Thursday, July 6, 2017

Summer Break

Souped-up Garden will return in August. Take care, have fun, and keep cool.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Gardening, Like Life, Is All About Change

Last week saw a heat wave, this week is witness to cool temps and lots of showers.

Spruce, clouds, and a patch of blue

Eli the Kitten
knows how to keep dry.

A nook in The Calm One's office

As does Dirac the Cat.

When there is a break between downpours, I head on out. The rain is so much better for various young vegetables than my valiant attempts at watering.

Can't beat beets!

Parsnips, which are wonderful, cream-coloured root vegetables with a sweet and earthy taste, have many a month of maturing ahead of them.

Its leaves bear a resemblance to another umbellifer, celery

Rhubarb thrives on moisture, so it's happy.

Sweet red peppers are already forgetting the scorching heat.

Though I will rig up some kind of protection against the sun for its tender flesh

Felines may adore catnip, but I suspect they love the smell of petrichor even more.

Beefsteak tomatoes as they grow are being twirled around the tuteurs

The peach and fig trees are as relieved as I am that they don't have to rely just on my spritzing them with a hose.

Laurel hedge, peach tree, & fig tree (upper right) 

As do Shasta daisies and hydrangeas.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Heat Wave Smoothie!

Temperatures are staying high, around 40 degrees C/100 degrees F. Thank goodness for thick stone walls, terracotta roofing tiles, and window shutters. Daily watering is required so the potager behind the house gets drenched in the mornings and the front/side gardens are soaked in the evening. Hand watering is opted instead of sprinklers because there is less wastage plus I can determine which plant needs how much. Calla lilies and fruiting stock receive a lot. Lavender and Rose of Sharon are drought-resistant so not a drop for them.

Iris foliage, potato, and tomato beds

Blackberries are ripening. Enough were harvested to make a smoothie!

Making a bee-line for the cool sous-sol, I passed one of the ivy-covered pillars supporting the pergola and noted this golden leaf amidst the green. Though lovely, it could be a sign of heat stress.

Like many in our quartier, I remain in the house during the rise of sweltering heat as the day unfolds. It's a good 10 degrees cooler there, and in the sous-sol, even more. But still, much better not to turn on the oven or use the stove if possible. Using a stick-mixer, I blended the blackberries picked earlier along with almond meal, a very ripe banana, lemon juice, yogurt, and some ice-cold water. The mixture was sieved and then quaffed down.

In the late evening, I ventured out to water the front and side gardens. Besides hauling hoses and watering cans, I needed to take care of a trembling house sparrow fledgling that was on the hot concrete path underneath the eaves where many nests are tucked away. Sliding a paper towel under the fluffy one, I took it to a shady spot to check for injuries (since birds have no sense of smell, the parents will never know that I touched their offspring). As far as I could make out, its wings could spread out to flutter, and its feet were in working order. The trembling had stopped. It was then carried over to some bushes near its suspected nest and placed under them. Hopefully everything worked out for that avian family. House sparrows have around four clutches in succession during the season which keeps the Mom occupied at home. Hence it usually is the Dad who brings food to the little ones on the ground while they strengthen their wings by flapping them and hopping about. And the heat is a stressor for them so keep those bird baths full, clean, and cool (freeze water in a bowl, place in bath, and as the ice melts, it refills and freshens).

Rock, lavender, Shasta daisies, abelia, and purple plum tree

A pot of dahlias is starting to put out blooms. Several months ago, once the weather was warm enough, two tubers were place in a medium-sized pot filled halfway with loosely packed potting mix which was kept slightly moist since they easily rot. As stems shot up, more mix was added.

Where there are flowers, there are pollinators.

The garden on the west side of the house, and where the baby sparrow was put, boasts of a nice clump of daylilies.

They put out many stems with a lot of buds. Each flower lasts just a day, hence their name.

One more bloom to go!

The Desperado variety wows. I love the delicate, maroon edging.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Maintaining One's Cool

A hot spell has started in the southwest of France and will continue for at least a week. Shade-loving plants invite you to come out of the heat and spend some time in their haven of freshness. Several months ago, I lightly covered three fragrant, cascading tuberous begonia bulbs with potting mix. Each were given a separate pot of around 20 cm/8 inch diameter. They were kept warm and slightly moist until the weather became mild which is when they were put outside in the shade until their foliage appeared. They then could have been planted directly in the ground or as in my case kept in pots. In the latter instance, the frost-tender bulbs do not have to be dug up but just brought indoors during the winter. Blooming heavily from early summer through autumn, tuberous begonias beckon with their soothing perfume, gorgeous flowers, and stunning leaves. Not to mention they thrive in gloomy areas of the garden.

A potted begonia nestled in the deep recess of a small sous-sol window

Any horticultural specimen that can bush out in verdant lushness, whether in the sun or the shade, is a welcomed sight in the parched garden.

Beauty bush (it recently flowered) and lavender. 

Green is not the only garden coolant, so are blue and purple.

The fabulous heuchera Stormy Seas.  Purple stems carry delicate clusters of tiny, creamy flowers

Since Eli the Kitten is a feline, he has built-in cool which guides him into shady nooks.

A heuchera and candy tuft sandwich with Eli the Kitten filling

High temperatures can't make a dent in the exuberant green of the laurel hedge.

Peach and fig trees are in the background

Twenty-four cuttings were taken from the hedge about a week ago. Each one was dipped in rooting hormone, had their leaves clipped in half to prevent evaporation until roots are formed, and placed in incubators outside under the pergola to keep the humidity high and afford protection from the sun. In a few weeks, when new foliage shows, they will be planted in two nursery beds. Not this autumn, but next, they will increase the length of the existing hedge.

The vents are kept open at present because of the heat

Mostly unripe, but some blueberries are turning, well, blue.

