Monthly Archives: May 2010

May 29 – Bigger Picture

As previously promised, I will get some pictures up as soon as Big Garden is ready for her close up. (Besides, I have been tthrough two digitals in the past year and now, only know how to post my phone to FaceBook)…
In the mean time, I may have to paint the picture for you:
Short story long, I am a passionate reader of other gardener’s efforts. Some of my best fireside evenings – Jan/Feb, alone in the living room, candles, fire, glass of merlot – have been reading their memoires. I don’t like all gardener’s musing – some are too serious, some are too dry, but most don’t paint that picture.
I want to read about their passion – whether it is a city lot with a quiet shade garden and the gentle sound of spilling water; the organized chaos of a plant collector who knows better but can’t help himself; the trial and error of a new garderner – as eager as a new foal, or the sazzy banter of a lady who knows just what she likes and plants it!
While my Big Garden may never seem as dramatic as these, on the surface, I can assure there have been moments. Maybe the writers I snoozed through forget when those things happened.
But, and alas, for all that a garden is, it is not just the big moments; it is also the small and fragile and precious. One needs only to open their eyes. While I confess I have never seem the fairies I remember from childhood storybooks, I am certain they are there:  bees setting the whole pollination thing in motion, lady bugs defeating the masses, butterflies and dragonflies – just because!
Of course, there are also treacheries, but today is not about that. Today is about how it feels to really be in the garden, as it is:
Across the perrenial border, the chives are going to seed (to be dead-headed.)
Okay, I have to stop right here – have I mentioned "dead-heading"? While I hazzard to guess at the origin for both this practice and the band of a similar name, I am certain they are not the same. Not to mean that listening to "Ripple" on you iPod would not be a bad thing; still, I prefer Cowboy Junkies for this work…
So, I will deadhead the chives: cut off spent blooms in hopes of more later.
There are a few flowers which I have previously DH’d – iris and peonies, the occasional grape hyacinth.
Now, here is the funny thing. I never planted any of these gems back here. I must have put in 200, I don’t know, maybe 500, in the front beds when we redid them BK (before kids). So, how are they back here, you wonder – moles, voles, squirrels. They dig them up and then decide to bury them for later…
Anyway, back to the perrenials – chives, iris, peonies: gone. Entering stage right is a dusky pink campanula picked up as a cheap $3 pot some years ago. The picture looked better than the actual blooms. Not that they are ugly – in fact, they are charming: just not sometihng you can see hald an acre away…even though I now have 20X as many… (Again, get to know your plants – see a pretty picture in a book – study the good, the bad and the ugly before adopting…)
In the wings: coreopsis, ‘Moonstuck’ (forgive my attempt at nomenclature – I have been getting steadiliy better at the species, but am stunted on the variety; I think…maybe it’s families…) Goal to self: study next winter. Still and all, I do know a tomato is a nightshade and the cukes and melons, squash and pumpkins are related. Believe it or not – this kind of relationship stuff IS very important when starting out. More later – promise…
So, my front edges will go from purple iris, to pink chive, to duskly pink campanula and then to bright, but butterfly-like yellow. It will change again, and, actually, it is this transition that so haunts me.
So much to learn, thank goodness – winters are long….

May 27 – Can we Till Yet?!

I have to first say that I love it when my garden is all tilled and the little plants are placed, mulched – neat and cute.
I have to say,  secondly, that I hate it when my garden is all tilled and the little plants are placed, mulched – neat and cute.
Okay, I am a complicated gardener…
Which is why I fell head over heals for a French Potager in a book – symmetrical lines of orderly planning – overspilling with nature’s abandon. Ying and Yang; frick and frack; yada yada yada…

I want/(need): 

  • 4×4 raised beds,
  • paths a wheelbarrow wheel can navigate,
  • cottage flowers I can place wherever I will linger (kitchen counter, work desk, poolside dinner table, reading chair)
  • herbs/veggies I can cook while enlightenining my family’s palate
  • pretty things I will enjoy since I know my times in each of these oases will be shorter than desired

AND, the wanton desire that is Mother Nature’s birthtright….

How does this even work? (Ask my husband most summers:  it doesn’t.) 
Ahhhh,… but in those beautiuous summers when it does, catch your breath!
Okras, ready to eat once a week (enough),
Asparagus, in the early season – still working on that, to be honest, but sharing the few we get, raw, makes us all BELIEVE!
Rhubarb, to make for a lover (of rhubarb), father or son (even if not your real lover) – deliciouso!
Tomatoes, do I really need to explain (not to be a snob, which I am – sorry – but would you even be reading this Blog if one of your first gardening TRUTHs hadn’t been about the tomatoes…
And, more – promise, I have tried them all (well, very many, any way) and still keep doing so – no failures!!

