A Study in Dianthus (and Penstemon and Epimedium)

A friend’s recent Facebook post of a variety of dianthus in her great-aunt’s garden prompts me to create a sort of eclectic catalog of the dianthus in my yard.

Dianthus is a genus (in the carnation family) with many species (at least 330 worldwide), which, while bearing some likeness to each other, also differ quite a bit, similarly to the way phloxes do, in size, habit, colour, leaves.  Sweet William (a biennial or a short-lived perennial, with bicoloured flowers), pinks (low-growing, can be ground covers), and carnations are all part of the genus, which generally have pink, red, and/or white flowers with notched or shredded petals. The habit of the plants can be mounded, trailing, or erect. Leaves vary from grass-like and blue-grey to flat, linear or lancelike leaves that are green, sometimes with a maroon tinge.

(If you’re interested only in dianthus, scroll on down past my two asides on penstemons and epimediums.)


ASIDE: Around here, it’s the penstemons (sometimes called beardtongue) that I think really hide their family resemblance well; as an article in Dave’s Garden says, “Penstemon is a wonderful native American genus of wildly varied, flowering perennials. This is a little known genus of vast proportions that would be hard to comprehend in one sitting, maybe even one lifetime. From dwarf ground covers to tall shrubs, xeriscaping to consistent moisture, Penstemons run the gamut of diversity.”

Wikipedia notes the commonalities of the species: “They have opposite leaves, partly tube-shaped, and two-lipped flowers and seed capsules. The most distinctive feature of the genus is the prominent staminode, an infertile stamen. The staminode takes a variety of forms in the different species; while typically a long straight filament extending to the mouth of the corolla, some are longer and extremely hairy, giving the general appearance of an open mouth with a fuzzy tongue protruding and inspiring the common name beardtongue.”

Not everyone will notice the bearded tongue, however, even when searching for it.

You might not guess, unless you knew, that my ‘Jingle Bells” penstemon (Penstemon barbatus ‘Jingle Bells’; P. barbatus is native to the western U.S.) is sister to the ‘Blue Buckle’ penstemon (P. virgatus) growing on the other side of the yard, or that either is strongly related to the ‘Husker Red’ (P. digitalis ‘Husker Red’) or ‘Dark Towers’ (a hybrid cross between P. digitalis ‘Husker Red’ and Penstemon ‘Prairie Splendor’); the ‘Dark Towers’ hybrid in particular spreads far and wide through self-seeding. One year, I had an annual penstemon — well, it’s a tender perennial, “hardy” in zones 9-11 — called Penstemon “Phoenix Pink” (Penstemon ‘Pheni Pinka’), which I should really plant again; it’s part of the trademarked Phoenix series, a hybrid of the Mexican native P. hartwegii.

‘Jingle Bell’ penstemon (Penstemon barbatus ‘Jingle Bells’)
‘Jingle Bells’ penstemon (Penstemon barbatus ‘Jingle Bells’)
‘Blue Buckle’ penstemon (Penstemon virgatus ‘Blue Buckle’)
‘Dark Towers’ penstemon: a hybrid cross between Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ and Penstemon ‘Prairie Splendor’
‘Husker Red’ penstemon (Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’)
annual Penstemon Phoenix Pink (Penstemon ‘Pheni Pinka’): part of the patented ‘Phoenix’ series, a hybrid of the Mexican native Penstemon hartwegii


STILL ASIDE: Another genus with lots of variety is the epimedium (in the barberry family, and sometimes called barrenwort, bishop’s hat, or fairy wings), a rather understated, and underused, plant. There are “only” 60 or so species worldwide — and more than 300 cultivars — but the variety of leaves and the range of colours and flower shapes can be confusing.

Fine Gardening notes that the genus is “characterized by 4-petaled flowers hanging in clusters in shades of yellow, beige, pink, lavender, purple, red, or white, borne in racemes from spring to early summer.” The Brooklyn Botanic Garden says that the blossoms can “look like miniature columbines or tiny daffodils, while others appear more like spiders or stars. Species with long sprays can even resemble orchids.”  The leaves are “[m]ainly basal, 2- or 3-ternate, sometimes pinnate leaves with leathery texture. Heart- or lance-shaped leaflets” (per Fine Gardening). It’s often used as a ground cover, but the one I have is really too tall to be considered as ground covers for most gardens. The Northwest Horticultural Society lists the “10 best” you can buy in a nice spread in the first two pages of its (pdf) Spring 2011 newsletter.

The first time I tried to buy an epimedium, or even look at one in a nursery, perhaps six or seven years ago, the folks at the nursery — which is large and specialises in hostas, another mostly shade plant — had never heard of the genus. The one in my garden now came from a local plant sale; I don’t know its species or cultivar.


