Back in early June, we posted a spring garden tour at The Woks of Life‘s new HQ. Spring was incredibly busy, and things didn’t let up much over the course of June and July. But now that it’s August, we’ve transitioned from planting, cultivating, and growing to harvesting and enjoying. Time to show you guys around with our summer garden tour!
Let’s start with flowers. As it was this past spring, our first summer here has been like an unfolding show. We were always waiting for the next act!
One of the first performers to make an appearance was this swath of day lilies:
They really do only flower for a day, so it was a relaxing activity to go out daily and snap off the spent blooms (which also prevents the plant from going to seed, allowing it to conserve energy for next year’s blooms. I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, and deadheading every day or every few days kept the garden looking neat!).
Then we started to see a few hydrangeas pop out. While knew we had hydrangeas, we were unsure of what color we’d get. At our old house, we had acidic soil, and as a result had purple/blue hydrangeas.
Here, we were delighted to find a new color: a soft pink.
We were still obsessed with adding more plants to brighten up the place, though, so we planted flower boxes filled with annuals.
We didn’t exactly have a convenient window or deck to place the boxes, but we just ended up placing them on some of the stone walls around the patio to cheer things up a bit.
In shadier spots, we planted colorful impatiens and caladiums. We also transplanted some hostas from other parts of the property, where they were overgrown and crowded. They took to their new homes nicely.
The astilbes we planted in fall never flowered—just produced a bunch of foliage. You can see the clumps of sadly flowerless leaves in the photo below. But…there’s always next year!
Sensing a theme here, as we seemed to have ended up with lots of pink flowers. Here was a phlox plant:
And Cosmos “Cupcake Blush,” which we planted from seed.
Oh, and remember those diseased boxwood plants that we pulled out of the ground in our spring garden update?
We sprinkled the area with a bunch of zinnia, bee’s friend, and cosmos seeds, and had the most beautiful result! The bees, moths, and other pollinators loved this area of the garden, as it was also right next to a big patch of catmint.
In early July, we had this absolutely delightful patch of daisies cheering up a little corner of the garden:
Right behind them were the echinaceas:
And the black eyed susans:
Interspersed here were some surprises, like this purple phlox (I think?) …Which as you can see has a Japanese beetle on it…more on that later.
As the days got hotter and more humid, we saw some more dramatic plants starting to emerge. This canna, which we planted earlier in spring:
We also planted delphinium blue butterfly, a small delphinium plant that we’d saved seeds from last year. Only ONE of the plants we grew actually flowered. Here it is!
Perhaps the most dramatic surprise of the summer, however, was this patch of absolutely ENORMOUS hardy hibiscus. It’s a completely herbaceous perennial, dying back completely in the winter, and then coming back the next year.
When we moved in last fall, there were bare sticks in this spot, which we cut all the way back to the ground. In fact, the entire bed was overgrown with mugwort. During our mugwort weeding spree we had to decide whether we would let the nondescript woody roots stay, and we’re so glad we did. New shoots came up in spring, and they eventually grew into this massive bushy plant:
Just look at the size of the flowers!
Oh, and remember those dahlia tubers we planted in pots back in spring?
They’re now flowering! Hopefully next season, these tubers will yield even larger and heartier plants!
Getting a dense, magical flower garden
There’s an expectation vs. reality dynamic to all of this, as last spring when we were diligently planting and spacing out bulbs and baby flower plants, we thought we had plenty.
But having seen them come in, we’ve realized now just how many individual plants you really need to give a garden that lush, magical English cottage effect where flowers are springing from every patch of earth. We’re hoping part of the solution is having more mature perennials in the future, and part of the solution is probably just a “more is more” mentality when it comes to flowers.
Okay, so our first year of veg gardening has been a bit of a saga. We’re hoping that the foundation we laid this year will make future growing seasons easier.
Let’s get a quick reminder of what this veg patch looked like when we moved in:
After all that was cleared out, my dad painstakingly went through each bed, removing mugwort roots and other lingering perennial weeds as best he could. It was a massive undertaking.
We laid down weed blocking fabric with wood chips on top to prevent weeds from growing in the paths, and got to planting! We even re-used the old weed block fabric to put on top of the beds where possible:
Here’s what the garden looked like later in the season:
Our first harvest was potatoes! We bought seed potatoes in spring, and it was the first thing we planted in the first bed we cleared.
As we found out, potatoes are actually incredibly easy to grow.
All you have to do is “earth them up,” which basically means piling dirt around the base of the plant as it grows, to ensure that the tubers stay out of the light. Otherwise, they will turn green, making the potatoes poisonous!
Luckily, we managed to remember to earth up the plants over the next several weeks, and pretty soon, we had these beautiful potatoes to show for it:
For our fellow home gardeners out there, there are few things more satisfying than pulling a potato straight out of the ground.
We also planted these pretty red skinned potatoes:
Sichuan stir fried potatoes
This julienned Sichuan Stir-fried Potatoes with Sichuan peppercorns and chilies is the perfect special dish to make with your garden potatoes!