Yes, I am depriving the house sparrows by using netting! But it's green and cool.

Even reds can appear cool if they are blue-reds.

Lacecap hydrangea keeping its cool in the shade

Under the boxelder and purple-leaved cherry plum trees, coolness abounds. The asters and Japanese anemones are leafing out well. In the fall, they will softly light up the shade with their blues and pinks. Until then, the asters are sporadically pinched back as to avoid staking.

Ivy growing up the tree trunks increases the green quotient 

David Austin's fragrant Falstaff climber thrives in the sun, but with its quartered, purple-red blooms, brings a touch of cool regardless. The best colours for roses in hot climes are the deeper tones as they tend not to fade as the lighter-coloured ones do.

Cool velvet!

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Baby Beet Greens, Peas, Garlic, Parmesan Farfalle

The Calm One was out shopping for pasta he uses in his three pasta/three cheeses mac 'n cheese: penne, corkscrews, and pipes. Reaching for a box, he saw that it was already opened. So he reached for another, and that one also was unsealed. So he wriggled his long arms even higher, so high that when he grappled with a hopefully sealed package, he heard a crash on the other side of the aisle. Chastened, he hastily put it in the cart and after noting that the closure was intact, made a speedy getaway. And that is how we get to try new things. As the pasta was farfalle.

Rise, O steam!

Harvesting peas is a Goldilocks endeavour. The pod needs to be plump, but not so much that every molecule of air is replaced with pea. In other words, the pod should not be completely rigid but still a bit pliant.

Peas over a certain size will not be as sweet. The perfect pea placement is when they are just touching each other.

Beet seed naturally forms clusters so no matter how carefully it is sowed, there will be an opportunity to harvest baby beet greens by thinning, leaving about 10 cm (four inches) between beets so the rest can develop into ruby beauties.

I prefer young and even older beet greens to spinach in terms of taste and texture

Ingredients are in bold. For one serving, put a couple of fistfuls of farfalle in boiling water. Contrary to traditional advice, use just the amount of water to cover as giving the pasta the room to swim does not do anything necessary and takes more time to bring to a boil, plus a more flavoured water makes a better sauce. Cook for ten minutes. Toss in a handful of shelled fresh peas. Simmer for a few minutes or until the peas and pasta are mostly done as their cooking will continue in the sauce. Keep a few tablespoons of cooking water aside. Drain and reserve. In the same pot, saute a minced garlic clove over low heat in a tablespoon of olive oil for about a minute or until fragrant. No browning please! Toss in a handful of chopped baby beet greens. Stir until tender, just a few minutes. Add the pasta water or in my case a combo of pasta water and chicken stock. Stir in the pasta and peas, coating them with the sauce. Simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. If the peas and pasta are getting overcooked, pour out any remaining liquid and give the dish a final stir over the heat. Salt to taste and serve with freshly grated Parmesan and freshly milled black pepper. I thoroughly enjoyed scoffing it down as it tasted FRESH! Thank goodness for the potager.

You are looking for a glazing effect not a soupy one

Lavender out in the front garden fills the air with its fragrance.

A pollinator busy at work.

Though expansive garden vistas are lovely, I tend to gravitate towards a peekaboo perspective giving a layered view: Queen Elizabeth rose, a veggie bed, and lavender.

There are not many strawberries left to harvest, but luscious raspberries make up for the slack. Most days there are enough for a morning feast with cereal or for dessert or for a late night snack.

The first daylily opened a bud the other day. Each day there will be new flowers hence their name.

One of our five plants

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

In gardens, beauty is a by-product. The main business is sex and death. ~Sam Llewelyn

Llewelyn's astute observation was driven home recently after my frantically digging up 200 plants comprising of onions, shallots, leeks, and garlic. Their slimy, stinking remains were stuffed into bags as dusk settled around the potager so I could haul our bin out to the sidewalk for the next day's early morning garbage pickup. The tentative diagnoses:  maggots had their way with the onions; thrips, the leeks; mildew, the garlic and shallots. The mama house sparrows would have their way with the strawberries if that bed wasn't covered with netting. I have told them they are welcome to the bounty at the top of the fig tree because it's too high for harvesting. Since I don't know their language, my suggestion fell on deaf ears.

Torn egg cartons as mulch keep the berries away from the soil to prevent rotting

As a minuscule-scale food grower, I am inspired by the tenacity and resilience of farmers. After all, because of them, weThe Calm One has already got some onions and garliccan buy what we require until the next growing season. When I need a boost of courage, I hop on Twitter and read tweets under the hashtag of #Agripapa which is what I did following The Great Allium Demise. The next day I made it a point to note all the wonderful produce and decorative plants which are coming along well. The peaches are doing peachy.

All three beds of yellow-fleshed, red-skinned Desiree potatoes are flourishing.

One of the most beautiful by-products of our garden is this peony.

Calla lilies are thriving under the shade of the old pear tree.

The feathery foliage in the left background is what remains from the asparagus harvest

Yellow snails are always a delight to see. I suspect this is the white-lipped snail (Cepaea hortensis).

The sunny one was resting on the robust (take a few bites it won't matter!) foliage of what I can only conclude to be a double-flowered version of the beauty bush (Linnaea amabilis). I noticed it after a year following our arrival but thought it was a stubborn weed bush. Therefore I kept whacking it down through the years. But it got the better of me, and thank goodness it did!

It now towers over people, even tall ones like The Calm One

The purple plum (prunier d'ente) is festooned with developing fruit.

The English lavender bushes flanking the front garden path are putting out their tiny buds. Soon there will be a profusion of fragrant flowers.

Disappointing as it was to lose so many edibles, especially the leeks because they still were healthy last week for some to be harvested for Shakshuka, the garden goes on in that inimitable way it has.

À la prochaine!