I’ve seen them in public gardens:

Epimedium x Lemon Zest, a hybrid at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, June 2017
unknown variety with small white flowers, Bedrock Gardens, Lee NH, May 2017
another unknown variety, Blithewold Mansion & Gardens, Bristol, RI, May 2017
Epimedium grandiflorum var higoense ‘Bandit,’ with a red leaf edge (and white flowers), Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, June 2015
Epimedium x ‘Amber Queen,’ a hybrid with an amber yellow flower, Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, June 2015
a white flowered epimedium variety at Wave Hill in New York, May 2015 (there’s also a yellow flower in the photo that’s different; note leaf)
Epimedium x ‘Pink Champagne’ hyrbid, Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, May 2014


ASIDE OVER, and back to dianthus!

The (sort of) perennial “pinks” — whose ragged flower edges look like they could have been formed with pinking shears — have grass-like foliage, sometimes silvery or bluish green, and they’re shorter — generally 6-8 inches tall — than most of the “sweet William” varieties, which can reach 3 feet tall and have green flat, linear leaves, sometimes a bit maroon.

One series of pinks, called “cheddar” (Dianthus gratianopolitanus), is so called because it’s naturalised in the Cheddar Gorge in England; ‘Firewitch” is a common and beloved variety.

Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Firewitch’ when it was planted
Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Firewitch’ in the front border
Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Firewitch,’ close
Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Firewitch’ in the sunroom border
closer looks at Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Firewitch’ in the sunroom border

Like Dianthus plumarius, often called “cottage pinks” (other common names include feathered pinks, grass pinks, garden pinks), and Dianthus x alwoodii (Allwood pinks – I’ve got one called ‘Frosty Fire’), the cheddar pinks are quite fragrant.

Dianthus x allwoodii ‘Frosty Fire’ – close

There’s also Dianthus superbus (fringed pinks), Dianthus deltoides (wild pinks, maiden pinks), Dianthus armeria (Deptford pinks), and many more. None is native to New England, though some species are commonly found in the wild here now (see Go Botany).

Dianthus deltoides – seen on the Northern Rail Trail, Grafton, NH

Some other “pinks” I’ve had in this garden:

‘Coconut Surprise’ dianthus – front border. It’s a trademarked hybrid in the “Scent First” series.

Below is a plant I bought this year at a local plant sale to replace another dianthus that gave up the ghost (as at least one of these “perennials” does every year; I don’t know if it’s me or them); I don’t know the variety because it wasn’t labelled.

pink and red dianthus, front yard 
pink and red dianthus, front yard – close

The biennial “sweet William” (Dianthus barbatus) by contrast, is not strongly scented, though it has a showy, frilly, bicolour flower. Another species, Chinese pinks (Dianthus chinensis), despite their common name are more like sweet William than other pinks; they’re erect biennials, 2 feet tall or so, and without noticeable fragrance. They are hardy only in USDA zones 6-9.

Most of the “pinks” like sandy, alkaline soil, while carnations. sweet William and cottage pinks prefer richer soil.

At some point, I had a carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) in the garden, although it was about the same short height as the pinks:

Dianthus caryophyllus ‘Grenadin White’ – front yard

I never actually planted a sweet William plant, but I sowed “Bring Home the Butterflies” seed mix from Botanical Interests a few years ago in the fruit guild, and since then have had lots of self-seeding sweet William there, and in the rock wall, and this year there’s one in the shade garden. Self-seeding does not always produce offspring true to the parents. I actually prefer the self-seeded flowers in the rock wall more than most of the originals or their self-seeding children in the fruit guild.

All photos of sweet William are from this season.

Sweet Williams In the fruit guild: 

sweet William flowering in the fruit guild (and some yarrow)


leaves of sweet Williams in fruit guild

Sweet Williams In the rock garden:


sweet William and fleabane in rock wall


leaves of sweet William in rock wall

And the new Sweet William in the shade garden:

magenta sweet William in shade garden


Hmm … I’m feeling I want to add more dianthus, epimedium, and perhaps another annual penstemon next year.




Wednesday Vignette


Now on display at your local bog (in most of the U.S. — absent as a native in only 13 states —  and in Canada): The carnivorous and gorgeous Drosera rotundifolia, also known as common or round-leaved sundew. This leaf is slightly larger than a thumbnail, so you have to crouch down to see it. . A small five-petaled white flower will appear later this summer.

Go Botany says of this species of sundew:

“In addition to its well-known carnivory, round-leaved sundew, which lives in acid bogs, has the highest concentration of vitamin C in its leaves of any known plant. In his book, Insectivorous Plants, Charles Darwin recounts many experiments he conducted on round-leaved sundew. The sticky substance exuded by its leaves trap insects that the plant then digests … but they are also contain naturally-occurring nano-compounds with potential applications for tissue engineering and development of new adhesives.”

