Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Look What Popped Open on Memorial Day!

Finally, after a couple of weeks of teasing, I went out into the garden and my "Victorian Ball Gown" poppy was completely, gloriously open!

Of course, "Victorian Ball Gown" is not its real name. It's Papaver orientale 'Benary's Mix.'

I've never grown poppies before, so this is my first. I've tried growing them from seed in the past, but had no luck with them in my old garden.

I bought this one last year at Fred Meyer, on sale for $1.99.

And I did finally manage to grow some from seed last year, and they are getting ready to open as well. I'm looking forward to that. There are lots more buds on this one too.
I love that it opened on Memorial Day. It's not a Flanders poppy, but it's still appropriate.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Visit to Dig Floral and Garden

They promised us sun this afternoon. So Nigel and I decided to go on a field trip, to Dig Floral and Garden, an intriguing nursery on Vashon Island. We drove to Tacoma, and took a short, pleasant ferry ride from Point Defiance to the island. We managed to score a spot right at the front.

We had no trouble finding the nursery. It's right on the main road, Vashon Highway Southwest, which runs north to south on the island. This nursery is just chock-full of interesting and funky plants that I have never seen anywhere else, as well as some quirky and unique hardscaping features.

This gabion, with its vertical succulent tile and living roof with large chanticleer greets you at the entrance. It's hard to tell from this photo, but the gabion is quite tall! The nursery is enclosed on at least one side (possibly two), by several of these gabions, connected by tall wire fences.

Isn't this water feature cool?

There were at least two of these gazebo/arbor structures.

Another gabion had these cool planting cones hung on it.

Stacked metal file drawers were planted with succulents.

 The proprietors' sweet dog, a bull terrier, (I think her name is Sophie) napped when she wasn't greeting visitors.

Loved these colorful glass flowers!

There were several tablescapes with interesting concrete sculptures.

Although this one on the ground near the entrance was a little freaky.

Loved this cute pig! I've seen this pig sculpture elsewhere this spring, some day when I'm done spending money on plants, one of them might come home with me.

This birdbath was adorable.

There were several trays of these Sarracenia.

I saw a couple of cool Cryptomeria, but I was there after perennials, so they stayed behind. I have a feeling one or two of these might find their way into my garden some day, though. I need more evergreens.
Cryptomeria japonica aurocaroides (False monkey puzzle tree)

Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralis' (I think)

Can you believe I said no to this amazing twisted foliage?

So...what did come home with me?
Golden Hops


Mandarin Honeysuckle

The leaves are interesting, but I really can't wait till it flowers!

Two Bowles golden sedge, Geranium renardii, and a variegated piggyback plant

I have quite a few hardy Geraniums, but nothing with this cool, waffled foliage!

Our trip concluded with a nice dinner on the island, and then a different ferry home, that left from the north end of the island and took us over to West Seattle, and then home.

The sun never did show up. But it was warm and not raining and I got to buy plants, so I'm not going to complain.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Is It Food Yet?

I thought for once instead of concentrating on my flowers, I would document my two raised veggie beds, and what I have growing in them. Most of my veggies are doing ok, but with this cold, wet Spring they are growing slowly, even the peas, and at the moment I am rather despairing of ever getting any food out of them.
It was almost too pretty to eat.

Although I do have quite a bit of lettuce, and we have had a few lovely salads already this Spring. But that's it.

 All the pretty lettuces

With the sun we had last week, the peas have shot up, but there is still no sign of flowers. I gave them all a sprinkling of kelp meal. I've heard that encourages flowers.

The little plant in the square pot is a ginger mint -- don't want to put that in the bed

Next to the lettuce is Brussels sprouts. And interplanted between them are some rainbow chard. I don't know how workable that is, but I hope they don't interfere with each other. Also, I think my timing is off. The chard should be bigger by now (I just transplanted it from the little cups it had sprouted in), and if the Brussels sprouts ripen before Fall, they might not be as tasty as they should have been. I've heard that if you can set them up to ripen just as you get your first frost, they turn much sweeter. I've never grown either Brussels sprouts or Swiss chard before. The garden is always a learning experience.

Next to the Brussels sprouts is the herb section. Clockwise, starting with the chives at 3 o'clock -- French tarragon, Borage, Genovese basil, wedding lavender, and flat leaf parsley.

I bet you want to know what wedding lavender is. When my son and his wife got married in 2009, this was the wedding favor.

Last year I sowed the lavender seeds, and the clump is bigger this year. There were also basil and parsley seeds. The basil of course was an annual, and grew last year, but the parsley seeds never germinated.

Next to those herbs are fava beans. If you look closely, you'll see that to the left of the fava beans are three little clumps of lemon basil, grown from seeds that came all the way from Australia, from Diana, who writes the blog Kebun Malay-Kadazan Girls.

There are flower buds on the fava beans, but they are taking their time opening up.

In my second raised bed are the indeterminate tomatoes under the hoophouse (posted about here) but at the end where the plastic wasn't long enough to reach, are two rows, one of Walla Walla onions, and one of leeks.
My three (count em) Walla Walla onions

I don't know why, but I have a devil of a time getting onion seeds to sprout, and once they sprout and are transplanted, they won't thrive. These three have been in the ground since last November, and are still tiny.

