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The North Fork Garden

Spring has sprung and those with a green thumb have been eager to get their hands in the ground and dirty to revamp their outdoor living spaces. The summer season will be here before we know it, and now is the time to get plants, vegetables, herbs, flowers, and more into your gardens. Three North Fork garden centers and pros are sharing their tips on what thrives locally and what makes for a perfectly designed garden and landscape.

With an appreciation of the earth and mission to operate as sustainably as possible, Garden of Eve Farm in Riverhead grows numerous varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers, all without harmful chemicals. It’s a practice owner and farmer Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, who owns the farm with her husband Chris, is passionate about as an environmental advocate. This translates into their organic products that they are able to offer customers for their own gardens. When starting a garden, Kaplan-Walbrecht says there are some important things to consider.

“The number one thing to think about is how you are going to water your garden,” Kaplan-Walbrecht says. “You want to be realistic about how much time you want to spend watering your garden. If you don’t want to stand there with a hose every day, you may want to invest in a drip watering system. You won’t get a lot of nice produce if you don’t water during the heat of summer.”

The ground itself is equally important. Starting with good soil, something Kaplan-Walbrecht says most people are conscious about, is essential as you don’t want to plant everything into backyard dirt. Adding a lot of compost is helpful and leads to better success in a garden as it helps loosen and lighten things up, and fertilizing won’t be as necessary if you compost every year.

Peter Clarke of Clarke’s Garden and Home in Greenport agrees understanding the condition of the soil is important and says that investing in a soil test with Cornell Cooperative Extension is worth it. Explaining that heavy clay soils are rich in nutrients but retain water and may need to be amended to drain, while sandy, loose soils drain quickly and do not hold nutrients and may need compost, Clarke also says gardeners need to be realistic with how much work you will be likely to perform in the garden and plan well.

“For some, container gardens may be a great way to add color and beauty to the areas immediately around the house, like the porches and patios,” Clarke says. “If you are unsure of your knowledge, invest in a professional or take a class. We offer full-service container garden design as well as herb and vegetable garden design and smaller scale landscape design.”

Kristina Gabrielsen of Gabrielsen’s Country Farm in Jamesport explains that a good mix of plants and flowers create a beautiful and unique outdoor space. “It is best to plant a mixed garden with shrubs and perennials that have varied bloom times as well as a border of annuals for a splash of color that lasts all season,” she says. “Also group plantings in odd numbers for an appealing look for your garden.”

Deer resistant perennials are popular in North Fork gardens Gabrielsen says. It is an important category for those that live out east as deer are prevalent, and hungry, in the spring and summer months for the beautiful flowers that make our gardens standout. Gabrielsen suggests natural deer spray as well such as Deer Out to keep the deer from eating plants.

Gabrielsen’s multi-generational farm also offers a variety of plants and flowers, and she shares that catmint, lavender, and blue salvia are North Fork favorites. “Succulents have become popular,” she explains. “Herb planters are a great way to have fresh herbs all winter because you can bring them in for the winter months. Succulents do well throughout the seasons as well as indoor plants such as Boston fern, peace lily, Purple Wandering Jew and ivy.”

Of the vegetable variety, Kaplan-Walbrecht defers to the local summer favorite. “Cherry tomatoes have become really popular, very justifiably,” she explains. “We try to convert people to cherry tomatoes a lot of the time even if they’re looking for a beefsteak variety. They come in earlier and have better flavor than an even bigger tomato. Sungold is super sweet, Matt’s wild cherry is really delicious, and chocolate cherry which is purple. It’s fun for kids to pick too. The plants are hardy and you get a lot of fruit. Bigger tomatoes need more time and a lot can happen by the time they’re ready for harvest.”

The herbs and vegetables at Clarke’s Garden and Home are organic as well. “We believe that foods that we ingest should be free of the toxic load of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that, sadly, permeate the national food chain,” Clarke says. “Many of our local growers have taken a lead to provide these options which are free from these noxious chemicals. We also provide organic potting soil for containers intended for edibles.”

Clarke also says that butterfly weeds – Asclepias incarnata, tuberosa and purpurescens – are an important food source for the threatened Monarch butterfly, and he encourages people to add these plants to their gardens. “North Fork growers have been leaders in the native plant movement,” he says. “This focus on plants that are indigenous to the area provides a back bone in the garden that is relatively maintenance free. It also provides pollinators, like butterflies, moths and bees, with important food sources.”

With these tips and tricks to prepare your gardens for warmer weather, here’s one last idea to create the perfect outdoor experience in your own backyard from interior design Norine Pennacchia of touchGOODS in Southold: “Adding outdoor furniture to a garden allows you to expand your living space! It will give you more reason to spend time outdoors, and outdoor furniture in jewel toned colors can help add bright pops to your garden.” Happy planting!