Dear Miss Floribunda,
My family and I moved to Hyattsville from Colorado nearly four years ago. Gardening is very different here. In some ways it’s better, and in some other ways we are learning to adapt. We are overjoyed to be able to grow tomatoes now. In the high altitude where we used to live, the nights were too cool for them. We have figured out how to grow carrots. We now grow them in pots of light soil because we found out the clay soil in our garden, even after adding compost, was too heavy. However, we are wondering whether to just give up on lettuce, which we used to enjoy all summer back in Colorado. For the past three springs, just as we were starting to get enough for a salad or two, the sizzling heat came, the leaves turned bitter and the plants bolted. This made for a real sacrifice because supermarket lettuce just doesn’t have much flavor. Someone told me I ought to wait till September to plant lettuce or any other cool-weather favorites. What do you think?
From Rocky Mountain High to Hyattsville Heat on Hamilton Street
Dear Rocky Mountain High,
The advice to grow cool-weather vegetables in autumn in your neighborhood’s microclimate is a good one, but you may be able to plant lettuce this spring after all and enjoy them well into the summer. On Saturday, Feb. 3, the Hyattsville Horticultural Society (HHS) will offer seeds of heat-resistant varieties of lettuce and other vegetables and flowers at the HHS Ninth Annual Seed Sale. There, not only will you find an innovative new selection of seeds but multiple means of learning about gardening in Hyattsville. You can ask questions from experts at information tables set up by the HHS, the Hyattsville Environmental Committee and the Hyattsville Department of Public Works. A panoply of informative gardening books will also be on sale at very low prices, not to mention free pamphlets. If past years are any indication, there will be many friendly people from Hyattsville and nearby who will be glad to share their experiences with you, as well. The sale will take place in the Mary Prangley Room on the second floor of the Hyattsville Municipal Center, 4310 Gallatin Street. It will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. this year.
Hyattsville Aging in Place (HAP) will have its Fourth Annual Valentine-Making Workshop the same day in the main floor utility room from 10 a.m. to noon, at which time those participants are welcome to come upstairs for refreshments, information and tempting bargains.
This year, along with tried-and-true seeds from the Charles Hart Seed Company — the oldest family-run seed company in the country — HHS is greatly increasing the number of varieties from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. This company offers USDA-certified organic seed stock as well as seed from other reliable sources. Last year was the debut of Southern Exposure at the sale, and reports back to HHS from gardeners were so encouraging that it was decided to expand Southern Exposure’s presence at the sale. You can choose among six varieties of heat-resistant lettuce alone. If you like crisphead lettuce, try growing Sierra Batavian, which holds well under high heat and resists tip burn. If you like romaine lettuce, grow Sweet Valentine, which is less bitter than most romaines and stays so for a long time, even after the heat comes. If you prefer loose leaf lettuce, you might try Drunken Woman, which has bright green leaves and wine-red edges and is slow to bolt, however tipsy. If you like bibb lettuces like buttercrunch, you could substitute Speckled Bibb, which takes advantage of cool weather to develop very quickly and then holds much longer in the heat than other bibb varieties. Then there’s Crawford, a Texas heirloom, which thrives in desert heat but does not object to Hyattsville humidity. However, the star of the show is Jericho, which will give you romaine lettuce all summer long if you continue to plant seeds at regular intervals.
There are other greens you might like to take a chance on. The Red Malabar summer spinach, which is not a spinach but an Asian green that tastes much like it, is very heat-resistant. It can also be grown on a trellis, which saves space in a small garden. The Summer Mesclun mix includes Tatsoi mustard greens, Magenta Magic orach (also offered separately), Anuenue, Jericho and other lettuces. For decorative effect as well as culinary pleasure, HHS is presenting the Chinese Red Noodle Asparagus Bean from Southern Exposure. It is one of the yard-long beans, and its beautiful burgundy-colored pods are preceded by sweet-smelling purple and white orchid-like flowers. It isn’t troubled by the beetles that attack most garden beans because it is actually a variety of cowpea with a nutty flavor. Like the cowpea, it actually improves soil by adding nitrogen. Last but not least, if you are tired of growing carrots in pots, you can plant seeds from the short and broad-shouldered Chantenay Red Core carrot directly into clay soil without fearing deformation of the root. Its sweetness has been termed “old fashioned,” comparable to heirlooms.
Of course you will find a large variety of luscious tomatoes, squashes, cucumbers, beans and other vegetables that thrive in Hyattsville heat. Along with these are some varieties not seen before at the HHS sale: Tromboncino summer squash, which has a very long neck, can be grown on a trellis and is more resistant to insect predation than other squashes; Wonderberry, a relative of the tomato that bears purple ¼-inch fruit that tastes like huckleberries and is used in desserts when fully ripe, after the disappearance of the slight toxicity it has when green; and delicata “Candystick” dessert squash, with a flavor that has been compared to Medjool dates. Though I’m not describing them here, the wide variety of flowers and herbs seen in past years will, of course, also be for sale. And once again, Robert Harper Books and other donors will provide gently used books on gardening for sale at reasonable prices. Area antique experts always help us decorate with vintage gardening implements, and they will be selling pots and vases. HHS plans to also sell pots of early primroses to help bring a little springtime cheer into your home.
In addition to the information table on pollinators manned by HHS experts, there will be an Ask the Arborist table at the event. Lesley Riddle, director of the Hyattsville Department of Public Works, and Dawn Taft, Hyattsville’s Park Maintenance supervisor, will be at the table to answer your questions about trees and their care. The Hyattsville Environment Committee will have a table with information on tree rebates and ivy removal.
As in the past, HHS members will serve drinks and hot soups, including a vegan lentil soup and the ever-popular “block party” bean soup. Choose among cakes, cookies, mini-quiches and other baked goods. There will be a veggie tray and fruit as well, and of course hot tea and coffee, and hot chocolate for the kids. After you enjoy the HAP valentine-making workshop downstairs, come up for lunch.