It grew into a lovely lime-green plant with attractive yellow flowers, but no fruit! I researched (oops, should have done that first) and found that they do not self-pollinate. You must have at least two (or another in your neighborhood). Still, it was pretty and a bee-attractant so I enjoyed it and confessed to the youth that I should have done my homework.

Compost: Surprises happen to me as I compost most everything from gardens and kitchen waste. I get lovely compost and I put it back into our gardens regularly. This year, one of my beds started germinating something that looked in the squash family. Since our grass dies in the summer, part of the yard was looking grim, so I decided to let these plants grow. Thirty-foot long vines with big yellow flowers; now we’ve got six nice pumpkins and I’m looking for recipes.

Peppers: I think peppers are some of the prettiest plants when they fruit. I discovered from Master Gardeners a pepper called Fish Pepper. It’s got variegated leaves and the fruits are striated. Quite lovely and they loved the hot, hot weather we had this summer! (Unlike my poor tomatoes which just closed up their flowers and waited it all out.) We even experimented with ghost peppers. I have no intention of eating them, but they are interesting; wrinkled and very hot!

Pollinators: Attracting bees and other pollinators to your gardens gives you the best shot at getting the fruit you’re hoping for. I had learned that borage is a good pollinator attractant and an interesting plant. It’s got fuzzy leaves; the flowers open first as purple and then turn a dense blue. I also planted cosmos. They stand high above the peppers and other plants and add color and pizzazz.

Additional gardens to play with: We worked with two other groups and their gardens this year, with different watering sources and setups and little control, on our part, over the watering.  Because of this we discovered and observed what a difference more or less water had over different plants. Basil really likes water! The volunteer garden’s basil was four times the size of ours. Cantaloupes not so much! (They were watery and rotted easily, more homework needed.)

So, successes and “failures,” overall, I’ve found gardening is always a learning and rewarding experience. The tomatillos gave me a couple of gifts. While there was no fruit, they did produce adorable little lanterns which I harvested and made into a flower arrangement (photo above). And they attracted tomato hornworms, which did no harm since there was no fruit and, perhaps, we’ll see a Sphinx Moth or two!


Nancy Bliss is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.

University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners can answer gardening questions.  In Tuolumne County call (209) 533-2912 and in Calaveras County call (209) 754-2880. You can fill out our easy-to-use problem questionnaire here. Check out our website here. You can also find us on Facebook.