Sunday, September 29, 2013

Let’s play,

“This was the Summer of________.”

     On the eve of our eighth year of gardening at The Potager at Penrose Bungalow, if there is any one important observation we have made about the garden, it is that it is never the same two years, or even two days, in a row.  New plants are introduced, 
                                 (Leonotus Leonorus)
while other plants are relocated.  Established plantings mature and spread, altering the profile of the landscape.  Color and texture materialize, then migrate from one border to another. One of the joys of a vegetable garden, is that one can vary its plantings and their location every year, and in different seasons, guaranteeing a rotating selection of treats for the eye and palate. It is in making note of these changes and this evolution, that we too are changed, and grow, giving rise to one of my favorite pastimes, namely, playing “This was the Summer of_____”
     Now, that as of September 23rd we have officially entered into the Fall of 2013, is the perfect time to engage in this exercise. To play, one fills in the blank at the end of the sentence, the point being to take note of achievements that occurred during this year’s summer growing season.  I enjoy this game so much every year, perhaps because there isn’t any competition. There are no “wrong” answers.  Rather, it is an opportunity to be conscious of, and give thanks, for whatever notable events that have occurred, plants that were grown, or, items that were acquired, but especially those experiences that contributed to a “successful” gardening season, (however one chooses to define success), given that - depending on ones’ growing zone - there is a limited “window of opportunity” when ones’ garden can be worked in. Now I think of it, even those of you without a garden can play, so long as your responses occur within the period of time between the end of Spring and the onset of Fall 2013.
     In making reply, one might offer the name of a vegetable that is enjoying special favor, like Kale, for instance. 

(Whether one has grown it, or found it with unusual frequency on restaurant menus doesn’t matter.) But, who knows, perhaps in your garden, some other legume has stolen the garden “limelight” this year?” Nor are answers strictly limited to plant materials. A few summers ago it was finding a vintage metal garden table and chairs at auction that topped our “Summer of …” list, and this year it was acquiring the vintage “Putto wrestling a dolphin” fountain that figures prominently in my remembrances of the seasons special finds. Not only is the fountain beautiful in its own right, but the unifying effect it has on the garden over-all, places it near, if not at, the top of my list of noteworthy 2013 garden events. For our neighbors it will no doubt be the completion of a paved patio, that took fourteen rather than four months to get done, that will no doubt qualify for their list of the summers’ memorable achievements. Thus, the “rubrics” for making this list are completely up to you, dear reader, to create, bearing in mind the theme of the 2013 growing season.  
     Also high on my list of exciting activities for this years growing season was the inclusion of two of my trellis designs in the exhibition, Artful Trellises, on the grounds of Morven, the historic mansion and garden in Princeton, New Jersey. 

It was very fulfilling to see these pieces evolve from ideas in ones’ head, and materialize into structures, which in turn evolved as the vines planted around them grew and matured.  The array of annual vines that were used- Asuarina, Thumbergia and Cardiospermum (“Balloon Vine”) among others - opened up a whole new world of gardening possibilities for me, and will be featured in gardens to come.
     This year, the Peach tree didn’t produce a single edible fruit – too much rain, apparently - while the (Bartlett) Pear has produced a bumper crop of fruit that we have transformed into some of our favorite treats. My mouth waters just thinking of a salad constructed of equal parts Pear and Endive, with Blue Cheese and Walnut crumbles, with a  spritz of Balsamic vinaigrette. It is simultaneously sweet and tangy, crunchy and smooth, crisp, creamy and nutty. Yum! This qualifies as a taste of Heaven, by the fork-full, right here on Earth.

     So, do you have a recipe that you enjoyed for the first time this season? Tell us about it.  Perhaps you grew a plant for the first time? Put it on your list and share it with your fellow gardeners. Perhaps you lost a tree to one of the powerful storms that have swept across the country, allowing sunlight to reach a previously shaded area? Such a change can permit  entirely new varieties of plants to thrive in an area where previously they would not have had a chance to grow. Let us know. Maybe you visited a garden for the first time, or, had a migrating bird visit your garden for the first time? ? Add that to your list! Any and all of these things act cumulatively, as inspiration for gardening in seasons yet to come!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Speaking of Kale,…..

