A song written by legendary musician Joni Mitchell in 1966, “The Circle Game,” is a bittersweet anthem about growing up. It also can serve as the title and theme of every avid gardener’s annual dirt-under-the-fingernails efforts. At the dawning of a new year, the first line of the song’s chorus, “And the seasons they go round and round…” speaks to reflections on the past year’s growing — or groaning — experiences and the fact that come spring, gardeners start over. Everything is once again possibility.
Last year’s high temps and scant rainfall were challenging. Jenna Sommer, Mizzou Botanic Garden’s (MUBG) horticulture manager who annually changes things up in the campus flower beds said that a future focus on plants that thrive under such conditions is merited given recent weather trends and predictions. Keep your eyes trained on Sommer’s future selections since one of the garden’s goals is to model what might do well in your mid-Missouri garden.
One very successful MUBG undertaking this past year is the Legacy Oaks of the Francis Quadrangle project. Only one of the two dozen oaks planted — a bur oak — had to be replaced, which speaks well of the committed MUBG grounds crew.
“The fact that only one tree was replaced is amazing given the ongoing drought,” MUBG Director Pete Millier said. “Stay tuned.”
Millier said that the drought clearly has had a negative impact on campus evergreens such as ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae, Thuja standishii × plicata — not that he doesn’t still recommend the lush, fast-growing hybrid. Just know that it will require a little hose time.
Weather isn’t the only cautionary tale. Millier said that 30-some European lindens growing on the Arts and Science Mall were removed last spring because of their utter attractiveness to Japanese beetles, which had defoliated the trees year after year. And emerald ash borers have wreaked havoc on the garden’s many ash, Fraxinus sp., trees. One of the lessons learned in both instances is that monoculture plantings — a reliance on single species — makes for a vulnerable landscape.
Outreach to a random sampling of area gardeners for their musings on 2022’s gardening gifts and gaffs resulted in the following selected responses.
One gardener speculated that last year’s prolonged, wet spring was responsible for her highly successful root crop harvests of potatoes, onions and garlic when some above ground crops like peppers were a bust.
Another sang high praises for two different friends’ extravagant harvests of sweet potato that were “huge and delicious.”
This gardener’s sweet potato tale is one of triumph and tragedy. After regular watering and daily admiration of the plants’ luxuriant foliage — not to mention widespread crowing about a successful campaign to keep the deer from eating what is one of their favorite snacks — no sweet potatoes were harvested. Voles, or meadow mice, had invisibly invaded the raised bed from below and eaten the bottoms of the orange tubers, leaving little foliated islands of flesh. If only the deer had a taste for voles.
Tomato bounty eluded one gardener until late in the season. And another told the tale of a tomato plant swap with a fellow gardener that introduced each to a new favorite: the “wonderfully voluptuous Yellow Pineapple” was swapped for the “gorgeous and rich, sweet-tasting Girl Girl’s Weird Thing.”
Authors Douglas Tallamy and Candace Savage were the inspiration for one gardener’s project to plant a native flower garden. Prairie dropseed, aromatic aster, American beautyberry, compass plant, monarda and liatris all were plotted and planted. Natives’ deep roots help them survive seasonal drought — but only once established. A little benign neglect was all it took, and another plant run was necessary. Replacements included the additions of New England aster, shining blue star and poppy mallow. “Next spring will reveal which plants survived and which we will be replacing with more natives,” she said. “You’re welcome, pollinators.”
Native plants are an open and welcome invitation to native insects, birds and other critters.
A gardener’s story of her grandmother’s plant-a-row-for-the-young-and-hungry “loving ploy” may serve as inspiration. Her grandmother installed yellow pear tomatoes along one edge of her garden and encouraged her grandchildren to help themselves to the delicious bite-size fruits. “We didn’t even think of venturing into the garden itself; we had everything we wanted right there at the border,” she said.
And finally, a gardener who is really betting on the come purloined seeds from a neighbor’s best-ever persimmon, planted them and is bringing the little trees up. “I may never live to taste them, but someone or some animal may thank me in the future.”
About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.