Gardening and the senses

Why write a gardening blog when gardening is so much about all five senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste – think dark purple plums with the dichotomy of their tart skin and juicy, sweet flesh. We are just wrapping up plum season and getting impatient for peaches.

Google does this amazing thing where it sends a collage of selected images from this day several years ago. It recently sent me pictures taken in the garden six years ago. We had just moved in and hadn’t gotten to working on the outdoors yet. It was interesting to see how much the garden has changed, grown, or overgrown as my husband would insist, in just six years.

While the pictures help recollect what the garden looked like for a moment in time, the memories of what the garden felt like are forgotten. I can now only imagine what must have been my great delight when I saw and smelled for the first time the rose borders in their peak May bloom. Or discovered the perfection that are our mandarins once I had figured out the right time to pick them.

The mandarins on our tree start looking perfectly ripe long before they attain a corresponding perfection in taste. I couldn’t resist having a mandarin straight off the tree first thing in the morning as they glowed enticingly in the crisp spring sunshine. But what a shattering disappointment – they tasted terrible! My frantic search for the fertilizer, supplement, soil test or other magic elixir that would make my mandarins taste as good as they looked was a definite indicator of my growing obsession, but no one was paying attention.

I discovered that a chemical in toothpaste, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), makes orange juice taste bitter if you have it right after brushing your teeth, which is what I was doing with the mandarins. And that if you have enough fruit to spare, then tasting a mandarin every week to critically judge whether it’s time is good practice. And once the time has arrived, then oh joy! Baskets and baskets of fruit to be picked, and happily and proudly shared with neighbors and friends.

I often wonder how long we will live in this house. The owners before us stayed 7 years and we are approaching that mark. If we ever do move out, this blog and its sporadic entries will serve as a diary of my thoughts and experiences as I slowly built up the garden and made it what it is today.

3000 words

Since a picture is worth a thousand words…

A few pictures of my garden from earlier this year:IMG_20170508_184833Bottom center are a couple of my potted citrus trees, Oroblanco grapefruit and Moro blood orange. Right behind them are three of my potted figs. All of them have fruit now and it’s surprising to see the variety of colors, shapes and sizes of figs especially if you’re only used to store bought fresh figs which are likely Mission.

The roses are just coming into bloom, the two poppies – red and black Papaver commutatum ‘Ladybird’ and pink Eschscholzia californica ‘Rose Chiffon’ are in peak bloom, bordered along the front by blue Penstemon heterphyllus ‘Margarita BOP’.IMG_20170614_180432A pillar of pink dipladenia ‘Pretty in Pink’, blooming in shades of pink. The flowers have an unmistakable vanilla fragrance, which does not waft, but it’s there if you inhale deeply enough. Along the front of the picture leaves aglow in the sun is my pomegranate ‘Parfianka’. This tree is surrounded by heavenly smelling Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’. The scarlet blossoms of the pomegranate are beautifully framed by the swaying wands of the lavender.IMG_20170508_184845My showpiece flower bed in front of the fountain in a riot of color with butter yellow fragrant Julia Child roses, tall and elegant magenta Agrostemma githago ‘Milas’, a short, inky dark iris ‘Wild Wings’ with velvety black falls, nonstop bloom machine Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Mesa Peach’, red geum ‘Blazing Sunset’, another prolific bloomer violet Scabiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’ and tall white Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Amelia’.

The fountain behind the bed works, probably, but after the long, long California drought, we have resisted the temptation to fill it up and turn it on again. For the flowers, I didn’t start with a color palette in mind, which is obvious! I simply bought the plants I liked and made room for them. The beds are full to bursting now and most plants need drastic thinning but I haven’t had the heart nor the energy to do it.

 

What the fig?!

This past weekend, we had a friend visiting from overseas, a regular high-tech guy with heretofore no noticeable quirks. And then he revealed his desire to buy a farm! He was serious; he even went and got a certificate in Farming 101 or something similar since laws in his country limit ownership of agricultural land to farmers only.

So of course he was genuinely interested in the goings-on in my backyard since he is still wondering what to grow, exactly, in the farmland he intends to purchase. While giving him the “tour” we glanced inside the greenhouse and there was this single, huge, luscious-looking fig on my LSU Purple fig tree!

Nearly ripe LSU Purple Fig  on a potted tree in the greenhouse
Nearly ripe LSU Purple Fig on a potted tree in the greenhouse

Now, I have been single-handedly hauling those potted fruit trees, each easily weighing 50 lbs., into and out of the greenhouse to give them clear sunshine and let the inside of the greenhouse dry out a bit. Not once during these most likely unnecessary and backbreaking exercises did I notice a figlet (yes, that’s a word) on this particular tree, which is practically leafless at this point. So that was a really nice surprise! Can’t wait to taste it.

In the meanwhile, the alpine strawberry seeds have germinated. Some varieties have had better germination rates than others. I keep the tray on our dining room table facing a sunny window and all of them are growing at an angle towards the sun. I thinned out some cells which had as many as nine seedlings in them.

Newly sprouted Alpine Strawberry seedlings
Newly sprouted Alpine Strawberry seedlings

And of all the papaya seeds I planted, 12 of them, only 2 germinated, both Hawaiian Solo Sunrise. I’m hoping the others will pop up sooner or later.

Hawaiian Solo Sunrise seedlings indoors on a heating mat
Hawaiian Solo Sunrise seedlings indoors on a heating mat

In the spirit of doing more with our garden produce a la Nigel Slater, I’ve been making things where at least one key ingredient is from the garden. The recipes are from different sources, though I’ve tweaked them to my liking. Here they are:

Vanilla custard topped with roasted blueberries in case just the custard is too vanilla, the spreading deep blue of the blueberries with a hint of tartness from the lemon juice really elevates this humble dessert. Recipe from here.

Vanilla custard with roasted blueberries Image and Recipe Source: The Smitten Kitchen
Vanilla custard with roasted blueberries
Image and Recipe Source: Smitten Kitchen

Sangria made from the Spanish wine, rioja, allowed to blend overnight with fresh squeezed clementine juice (still a bit tart but great in this drink), orange liqueur and cognac. Thin rounds of citrus fruit, chopped strawberries, lots of ice and 7 Up added just before serving. This was a great hit. The recipe is from the book 101 Sangrias and Pitcher Drinks by Kim Haasarud. I’ve only tried this one so far and in a cute pot belly pitcher it looks just beautiful.

Guacamole, where the only thing from the garden at this time are the lemons (used instead of limes). The idea is to have the tomatoes, chilies and cilantro also from the garden in the warmer months.

Mojitos, as much fun to make as to drink. I have always grown mint in pots, having heard the stories of them conquering backyards. For somebody just starting a little garden, a pot of mint is very encouraging. I just stick a few leftover twigs in a pot and voila, a lush, fragrant herb garden in no time! I like to garnish salads with mint leaves, and mint chutney sandwiches served English tea style are perfect for a summer picnic. Can you tell I can hardly wait for warmer weather?

Crema Catalana, reminiscent of Crème Brulee, but lighter and infused with spices and citrus zests instead of or in addition to vanilla. The cinnamon stick and lemon and clementine zests steeping in warm milk filled the whole house with a warm and inviting fragrance. I came across an interesting twist on this recipe with caramelised figs; I think my lovely Violette de Bordeaux figs might be destined for that one!