There are at least 194 species of sundews, including pink (D. capillaris), thread-leaved (D. filiformis), spatulate-leaved or oblong (D. intermedia; the only other species found in New Hampshire), slender-leaved (D. linearis), English (D. anglica), and dwarf (D. brevifolia). If you have the interest, check out Impacts of Terrestrial and Aquatic Flora: The Sundew at J&J Science for lots more info.

A paper at Montana Outdoors describes in grisly detail the carnivorous feeding of the sundew:

“Lured by the vivid red color [Wikipedia says research has shown this part is not true] or the dew drops’ sweet secretions, a mosquito or other small insect stopping here goes no farther. The bug’s frantic struggle to escape the sticky droplet proves futile. Long stalked glands—the tentacles—slowly roll inward, releasing more glue and securing the prey in the center of the leaf, which secretes acids that eventually decompose the prey. The insect suffocates in less than 15 minutes, but it may take several days for the leaf to absorb the bug juice nourishment. As the tentacles resume their upright stance, the insect’s empty shell blows away, erasing evidence of the plant’s previous deed. The ravenous beauty then awaits its next meal.”

Ravenous beauty indeed.



Wednesday Vignette is brought to us by Flutter & Hum.

Lake in Spring

There’s a 170-acre lake in Sutton, NH called Kezar Lake (not to be confused with the much larger — at 2,500 acres — Kezar Lake in Lovell, Maine),


on which is modest 50-acre Wadleigh State Park, consisting of a picnic area on a small beach, with the options to swim in a cordoned-off area (or beyond), kayak, canoe, paddleboard, fish (ice fishing in winter, with shacks on the ice), and operate boats. Seadoos and other skicraft are banned from the lake.

beach area, June 2016
picnic table in beach area, May 2017
people picnicking on 4th of July, 2017
kayakers coming in, July 2013
kayakers, with Mt. Kearsarge in view, 4 July 2017
fisherman in canoe, April 2016
ice house, ATV, January 2017


Around the lake runs a three-mile oblong-shaped road, partly paved (Keyser St, part of Penacook Rd), partly dirt (part of Penacook Road, King Hill Road), through which cuts a small bit of the 75-mile Sunapee-Ragged-Kearsarge Greenway hiking trail.

Keyser St, Oct 2016
Keyser St, 4 July 2017
Penacook Road, April 2017
Penacook Road curve
SRK trail aka King Hill Road, May 2017
SRK trail aka King Hill Road with wildflowers, June 2017

The roads are fairly sparsely populated with houses: small cottages, larger vintage camps, farmhouses with spacious front and side porches, log cabins, a few new ultra-modern homes.

flowersinfrontofyellowredhouseKezarLake22July2014 longranchhousePenacookKezarLakeSuttonNH4July2017 smallbluecamponhillKezarLakeSuttonNH4July2017houseoffsetfrontporchKezarLakeSuttonNH4July2017bluehousehiddenhemlockstreesKezarLakeNH20March2017housegardenKeyserKezarLakeSuttonNH21June2017 greenhousegaragePenacookKezarLakeSuttonNH4July2017whitehousewindowsPenacookKezarLakeSuttonNH4July2017whitehousemetalredrooffernsKezarLakeSuttonNH4July2017whitegreenfarmhouseKezarLakeNH27Feb2017yellowhouseshedwheelbarrowsnowKezarLake3April2015housegardenwithfernsKezarLake8July2013farmhouseforsaleKezarLake11Oct2016housealongthewayKezarLake12July2013 cottagehouselittleterrierKezarLakeSuttonNH4July2017lovelyhouseandgardenalonglakeKezarLake17Oct2013housewelikeKezarLakeNH1Dec2016modernhouseIlikeKezarLakeNH7Jan2017


From almost everywhere, there’s a view of Mt. Kearsarge, located partly in Warner and partly in Wilmot, NH, with its own state parks in those towns (Rollins and Winslow, respectively).



I try to walk the 3-mile trail ’round the lake at least once a week in all seasons; sometimes after I finish, if I have time, I turn around and walk parts of it or the whole thing again. There are usually dogs to greet, other walkers to chat with (also joggers and bicyclists), and frequently I’m with friends, and their dogs, talking as we walk, taking it all in through sight, breath, scent, sound, touch. The place has a nostalgic, old-fashioned feel.

T and Charlie, Sept 2012
Annie, Caroline, Candis, with Brandy ahead, April 2013
Alison, Karen, June 2014
Natalie and Ann, Zoey dog, Nov. 2015
Caroline, Alison, Candis, and Brandy dog, May 2014
Me and Zoey, Oct. 2015
Darby swimming, Nov. 2015
Brandy retrieving, Sept. 2013


A visitor might see (or hear in some cases) loons, herons, eagles, various kinds of ducks, otter, beaver, newts, turtles, frogs, snakes, all kinds of insects, woodland and meadow plants, and wildflowers. If you fish, there’s rainbow and brook trout, large and small mouth bass, chain pickerel, black crappie, yellow perch, brown bullhead, and pumpkinseed.



