February 2018 – Garden in Fort Bragg

February 2018 – Garden in Fort Bragg

I am going to start a monthly regular post recording the changes in the garden in Fort Bragg. We have now owned the house for almost 5 years, but with the remodel and addition, there hasn’t been much time to spend in the garden. As well, without a fence, the garden is prime dinner material for the gophers, deer, and rabbits…not to mention the 6″ banana slugs. So, the garden currently consists of deer and gopher resistant plants. I don’t think anything is completely deer and gopher proof, they like to sample things especially when young. But these plants have survived without our constant presence and without a fence.

It’s a new challenge. A brand new garden, in a brand new mini-climate. The soil is different, the weather is different, the sun and shade patterns are different. The garden is also surrounded by redwood tress with their invasive root systems. In the winter when the sun is low, the meadow surrounding the house is shady. In summer when the sun is high, it can be quite warm and sunny.

What does it look like now in the beginning of February? Well, we are in another drought and the weather has been up to 60 degrees. The plants think it is spring. The daffodils are coming up, some are blooming. The hellebores are gorgeous, I planted several from the Oakland garden when we first purchased the house and they are thriving, even self seeding themselves.

The snowdrops are up, these were planted only a few weeks ago and I was surprised at how quickly they bloomed. They were one of the first winter blooming plants to appear in my Oakland garden. I planted several different varieties up here. Although I understand they are not deer and rabbit proof, so far they have left them alone.

The daffodils are up and some are blooming.

The first grape hyacinth are up as well, some in pots and some in the ground with the hellebores. The larger hyacinth bulbs were planted in a pot last spring to escape the hungry critters, they are blooming as well. IMG_7150IMG_7148

Two of the azaleas, the pink ones are starting to bloom.

In a freshly dug bed, amended by lots of compost, are native California poppies, regular red poppies, and other bulbs. IMG_7146

And what is going on in the cage on top of the wine barrel? Well, one of my favorite flowers is sweet peas. It’s my effort to keep off the deer until they can get a start. IMG_7132

The rhododendrons have large buds but no bloom yet. It is a little early.

The grafted plum tree has a lot of buds. The graft has taken. Yippee, it was my first. I plan to cut some scions from the wild plum trees bordering my Oakland garden and graft them on the baby tree. Hopefully we will plant it in the garden this spring. Once we build the fence.IMG_7156

The belladonna lilies have put up their green leaves, so far they have not bloomed for me but I understand it can take a few years and these were transplanted which they don’t like.  IMG_7153.jpg

And finally this wonderful shrub is blooming, the early native bumble bees are crazy for it. It was a sad little thing when we first moved in, this year it is thriving. I don’t know what it is, let me know if you do. IMG_7154

The potted Meyer lemon has lots of blooms, and my potted lime tree has both blooms and limes. The lemon looks like it would like an inch of compost.

It’s a busy time. It has been so warm and dry that I think the plants think spring as sprung. The garden is alive with the sound of chirping chickadees and junkos, plus the occasional pine siskin. I am looking forward to the return of the hummingbirds.

 

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

TheGardenShareCollective300pix1

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.

IMG_2678

 

Borage in bloom

Borage in bloom

Thank you for visiting.

February in the Garden – Spring in Northern California

February in the Garden – Spring in Northern California

View from my hotel room in Manassas, VA

View from my hotel room in Manassas, VA

Wow, it’s the last day of February! Where did that month go? Of course, it’s the shortest of the year, but still. I’ve been in VA the last week for a meeting, you might have noticed the lack of posts. I gave my first presentation which required a lot of preparation and I wasn’t able to spend much time on my blog. But, I have a backlog of pictures and posts that will go out in the next few days. And, I am tired of restaurant food and craving vegetables and salads. I will be spending mucho time in my kitchen.

With apologies to those of you in the midst of winter (especially my friends in the Boston area), I came home to spring. And it is all the more appreciated by the contrast. Here is a quick snapshot.

More snow today, just before the trip home to CA

More snow today, just before the trip home to CA

California here I come!

Tulip Magnolia in the back yard is almost finished and starting to leaf out.

Tulip Magnolia in the back yard is almost finished and starting to leaf out.

Jasmine is scenting the air

Jasmine is scenting the air

Roses are leafing out

Roses are leafing out

Buds on my potted fig tree

Buds on my potted fig tree

It’s good to be home.