Dorothy Digs everything...

Dorothy Kalins, it just so happens, is an ubereditor. She started Metropolitan Home, Garden Design, and Saveur and was part of the hire wire act editing Newsweek. Now as the director of Dorothy Kalins Ink she edits and produces wonderful books like the award winning John Besh’s My New Orleans (Andrews McMeel, 2009). But when she isn’t running the world she is digging her garden. Hopefully, in the future, she’ll share more of what she digs—we can’t wait!

Gardening, I always believe, is the triumph of hope over experience.

Maybe this year the okra seeds I brought back from Spain will actually set fruit before the bugs get them. Maybe this year the nets we drape over the laden currant bushes will actually keep out the damned birds, who surely can find other things to munch. Maybe this year’s straw mulch will actually subdue the weeds, keeping them from marauding in the red fingerling potatoes, the seed stock come all the way from Maine.

Fava beans are truly the most rewarding thing to grow, even if the harvest is just a handful of pods come July 4th. Their nitrogen-fixing roots are so good for the soil, and the plants themselves are so frilly and decorative, blossoms so unexpectedly lacy, like a fancy ballgown on a plain girl. Somehow managed to get the seeds into the ground when it was cold as anything, but that’s what they like. Can’t stand the heat, so if those ladies don’t bear in a few weeks, well, they’ll just enrich the stew of my compost.

Sweet shell peas are sort of coming on. We’ve been eating sauteed pea shoots in everything, and maybe one day, before the plants get scorched out, there will even be a handful of pods to shell.

Radishes were a marvel. I used to die for the look of French Breakfast radishes, but they grew way too woody way too soon. The round reds fared so much better, and over many more weeks. Planted them with carrot seed at the same time and now there’s a haze of carrot fuzz in the patch. But I never for the life of me have managed a legit crop of carrots, so we’ll see. I remember a farmer at the Chelsea Flower Show in London who grew perfect parsnips at least as long as his arm in a barrel of sawdust. Maybe that’s what it takes.

Found piquillo pepper plants online somewhere and put three of them in this year, but they’re fighting for their life among the volunteer tomatoes from last year (I’ll be a tomato!) and the grass. And why don’t dandelions ever grow together in the right place so you can pick a mess of greens? No. Isolated invaders, they send their roots down only where it’s most difficult to unearth them. Lotsa tomatoes are deceptively snug in their wire cages (even a couple of Green Zebra plants I lugged home on the subway from the Union Square farmers’ market) but their very presence has me worried as a young mother about deer, heat, bugs, whatever.

It hasn’t been a rainy spring, so I have no idea why the ferns in my one sort of perennial bed decided to take off, but the shallow matted, tenacious root system has taken over. I do love the idea of perennials growing, each in its own space, surrounded by a fringe of mulch—happy, complacent even. Mine are so far from the ideal it’s impossible to tell what’s in there. Or was, until last Sunday when I had a power gardening day and showed those weeds who’s boss. Could barely walk for days. Oh, and that purge left so many gaping spaces where the weeds had been, I had to make an emergency (and costly) nursery run. Defensive planting.

I love the loyal lovage, that celery like herb that returns year after year. And golden oregano. But the true superstar is fennel. Feathery green perennial fronds of Florentine fennel have made themselves at home in every bed. Bronze fennel, one of the world’s most elegant plants, flourishes under the roses. Fronds make excellent instant garnish, branches are great under fish on the grill. But, of course, now the fennel’s spreading like crazy, reminding me of something my mother used to say: “A weed is just a plant in the wrong place.”