Here’s some of what I saw from March thru June this year.


Landscape …. 

lake ice, branches, 6 March
moss on shed roof, 8 March
view of Mt. Kearsarge, 19 March
Penacook toward King Hill Road, 30 March


Animals …. 

first chipmunk seen, 6 March
chipmunk, 30 March



Landscape …. 

stone wall, stairs, 3 April
picnic table at beach, 3 April
Penacook toward King Hill Road, 14 April
stump cairn, 14 April
degrading lake ice, black and blues, 14 April

Plants …. 

witch hazel flowers, 3 April
yellow alder catkins, 14 April

Animals …. 

great blue heron, Lyon Brook, 3 April
maybe a winter stonefly?, 3 April
chipmunk munching, 14 April



Landscape …. 

wind on water, Lyon Brook, 16 May
Penacook to King Hill Road view, 16 May
flooded SRK Greenway trail, 17 May
new granite dock for white farmhouse, 27 May
ferns, 27 May

Plants ….

Sessile bellwort (wild oats), 16 May
hobblebush flower, 16 May
white and purple violet, 16 May
periwinkle flower, 16 May
white goldthread flower, 17 May
Amelanchier (serviceberry) flower, 17 May
purple violets, 17 May
red Trlllium erectum, 17 May
equisetum stems and foliage, 17 May
Aralia nudicaulis (wild sarsaparilla) with flowers, 17 May
coltsfoot flowerhead, 17 May
Actaea (baneberry) in flower, 18 May
false hellebore, 18 May
three painted Trillium undulata, 18 May
bunchberry with flower, 27 May
first pink lady slipper, 27 May
Jack in the Pulpit, 27 May
Clintonia (blue bead lily) flower and foliage, 27 May

Animals ….

green tiger beetle, 16 May
chipmunk, 16 May
tiny painted turtle, 16 May
Canada geese, 18 May
hairy woodpecker, 18 May
loon, 27 May
Pearl Crescent butterfly, 27 May
male goldfinch, 27 May
redheaded merganser, Lyon Brook, 27 May



Landscape …. 

equisetums and ferns, 3 June
stump cairn, 3 June
road and trees, 3 June
Lyon Brook waterflow with bridge and moss pattern, 21 June
Lyon Brook with cloud reflections, 21 June
high lake water, no beach showing, 21 June

Plants & Fungi ….

ganoderma fungi?, 3 June
false Solomon’s Seal, 3 June
Erigeron (fleabane), 3 June
Zizia (Golden Alexander), 3 June
Iris versicolor (blue flag iris), 11 June
first daylilies of the season, 11 June
bumblebee in Rosa rugosa, 11 June
a brassica, maybe Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard), 11 June
fungus, 11 June
Sisyrinchium (blue-eyed grass), 11 June
blue flag iris, 21 June
birdsfoot trefoil, 21 June
Potentilla recta (sulfur cinquefoil) flower, 21 June
heliopsis?, 21 June
varnished shelf fungus ?, 29 June
Kalmia angustifolia (sheep laurel), 29 June
milkweed flower with ant, 29 June

Animals ….

male mallard, Lyon Brook, 11 June
white admiral butterfly, 21 June
large swallowtail on red clover, 21 June


Check back again when autumn starts for some summer photos.


Newly mown savannah

Sometimes Woody the warthog likes to hang out on the savannah … after it’s mowed.


He also likes to smell the Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle).


Because he’s not standard warthog size, and he’s quite plush, he had a slight terror of possible predators besides the usual — lions, leopards, cheetahs, crocodiles, and hyenas — such as hawks, owls, foxes, and neighbourhood dogs and toddlers, so we shortened the photo shoot for his safety.


Wednesday Vignette


I like things that look like other things.

This looks like a caterpillar to me, or a Chinese parade dragon costume, but in reality, it’s a Rodgersia flower.

Wednesday Vignette is brought to us by Flutter & Hum.

Good Eatin’, Soon

An early season report on the edible plants in my garden:

As I’ve mentioned previously, I felt I had to plant most of the warm-season crop seedlings early, due to extended family issues in another state. So they went in soon after I picked them up on 28 May from the farm that grew them. Unfortunately, the next week or more was cold and rainy and the plants for the most part suffered. I’ve replaced about half the cucumbers I initially planted and will probably be replacing more (photo is of replacement).


The basil plants, which had been healthy looking when I brought them home, look sad and skinny. But I think they’ll make it now that the weather is warming up.


The squash plants look uniformly fine. Squash seems difficult to kill.


And given how cold it’s been, colour me surprised that the tomatoes are progressing, even blooming.

