We stand at the cusp of a new gardening season. And even for those who always plant the same crops, each season brings with it a degree of excitement.

To see perennial flowers sending up new growth, or to witness the first asparagus spears sticking their tender tops out of the ground, always seems a magical moment. The anticipation of what’s to come keeps us excited and engaged.

One plant, new to me last year, has exceeded all expectations. I mentioned it in a previous column, but it deserves more thorough coverage. The plant is strawberry spinach, Chenopodium capitatum. Being a Chenopodium, it is related to wild lamb’s quarters and has a similar taste. And if anything, Strawberry spinach tastes even sweeter than lamb’s quarters.

An annual, strawberry spinach lived over the winter in my unheated greenhouse, something that surprised me greatly. The plant self-seeds readily and if the plants in my greenhouse weren’t in exactly the same place as last year’s plants, I would think they had self-seeded there. But I kept the seeds picked so as to extend leaf production.

A solid point in this leafy green’s favor is its cut-and-come-again feature. I find that picking leaves from the terminal tip (stem end) stimulates new growth. So a few plants can supply one person with delicious and nutritious greens all season long. Six or eight plants will feed a whole family.

A spinach relative, strawberry spinach shares that spinach taste, but is milder. I find its sweet, mild taste much to my liking and plan on having it around every year. The “strawberry” aspect is due to the red berries that develop in the leaf axils (juncture of petiole, or leaf stem and main stem). The berries never developed on my plants because I picked the seeds to stimulate leaf production. But literature tells me that the berries, when fully developed and burgundy-red, are sweet and delicious. However, they bear no resemblance to strawberries and don’t taste like strawberries.

Another positive aspect of strawberry spinach, as opposed to true spinach, is that it’s slow to bolt. The seeds can be sown directly in the ground. Set them at least 6  to 10 inches apart to allow for bushy growth.

Strawberry spinach likes slightly damp soil, so regular watering is essential. Also, the plant should be grown in full sun. The more we learn of the health benefits of leafy green vegetables, the more sense it makes to grow them ourselves.

Ground covers

Here are two suggestions for ground covers. First, old-fashioned creeping phlox never goes out of style. This long-lived ground cover comes in a wide variety of colors, some of them quite brilliant and showy.

Besides being so dependable — creeping phlox comes back each year like clockwork — the plant spreads in situ. Since people began using creeping phlox as a ground cover so many years ago, it has served to cheer up cemeteries and graveyards. Phlox planted when today’s older folks were children still welcomes us today with its happy colors.

But the plant has far more uses than that. It fits in well with other rock garden plants, not just because its low-growing form and cascading style are just what we want in a rock garden, but also because it has the capacity to thrive while being neglected. Cold-hardy in the extreme, creeping phlox is as content in a gravelly mix as it is in rich, well nourished soil. Forgot to water your creeping phlox? No problem. The plant has marvelous drought tolerance.

Of course when first planting creeping phlox, we must give it the same loving care we would any other plant. And that means watering. But after the first year, watering can become far less frequent.

But why wouldn’t creeping phlox or any other kind of phlox be tough and adaptable? After all, it is a native plant, and as such, is well suited for growing in American gardens. When planting, try allowing plenty of room between plants, because the phlox will soon fill in those spots. Otherwise, just plant out in well-drained soil (phlox doesn’t like “wet feet”) in full sun, full shade or anything in between. It just doesn’t get much easier than this.

Barren strawberry

Why would anyone plant a strawberry plant that will never set fruit? Because one strawberry plant, barren ground strawberry, is such an extremely attractive ground cover, that’s why.

This plant spreads a few inches each year, so it is a good choice for the front of the perennial border. My barren ground strawberry features geranium-like leaves and countless small, bright-yellow blossoms. It is one of my favorite perennials. I enjoy its flowers and its style. Spreading but not aggressive, able to withstand neglect with perfect impunity, I consider this one a must-have ground cover.

But this somewhat tender plant isn’t the kind of ground cover we can walk on, since that would break the leaf stems and damage the plant. Rather, it is a viewing plant and needs a place where foot traffic won’t pose a problem.

So before too long, check out barren ground strawberry at your nearest garden center or greenhouse. It’s a plug-and-play plant that, once established, should give years of enjoyment.

Soil check

Everyone knows to check their garden soil for acidity. But only few think much about soil composition. Soil, like anything else, eventually plays out. Good soil must be well drained and if it isn’t, an application of builder’s sand or peat moss, or both, will help in that regard.

Also, soil loses nutrients as plants suck them up. That means adding compost on a regular basis. If you don’t have your own compost, just buy some bags of seafood compost or a bag of composted cow manure. Mix these in with the soil in spring and again in fall.

In-ground beds are easy to deal with, but raised beds present a different problem. Since the soil in raised beds is contained (think of it as container gardening on a large scale), it must be amended regularly. And in some cases, notably mine, the soil compacts and settles since the individual grains that make it up become reduced in size. This requires an infusion of new soil. Most garden centers offer high-quality loam and some even mix it with compost, making it the perfect add-on for your raised beds.

Tom’s tips

Divide and conquer, it is said. This applies in the garden, too. It’s not too late to divide your daylilies, since it is not yet blooming season. If your daylilies are growing a bit thick for their own good, just take a spade and lift the plant, tubers and all, from the soil. Then replant and you will have doubled your daylilies.