The Best of 2023

A Glimpse into My Garden Journal

Like most gardeners, I’m an optimist. It’s December and I’ve almost forgotten the endless battles each spring brings to our garden: aphids, gophers, slugs, snails, squirrels and now: oak trees.

In the garden where three gorgeous, custom-built 4×8-foot planting boxes grace the southern side of our home, the oak tree that lives 15 yards away has reached into the boxes with its roots and misappropriated each nutrient and drop of water, challenging our flowers and veggies to thrive in what amounts to a desert with an expensive water bill.

While I haven’t forgotten this train wreck of a battle with Nature, I’ve conceded defeat and opted to re-landscape the space, which may in the future house a small pond (with a very strong pond liner).

For gardening, I’ve turned my attention to other areas of the yard, where hope and seedlings spring eternal.

The potager garden east of the house. This is a view from 2023. I have exciting new plans for 2024.

I’ve completely revamped my potager garden to the east of our home. This is the space I call “my garden,” even though we have a few gardens. It offers quaint fencing, two gates and arches graced by sweet peas in the cool season and Red Kuri squashes in the warm. I’m almost done re-designing this space and appreciate the ability to close the gate to prevent curious puppy paws from exploring.

It doesn’t seem to matter how many challenges the garden brings; I’m excited for another go-round come spring. In that vein, let me tell you about 2023 here on our mini farm and my plans for 2024.

The Flowers

This year I learned the most about gardening in the realm of cut flowers. I’ve been growing sunflowers and zinnias interspersed among vegetables for years but branched out in 2023 to try cosmos, dahlias, scabiosa, snapdragons and more.

I love zinnias, but after one more trial season I decided to say goodbye to the Zinderella series of zinnias. I’m sure they’re gorgeous, but in my garden, they struggle to produce full double blooms and so I never get to experience their full glory. (I learned from a blog on the Floret Flowers site that these flowers commonly fail to produce double blooms if they undergo any stress, such as too-warm temperatures or not enough water. Therefore, while they may perform well in the Pacific Northwest, they don’t seem to like the climate here in Bonsall.)

Instead, I plan to focus my energy on my three peach-and-pink favorites in the Queeny series of zinnia: Queeny Lemon Peach, Queeny Lime Orange and Queeny Red Lime. I’ll also grow some Benary’s Giant zinnias, which produce enormous, beautiful blooms.

Speaking of beautiful blooms, I’m planning to grow dahlias again. I tried dahlia bulbs from Eden Brothers in 2022, with a tiny bit of success. This year I watched every second of San Diego Seed Company’s video on how to grow dahlias and emerged a dahlia genius. They grew magnificently, creating a nearly “out of this world” feeling, shocking in their beauty and color.

In 2024, San Diego Seed Company will offer a lot more varieties and I’m going to Grow. Them. All. This probably means I’ll have to revise my garden plan again to give room to maybe 30+ dahlia plants. My favorite from SDSC last year was Cafe Au Lait, which I hope will return in 2024. And, if my dahlia-breeding neighbor is generous again (he usually is) and offers some plants to me, I’ll grow Blizzard and Peaches ‘n Cream varieties started on his farm.

I could have used a lot more filler in my bouquets in 2023. So this year I’ll be adding more Bupleurum. It’s an interesting and pretty looking plant with many shades of green. Last year, I used every bit that I grew.

A bouquet of flowers from the garden, including Vik Jesse dahlia (deep purple and white), Queeny Red Lime zinnia, various colors of scabiosa (including the deep deep Black Knight) and Green Gold Bupleurum.

I’m also planning to grow more eucalyptus this year. And I’ll continue to grow Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil as a bouquet filler. The scent is heavenly.

Also making an appearance in every bouquet: scabiosa. I’ll definitely be growing Black Knight, Salmon Rose and a few others like the Triple Berry Mix from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos and listening to flower farmers complain about annual scabiosas like Black Knight. They say it takes too much time to get a good bulk of cuts from the slim-stemmed plants and so they’re moving toward the perennial scabiosa, such as Fama Blue and Fama White, which take a little less time to maintain and harvest. I’m going to grow Fama White but since I’m not a professional flower farmer I can indulge my love of all the varieties.

Salmon Rose scabiosa. You can harvest scabiosa when they are tiny buds, full-fledged flowers and even the cool-looking pods that remain when all the petals have fallen. In our area, scabiosa are tender perennials.

I’m investing a lot in snapdragons this year. I planted a few a couple seasons ago and they just kept coming back, in the summer, spring, fall, it didn’t matter. I’ve since learned that snapdragons are bred for various seasons, so there are specific cool-season snaps that you can grow now.