Sungold tomato bloom
Honey Bunch red grape tomato blooms

The bell peppers (Ace) have peppers on them already!


The green beans (Provider) are blooming, though the leaves are a bit yellow (photo below). So are the leaves on the tomatoes, and I gather this could be a lack of nitrogen. But the beans are meant to provide nitrogen to the soil, so what are they complaining about?


Of course, the green and red romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, and arugula are all happy as wet, cold clams. And I’m happy for them.


first arugula harvest, 18 June


Have I mentioned the peaches yet? It’s a banner year. I’ve had the peach trees since 2010 and have had a total of about 6 peaches between the two trees, and none at all last year. This year, there are (or were) about 1,000 peach nubs on them. I say “were” because in the last week I’ve spent about four hours removing 3/4 of the nubs (with spouse’s help and two ladders during two hours of this killing spree), in the hope that culling them in this way will make the ones that remain larger and sweeter. When there are tiny nubs next to big nubs, it’s easy to cull the tiny ones; but when there are two gorgeous, fuzzy, blushing peaches within two inches of each other, it’s very difficult to sacrifice one, even though the ends justify the means.


Fortunately, I don’t feel the need to do this culling to the strawberries, though some of the plants are overloaded with green berries now — I know the chipmunks will be the primary beneficiaries of the just-ripened red berries, eating one portion of each just hours before I plan to pick them for human consumption. I planted 27 plants a few years ago and now have about 375,640 of them, in all corners of the yard.


I thought these were barren strawberries, spreading all over the garden beds and front yard, but apparently they are fertile. The berries are small, and the other side of this one is still greenish.


Blueberries have pale blue-green (with pink) nubs on them. First photo is of a high-bush in the side yard bed, either ‘Chippewa’ or ‘Northcountry;’ second is of a hybrid ‘Jelly Bean’ blueberry, in the Bushel & Berry ™ Monrovia series) in the front yard.


Raspberries — none planted by me — have flower and little nubs of fruits beginning.


think my native American hazelnuts (Corylus americana) may have their first nut! I planted two of them in 2014 and they are supposed to be able to produce in just a few years. Naturally, all manner of animals love the nuts, including squirrels, fox, deer, and basically every other animal that frequents my yard.



Besides harvesting from the arugula (I got a 2nd harvest on Thursday) and lettuce (ready to harvest sparingly now), in a week or so I should be able to eat the first shelling peas from my garden. Oh happy day! I can never decide if fresh peas or fresh cucumbers are the best product from the vegetable garden. (The best reward, for me, is knowing how to do this, having the skills to grow my own food. If I could master seed-saving, or lived in a spot where enough edibles are perennial, I’d be a self-reliant veggie grower.)


I’ll have to wait another month or two to harvest the garlic, but the two crops are looking robust.



Fennel planted in 2011 or 2012 has come back and spread every year.  Below are some of the dozen or more fennel plants, including a couple of bronze fennels.  I planted them and dill for swallowtails but I also love their scents; maybe one day I will harvest the bulb (I do occasionally use the fresh dill.)


This is a dill (Bouquet) that I bought this year, whose lovely flower stem has broken.


Lots of parsley also reseeded or resprouted from last year or year’s past.  I’ve been using it and the copious chives (more than a dozen plants) in recipes. There’s also some mint, oregano, and lots of kinds and clumps of thyme.

parsley, chives (filipendula, leeks from last year, ferns …) in the kitchen garden
oregano or marjoram in front border
culinary thyme (front border)
another culinary thyme in the front border, along with hostas, lupine, dianthus, cuphea (Large Firecracker plant) ….
mint (which was here when moved in 8 yrs ago) in the kitchen garden


There are many edible flowers (and also lots of edible wild plants that we don’t commonly eat but could), nasturtiums being one of the best. This is my first bloom of the season. I’ve also got chives in flower. Later in the year I’ll have calendula, borage. and other edible blooms.



What annual and perennial food crops are you growing?

Resist the temptation to do unnecessary things


Notes from The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times (2010) by Carol Deppe.

I read this book in 2013 with a permaculture discussion group. The gist of it is simple: The first half of the book is an overview of gardening/farming, with sections on dealing with climate change and wild weather, how to plant seeds and transplants, designing a diet around the seasons, how to preserve and store food, managing labor and exercise, water and watering, and soil fertility. In the second half of the book, she presents five staple crops that will get us through difficult times, going into some detail concerning the benefits of each crop, crop varieties, ways to grow and harvest each crop, how to save seeds, and diseases and pests. The five crops are potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and (duck) eggs.

I found the book useful, illuminating, and at times a bit controversial and personal in terms of diet, allergies and sensitivities, obesity, and health in general.

I guess I should admit that I don’t actually grow any of these crops except beans, and mostly green beans, not dried (shelling) beans, which is what she concentrates on, and summer squash (not winter squash and pumpkins). Ducks are tempting.