Amazing how one seed potato can yield such a harvest! And they tasted good to boot! The boiled potatoes on the left became an herby father’s day potato salad chock full of chives, dill, basil, parsley, and capers.
On the other side of the spectrum is this asparagus, which we planted from seed. It takes 4-5 years to yield a harvest. So uh…a bit of a wait on that one.
Luckily, other crops were quicker to grow, like our zucchini. Here were the plants we grew from seed:
Pretty soon, we were getting a couple of fat zucchini every day. Pruning off extra foliage has kept the flowers exposed to pollinators when they open in the morning, and they’ve continued to produce fruit throughout the summer.
Next are those tomatoes we started in spring! We grew cherry tomatoes, a variety called Floradale, beefsteaks, and San Marzanos. Amazing what a packet of seeds and the ground can produce!
This is the first year ever that we’ve been really disciplined about pruning the tomato plant so that there’s less foliage and more energy concentration into the tomatoes themselves. In the past we (read: my dad) have always been too nervous to “stunt” our tomato plants, but it has worked wonders and any branches that got too heavy with tomatoes we reinforced with garden twine.
Some of our favorite tomato recipes
10-minute Tomato Egg Drop Noodle Soup is a recipe we make all the time. It’s great for when you need a hit of protein but are too lazy to do much else than scramble an egg.
Our Ultimate Roasted Tomato Meat Sauce is a recipe we’ve refined after many years and many a batch of decidedly not-ultimate meat sauces. We loved this version so much we had to put it on the blog to keep handy for future harvests!
My mom would be disappointed if we left out this homestyle Chinese pork bone soup with tomatoes, potatoes, and corn that she makes all the time. The soup is salty yet mellow from the sweetness of the tomato and corn. It’s healthy and filling!
There’s also a bed of carrots we have growing, which will hopefully be ready to harvest later this summer:
UPDATE: They are worth it! We picked a bunch of them a bit early to allow the others to grow bigger. Here they are! Rainbow carrots!
We also grew lots of Chinese veggies, like this purple amaranth:
Stir-fried amaranth recipe
Stir fried amaranth is a healthy and delicious superfood. All you need is oil, salt, garlic, and a little sesame oil. Here’s our recipe!
We also grew pea tips for the first time! These can be quite expensive at the store, so it was great to have a steadily growing supply.
One weekend, we had family over, and my great aunt, great uncle, and grandma, who all live in the city but grew up in the countryside in China, had so much fun harvesting vegetables for lunch.
We also have several Chinese eggplant plants, which are producing at a fast pace these days!
We’ve never had eggplants this lush and healthy, and we’re not sure what we did right, but we’re definitely not complaining! We suspect that it may be a simple fact of this garden getting tons more sun than we ever could at our previous house.
*~Three earthly bounties~*
“Three earthly bounties” is the poetic translation of Di San Xian, a dish of eggplants, potatoes, and peppers that is the stuff end of summer harvests were made for.
Here’s our bitter melon plant, which has had a slow start, but is finally forming fruit:
We also have an assortment of peppers—bell peppers, jalapeños, fushimis, and cherry peppers, which we’ll talk more about in our post on how to grow chilies, which will be out in September!
Here’s a picture of a recent harvest: there are some cucumbers and okra in there as well.
Not bad for our first year!
Okay, so the summer wasn’t without its challenges. Not only was there a ton of work involved in clearing the garden beds, we also had pest and disease challenges that we’d never dealt with before!
Our peach trees developed a fungus that created black spots on all the fruit and caused them to fall off. :(
We also had a fungus called rust on our apple and pear trees, which weakened them. We’ll have to do research on how to prevent this next year. If you have thoughts on this, share them in the comments below!
Plus, a mysterious middle of the night attack on our pear trees led to an overnight massacre of every little growing pear we had. We suspect squirrels and raccoons were the culprit. My mom was understandably devastated by this loss.
On a happier note, we do have paw paws on our tree, which are growing every day, so we can hopefully finally taste them! Last year when we moved in, we were towards the end of the growing season when there weren’t too many good ones left to pick.
Another challenge was pests. Not only were there slugs and flea beetles on our cabbage plants, we also had a pretty bad Japanese beetle infestation!
They were eating our flowers, grape vine, berry plants, and fruit tree leaves.
Luckily, we had a built in defense system: our ducks (more on them in a future post).
They LOVED eating these little beetles. Every night, we went around the property, swatting beetles from the plants into a pan of water, which we then fed to the ducks, who were eagerly awaiting them.
We found a fungus called milky spore, which we could apply to the lawn, and only affects these beetles’ larvae. Fingers crossed that next year, we won’t have this problem!
We’ve been working on other projects throughout the summer, like re-building the stream on the property to better direct water flow and prevent flooding:
Here’s my dad and his friends fixing the barn door, which has been stuck on its tracks ever since we moved in. With a little bit of teamwork, they got the job done!
With each project completed, another one seems to crop up, so there’s more to come. We hope you enjoyed this summer garden tour. Until next time!