Pruning

Pruned rose bushes

Spring has hit me with a bang and I am absolutely starving to get my hands in some dirt. But, since we’re renting and have no idea how long we’ll be renting, there’s not much I can do about that. Instead I’ve been turning my attention to chopping things.

I can’t even guess how long it’s been since this yard had regular attention. Years. The backyard is lined with those rosebushes that, after my efforts, look like a collection of sticks, but once stretched higher than the fence and were a tangled bramble of crisscrossed stems snaking behind the trees and choking on each other. I read that roses love a good pruning, so I tried to not be afraid and just do what needed to be done.

Overgrown junipers
The front yard was far worse. I was embarrassed every time I pulled into the garage. Things were so overgrown, and really, overplanted, that it was starting to limit access to the front door.

Along with these junipers in front of some kind of a bulb plant, there were three more planted in the middle of the lawn. I really hate junipers, but even if you loved them, why would you put them in the middle of the lawn? I pulled those ones out without a second thought about our security deposit and sent them off to the city compost.

The ones closer to the house I tried to salvage, but they had been let go for so long that it would take years of careful pruning to get them back into the shape and size they needed to be for the house. After a couple of afternoons of research and pruning, I just decided that they couldn’t be saved and pulled them out too.

No more Junipers
Look at how much better it looks already! Those bulb plants desperately need to be divided, and I still have more pruning to do of the shrubs that are staying, and please don’t even get me started on this lawn, but definitely an improvement. I imagine that the person who bought the house was impatient to let the plants grow into the space, so instead they crammed it way too full and didn’t allow anywhere for the plants to go.

Rose growing
I’ve been so aggressive with this poor neglected yard that part of me was afraid I had gone too far. But not even a week after I finished my assault on the roses I saw the backyard decorated with all these beautiful burgundy leaves of new growth. It’s like the roses were craving a little pruning so they could sprout off in new directions. Maybe that’s something I need to keep in mind with the way this year is going.

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My new garden

Stake Garden

When I was whining about leaving my garden behind, my friend Tona asked me if there was a community garden that I could participate in so I could feed my gardening addiction. I really didn’t expect to find one. Around here people aren’t usually looking for an opportunity to garden when they either do it for a living or can just buy from the people who do.

Imagine my surprise to discover that not only is there a community garden, but it’s run and funded by my church, and I can just show up and harvest whatever I want.

I don’t know all the details behind it, but it’s common for us LDSaints to have big projects like this so that the people accepting financial help from the church have a way to contribute in return. Right next to the building I attend we have a pavilion and a ballfield, and then about an acre of farmland currently growing onions, potatoes, corn and tomatoes.

Atti in the shade
I met my friend Amber out in the field and she helped me get set up, holding Atti while I built him some shade and showing me how to harvest the potatoes. Atti’s always been super cooperative with my gardening efforts, so I thought it would be no big deal to toss him on a blanket while I got to work.

But I was totally wrong about that.

I really failed to take into account just how unbelievably hot it can get around here. I brought a big basket full of toys, our jumbo picnic blanket and a tent for shade, plus my camera, some bags for produce and Mr. Atti himself, and between the hauling everything back and forth, wrestling with the canopy, and rushing to get him settled, I had totally exhausted myself before I even thought about a potato.

Fresh potatoes

I managed to make enough of a harvest to still make it worth the time, and Amber went across the field to pick my onions for me, so I left with a ton of good stuff. But man was it hard work in that heat. By the time I finished pulling potatoes, I still had to make five trips across an acre of dirt to load everything into the car. When I was so hot I could barely stand on my feet. I made the first load and had to lie down under a shady tree while Atti was still across the field in his tent. I have to confess, I was getting a little worried.

Remember last summer when I kept going from one doctor to another? Their final determination was that I have a heart murmur, but not the scary kind. The kind that is totally no big deal, I’d live my whole life and not notice, nothing to worry about unless I exert myself in the heat. Oh yeah.

Luckily I just needed that little rest and I was able to get us all loaded and back home none the worse for the wear, but I realized that taking Atti along on my little farm adventures is probably not such a good idea. Next time I’ll leave Atti with a friend in exchange for farm fresh produce.

In a couple of weeks the corn will be ready, and then a few weeks after that we’ll have tomatoes. I plan on canning so many of them my fingers will turn red. I want to can them whole and diced and turned into marinara. I can’t wait.

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2010 Year of Pleasures #18

Roses

I wrote about how leaving my garden was hard for me, but this is making it a lot easier.

New backyard

My new backyard has the most gloriously flowering rose bushes lining the fence. Plus we have a patch of grass for Atti to play on, so that’s another bonus. Once I get my herbs going in pots, I’ll be able to get by without whining.

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I’ll Miss My Garden Most of All

Roses
There’s a lot I’m going to be sad to leave behind in my house, but most of that can be replicated or an opportunity for something new. What I’m having the hardest time with is my garden.

I have about five of these rose bushes peppered through the back with other rose varieties, but this kind is my favorite by far. I always thought that either a rose was big and beautiful or it was fragrant, but this John Paul variety proves that to be a lie. The blossoms get just massive and the aroma is the sweetest. When I bring in a few of these it makes the whole house smell beautiful.

My herb garden now

I started this herb garden just under two years ago and it’s taken off like a wild thing. I use it every single time I cook.

Lilac
The smell of lilac just takes me back, and after a little scare I’ve nursed this plant back to health and it’s now dripping with blossoms. Just in time for me to miss them all.