May 25 – Gazpacho

My family knows I am in "summer place" when I just can’t wait any longer and head to the farmer’s market for the ingredients for my gazpacho.
There are a lot of possible recipes for gazpacho, and I don’t recall where I found this one, but it is the first thing I ever made for Donny. We used to make it together and we have some rules about it that weren’t in the original recipe.
It was the reason I started BG in 1994 – to be able to make gazpacho with veggies I grew.
Now, my boys crave this cold Spanish soup, and I know growing vegetables has gone a long way to teaching them how to eat. They consume spinach, arugula, broccoli, asparagus, fennel, okra, Brussels sprouts, and much more because they know where it comes from – our backyard, ideally, but a lot of other nice farms when not.
So, while I can’t claim it as my own (despite our rules/modifcations), here is how to make it:
1-1/2 t kosher salt
1 t freshly cracked, coarse black pepper
2 large bulbs garlic, smashed and peeled (yes, learn how to do this like the chefs on Food Network…)
Place salt, pepper and garlic in a mortar and pestle, and work into paste (Don’t have a mortar and pestle? Make a pile on your cutting board and use the blade of your BIG cook’s knife to mince/smear until well combined) – scrape all into a very large, glass (no metal because of the acids in the soup) bowl.
Add to bowl;
2 cans consomme
1 qt V8 (do not substitute plain tomoto juice – you need the complex spicing of those 8 veggies…) I have not tried the spicy/hot versions of V8 nor the low sodium variety… I might try the spicy but you need the salt as this is a big batch of soup
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil – I cook with nothing less; it may be more expensive but the flavor is worth it!)
At this point, just stir and start adding chopped veggies; roughly chopped (some recipes and some bowls I have gotten in restaurants are finely chopped and even pureed – all good, but not what we love; and there is a lot to chop so big pieces are quicker. Of course, a blender could do fast work – just find another recipe for that option):
1 bunch scallions, whites and greens too, if that part is fresh enough
2 cucumbers, peeled, cut in half, seeded (use a spoon and the half will look like a little boat) cut in strips and chopped; pieces will be about 1/4" square
2 green peppers, cut into similar size as cukes – just make sure to get out the white membrane and seeds to keep the soup looking nice…
8 tomatoes – probably the most time consuming, controversial ingredient:
I have peeled them (crosses cut in the bottom, dropped in boiling water until skins split and then into an ice bath – too much work!!!) but no longer bother. I DO seed them- cut into quarters and cut out all membrane and seeds under running water. I am funny – I just don’t like those parts, particularly in tomatoes I have to buy. In fact, if you are not using home grown, heirloom, or farmer’s market (meaning local) tomatoes, look for Romas which will have a thicker wall that holds together well and will not be the mush you get at the chain store around the corner. THOSE aren’t even real tomatoes… (
Stir to combine, cover and chill for 24 hours – if you can keep everyone out. Truly, we call this part "cooking" and it is hard to wait, but the flavors intensify each other and blend into "summer in your mouth".
Top with a dollop of sour cream, if so desired. Croutons could be added and the recipe calls for a garnish of parsley. I have never done this since I first assumed they meant tht curly stuff on the side of restaurant plate back 30 years ago. I now understand it HAS to be the flat-leaf Italian variety and I now grow it. Don’t even think of putting in the dried spice (not that I have a thing about dried spices – they just have their plac and this isn’t one of them).
Just try to keep the kids from eating right from the big bowl and be delighted when they ask for seconds! Of vegetables, really!!!

May 24 – Some days just break your heart

It was hot and sunny today and I was NOT in my garden. As I alluded to previously, my two athletes keep me from my gardening from time to time. Fortunately, I love sports and their team’s have great families who are evolving into friends, so I don’t mind as much as it sounds like. So, while my writing about BG was meant to keep me inspired in the "off-season", I didn’t clearly define when that season would be – not to you, and certainly not to myself.  It is still the "off-season"… And, since having my boys 12 years ago, this season is longer than it once was. But, as with all things, this too will pass. Someday, I will be alone in my garden and that will have its own poignancy too. While I may have missed a beautiful day for planting, weeding, tending, etc., I had other roses to smell than those I grow. Thankgoodness I can have both!