I have much better luck with leeks.

Most of these leeks will stay in the ground till next winter, some will be harvested late in the fall/early winter, and some will actually overwinter, and be harvested early next year.

A couple of weeks ago I potted up my determinate tomatoes, and planted them under Walls-o-Water. I'm hoping the WoWs will help them grow faster and bigger.
The one on the end is a Sun Gold (I ran out of WoWs). The Sun Gold is the only one that I didn't grow from seed, I bought it at Fred Meyer. I've heard such good things about it, I wanted to give it a try.

Some of the toms have already reached the opening at the top.

I have four more determinate tomatoes growing in pots and WoWs in the front garden, on the South Side of the house, on top of river rocks. I'm trying them in two different locations, to see if one is better than another. They definitely get more sun here. And I'm counting on that river rock to reflect some heat.

A couple of days ago, I transplanted some peppers (Early Jalapeno and Poblano) into one-gallon nursery pots. I've run out of room in the raised beds, so I'm trying them in pots. I've never grown peppers in pots before, so I don't know if one-gallon pots are big enough. We'll see. I do know that they like even hotter temps than tomatoes, so I've enclosed each of the plants in a little plastic tent.

Back by the raised beds, I have four more peppers, as well as two Partenon zucchini plants, and a pot of Greek oregano, all started from seed.

Well, except for some blueberry and gooseberry bushes (hopefully not planted just for the wildlife), and the rhubarb plants mentioned in my last post, that is all my food plants.

Oh, I have some potatoes that aren't planted yet. That's this weekend's chore. I hope I'm not too late.

Geez! Spring always makes me feel like a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest.

Rhubarb and a Recipe

I've been married for almost 30 years, and every year we've been married, Nigel has asked me to make him a strawberry rhubarb pie. And every year I've resisted. If we're out at a restaurant or a cafe, and they have strawberry rhubarb anything on the menu, I know he will order it.

Why have I thwarted something my husband so obviously loves?

Because I grew up in a household with parents whose idea of cooking a meal was to cook it so long it turned to watery mush (the very English style of cooking, it used to be called -- I hear the English have since gotten better at cooking.) I knew to distrust anything my mom or dad gave me that they said tasted good. They grew rhubarb in our back yard, and made strawberry rhubarb ....stuff....with it. I don't know if my mom was just very stingy with the sugar, or with the strawberries, but to my child's palate, there was not enough sugar or strawberries in the world to make this stringy, tough, sour thing that looked like a red celery stalk into something delicious.

I don't know why, but this year when my husband suggested growing rhubarb I paused and said, "Y-ye........OK." It was hard to continue to say no when he pointed out that it had big leaves and red stems. (Who knows, maybe next time I ask if we can have chickens, he'll surprise me by enthusiastically saying yes.)

I bought lots of compost to add to the planting hole. I've heard that rhubarb is a heavy feeder.

And a few days later when I was at Fred Meyer, I bought these two little cutie-pies. They were only $1.99, and I figured we could use a couple of spares. 

Now I just have to decide where to plant them.

Since I was now going to grow rhubarb, I figured I better learn how to cook it. So I bought some at the very same Fred Meyer, and set about searching the web for recipes. Here's a recipe that I like, based on one that I modified (I even ate the result and loved it, of course the ice cream I served with it helped).

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

4 cups fresh sliced rhubarb
3/4 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/3 cup water
1 quart of strawberries
1 tsp. vanilla

Crumble Topping
1/2 cup butter, frozen (Stick it in the freezer as soon as you start making this)
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup oatmeal

 Wash and then slice the rhubarb about 1/2 inch thick.  Cut off the tough petiole end, and the bit where they always leave a little bit of leaf. Toss those in your compost bin.

Four stalks of rhubarb makes about 4 cups of sliced.

Put the sliced rhubarb in the slow cooker with the water, sugar and cinnamon stick. Cook it in the slow cooker for about 1 1/2 hours.
Wash, hull and quarter a pound of strawberries, and then add them to the slow cooker along with the vanilla, and let it cook for another hour. (Don't forget to throw the hulls from the strawberries into your compost bin).

Combine the flour, sugar and oatmeal in a bowl.

Take the butter out of the freezer, and grate it with a cheese grater into the flour mixture. Work as quickly as possible, because you want the butter to stay as cold as possible. Your hot little hand will start to unfreeze it as soon as you touch it. Use a real cheese grater with big holes, not a microplane.

 As you're grating, stop every once in a while to fluff it into the flour mixture with a fork. (This technique works well with biscuits and pie crusts too).

 Remove and discard the cinnamon stick (If you're really hungry, you can lick the juices off the cinnamon stick before you toss it....I didn't do this.....honestly). Spoon the strawberry/rhubarb mixture out of the slow cooker into a pie plate, and top with the crumb mixture.

Pop it into an oven at 400 degrees for about half an hour, until the topping is brown and crisp. Let it cool a bit, and then serve it with ice cream.

 Try not to drip it onto your shirt.

I leave you with a question: Is the rhubarb a way to eke out the more rare and succulent strawberries, or are the strawberries a way to make the sour rhubarb palatable?