     Excuses, excuses! During our long drawn out Spring, it was “too cold,” to garden, leaving little to write about. Now, in mid-July, with record high temperatures, it is “too hot,” to garden, at least after 9:15 AM in our zone seven garden. The excessive heat and humidity slows my weeding to a crawl, and my writing has wilted to nearly a halt.
     Like a competitive Double-Dutch rope-jumper, I have been waiting for the perfect rhythm, the ideal circumstances, before jumping into telling the gardening stories of 2013.  Nevermind! By the time that happens, we will be onto next years gardening season, with its’ own set of challenges and rewards! Join me then, and enjoy the pictures, as I explore some highlights of this years’ garden.
     On the eve of our eighth season of gardening in this space, we have introduced no fewer than forty varieties of flowering plants and shrubs to the beds and landscape.
From Asclepia to Zinnias, a host of blossoms delight our eye, intoxicate us with their fragrances, and serve as “all-inclusive” pleasure park for the countless insects that are drawn to make this their home.
     This seasons’ edible garden got off to a slow start, but is catching up nicely, with a variety of tomatoes, carrots, beans, peppers, turnips, squash, beets and cucumbers among other vegetable treats. Also, I look forward to extending the growing season by planting for a Fall harvest.  Just this week,
I harvested a crop of Garlic that was planted last Fall. From this we are enjoying our best crop ever of Garlic Scapes, the tender green stems and flower buds of the growing bulb.  They are excellent for Pesto, though I enjoyed them sautéed in olive oil with some onions, garlic and wilted Kale.
     Speaking of Kale, it gets my vote, hands down, as the most celebrated vegetable of 2013. It seems one can’t turn around without encountering some story lauding the health benefits and flavor of this readily grown, leafy green.  It is so versatile, good raw or cooked, steamed or in a smoothie. Get it however you can! Ours’ is Lacinato, an Italian heirloom variety that the reader may remember from my last blog entry in March.  It was planted in honor of the second inauguration of President Barack Obama on January 21st. I hope our plants will keep us supplied with leafy greens through the Fall and possibly into the Winter.
     Often times, gardens progress in small, almost imperceptible ways. A few seeds scattered here, some weeds pulled there, and before one knows it, the landscape has been transformed.
Still, every now and then, one is fortunate to make a discovery and introduce an element to ones’ garden – or, another aspect of ones’ life - that elevates the entire enterprise beyond one’s wildest, most extravagant hopes. We were blessed with one such experience last weekend, when we visited our local flea market.  We almost didn’t go, owing to the wet conditions left by the thunderstorms of the previous night. Still, old habits die hard, and we were curious to see if anyone was there.  Oddly enough, there were enough people on hand, a critical mass of vendors and shoppers alike, to make it worth getting out of the car. Then,….it is true,  that John saw it first, but that is only because I was busy getting Druid, our champion Irish Terrier, out of the car. Otherwise, I am sure that I would have picked up on its’ “scent,” immediately when my car door opened. As it was, it was only a moment later that I sensed a “disturbance” in the “Force,” and began scanning the area for something unusual.  I didn’t have to look far.  Placed on a corner table at the intersection of two aisles stood the perfect garden fountain.  Approximately two feet tall, made of cast concrete, (like the pair of lions that greet one on the back of the house), it is classically modeled as a putto, wrestling a dolphin from whose mouth the water flows.
In scale, proportion, and aesthetic, it is the perfect piece, for our perfect place. We estimate it to date from approximately the 1930’s, which makes it roughly contemporary with the house. It is in excellent condition, with a gently smoothed patina. In years of experience combing flea markets and auction houses, we have never seen another quite like it. We wanted confirmation that it was indeed a functioning piece – that the water channel was not obstructed – but otherwise, it was an *M-H-I,” a Must-Have-Item!
     This being a rather “laisssez-faire” operation, the owner of this piece was nowhere to be seen. Drat! We strolled about the market, trying to look indifferent, even as we bubbled with excitement. We got to the far end of the market, where another vendor, aware of our garden interests, asked if we had seen this fountain. Obviously, he had taken notice of it. “Yes,” we replied, “but we aren’t sure it actually works” This, an attempt to suggest lukewarm interest. It wouldn’t do to have the sellers taking us for granted. We ambled back toward the intersection where the statue stood, beckoning.  Another, neighboring vendor,  (Val,) assured us that the owner would be back soon, and quoted us a price that really was too good to be true. This had the effect of agitating us even more. We scanned the horizon, looking for the unknown vendor. Then, Val said “Here he come!” motioning to our left. The face was familiar, though we had no idea of his name. A guy with a shaggy haircut, baggy shorts, a T shirt and a baseball cap.  Sound familiar? Val repeated his ridiculous quote, which brought a scowl to the owners’ eyes. He squinted like he was having a big splinter removed.  “Make me an offer,” he suggested. I responded with the same ridiculously low price that the neighboring vendor, Val had told us. Not wasting any time, the owner replied “Add _____ to that, and we’ve got a deal. After all, I had to carry that thing all the way here from my car.” He motioned to the far end of the market, as though covering that distance justified his asking price.  Here, I raised my doubts about the water channel being clear of obstruction, a potential sale-killer.  Not to be outdone, the vendor pulled a pen from his T-shirt pocket and stuck it as far down the hole as he could without losing it.  “There’s just a bit of mud in the bottom,” he assured us. John and I exchanged glances for just a moment, then, nodded to the vendor in agreement. The vendor passed the additional cash on to Val, the neighbor who claimed to have “brokered” the sale.  “I did my best for you,” Val told the owner.
“I’ll get a shopping cart for you,” the vendor started to go on, but, despite its substantial weight, I had already scooped the fountain up in my arms, and was headed for the car. An hour later, the channel had been cleared of any dry mud, and the fountain was in place at the center of the pond in our herb garden, gurgling away, with the sunlight glinting off its dancing waters. It couldn’t be any more perfect if we had written the specs for it. It had come home.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Welcome to Spring!!!