I’m going through the chapters one by one, bolding what I found especially interesting or useful.


Chapter One: Gardening and Reliance

Deppe — who lives in the Pacific northwest on a half-acre of heavy clay soil, and she also leases 2 acres a few minutes from her house for crops — talks about designing gardens for bad times. But she also says to plan for the future while living primarily in the present.

Her focuses are 1. contemporary personal survival – greater control over food supply. 2. surviving ordinary traumas and disasters, like drought, no water or electricity, injury, etc. 3 gardening in mega-hard times, things that might happen once in a generation: oil lack, pandemic, natural disaster, currency deflation, war.

Would your garden fail because you are dependent on electricity, irrigation, oil, or agribusiness?

She discusses celiac disease and the ubiquity of wheat, soy, and dairy in our food.

Interdependence is healthy and normal. We need skills so we can be valuable contributors in hard times.

You don’t have to own your own land; you can beg, borrow, rent land, and use containers to grow crops.


Chapter Two: The Plant Gardener Covenant: 33 Golden Gardening Rules

I won’t list all 33, but they include:

  • all gardening is local;
  • plant varieties that grow where you live, and plant varieties for different needs;
  • resist the temptation to do unnecessary things: because of side effects, doing unnecessary things leads to more unnecessary things;
  • you must thin;
  • experiment;
  • everything is connected;
  • notice everything.


Chapter Three: Gardening in an Era of Wild Weather and Climate Change

Climate change is not about weather getting warmer; it causes irregularities in the patterns of ocean currents and winds, which can have major local effects.

Volcanic activity can trump and reverse warming trends and trigger minor and major ice ages, as 72,000 years ago when humanity was almost wiped out by weather change caused by a single volcanic eruption. No modern weather models include volcanic activity.

“Global warming is happening…. It’s been happening since the glacial maximum about 20,000 years ago, so it is nothing new. There is much argument about how fast global warming is happening and how much is caused by people; that’s not a subject for this book.”

The Younger Dryas Interval – a period of about 1,000 years (in the late Pleistocene, 12,800 to 11,500 years ago) when climate “snapped all the way back to the frigidity of the glacial maximum, after which temperatures rebounded to where the overall warming trend would have taken them if the Younger Dryas had never occured.”

The Medieval Warm Period was a time (950 – 1250) that was great for Europe, with famine and disease rare, but devastating for Mexico and the American Southwest, which had horrific droughts and probably contributed to the “vanishing of entire populations.”

Drought and aridity (associated with the period of global warming we’re in) is often more damaging than a few degrees of temperature change. Pollination can also get out of sync with erratic weather.

She recommends Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. In most cases, societies fail for multiple reasons, usually not just climate change. Collapse is exponential and can occur over just a few years.

Gardens need to be ready to deal with erratic weather. The last 100 years have been very stable with respect to weather and climate, very low levels of volcanic action. Any crop or growing method that’s very fine-tuned to the ecology of of a particular weather pattern is the most vulnerable if ordinary weather patterns don’t prevail. She argues for short-season crops and crops that are broadly adapted.

She goes through the devastating effects of the Little Ice Age, which affected North Atlantic Europe and non-western America from 1300-1850. In Europe in AD 1300, about 80% of the population were farmers and 80% of what they grew were grains, which are very vulnerable to wet weather. In Spring 1315, it rained sheets for week after week, topsoil was washed away, and this was followed by 5 yrs of colder, much wetter, and more erratic weather. Famine became common; people died from disease because they were weakened, and from violence associated with food competition. Black Death took 1/3 of the population (1348-1350 and every decade after for a while). Also cholera, dysentery, typhus. Wars became the norm, due to famine and overcrowding, which led to more famine, and armies burned crops.

Eventually, farmers developed a new model for maximising resilient farming:

  • More diversity on individual farms, and regionally, including root crops, animals, fruit.
  • Crop rotation.
  • Animals more important, used on fallow land.
  • Potato became important as source of protein with good yield for low labour
  • Global markets and global transport were established
  • Grain was still important but a diversified farm could buy it if local grain crops failed
  • One or more family members developed other skills, like hunting, fishing, trapping, logging, weaving, etc.

Evaluate the resilience of your land:
Nature of soil; topography (“If wetland plants are growing all over your land, it means that the plants think you have a wetland”); limitations and marginality (e.g., short growing season, limited heat or water).

Think about: What is grown commercially here, and why? What did the Indians and pioneers grow on your land? Why have bad gardening years occurred?

How can you hedge your bets? More annuals, perennials rated for at least one USDA zone less than yours (if you’re in zone 5, plant perennials that can survive to 4 or 3), overseed, presoak seeds, staggered/successive planting, diversity of crops and varieties. Be flexible and opportunistic in your scheduling so you can do tasks when they need to be done.

