The Downside of Poppies

poppies in perennial border

When they’re good, they’re very,very good, but when they’re bad, they’re awful…This photo shows the good, not the awful. No point in deterring enthusiasts from sowing poppy seeds!

When, in February, I sprinkle my ‘Fairy Dust’ concoction of harvested and saved annual  poppy seeds upon the snow throughout the borders, I’m thinking like a painter. Well, sort of. I’m thinking like a gardener/painter. A painter might, more strictly speaking, be thinking that the seeds will yield a predictable color palette. I know this not to be true. I DO know, that the palette will be in the white, pink, salmon, orange, red range of color, so, I suppose there’s a bit of predictability in that, but exactly where they’ll place themselves I cannot tell. Cold comfort when one wants to control color. As a gardener I’m imagining that the unknown germination rates and the locations where seeds might choose to germinate will present a set of unknowns that might completely overpower the deliberate design scheme. Hmmm. Is this the artist speaking or the gardener speaking? It’s all the same. The upside is that when the poppies begin to sing their Ode to Joy in June, the sight is so ridiculously exuberant that Beethoven himself would balk at the challenge. Downside? NOW. It’s July. Despite a few stragglers, most of the poppies are done. They are dying and setting seed. The browning, dessicated stems are an eyesore. Mozart would be hard-pressed to create a requiem for such a gloomy garden situation.

Andrew urges me to tear them out, let the hidden perennials raise their heads proudly and do their job. Oh, how I’d love to but I just can’t. The seeds need to ripen on their stalks so that I may harvest them at the end of the month. Yes, of course the gardens look awful, it’s true, but I cannot tear out the offenders without depriving the gardens of their Ode to Joy next year. Well, there you have it and that’s where it stands. Tomorrow they come out!

Savory Zucchini Bread

Last evening we stopped by a friend’s on ‘chicken business’ and were invited to drinks on the terrace. (Don’t you love summer?) I noticed a giant zucchini on the doorstep and our friend bemoaned her struggle of keeping up with them. After a brief discusssion of zucchini recipes I mentioned that the Cheddar, Herb, Zucchini Bread recipe that I follow from The All New Joy of Cooking is delicious, freezes well and is even more delicious when toasted and served with soup or salad. Sometimes, I make it in mini-loaf pans and then slice it thinly and use it in lieu of crackers on a cheese plate. I tend to use whatever fresh herbs I happen to have in the garden at the time. The recipe calls for dill and parsley but I often use basil, sage, oregano, thyme or a combination of these. One year I made (and froze) so many of these that I used them for a Thanksgiving was very good. This quickbread is extraordinarily versatile, you can substitute some cornmeal or whole wheat flour for some of the all purpose flour,,play around with it and make it your own.

I give the recipe here, and hope I’m not infringing on copyrights:

Zucchini Cheddar Bread

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan. Whisk together thoroughly in a large bowl:

3 cups all purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Add and toss to separate and coat with flour:

1 cup coarsely shredded zucchini

3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup chopped scallions

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill ( I always add twice as much)

Whisk together in another bowl:

2 large eggs

1 cup buttermilk (which I never have, I add a tablespoon of lemon juice to skim milk as a substitute)

4 tablespoons warm melted butter or vegetable oil

Add to the flour mixture and mix with a few light strokes, just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix; the batter should be somewhat lumpy. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool for  5 or 10 minutes on a rack before unmolding to cool completely on the rack.

Hello Broccoli! Hello Beans!

I’ve  just spent nearly six hours in the kitchen making broccoli dishes to freeze. This is tiresome. Broccoli Lasagne. Broccoli Quiche. Broccoli & Spinach & Ricotta Canelloni. It’s not over. Tomorrow is another day, another broccoli day, another bean day, another salad and arugula day, and, very possibly, a cauliflower day. Yes, another day of toiling away in the kitchen, preserving our harvest, and doing my damnedest to convince myself that all this utterly slavish work will pay off when, after a long day of manual labor, I can pop some delectable, homegrown, organic, homemade dish into the oven and have a ready-made meal with no work involved. Well, you get what you pay for. I’m paying the price now. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t feel compelled to make my own pasta, but, you know, we’ve got something like 50 chickens, so, the eggs are there, and because we’re Costco-ers, we’ve got a thousand pounds of flour in the larder, so, I might as well, well,…. anyway.  This afternoon, I visited the freezer and extracted a container of frozen spinach that was labelled, in Andrew’s distinctive handwriting, “Salted Spinach Puree – 2009”. This seemed very dubious but, after defrosting it in the microwave and tasting it, believe it or not, it tasted exactly as one might expect salted spinach puree to taste like; nice, spinachy. (The purple leaf Basil puree, however, was not such a succes). The beets will be ready in no time, and the cucumbers and zucchini will begin to shout out at me, making demands that I may not be able to meet. This will be followed by Basil, crying out for Pesto-Festo!!! I’ll  go with the flow. I whine, but, at the end of the day, I know that it’s a tremendous privelage to have the space, the physical vigor and health, and the modest means to grow food for ourselves without relying on multinational supermarkets and knowing that the food we’ve produced is organic, wholesome and the fruit of our labor. We are blessed.

Garden Cycles

The garden cycles through the seasons at its own pace. And although it seems that, here at Stonewell,we put a greater amount of effort into the gardens in late winter, and then early to mid-spring, pruning fruit tress, adding 60 tons of composted horse manure to all the beds, feeding the bulbs and roses, performing selective, editorial ‘weeding’ of the self sowers, (over whom we try to maintain some control), moving plants around, planting out things that we’ve propagated in the greenhouse, edging the beds and borders, mulching, etc… perhaps I’m wrong in this perception. Presently, the flower borders seem to be making their magic on their own with little interference from us;  self-sown, annual poppies exhuberate, anthemis leads the cheer, lavender is beginning to make it’s voice heard. The annuals; nicotiana, cleome, cosmos, and petunias are making their colorful and fragrant contribution and the whole place exudes and effusive, jubilant and colorful quality. It seems effortless, compared to the spring training sessions that last for weeks on end, and we are greatly appreciative of this garden cycle. Wait, but didn’t I just spend many hours weeding the vegetable garden, spraying the cole crops with BT, planting more vegetable seeds, screening the dahlias and the berry crops for insects, deadheading the roses and feeding them again, setting up Japanese Beatle traps, pruning the weigelas and the philadelphii, screening the vegetable garden for pests, etc,,,? Yes, it’s all work keeping the gardens in shape, while creating new gardens for clients, but, at the end of the day, even for hyper-critical me, the gardens provide a moment of respite and refreshment from the dull, green, boring landscapes that we see far too much of.