May 23 – Making the bed(s)

So, by now you know I don’t like fall clean up. Can you guess that I would rather do ALL my cleaning chores outside?
Surprisingly, I am very organized and my house is ALWAYS neat at the end of the day. I can’t really sit down to "me time" until the newspapers are recycled; the ball caps are headed to their owner’s room; pots, pans, cutting board are done drying and back in their places. I grew up with the "a place for everything and everything is its place’ mantra – I don’t lose keys because they simply do not go to a place belonging to something else.
But, I hate to clean the house until it is time for a party. I can close a door on an unmade bed as long as my room of retreat is in order.
So, when I do get around to making the beds – it will be for the benefit of my future veggies!
Here is what I decided on; Big Garden is, well, big (34′ x 40′), divided by many paths, symmetrically containing;
  • 4′ x 4′ raised beds for individual plants
  • 4′ x 9′ beds for grouped plants (cutting flowers, greens, multiples of a single variety like okra)
  • 9′ x 9′ beds (or close depending on the symmetry…) for crops like corn, pumpkins, melons  – things that need room
  • a central, decorative herb garden of diagonal, triangular beds surroundig a bird bath for that French Potager feeling that I longed for

The beds are 4′ x 4′ for the most part so that all tending can be done without stepping on the fine soil I have been striving to build all these years.

The 4′ x 9′ beds still allow this protection while allowing a more sprawling plant its needed space.

The 9′ x 9’+ beds do get walked on, but not frequently since it is hard to get through corn stalks and pumpkin vines, and there is little need until it is time to harvest – at which point the soil is dry and less susceptible to damage. The clay we have here in southern Ohio is far more damaged in spring when wet – this is the time to stay OFF.

With that in mind, I still haven’t tilled, sewn seeds, or planted, and I just know it will be next weekend or the following until I do get in. I just can’t seem to beat this schedule. But, by then, the soil will be warm, and the tomatoes, if they had gone in earlier, with the recent cool nights and sogging rains, would still have to play catch up.

To tolerate this late start, I do grow herbs I can’t wait for – ANY LONGER – in pots on my deck, and I will also sneak off to support the local farmer’s markets too. 

Visit if you need to do the same!

May 21 – Vines

I love vines. My husband does not.
If I could have my way, my home – a nearly 70-year-old Cape (brick, as they are in this region…but I can overlook that) – would look more like the painting hanging in my living room. The art is from my grandparent’s home – I have loved it since I was a little girl – it hung over their living room couch and I could get lost in it. It features an old cottage from some New England town, probably from the turn of the century, judging by the clothing on the pedestrians. The scene shows a rainy day – not my usualy favorite, but this charming old house is dripping with vines. I just want to move right in and be surrounded by a cottage garden – it is so romantic. I’ve tried to figure out who the painter might have been; it is not an original, shows a copyright so I figured I would be able to research it. The signature looks like, "A. Thienne" – unfortunately, Google has been no help. For some reason, my memory says the painting depicts Gloucester, MA. Not sure where that didbit came from, but I can run with it for the purpose of loving the scene.
So, while I will never be able to adorn my roof and outside walls with Wisteria (or any structurally invasive vine), I can enjoy this painting. And, I will try to slip in a few vines where allowed. Here is what I do have and what will be added:
  • Clematis – three varieties were planted to wrap my lamppost (another romantic notion…) but only one really won; I had hoped that I would have a spring, summer and fall flowering variety but Fall Clematis took over – silly me to not research its invasiveness before adopting
  • More Clematis is planted around the deck but while these plants likes cool roots (good to grow something around it to "mulch" it), it needs more sun than I can provide under a maple tree that is probably as old as the house… I get a little burst of a few flowers each year, but not the raging overgrowth I so desire
  • Morning Glories – annuals to be added to the trellises that support my perennial Trumpet Vines at the entrance to Big garden
  • Cardinal Flower – something I have tried to "start" for years – finally got one of five seeds to sprout; now to find it a home that Donny won’t fuss about
  • Trumpet Flowers – but, I have written about that love/hate relationship before…(not that I would take the originals out – I just have to keep them under control…)
  • Beans – I found a Long Bean variety that is actually Asian and they grow to 18+ inches quickly. Yummo and so much easier to clean – snap off two ends and then but into 3 or 4 long beans for about 1/3 to 1/4 the work… Stir fry with soy sauce or check my recipe section for another treatment.

If I could, I would love to add a little pergola to the back of the front garage (where there is a small landing, 3′ x 6′ before stepping down to a path); this is the spot that I want to drape in Wisteria. So far, the idea has been vetoed – scariest reason to not do this (besides the strength of Wisteria and its reluctance to bloom effortlessly in our Zone 6…) – snakes…. More on that subject later too!

