It is difficult to have too many flowers.
It is not difficult to have too many vegetables. Especially if the vegetable you have too many of are all the same.
Tomatoes are like this. So are summer squash and cucumber. Green peppers always seem to find a home if there's an abundance. Onions and potatoes keep long enough, as does winter squash, so that giving them away is not all that necessary. What separates the men from the boys, so to speak, when it comes to vegetables, is the amount of time it takes to preserve them for winter use. Tomatoes and cucumbers are time-consuming because they invariably require canning -- in the form of tomato sauce or paste and in pickles for the cukes. Canning, I have found, is much overrated if it goes beyond the adventurous stage -- which lasts, for me, about two days. I constantly encounter gardeners who tell me proudly they have just canned three bushels of tomatoes, a bushel of green beans and two of peas and pickled two bushels of cucumber. Instead of making me envious, these revelations make me very tired. A little canning goes a long way.
I find freezing to be fairly mindless and far less tiring, Unfortunately, freezing of excess harvest requires a freezer to store the stuff. It's easier to build shelves to store jars than to find room for a freezer. Also cheaper.
All of this leads to what might be a wise way to spend a couple of hours in the garden this weekend. Take notes now on your garden. If tomatoes are rotting on the vine (or in your kitchen) and cucumbers are yellowing on the ground because you simply don't have the time to process them for winter's use, make notes. If your zucchini is getting so large that eating the tougher, unsavory fruit is out of the question, write it down, The spring catalogues always arrive in the dead of winter, filled with glowing color and testaments to bumper crops and delicious eating. It's easy to get carried away when the ground is hard and the days are long with visions of a cornucopia rising out of the bare earth. It's hard to deal with all that in August when vacations roll around and the little seeds you ordered are suddenly taking over your life. A few timely notes now will help enormously in putting things in perspective in January.
Take stock of leftover seeds. It's rare that in a small garden can accommodate a whole pack of seeds in a year. If you store them right -- wrap open packages in a plastic bag and store all seeds in a cool, dry basement that won't freeze -- you can use them again next year, often with about 90 percent germination. As you go through the seed packages, write down in your notebook what you've got and about how much. Make notations of what you should order and what you've got plenty of. Also note that tomato, pepper, cucumber and summer squash seeds should be started indoors early in peat pots. The same is true of the cabbage family. So if you don't think you're going to start these seeds, and plan instead on buying plants, give them to someone who can use them. Actually, cukes and squash can be put in right into the garden after the last frost, and cabbage family members can be used later in the summer for fall harvest, so keep that in mind before you give these away. CONSIDER CASH: Another consideration -- and again, the notes are handy -- is the cash value of your garden. If, for example, you have an abundance of some vegetable that's going for a song at markets at the same time, think about planting far less of that, making room for something more rare and costly. Many Chinese vegetables fall in this category. Certain types of melon are chronically hard to find. Sweet, low-acid yellow tomatoes are rare and often more expensive than their cousins. Likewise good Italian tomatoes for sauce or paste. French cornichon pickling cucumber is hard to come by. Keep in mind that you just can't put off perserving the way you can weeding. PERENNIAL PLEASURE: Among flowers, annuals are a wonderful cosmetic for the garden and should be sprinkled about liberally. Any small, unused corner can be brightened by a handful of zinnias or some new variety of marigold. But for continuous, pretty much work-free beauty, it's hard to beat perennials. They may be a little more expensive at the outset, but over the years, they'll spread or, as with bushes, grow larger. What's best is that they'll keep coming back year after year without you're having to think about them. Lilies, day lilies, daffodils and irises are among the bulb or bulb-type flowers you can put in and forget about -- until they need to be divided in a few seasons.
Peonies, lilacs and viburnum are marvelous bushes that also are hard to kill, once established. Fall-blooming chrysanthemums now come in a whole array of colors. Large-flowered hibiscus may be an aquired taste, but the small-flowered varieties are wonderful late-summer color. Dahlias are somewhat labor-intensive because they must be dug and brought in for the winter, but they're so easy to care for and the varieties are so widespread that even a few in your garden will provide enormous pleasure and color.
Now is the time to order many perennials for fall planting. If you add a few each year, they will go a long way to enliven the garden -- even at the expense of a little extra space.