The Opportunistic Gardener (Composting in Place and other Delights)


I am not a great manager of compost piles. In fact, I have great faith in natural processes being perfectly capable of breaking down organic material without my intrusion or management. So, it’s not that I don’t have compost–I have lots of it–here, there, and everywhere.

I am also a great fan of what’s called “composting in place, ” which in theory is making nice, rich, broken-down compost right in the garden, where you’re going to plant. In practice, composting in place often results in the compost making the planting decisions for you.

Pumpkin vine?

Pumpkin vine?

This spot right by the front door is a tricky one–not a lot of light except in the morning, not a lot of air circulation. I had hollyhocks there at one time, but they would often suffer from yellows and tip over and just look pretty unsightly. So, I will often use this location as a “compost in place” project (which is also somewhat unsightly) with the idea that someday I will find the perfect plant for that spot.

It looks like the plant found me. I believe I composted in place a number of pumpkins and gourds–not desiring to carry the decomposing squashes down the hill to the big compost pile. So now I have this delightful vine curling about my sun post and considering climbing up my front step railing.

I don’t assume I’ll get any usable fruits from it–I don’t even remember which squashes I threw down there, but the vine is fun enough–any fruit would be a lovely surprise bonus.

Milkweed in Bloom

Milkweed in Bloom

Milkweed is a plant that took its own opportunity to appear in my garden, and I’ve had a few more of them every year. They are lovely, stately plants, and the fragrance of their blossoms is the smell of my childhood summers.

My brother and I would joust with the previous year’s dried stalks in the field behind my parent’s house before Mrs. Stern, who owned and kept the field for the neighborhood kids to play in, passed away.  Her son sold it to developers, and the condos went up.

That field was full of blackberries as well, and my mom always made us take some cottage cheese containers full of the sweet berries to the old woman as a thank-you. The sale of that field was the impetus for our family to move up to the side of Breadloaf Mountain, where the National Forest became our backyard.

Black Cohosh in Bloom

Black Cohosh in Bloom

Another opportunity I appreciate is the chance to buy the bedraggled end-of-season survivors of the local greenhouses and see if I can bring them into their full glory. I’ve already detailed the growth of this black cohosh, that I bought in a two-inch pot a couple years ago, but I wanted to show how fun its flower spikes are–little green balls that turn white, then explode into fuzzy stars.

This particular spike fell over and I haven’t bothered yet to stake it up–the green of the lower-growing plants provides a better backdrop for a photo than the white house or grey chimney. By the way–one of the plants gamboling beneath the cohosh is a “composted in place” potato.

A couple more plants in bloom that I’ve had the opportunity to get from other people’s gardens:

The Unnamed Lily

The Unnamed Lily

I have no idea the name of this big, fragrant yellow-white lily–it came from Marj’s garden, where after her passing, a number of friends helped to clear out the massive plantings. You’d stick your shovel in and come out with three plants and four bulbs, and you’d just plant everything, knowing it’d be good, whatever it was.

And lastly–from Marie Gray, who was thinning out her patch and brought lots of nice, big clumps to the farmers market last season–the purple coneflower, also coming into bloom.

Echinacea Species

Echinacea Species

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