It’s all Greek to me!

A colleague asked me recently, “Does your garden look like that?” This was like being asked, “Does your body look like Gisele Bundchen’s?” “Uh… no!” Not by a long shot.

Where I work, landscaping companies come over every few months and give our surroundings a complete facelift. Little hills of compost are raked over planting beds and arrays of perfect perennials are planted in precise rows by an army of professionals.

Recently they have started building these beautiful enclosed kitchen gardens in unused spaces – high raised beds of wood or tastefully rusted iron planters surrounding a gravel-laid courtyard, Adirondack chairs, canvas umbrellas, a gurgling fountain, and the most lush, delectable vegetable plants punctuated here and there with a flowering plant in full bloom. Not a single bug-ravaged leaf, snaking hose or seedling pot is ever in evidence. Sitting there is to lose oneself in a warm, languid summer day in a European country of your choice. “That” was one of these gardens.

I don’t know about you, but my gardens never have and likely never will look like that. Our resident snails are indestructible and although I never see them, I have a feeling if I stayed out too long in the evening, I would find pieces of my body missing. I plant seeds, eagerly wait for the seedlings to emerge and the very next day find them mowed down to a pitiful nub.

I work hard on the garden but the proofs are everywhere – our wrought iron chairs jostle bags of compost and poop of different animals that I am usually too tired to put away. Our fountain stayed dry all of last year because of the drought. Seedlings are slowly emerging in extremely uneven rows. Two brilliant green hosepipes proudly declare their existence. It’s not a picture-perfect garden, but its a happy one. Much like my body.

Now, there is one plant that would make any busy/tired/novice gardener look good. Sadly, most people have never heard of it, certainly never seen or tasted it. Still, it is super easy to grow, delicious and nutritious, with an impressive resume of health problems it can cure – from digestive issues to dandruff, and also good for nursing mothers.

So what is this plant? Fenugreek! Botanical name Trigonella foenum-graecum

Fenugreek seeds Image Source: Savory Spice Shop
Fenugreek seeds
Image Source: Savory Spice Shop

Bunches of fenugreek leaves, which look a lot like clover, and the seeds, which are used as a spice, can both be found in Indian grocery stores. The leaves are too pungent to be eaten raw as in a salad, but cooked they have a warm, hearty flavor which enhances anything you might add it to, much like truffles. It plays especially well with spinach; substituting a third of the normal quantity of spinach with fenugreek leaves in a soup or a casserole will kick its taste up several notches.

Fenugreek leaves Image Source:
Fenugreek leaves
Image Source: Come For What

I first grew it when a kindly relative sprinkled a handful of seeds over my spent tulip bed. Within weeks, I had a lovely green bed of fenugreek that I harvested for weeks, since it doesn’t bolt easily. I have been growing fenugreek in my garden every year since. Germination rate is very good, irrespective of weather, snails for the most part leave it alone, and especially important for us Californians, it is quite drought tolerant. An all-round super-plant.

Welcome 2014!

The first weekend of 2014 has been a productive one. I pruned half of my more than forty rose bushes, and got badly scratched up and bloody in the process, prepared and planted one of my four 4 ft X 4 ft raised vegetable beds, weeded my flower beds and thinned out self-sown seedlings, and along with other mundane tasks kicked off another gardening year. This year the focus will be less on acquisition, and more on harmonious growth and sustainable maintenance.

I was out of town for three weeks, attending a wedding and vacationing in India. Before that had a packed Thanksgiving week, so the garden was mostly neglected.

The garden suffered quite a bit of frost damage. The fruit-laden clementine tree is the brightest spot this time of year. We plucked a few that looked ripe and delicious, and found them to be too sour for my taste. Learned from reading up on a few forums that oranges improve in sweetness from hanging on the tree longer or from just sitting in the shelf. I found this piece of public-sourced wisdom to be true; the oranges I had plucked a few days earlier were definitely sweeter. Magnesium or Epsom salts also apparently help. Too late for this year’s harvest, but I’m going to try it for next year’s.

I have over 40-50 rose plants, about half planted in a row that I pruned down to about a foot or so – conventional wisdom that I have followed faithfully ever since we moved into the house. In addition to a diligent fertilization and spraying schedule, this kind of drastic pruning helps to improve the size of the blooms and the appearance of the bushes.

We ambitiously put in 6 raised beds last year with the idea of growing enough vegetables to supply our table with a steady source of fresh produce year round. Only, we didn’t set up a watering system and dragging a heavy 100 ft. hose around to water the beds was too much effort, so the beds stayed empty pretty much all year round. This year tempted by the field-fresh carrots, beets, spinach and kale at the farmer’s market, I decided to get an early start on the vegetable garden and threw in some dolce vita spinach and blue lake bush beans seeds in dirt mixed with (what else) chicken manure and worm castings. It might be too cold still for them to sprout, but these seeds were languishing anyway.

Beans are a perfect starter vegetable; I have a self-sown plant growing in hard packed clay, I never watered it, and it seems to have handled the winter cold just fine, and right now has a bunch of beans just ripe for picking.