I’ve already planted some (Chantilly Light Salmon, Costa Velvet) that will likely bloom in March. I’ll plant others that are more suited to warmer weather (Johnny’s Potomac Early Sunrise Mix) in spring for late spring/early summer blooms.

Potomac Lavender snapdragons, a Group IV snapdragon that can withstand the heat of summer.

I gave up on sunflowers last year, but now I realize they couldn’t thrive because they were fighting for nutrients with the oak tree, whose roots had crept up through the boxes.

I have a new spot for sunflowers this year and will include some of my favorites, such as Double Quick Orange, ProCut White Lite and Starburst Greenburst. I’ll also trial Johnny’s new Desert Sun variety as well as their Summer Breeze Mix.

Returning to bouquets in 2024 to offer their soft and fluffy textures will be celosia and gomphrena, including Flamingo Feather Celosia, Terracotta Celosia and Raspberry Cream Gomphrena.

The Vegetables

As for vegetables, where to start? If you’re looking for in-depth info on tomatoes, I suggest reading my Tomato Tasting post, where I post the results from our Tomato Tasting party.

Tomato growing will look a little different for us in 2024. Some varieties–including Citrine, GinFiz, Lucid Gem and Two Tasty–will return next year, planted in our hugelkultur bed, where we have large infrastructure that can support plant growth up to seven feet tall. This is perfect for your typical indeterminate tomato.

We trialed the Two Tasty tomato from Burpee’s and I really liked the flavor, texture and gorgeous color. It’ll have a spot in our 2024 tomato garden.

In the potager garden, we’ll see dwarf tomatoes in 2024. Several performed incredibly well in our taste tests, and I know from visiting the San Diego Seed Company farm that each compact (4- to 5-foot) plant produces copious amounts of tomatoes. I plan to grow Bo Mango, Rosella Purple and Snakebite. Bo Mango performed in the middle of the pack in our taste tests but topped SDSC’s tests, so I’d like to give it another shot. Plus, it was bred by Bo, who appears on the front cover of the San Diego Seed Company calendar with me!

Yes, that’s me on the cover of the calendar! From left to right: Bo, Brijette et moi. Even though I LOVE San Diego Seed Company, you’ll find that I source seeds not only from them but Johnny’s Selected Seeds as well. I’m a seed addict and seed snob and love great seed companies!

One of my favorite vegetables to grow are squashes–all of them. Every year I grow too many summer squashes and zucchinis and don’t care. They grow quickly and generously and make every gardener feel like a champ. Returning to our garden in 2024 will be Dunja zucchini, a dark green, glossy zucchini that grows on compact, open spines that make it incredibly easy to harvest. These zucchini are delicious, productive and disease-resistant, particularly to powdery mildew. This is absolutely perfect for our area, where May and June bring “May Grey” and “June Gloom”–blankets of coastal fog that provide a perfect environ for mildew.

In addition, I’ll continue to grow three varieties of summer squash that complement each other: Cue Ball, Eight Ball and One Ball. These are perfectly spherical summer squashes in yellow, light green and dark green. I posted a little Instagram video of these beauties and it was quite popular.

I’ll also be growing winter squash, including my favorite, Red Kuri. On Winter Solstice we ate soup made from winter squash grown in the garden. Red Kuri makes great soup and is an excellent alternative to pumpkin for pumpkin pie. In addition, we’ll be growing butternut squash, probably Metro from Johnny’s.

My favorite pumpkins continue to be Blaze, a yellow-and-orange-striped small pumpkin from Johnny’s, and Jarrahdale, a blue-green beautifully ribbed medium-sized pumpkin.

Pumpkins need a lot of space to grow, as do melons, so I typically have to be very selective about which varieties I want to grow. Appearing in this year’s garden will be some old favorites: Honey Blonde honeydew, Kajari melon and Sarah’s Choice cantaloupe.

I’m finally becoming a little more confident about growing cucumbers, thanks to some excellent varieties that make it absolutely easy for me. A new favorite in our home is Carosello Leccesse from San Diego Seed Company. It’s tasty and easy to grow. I’ll also plant Unagi from Johnny’s and Lemon cucumber from SDSC.

Sleek, dark Unagi cucumbers hang from a cattle panel in the potager garden.

Finally, let’s talk a little about peppers. I feel like I’ve finally found the sweet bell pepper I’ve been looking for, and it’s name is Olly. While we have space to grow a lot of peppers, this year I’m going to focus on my three faves: Cornito Rosso (an incredibly sweet bullhorn-shaped red pepper), Olly (my new block-shaped favorite) and Shishito (which has a flavor perfect for sautes).