“Now would not be a great time to plant a 1000-foot-long hedge of just one kind of bush.”


Chapter Four: Diet and Food Resilience

Keep a good enough supply of food (food that you like to eat) to last a few months, but none should be over a year old. Have 10 gallons of water in glass jars, 50 gallons in plastic containers. Use them regularly and restock.

We need to know how to use the food we grow. Reading isn’t doing!

Trading and swapping products, tools, skills builds network and resilient community.

Seasonal diet: Fruit and some veg in summer; potatoes, fall squash, fruit in fall; potatoes and winter squash in winter; corn and legumes in late winter/early spring; greens and duck eggs year-round.

Excellent high-calorie crops: potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, fruit (undervalued as calorie staple), nuts, corn, beans and other legumes, wheat, seeds, meat, milk, eggs, fish. Corn, grains, some legumes and nuts (in shell) can be stored for years without electricity.

She talks about asthma, allergies, and omega-3 fatty acids. Grass-fed dairy –
the only way ruminants can produce good levels of omega-3s. Americans have a huge excess of omega-6 acids in our diets (in vegetable oils, meat, and dairy). Recommends Andrew Weil’s Eating Well of Optimum Health.

Section on “Can What We Aren’t Eating Make Us Fat?” interesting (pp. 73-76). Deppe herself has celiac disease. She also shares  thoughts on obesity and the norm of feast and famine in the natural world. She says that the only safe way to eat sugar is with a fruit around it; otherwise, it’s like eating pure fat.

She also talks about salt, oils, vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals, fiber, dairy (she says that 3/4 of people are lactose-intolerant), and the vegetarian diet.

Preserving and storing methods: Natural (nuts in shell, dry corn, beans, etc); root cellar; canning, fermenting, pickling, freezing; drying in dehydrator.

She includes a chart (this is page 1 of 2) about how to store vegetables and fruits:


Some discussion of seed saving.


Chapter Five: Labor and Exercise

Optimise gardening to encourage healthful exercise and minimise inefficient, unnecessary work. Sometimes it’s all or nothing, as when harvesting has to be done all at once. But, “needing to plant everything at once creates an emergency,” and not just one emergency; it also causes us to have to water, weed, and harvest all at once. Go in stages, and slowly. Plant one bed every three weeks, as weather allows: E.g., peas one month (late March where I live), greens the next month or two (April/May), tomatoes, summer squash, and beans the next two months (May/June), brassicas the next (July), etc.

Says that restless leg syndrome is a sloth indicator, not a medical condition, caused by not walking every day.

Raised beds dry out faster, warm up faster.

Resist completionism, i.e., needing to complete one task all at once, like weeding. Vary kinds of labour; don’t do all one thing in one outing. Work bilaterally, e.g., change sides of the row, change your angle, use both arms, etc. She offers tricks for backs and knees, including tools with long handles, frequent breaks, squat and lift with knees. It’s OK to hire out.

“Most things that are worth doing are only worth doing sloppily.”

She talks to her plants and tells them to man up.


Chapter Six: Water and Watering

Get a soil survey done. Note amount and timing of rainfall, soil type and topography.

Best to water less frequently but deeper. Shallow watering encourages shallow roots.
Water in morning to avoid fungal diseases, but if you’re not watering leaves, it’s OK to water later.

Fruits and water needs: Figs, apples, grapes need least. Apricots, pears, plums need more. Cherries, peaches, nectarines need even more. Berries need a lot of water.

If drought is drastic and trees are dying, prune them back drastically (1/3 to 1/2); don’t prune it modestly, as that will just encourage growth. In intense drought, eliminate every other plant.

She thinks it will become illegal to water non-food producing crops and land. Make sure that your ornamental plants don’t need watering, or if they do, group them together.

Grass: We don’t need lawns but we do need some grass for visual openness, to walk on, and over septic drainage field.

Mulch is effective in reducing water use and loss. A 3″ mulch keeps the top 2-4″ soil from drying out.

She hates drip irrigation. She lists 11 reasons. Number 7 made me laugh:

“Plants look dusty and dirty and less lush with no rain or overhead watering. They don’t look as happy. Maybe they are as happy, but I’m not when I look at that. I’m depressed. I don’t garden in order to get depressed.”

Heirloom varieties of plants were expected to scrounge their own water.

Plowing or tilling, even once, can create hard pan. “Soil capillarity” is needed.


Chapter Seven: Soil and Fertility

Feed the soil and the soil feeds the plants.

Three ways to maintain soil fertility: Retain what’s there (don’t leave soil bare, weed as needed but leave most weeds, don’t overwater); grow cover crops, nitrogen-fixing legumes; add amendments to replace lost fertility (inoculants, manure, pee, leaves, grass clippings).