And in abundant foliage waiting to shoot their flowers straight up…
Ranunculus

Since we’ll be renting, I can’t really do any gardening in the new place. I’ll get some herbs started in some containers, maybe next year I’ll reclaim the bulbs currently in the ground and get those started in pots too, but no fresh tomatoes this year. No more little lemon tree. Oh sigh, it’s so sad.

The good news is that since land is plentiful and affordable in Modesto, very much different from San Diego, my dream of a farm is suddenly worth working towards. So now I’ll just have to hang on to that day and think about orchards just outside my backdoor.

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Happy Easter

Lilac

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Spring in San Diego

I finally got outside to do the garden maintenance I had been putting off, and once I pulled out all of the poppies that had sprouted from last year’s seeds, I found these little lettuce buds hiding underneath.

Surprise Lettuce
These will be a nice little treat to eat while I’m waiting for the rest of my garden to grow.

During that same excursion I got all my ranunculus bulbs back in the ground, and found a couple already sprouting. Either they didn’t sprout last year or I somehow missed them when I dug them all back up, but there were a couple already at work growing before I even got the others in the ground.

A couple weeks later and look what I’ve already got growing outside.
First Ranunculus

Spring in San Diego is just the most glorious time. My roses are blooming, the bees are buzzing, and Atti keeps crawling over to the sliding glass door and saying, “Outside? Outside?”

I think he’s got the right idea.

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Parsley Oregano Vinaigrette

Parsley Oregano Vinaigrette

Every day last summer, I made a salad from the bumper crop of cherry tomatoes from my garden, some feta cheese, a cucumber, and a vinaigrette I made up from some fresh herbs in my garden. The vinaigrette keeps nicely in the fridge, so I’d just pop some tomatoes off the vine, spoon in some dressing, and lunch was made.

It makes a wonderful side salad that I’ve served on a couple other occasions, including to my vegetarian friends I was so initially flummoxed by the thought of feeding.

A true recipe is hard for me to give for salad dressings. It’s all about getting the balance right.

I start by pouring 2 or 3 Tablespoons of white vinegar into my blender, then shoving in a big fat handful of parsley and oregano. I just cut a bunch from my garden, so I never measure. It will be yummy no matter how much you put in of whatever.

Turn the blender on and slowly drizzle in olive oil so the vinegar and oil emulsify, and so that you get enough moisture in there to properly chop up the herbs. Give it a taste and add more oil as necessary to get a nice balanced flavor. I’d guess around a 1/2 cup. Add salt and pepper to taste. As a last step I like to add a good shake of red pepper flakes. I think the little bit of heat really adds a brightness to the dressing.

Along with serving it over tomatoes and cucumbers, I think it would also be really great as a sauce served over fish. Or over roasted vegetables. Anywhere you want a really intense herby flavor without having to chew grass.

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2010 Year of Pleasures #7

Homegrown Lemon

This lemon is from my very own backyard lemon tree. The tree is so puny I can’t believe it’s even producing, but here’s the proof. I thought it was exciting the first time I used homegrown herbs, but this was even better! I stuffed this inside a chicken with some of those homegrown herbs, rubbed the whole things with oil, salt and pepper, and roasted it. It was incredible.

This homemade stuff is just so satisfying!

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2010 Year of Pleasures #2

Mysterious Growing Things

It’s about time I turned my attention to my little garden plot, and it seems to have gotten started without me.

I have no idea what this stuff is. After the explosion of poppies and the lettuce bolting, plus the regular bits of clover and other weeds this spot is found of producing, it could be any number of things.

I’m tempted to let it all keep growing just to find out what they turn into, but I think I’ll have to get rid of it all before that happens if I want any tomatoes for this year.

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Garden Bounty

Garden Bounty

This gardening thing has a real learning curve. I may have failed with sprouting seeds, but my bulbs all went off like gangbusters, and once I bought the seedlings and got them in ground, I managed to keep them alive, mostly, despite the fact that some have been trying their darndest to die ever since.

So I messed up at the beginning part, I got really good at the middle bit, and now that I’m at the end I seem to have stumbled again. The heat has arrived with quite an entrance, and most of my garden is starting to shrivel.

Being the garden newbie that I am, I guess I didn’t realize that harvesting is a skill of it’s own. I naively thought that you just pick it when it’s done. Without really thinking through how you know something is done. Tomatoes are easy, and I’m seeing the benefit of that. I’ve eaten nothing at lunch but Cherry Tomatoes with goat cheese and Parsley Oregano Vinaigrette for over a week now. And then fried tomatoes for dinner. [Note to self – share these recipes]

Lettuce is another story. I seem to have gotten greedy and allowed everything to bolt in my attempt to let it get bigger before eating it. I’m hoping that it will work out that I’m now seeding for a fall crop, but I was SO mad at myself that I didn’t get to eat any lettuce for my trouble.

I had the same problem with my cucumbers. I’d heard plenty of warnings (which I just went on to ignore) about lettuce bolting, but no one ever mentioned that cucumbers would yellow and bitter too. Once again, I couldn’t resist watching the cucumbers get bigger and bigger until I missed my window.

At the beginning of the year I laid out my goals for the year, and in some ways I’ve done really great, but in others not so much. I really wanted to learn to improve my drawing (and I still do) but I just couldn’t resist the call of the garden. I think I’m going to sub that in and call 2009 the year I picked up gardening and leave drawing for next year.

But for it to count, I think I’m going to have to do better at the beginning and ending bits. Maybe next month I’ll give seedlings another try for a fall crop of carrots and greens and get to redeem myself.

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