I think that’s it! Below is the full list. Of course, it’s subject to change, but I think I’ve consumed all the catalogs and made my selections for this next season. What are you excited to grow this year?

VEGETABLES

* = New variety I’m trying.

Cucumbers

  • Cocozelle Cucumber
  • Gherkin Cucumber*
  • Sashimi Cucumber*
  • Qwerty Cucumber*
  • Unagi Cucumber

Tomatoes

Cherry

  • Apple Yellow Tomato
  • Citrine Tomato
  • Sun Gold Tomato
  • Supersweet 100 Tomato*

Saladette

  • Verona Tomato

Slicer/Beefsteak

  • Black Krim Tomato
  • Bo Mango Tomato* (Dwarf)
  • Cherokee Carbon Tomato
  • Cherokee Purple Tomato
  • GinFiz Tomato
  • Harvest Moon Tomato*
  • Lucid Gem Tomato
  • Rosella Purple Tomato* (Dwarf)
  • Snakebite Tomato* (Dwarf)

Summer Squash

  • Cue Ball Summer Squash
  • Dunja Zucchini
  • Eight Ball Summer Squash
  • Magda Summer Squash
  • One Ball Summer Squash
  • Slick Pik Yellow Zucchini

Pumpkins & Winter Squash

  • Red Kuri Winter Squash
  • Jarrahdale Pumpkin
  • Blaze Pumpkin
  • Musque de Provence Pumpkin
  • Metro Butternut Squash

Peppers

  • California Wonder Bell Pepper
  • Cornito Rosso Pepper
  • Olly Pepper
  • Shishito Pepper

Melons

  • Honey Blonde Melon
  • Kajari Melon
  • Sarah’s Choice Melon

Lettuce

  • Muir Lettuce
  • Salanova Mix

Beans

  • Blue Coco Pole Bean
  • Dragon’s Tongue Bush Bean

FLOWERS

Scabiosa

  • Black Knight
  • Fire King
  • Salmon Rose
  • Triple Berry Mix*

Sunflower

  • Desert Sun*
  • Double Quick Orange
  • Pro Cut White Lite
  • Starburst Greenburst PMR
  • Summer Breeze Mix*

Zinnia

  • Benary’s Giant Bright Pink
  • Benary’s Giant Deep Red
  • Benary’s Giant Golden Yellow
  • Benary’s Giant Purple
  • Benary’s Giant Salmon Rose
  • Double Zahara Bright Orange*
  • Queeny Lemon Peach
  • Queeny Lime Orange
  • Queeny Red Lime

Stocks

  • Stox Antique Rose*
  • Stox Champagne*

Snapdragon

(Numbers refer to the “group,” which indicates when the snapdragon should be grown. Potomac Series (3-4) do well in the summer, vs. Chantilly Series (1-2), which do better in spring.

  • Cannes Light Bronze III* (3 spring/summer/fall)
  • Chantilly Light Salmon* (1-2 winter/early spring)
  • Costa Apricot II* (2 spring/fall)
  • Costa Velvet I-II* (1-2 winter/early spring)
  • Johnny’s Potomac Early Sunrise Mix* (3-4 all season)
  • Opus III Early Bronze* (3 spring/summer/fall)

Strawflower

  • Apricot Peach
  • King Size Raspberry Rose

Rudbeckia

  • Cherry Brandy
  • Indian Summer
  • Triloba*

Other

  • Bouquet Dill*
  • Bupleurum
  • Elegance Mix Sweet Pea*
  • Flamingo Feather Celosia
  • Lavender Ellagance Pink*
  • Love Parade Yarrow
  • Magic Single Matricaria
  • Raspberry Cream Gomphrena
  • Summer Pastels Yarrow

Dahlia

(Note I’m not listing the dahlias SDSC is planning to offer this year, even though I got a sneak peek at the list! I’m being good. The varieties listed below are ones SDSC sold last year or my neighbor shared with me.)

Dinnerplate / Decorative

  • Café Au Lait
  • Hollyhill Black Beauty
  • Vik Jesse

Ball

  • Blizzard
  • Peaches ‘N Cream

Basil

  • Holy Basil
  • Mia Prospera Active DMR Basil*
  • Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil
  • Prospera DMR Basil
  • Rosie Basil

Other Herbs

  • Bee Balm
  • Catnip
  • Cilantro
  • Common Sage
  • German Winter Thyme
  • Lemon Balm
  • Peppermint
  • Sweet Marjoram