May 21 – Rain Rain Go Away

Here in Cincinnati, I find that there is little Springtime. We get a few beautiful days, then it rains (sometimes in April and more often in May – so much for April showers and May flowers…) and then it turns hot and humid. I have referred to this as our monsoon season before – even went to the tanning bed to relieve SAD and mold….
Well, this year, we got those spring days early so I feel like it should be Summer already.  But, naturally, now we are getting the rain and I am done with it! 
Nature seems to be an equalizer – I have NEVER been able to get Big Garden planted before Memorial Day because the ground is often too wet to till. I really thought I was ahead of the game this year because of the early warm spell.  But between soccer tournaments and  the recent rainy weekends, I am back on that schedule. The good news – for the first time in 20 years, I don’t have a business trip planned for the first week in June so I am less under the gun than before. While I am anxious to get BG planted, I can appreciate the pretty flowers that are in my yard now instead of frantically planting.
Oh, and the forecast for Sunday is amazing – too bad I will be in Dayton. Go Wizards!!!

May 16 – Preparing the Beds – Early Season

Three years ago, I decided to forego the veggies in favour of "Solarizing" my beds to rid them of seeds. See, I had brought home a weed in some plants purchased at a nursery near where I worked. I swear this was the source as I never saw this species when I first started out and I remember plucking weeds from the little pots from this supplier.
Tip: when purchasing from a nursery that grows their own plants, inspect the pots for weed seedlings and avoid those. In fact, I would check out the grounds of such a nursery and then make a decision about using their plants at all. I hate to be so unforgiving, but this particular week is horrible: it shoots up quickly in the early spring and has little white flowers. At this stage, it is very easy to pull – just don’t let it get ahead of you; when it starts to go to seed (very early, also,) it gets harder to pull and when touched, the seeds POP off everywhere. YIKES!
So, about 4 weeks ago, we mowed the weeds in the Big Garden to prevent this weed from going to seed and pulled where we could not mow. Still, it will be back but maybe we prevented it from spreading – this year. I wish I could rid the area of this pest completely, but my solarizing attempt did not help. I failed that process (and I know why so I will blog about it at a later time), but I am not sure I can go through it again – I missed the garden too much to put it out of commission that long again…

May 15 – Crop Rotation

If you have been reading about Big Garden, by now, you may wonder what it looks like. I will describe some of it here and post pictures soon – it has been a big mess up to this point since, as you already know, I am bad at fall clean up. My profile picture is one view of it from last summer – probably from an overgrown state. I swear to learn to not overplant but can’t really help myself:  I like the cottage feel of the garden but it does not photograph well…
BG is 34′ across and 40′ deep; it was a good bit smaller when I first started in 1994 but I got inspired and expanded it once in 1997 and again about 4 years ago.
In 1994, I knew only what I learned from a triangular shaped garden I had when I was about 12 – we grew tomatoes, radishes, and lettuce as I recall, so I really didn’t learn much more than a love of gardening. I think I also grew something we called "love beads" that could be picked and strung into necklaces – this was the ’70s afterall.
In 1997, I had spent a few years studying gardening books each winter and drew a new plan. I knew I wanted paths, 4′ square raised beds (so I could sew, plant, weed etc without needing to step on the improved soil – raised above the clay by compost, peat moss etc), a symmetrical plan, herbs, and an artistic appearance that I would enjoy – productivity was important but I wanted beauty too.
The next expansion was to remove a back nursery area once the shrubs/bushes we had started there were moved to final locations. BG may be in its near-to-final arrangement:
A 3′ deep perrenial border runs across the front: about 1/3 of the way from the left edge, there is a 3′ x 3′ brick entrance with an antique wrought iron gate (found at an flea market) held up by two trellis posts that support Trumpet Vines. Either side of the gate, perennials have slowly filled in: irises, lambs ears, hollyhocks, chives, daylilies, bee balm, campanula, coreopsis, black-eyed susans, lily turf, purple coneflowers, peonies and foxgloves. I’ve tried so many other things but these are the survivors. If a hole exists, I stick in one of my volunteers – cosmos, cleome, borage, sunflowers, whatever.
Truthfully, I am still learning a lot about color and season planning, but this area is getting better with each year. I need to do some dividing and want to wrap the whole garden with a perennial border and a dilapidated (Beatrix Potter) white picket fence. There is a slight family disagreement over my need for more space so, expansion is slow.
More about the actual veggie beds soon!

May 14 – Onions Funions…

Something about pulling wild onions and getting out the whole bulb is SOOO satisfying. It can’t be done just any old day – a nice soaking rain in April or May will make the soil soft enough to allow complete extraction; like pulling a tooth. Wait much longer and the soil here in southern OH will be like brick and it will be  impossible to do this type of weeding. I must have pulled 200+ from the areas of Big Garden that were cultivated most recently – making them still susceptible to these pernacious weed. No bother, those 20 minutes at 5pm sure beat a long commute any day!