Monday, March 22, 2010

Garden Volunteers

Weed or free plant, the difference really is all about your point of view. I'll admit that there are species almost universally regarded as weeds and unwelcome in the garden. Dandelions. Morning glory. Thistles. And I remember many from my childhood that I loved but my parents saw as weeds. My dad was particularly annoyed by the veronica that colonized the lawn, while I thought they were fairy flowers. Mum hated the freckles violet that I'd picked up at a potluck plant table. I loved them and their invasiveness.

In my new garden I'm eagerly watching all my little garden volunteers as they sprout. Some must have been planted years ago by previous owners. Some tumbled over or crept under the fence from next door. And some I'm sure just appeared, like the veronicas, because the garden needed them. All along the front foundation, and even tucked under the bay window, of the house we have a mass of grape hyacinths. They'll need to be moved later this spring to make way for some new shrubs, but they're so cheery they make me smile every time I see them.

Along one fence I've just noticed violets blooming amongst clumps of emerging bulbs... maybe crocus? I think I'll be moving these little fellows, too. Just a bit farther along so they are between the house and the fence where I'd love to mass violets, lily of the valley and sweet woodruff. Having some volunteers that can just be shifted down is perfect - and cheap! And violets spread so quickly and happily that if I nurture these little guys - a bit of water in our desert summers - they should form a fragrant carpet in no time.

So far I've also spotted iris, tulips (please, don't be yellow or red!), and what I think may be daylilies and a very scraggly, stunted peony. And if all this seems too plant and not enough weed, don't worry, I have those, too. Dandelions, couch grass, yarrow, and enough lilac suckers to prop up all the peas I could ever hope to grow. The crowded, stringy yucca are gone but there's still plenty of backbreaking work in my future! I can't wait to see what else volunteers in our garden and am so happy I'm not the most conscientious weeder. I'm not knowledgeable to identify plants as tiny sprouts and would hate to have lost my violets or peony to over ambitious weeding!

For anyone else inundated with dandelions, don't stress too much, they're quite tasty! Add the young leaves to salads, saute them with plenty of garlic, substitute them for basil in pesto. Or make this tasty twist on the Israeli hot sauce zhoug. Just make sure your dandelions haven't been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides or by neighbourhood dogs and cats!

1 cup young dandelion leaves, washed
1/2 cup cilantro
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 jalapeno or Serrano pepper, stemmed, seeds removed (or keep the seeds and membranes if you like it hot!) OR 1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth, stopping and scraping down the sides as needed.

Zhoug is amazing drizzled over felafel, anything vegetables, or to perk up eggs. It's also great with tacos, which is how I'll be serving it tonight!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

It's all about the plan

Blank canvas or established garden? Whatever you're facing moving forward you need a plan. Not my forte, but I'm trying! Our garden is a bit of a combination. It's been abandoned for years but has some established trees. A huge, struggling cherry defines one corner of our house. At this stage it can't yield much, but will be a perfect foil for climbing roses. Kitty corner is a large walnut, cramped by 2 planted out Christmas trees and a badly pruned apricot. The back yard has a further 4 large apricots and a weedy something or other, more bug chews than leaf last summer. Add a few knarled old grapes, a tumbling fence, badly laid front path and you get the idea. Not the prettiest yard on the block. Not the house a seasoned gardener would be likely to pick. But we fell in love with the house and the neighbourhood and what's life without a challenge?

For now the front yard has been tidied up. Heaps of yucca have been yanked, dead annuals piled in the compost. I've planted a few bulbs and eagerly watch their progress as the tulip leaves slowly unfurl and the volunteer grape hyacinths open their little bells. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed, though. The space is at once limitless and constraining. Do we want grass? Can I add another plum? Should we take out the apricot? When? How? I'm taking the easy way out and waiting for my dad to come visit. He's an amazing gardener of the snap decision, dig it up and plop it in kind. Just what I and the front yard need.

The back is another matter all together. This will be vegetable heaven and it's all mapped out in my head. All winter I made lists of veggies I love, veggies I want to gorge myself on when they're in season, to pickle, to freeze, to dry. Heirloom beans and tomatoes. Tiny French gherkins for cornichons. Buttery ratte potatoes. And fruit, too. Strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb. Currants to screen the compost. It's a good thing we live near a dog park and back onto a quiet lane. The puppy arriving in a couple of weeks will be fighting for space with arugula and fennel. Hopefully raised beds will be enough to convince Beatrice that the veggies are pack leaders, too.

Despite the fact that it's been warm enough to abandon winter coats for over a month now, I'm still sitting on my hands and spades. We can still have a killing frost here well into May as unlikely as the sunshine streaming through the window might make me think. But time is good. Time to read more, order more seeds, and keep dreaming!


When Jamie and I moved into our new house last August we were suffering from something most would see as a blessing... an abundance of apricots. They carpeted the ground, abuzz with wasps drunken on their fermenting flesh. Apricot juice stuck to our feet, our legs, our faces. We slipped, we slid, we tracked apricots everywhere. And as night fell we settled back tired but happy, to smell the wine rich perfume of crushed apricots that enveloped our home. I know I'll never forget that smell, it will always remind me of our first house, our first garden. This year will be different, though. We're going to eat the apricots!

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A quilter from way back with a passion for all things fabric.