Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Good fences make good gardens

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Though the proverb "Good fences make good neighbors" originally dates back to the 17th century, it is most famous as a phrase from Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall" from 1914. In the poem, the fence is actually a stone wall and that line is a retort from a neighbor to the narrator's questioning the need for a fence since neither has any cattle.

While literary scholars may argue the meaning of Frost's use of the phrase and its ambiguity, there is nothing ambiguous about my version: Good fences make good gardens. Fences mark the boundary of gardens and help define specific spaces, such as the vegetable garden, flower borders, and perhaps hidden spaces such as a compost pile, trash cans or the outhouse.

In the vegetable garden, fences help deter uninvited marauders who seek to devour the fruits of our labors. In flower gardens, nothing establishes the limits to the depth of a flower border as much as a fence strategically located at the rear of the border. The fence, whether of inanimate structure, such as a picket fence, or one of a living construction, such as a yew hedge, provides a backdrop to set off the varying colors and textures of the plants in front. Fences also make fine supports for vines. Such fences need not be expensive or elaborate.

A simple welded-wire fence, preferably a green vinyl-coated metal fence, secured between cedar posts.

THIS WEEK'S GARDEN TASKS

While you may wish to relax after constructing or mending fences, don't stonewall this week's list of gardening tasks:

- Transplant seedlings of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts to the vegetable garden, but assist the seedlings in getting quickly established by placing spun-bonded row covers over them for a few weeks. Also, add a few extra inches to the spacing between plants. In those spaces, plant an assortment of annual flowers - wait until late May to plant non-hardy annuals. This is not some artistic exercise, but has a very practical purpose. Since insect pests are attracted to their host by specific foliage color or by volatile chemicals emitted from the plants, having an assortment of plants intermingling makes the host plants less apparent.

- Start seeds of vine crops indoors. Cucumbers, melons, summer and winter squash seedlings that are 4 weeks old are best for transplanting the first week of June.

- Thin root crops, including beets, carrots, parsnips, and direct seeded onions. As a rule of thumb, thin these crops so that you can fit three fingers between adjacent seedlings. I guess it should be a rule of fingers.

- Harvest rhubarb when the petioles (leaf stalks) are at least eight inches long. To harvest, grab a leaf stalk near its base, pull down and twist the stalk at the same time. Cut off the leaf blade since it contains oxalic acid, a toxic compound.

- Replace the grass beneath trees with a 3-inch layer of wood chips or pine bark. Trees are native to forests not prairies. They don't like grass. And who can blame them? Grass roots rob trees of their share of water and nutrients — so much for a happy landscape.

- Thin out the stems of phlox when the shoots are 4 to 6 inches tall, leaving only 5 or 6 stems per plant. Thinning will lead to larger flowers, longer flowering and less powdery mildew. Also thin delphiniums when they are about 3 inches tall.

- Cut out all the suckers growing from the base of lilacs. In fact, it's a good practice to remove suckers from most shrubs and trees. Suckers are particularly prevalent at the base of crabapple trees.

- Carefully cultivate around peonies to aerate the soil. Peonies are a great garden plant because they have very few problems and the fragrance will knock your socks off (Saves having to bend over to remove them!).

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