She doesn’t compost, because she doesn’t have the ingredients: food waste goes to the ducks, grass clippings and leaves go straight into the garden, etc. Practicality of composting depends on size of garden: under an acre but not tiny is best [I’ve got 3/4 acre and it works well, I think; I also practice chop and drop, cutting leaves like comfrey and leaving them where they lie to mulch and nourish].

She keeps semi-permanent debris piles of branches, vines, etc. Good wildlife habitat. [I do this, too.]


Chapter Eight: Potatoes

Benefits: most calories per square foot and hour of work; more protein than other crops except legumes; easy to grow. Don’t eat green potatoes (she goes into detail on this). Potatoes should not be exposed to light for more than a day.

She discusses potato varieties, how to grow them, harvest them, store them, and cook them, and potato diseases and pests and how to avoid them. Potatoes can keep for up to 10 months (don’t store them near apples).

She also talks about saving the best potato tubers to replant next year (“roguing” potatoes):



Chapter Nine: The Laying Flock

Benefits of ducks: They use parts of the yard that can’t be gardened; they eat grass; they give us nutrient-rich manure; they eat slugs and snails, which chickens don’t eat (she says). She is a “happier and more joyful person with ducks” than without them.

Why ducks instead of chickens? They lay better; they can range year-round in the northwest (not where the ground freezes, though); they forage for more of their diet; best for pest control; if you’re allergic to chicken eggs, you can usually eat duck eggs; they lay longer (more than 2 years); they are easier to control with a 2′ tall fence and they can be herded; the eggs are larger; they lay reliably from 4-8 a.m.; they love cold rain; they are hardier, more resistant to disease.

Downsides to ducks: They need bathing water (like a kiddie pool); they are vulnerable to predators; you can’t use a chicken tractor (which moves the flock around to reduce wear on the garden and to spread their manure around) on ducks; they need more space than chickens and want less confinement. She says that if she lived in a place with frozen ground or snow for many months, she would keep chickens, which can be confined. [But lots of people in Maine and NH keep ducks.  Some of the ducks around here include magpie ducks at Steeplebush Farms, Limington, ME; an unknown variety of ducks at Wonderwell (Buddhist center) in Springfield, NH; and Blue Swedish ducks in a permaculturist’s  garden in Nottingham, NH.]

magpie ducks, Limington ME
variety of ducks in Springfield, NH
Blue Swedish ducks in Nottingham, NH

Deppe also talks about how to choose type and breed, eggs vs. meat, how what to feed them in easy and in hard times, how to use ducks for garden pest control (don’t turn them loose in the garden or they will eat it — they are not scratchers like chickens), how to cook with duck eggs.


Chapter Ten: Squash and Pumpkins

photos showing how to hand pollinate squashes

The winter squash and pumpkin found in stores is often picked prematurely, immaturely, uncured. For prime winter squash, you have to choose the best varieties and grow them yourself.

Three major squash in the U.S.: Cucurbita maxima (need to cure for 1 month): Blue Hubbard, buttercup, pie pumpkin, Sweetmeat, etc.; C. pepo (need to cure 1-2 weeks, eat by end of December): summer and crookneck squash, zucchini, delicata squash, small sugar, acorn, spaghetti squash, Halloween (ornamental) pumpkins, gourds; and C. moschata (needs 1-2 weeks to cure; also needs warmer conditions — not good in northeast U.S.): butternut, “cheese” pumpkins.

Her favourite winter squash: Sweet Meat Oregon Homestead, Sunshine F, Katy Stokes ‘Sugar Meat,’ Buttercup-Burgess, Sibley and Flat White Boer hubbards (can weigh 50 lbs+; to open them, she suggests dropping them in the driveway from waist-height), delicata ‘Small Sugar.’

Her favourite summer squashes: Costata Romanesca, Golden Bush, Gold Rush F, and Zephyr F.

She also talks about growing squash, harvesting and drying squash, and saving seeds.


Chapter Eleven: Beans

Benefits of beans and other legumes: best source of protein in vegetable world; good low-glycemic carbs; fiber; easy to grow and harvest. She focuses mostly on dried beans.

Peas, fava beans, garbanzos, and lentils are all good cold-weather crops that can tolerate freezing temps. All the rest are warm-season crops.

She discusses bush vs. pole beans, interplanting corn and beans, bean strategies, and seed-saving.


Chapter Twelve: Corn

I skipped this chapter as I have no intention of growing corn again. I tried it for a few years when we lived in Maine and either the corn ears didn’t form well, or if they did, larval insects or deer got them first.

She talks about how “growing corn is just outrageous amounts of fun,” and she defends it as a worthwhile crop. She talks about grain corn, polenta, and saving seed. Gluten-free bread and cake recipes are included.


At the back are several pages of notes and references, and a two pages of seed sources.

%d bloggers like this: