July – Intermingling in the Garden

July – Intermingling in the Garden

No, this isn’t an X-rated post about steamy things going on in the garden. Intermingling is a new term in horticulture, a mix of ecology and garden design. I first heard the term a week ago at a talk by Thomas Rainer at the International Master Gardener Conference in Portland, OR. I attended his lecture out of curiosity, knowing nothing. I came out having had an almost spiritual transformation. He gave an inspirational talk. Intermingling in the garden refers to designing lush plant communities which mimic the wild places we are rapidly losing. It is about designing plantings that look and function more like they do in nature, more robust, more diverse, and more visually harmonious while requiring less maintenance. For those of us who have spent hours weeding mulch, this was an “ah-ha” moment. In nature plants richly cover the ground, any bare spots are quickly overgrown. So, why not design for that overgrowth? In his book Planting in a Post-Wild World Mr. Rainer proposes designing with plant communities that link nature to our landscapes, that bring together both ecological planting and traditional horticulture. The focus on layered plantings means that there can be more beneficial plants in small spaces. What does he mean by layered planting? He suggesting thinking of garden design in three vertical layers. The upper design layer would include those plants that create color and texture. The lower layers, that may stay hidden, provide essential erosion control, soil building, and weed suppression.

  • Structural layer – tall species that tower over other plants, this would include tall grasses as well.
  • Seasonal theme layer – plants that create color and texture at certain times of the year. These plants are placed as they would be in nature, not all in drifts.
  • Ground cover layer – those plants that occupy the lower layer of grassland communities. They generally have shallower root systems that do not compete with the deeper roots of tall plants.

Although this is a fairly new concept here, gardens in the U.K. and Germany are already being designed this way. And in many cases they are using our own native plants because of the enormous diversity of species in the U.S.

Another book which explores this idea is Planting, a New Prospective by Piet Oudolf. I have it on order. Mr. Rainer mentioned Piet Oudolf in his talk. The description sounds perfect for helping design the Fort Bragg garden since we are starting from scratch. “Planting: A New Perspective is an essential resource for designers and gardeners looking to create plant-rich, beautiful gardens that support biodiversity and nourish the human spirit. An intimate knowledge of plants is essential to the success of modern landscape design, and Planting makes Oudolf’s considerable understanding of plant ecology and performance accessible, explaining how plants behave in different situations, what goes on underground, and which species make good neighbors.”

You can read more about this concept on his website. He has also written articles for fine Gardening, here is a link.

We spent the weekend in our Fort Bragg garden, using a pick ax to break through the compacted soil to create a garden bed. I don’t think that soil has ever seen a speck of compost, it soaked it up like it was dying of thirst. It is not the ideal time of year to be doing this, grass seeds are going to sprout when I water the soil. They will need to be weeded out before I plant. But, we have to work with the time we have and those irises need to go in before the rain starts this fall. Meanwhile I am researching plants to intermingle. I do think there is a role for mulch as far as moisture preservation, especially in drought torn California and before the plants are established.

The beginnings of a garden bed

The garden has a long way to go. Gardening is a patient occupation that often takes years to see results. Hopefully my back will hold out.

February – My Winter Garden

February – My Winter Garden

This post should contain a disclaimer, “reader beware”. If you live anywhere in the frozen North of the U.S. (or another country where it is currently a snowy winter), it could produce longings and the compulsion to move to California.

That would not be all bad,  I would welcome more gardeners with open arms.

Here in Northern California the plants go dormant in the summer, waiting for winter rains. In late February they burst into flower while it is still winter in many locations in the Northern Hemisphere.

The recent warm weather has brought an amazing transformation to my garden.

Hardenbergia or purple coral pea

Hardenbergia or purple coral pea

This purple flowering vine is native to Australia, it is flourishing in my garden up a trellis in semi-shaded conditions.

Pink Magnolia

Pink Magnolia

The two magnolias in my yard scent the air sweetly for a few weeks each February. Their blooms appear before the leaves come out. Although lovely the petals are treacherously slippery on a sidewalk. They make great compost because they break down quickly.

Loropetalum or Fringe flower

Loropetalum or Fringe flower

Fringe flower comes in pink and white, the leaves on the pink one are a lovely chocolate color.

Salvia elegans or pink pineapple sage

Salvia elegans or pink pineapple sage

The hummingbirds have established a territory around the pineapple sage, I can watch their territorial fights from my office window. Each fall I cut it back to around a foot in height, it is now about 6 feet tall.

Snow Drops

Snow Drops

The Snow Drops are in bloom with the Hellebores, which are a little late this year having been flattened by our dogs as they chase after squirrels through the garden bed.

From the edge of the deck

From the edge of the deck

From the edge of the back deck you can see into the side yard where the wild plums are blooming. These little trees product small purple plums which are quite delicious, they make the most marvelous plum preserves or plum brandy. Come late summer there is an abundance, I have to move quickly to harvest them before the deer and the birds.

And then there are spring flowers…

Borage

Borage

Dutch Iris in bud

Dutch Iris in bud

Grape Hyacinth

Grape Hyacinth

April in the Garden – What’s Up?

April in the Garden – What’s Up?

I haven’t been able to get out into the garden these last few weeks (my goodness, it’s been over a month since I spent any serious time there!). It’s due to a combination of factors including one that should be a warning to all gardeners and sun lovers. My dermatologist discovered a small carcinoma near the tip of my nose and I had surgery to remove it (successful), then plastic surgery to do some necessary reconstruction. My plastic surgeon cautioned me to avoid all heavy lifting and exercise for at least four weeks after the surgery. It seems that blood flow to my face could hinder healing of the incision sites.

All is well and my nose just looks like I forgot my sun screen on the ski slopes. So, wear your sunscreen and a big hat all of you gardeners. And, don’t do what I did as a young woman and use baby oil to get a sun tan. What we didn’t know in those days!

Amazingly, the garden proceeds to do its “thing” without me and chugs (mostly happily) along. Alas, not necessarily the veggie garden, where everything is bolting due to the warm weather. But much of the rest of my garden has self-sown itself from seeds planted years ago. Every year they come back in a place they like and I enjoy finding a poppy, or other flower, growing in an unexpected place. Sometimes they even skip a year, how does that happen? Spring is the most amazing time because plants are responding to winter rain and spring sunshine.

I am continually amazed by the resilience of nature and its beauty.

Chives

Chives

Thyme

Thyme

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Here’s a snapshot of the more ornamental part of the garden. The artichokes and cardoon tower in the back among the dahlias, butterfly bush, shrub roses, and Matilija poppies (also called fried egg flowers).

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I’m hopeful that I will have more time next month, the tomatoes and beans need to go in before it is too late and will likely come from seedlings purchased at the farmer’s market. With water restrictions, I need to develop a new strategy for water-loving plants in my raised beds. I’m considering removing some of the “used” soil and building a modified hugelkultur bed to conserve water and nutrients. Stay tuned for pictures.

The other reason for my neglected garden is a class I am taking at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, “Sustainable Vegetable Gardening”. We’ve been spending time at our cabin up on the North coast so I can attend the class. This is a three-month hands-on workshop program which takes place every other Saturday until the end of June. There is always more to learn and Jamie Jenson, who teaches the class, is a very talented gardener.

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Last weekend we learned how to build a raised bed and the class actually built two. I had fun with the electric screw driver, my education with power tools has been sadly lacking. My Dad taught both my brothers wood working skills, and I learned to cook.

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If you ever get up to the North coast of California, make sure you make time to visit the gardens. It’s a fabulous place and well worth spending a day. Look for some pictures in future posts.

Thank you for visiting. What’s happening in your garden? Do you have any good strategies for cutting down on water use in the vegetable garden? I’d love to hear them.

 

March in the Kitchen – Swiss Chard with Pickled Stems

March in the Kitchen – Swiss Chard with Pickled Stems

Not wasting any part of a vegetable would not have been a new idea for many of our parents or grandparents. It was simply considered good household management. My mother kept an empty milk carton in the freezer, in would go all the vegetable trimmings and any leftover bones. When it was full, she made stock or soup. She even used leftover salad, the next day it was popped into the blender with a can of cream-of-something soup, pureed, heated with a can of milk, and served to my dad for lunch. He thought it was delicious.

Today the hottest current trend in restaurant circles is using all parts of a vegetable (or animal). Sound familiar? Everything comes around again if you wait long enough. I am in full agreement with this new idea. Especially when it’s been grown in my garden from a seed. I’ve nurtured it from babyhood and I want to savor every part.

At the moment my garden is gifting me with armfulls of chard in many colors.

Rainbow Chard

Rainbow Chard

Can’t you just see the vitamins?

One of the most creative books on preserving in my cookbook library is “THE PRESERVATION KITCHEN The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux” by Paul Virant. On the fly-leaf of the book Alice Waters writes “In order to cook economically and deliciously all year round, it is essential to learn the art of preservation. This beautiful book inspires us to take the time to capture the flavors and textures of each harvest.” Amen.

Chard stems

Chard stems

Chard stems are rather forgettable when raw but are dynamic when pickled. They provide a sharp contrast to the chard leaves. This is a quick pickle, you can use it almost immediately after it is made although I find it lasts for at least a week in the fridge and you can certainly make it ahead.

Swiss Chard with Pickled Stems

  • 1/2 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1-1/2 pounds of Swiss chard
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  1. In a saucepan large enough to hold the stems and pickling liquid, bring the vinegar, water, shallot, honey and salt to a simmer until the honey and salt have dissolved.
  2. Strip the leaves from the chard stems and cut off any tough ends. Dice the stems into 1/4 inch pieces.
  3. Add the stems to the pot. (If the brine doesn’t cover the stems it’s ok, they will soften in the brine.)
  4. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the stems cool in the liquid. If not using immediately, transfer to a bowl or jar and chill.
Pickled chard stems

Chard Stems in Pickling Liquid

When you are ready to cook the chard

  1. Roughly chop the chard leaves
  2. In a large pot over high heat, warm the olive oil. Stir in the leaves and a pinch of salt and saute until they begin to wilt.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, add the pickled stems to the pot, then spoon in half the pickling liquid. Cook until the chard leaves are soft and most of the liquid has evaporated.
  4. Taste, add more pickling liquid if you like a sharper taste. Salt if needed.
    chard leaves

    Chopped chard leaves

    pickled chard stems

    Pickled chard stems

    I don’t have a picture of the finished dish because it was eaten too quickly. Gone, inhaled. Try this one, I think you will like it. Any leftover pickled stems can be used as a garnish for scrambled eggs or added to a salad.

 

March in the Garden – “Garden Share Collective”

March in the Garden – “Garden Share Collective”

This post is part of the Garden Share Collective. Each month a group of dedicated bloggers and gardeners share stories of adventures in their vegetable gardens. The gardens are from around the globe so you get a snapshot of what is happening in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, from snowy winter to spring to late summer. Click on the link above to visit the gardens.

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The last month has been busy and I haven’t had much time to work in the garden. Consequently, some things have bolted before I had a chance to harvest them. Now everything seems to be ready at once. I certainly won’t have to visit the produce market much this month, we will all be very healthy from all the leafy greens.

What am I harvesting?

  • Chard – all colors
  • Tuscan kale
  • Beets and beet greens (more greens than beets)
  • Herbs – rosemary, thyme, parsley, cilantro, mint, and nepitella (from Italy, Calamintha nepeta which tastes like a cross between oregano and mint)
  • Broccoli raab
  • Handful of snap peas (they never made it out of the garden)
  • Lettuce of all kinds
  • The first asparagus
  • Baby cauliflower and broccoli Romenesco – more on that later in the post
  • Meyer lemons

The heads of the broccoli and cauliflower never made it past two inches in diameter. Some research tuned up the probable reason. We have had an unusually warm winter and both of them (especially the heirloom varieties I planted) need a certain amount of winter chill. The plants are healthy and huge but have not produced a crop. I’ll leave them until later in the month, then I will be pulling out the plants from that raised bed to make way for the first summer vegetables. I’ve heard that the leaves from the plants are delicious and will make good use of them.

The lettuce is starting to bolt. I’ll be planting more this month.

This plant is called a tree collard. Supposedly it grows to six feet in height and produces wonderful edible collard leaves. Mine is only about eight inches tall to date, I purchased it at a seed exchange in mid February. You propagate it by stem cuttings and a gentleman was selling them at a rock bottom price.

Tree Collard

Tree Collard

Planting and chores for March:

  • direct sowing of lettuce and arugula
  • beets
  • radishes
  • carrots
  • parsley
  • add compost to everything
  • pull out and compost anything that is past its prime
  • cut down the fava beans, chop them up, and compost them back into the soil
  • harvest, harvest, harvest

Spring is definitely here early this year.

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Borage in bloom

Borage in bloom

Thank you for visiting.