Dear Gardening Friends,
A seed starting tray.
Nicotiana Sylvestris, "Only the Lonely"
     There are less than twenty-four hours until we can say,  “Welcome” to Spring!!!! This winter, while I have been waiting, I have attended to lots of “pre-season” activities. A list of seeds for both the “potager” and the flower beds has been compiled and ordered. I started my first round of seedlings on January 21st, to celebrate the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, including a mix of vegetables and flowers. I started some Fish Peppers, since I know them to be slow to germinate, as well as lots of Lacinato Kale and some Portuguese Couve Tronchuda , (Collard Greens). I had hardly dropped their seeds into the soil before the Cosmos popped up.  Now, they are taller than the lights I have used to grow them! Nearly the same is true of the Nicotiana Sylvestris, Only the Lonely,” which makes me marvel at how some of the tallest plants come from the tiniest seeds. I am excited to grow for the first time, a beautiful flowering vine, Eccremocarpus, “Tresco Gold,” seeds for which were a present from my “California family,” Malcolm, Kiki, Campbell and Xia.
Scaled down lawnmower, 30 inches high
     In early February, New Yorkers, (and quite a few out-of-town visitors), were distracted from the cold by the 59th Annual Winter Antiques Fair, a benefit for Eastside House Settlement. Among the many desirable objets on display, was a beautifully preserved, scaled-down lawnmower, with silvered blades, perfect for the energetic six year old who wants to help neaten up the grass. My biggest thrill however, was interviewing my friend Barbara Israel, doyenne of garden furniture and ornamentation, who kindly described the pieces she brought to this years fair.
     About three weeks ago, on a warmish day for February, with temperatures in the 50’s, I had the thrill of discovering a cloud of my honeybees hovering around the entrance to their hive! I had been wondering if they survived the winter, but didn’t want to disturb them during the cold. Now, I am confident that they are there, inside, awaiting weather warm enough to stretch their wings and get about the business of pollinating the garden, gathering nectar and pollen and making honey.
     Flower shows in Philadelphia, Allentown and The New York Botanical Gardens Orchid show are happening or about to, and on Tuesday of this week, our crocuses blossomed, so start your gardening engines! The 2013 gardening season is underway!!!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

An Invitation to the 2013 gardening season!

Dear Gardening Friends,

     What with one thing and another – its having been the hottest year on record, that made it impossible for us to be out in the sun after 9:15AM, and the arrival of a new dog (Champion Redbranch Mystic Druid) who consumed as much attention as we could give him - I managed to let last year get past me with just a single Toonmoose garden blog entry. It isn’t that there weren’t a host of activities and garden related experiences worth noting after April, which included our being invited to participate in the local garden tour for the first time. Lets just say that by the time we did all of those things, finding the energy to write about them eluded me.
     The surprise is that some of you actually missed those blog entries and were kind enough to tell me so. What is more, I missed the time I spent communicating with you, and sharing thoughts about our mutual passion – gardens. So, loath as I am to make resolutions, (they are so easily broken,) I do plan to resume reporting on all things garden related and hope that you will rejoin me for the “ride” during the 2013 growing season.  
     After all, one of the comforts of gardening is its’ cyclical nature. We may be “thrown off” by the vagaries of temperature changes from year to year, and I accept as credible, the premises of those who warn about “climate change.” Yet, as a Northeasterner in what is currently zone 6, I am relieved to think there will always be another Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, with the particular garden pleasures attendant to each of these seasons.  So it is that I awaited the arrival of this years’ seed catalogues with all of the anticipation formerly reserved for Santa’s drop down the chimney. It is a delight to be preoccupied with which varieties of vegetables one will attempt to grow this year, fully aware that some will fail to produce, while others will succeed beyond ones wishes.  It is all a part of the magic and mystery of gardening!
     To get into the spirit of things, I am going to start some seeds indoors; beginning with one of my garden staples, Fish Peppers. They can be slow to germinate, taking up to three weeks to peak their heads above the soil, so all the more reason to give them a jump-start now. When they finally can be set out, in May after the last frost, they will be that much closer to producing fruit, to add the perfect sizzle to scrambled eggs and homemade hot sauce. How about you? What do you consider are your “must-have” garden plants, vegetables or flowers, organic or imaginary? “Inquiring minds want to know!”