The Fruits of my Garden: Figs, Apples, Pomegranates, Asparagus and Berries

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The second fig crop is still ripening on my Ficus  ‘Petite Negra’.
Days are shortening and nighttime temperatures are cooling down. Yesterday was our first dreary and wet reminder that our days are numbered. It misted and rained. Clouds hung in the air all day—as did the smell of PNW dampness. The city of Portland felt autumn as the season sauntered just a little bit nearer.
Columnar Northpole apple (Malus) produced more fruit than ever! It tasted sweet, tart and crisp.

This was not much of a harvest year for me in terms of edible crops. I like to grow ornamental plants for their seeds so that I can harvest them for my online garden shop. I do harvest something, but it’s not what most people think of when they think of harvests. I’m a seed farmer, but I grow a few things to eat too.

Dwarf pomegranate, Punica granatum ‘Nana’.

My dwarf pomegranate was grown from seed and I collect seeds from it each year. Since the shrubs are young, each year they produce more and more fruit. This year is by far their best so far and I expect to have more ripe fruit than ever.

Flower on the dwarf pomegranate, Punica granatum ‘Nana’.
Ripening fruit on the dwarf pomegranate, Punica granatum ‘Nana’.

There has also been a growing herb collection around the house. I’ve been cooking more recently and it’s something John and I very much enjoy doing together. This winter I intend to plan the garden better for these activities since we find ourselves buying so many herbs all of the time. Limiting salt in my diet due to my swelling disease has really made me appreciate the taste of herbs so much more. We barely use any salt now. If you cook your food right, paying close attention to flavors, it’s amazing how far herbs can go to replace sodium.

The overgrown asparagus bed. These were grown from seed.

When I originally planted edibles in the garden I wanted to plant things that were either difficult to find or else ornamental and unusual. The asparagus was neither. It reminded me of the fresh asparagus grown by Italian-American farmers in the PNW. Even though I can still buy it at the store, I really enjoy my own plants more. What’s nice is that even though they’ve been neglected, they’re still very productive.

Evergreen huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum.

My native evergreen huckleberries are also wonders to behold this time of year. Usually they are packed full of fruit but I guess mine aren’t going to be this time around. Since last year I had an amazing crop I don’t mind at all. These are amazing ornamentals for shady corners so it’s simply a bonus if they produce for me too.

The image of edible gardening shame—an unused and overgrown raised bed.

This year I was hoping to use the raised bed for a large basil planting. I never quite made it but next year I’ll make it happen. Now that there’s a pesto- and polenta-loving Northern Italian in the family I can get past my Southern Italian culinary preferences. I always loved basil (and polenta) too. Next year will be the summer of basilico around here. (I can already smell it on the horizon.)

The first 2013 crop of figs.

I recently took an online poll of my fig-loving friends for recipe ideas. Since I was raised to just eat them fresh I thought it was time to do something different. (Besides, I can only eat so many with goat cheese and pistachios before I begin feeling a bit piglet-ish so I wanted to find something healthier.) A Parisian friend recommended Honey Roasted Figs and Rosemary (Figues rôties au miel au romarin) and I am so glad that he did. The figs tasted fantastic!

Honey Roasted Figs with Rosemary
• about 1 dozen fresh figs
• 1/3 cup honey (fresh and local if possible)
• 1 large sprig of rosemary broken into 4 pieces
• freshly cracked pepper
Heat oven to 375F. Wash and dry figs. Cut in half. Arrange open side up in a baking dish. Drizzle figs with honey. Arrange the pieces of rosemary between the figs. (If you want the rosemary taste to be stronger, I suggest adding more.) Crack pepper over the figs. Place in oven and bake for about 15 minutes or until the honey begins to caramelize. Let cool. Can be served with a nice mild—yet tangy—goat cheese.
 
C’est magnifigue!

(The Grow Write Guild is a creative writing club for people who garden. It’s a series of bi-weekly writing prompts created by garden author and blogger Gayla Trail. I’m starting out late with the series but hope to catch up soon. It’s just what this blogger needed for some summer fun.)

Wordless Wednesday: Sunny Times in the Back Garden

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Impatiens tinctoria with Fuchsia ‘Autumnale’.
Mona the Cat under her hammock shade canopy.
Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’. Yes, we can grow it in the ground.
Adiantum peruvianum.
Some of my pole apples (Malus).
Begonia boliviensis.
Clematis heracleifolia. 
Acquired as Graptopetalum paraguayense.
Coleus and Begonia in planters. I grew the Begonia plants from seed I bought last fall on sale.

A Dream Garden: When I first met mine…

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Antiquo jardín del Alcázar de Sevilla (Joaquín Sorolla), 1908.
Writers, dreamers, poets and artists have thought long and hard about gardens for centuries—and so have the more religious and practical among us. At least I imagine they have because I’ve studied such things, but I’m far from certain. So often nowadays I find that these real characters of history are just as real to me as any who are fictional. I guess I’ve grown and that fine line is no longer there. It all blends together. It’s all a pastiche. 
 
I’m not religious myself, but I was raised in a Catholic family, went to Catholic school for 12 years, and I now consider myself Catholic by culture. That’s how I ended up visiting España with my parents back in my early 20s. Dad wanted to go there for 10 days to take photos of churches and to visit the region of Estremadura. The three of us traveled south from Madrid during the month of December and I’d like to say that I remember a lot more than I do, but I spent most of my trip feeling unwell. 
 
At night my dreams were in Spanish. (Back then my Spanish-language fluency was much better, although that had never happened to me before and it felt strange—yes, foreign.) During the daytime, my mind wandered back-and-forth in the backseat. I felt between worlds.  
 
As we drove I thought a lot about what a cousin had recently told me concerning our Sicilian ancestry. He’d researched our family as part of his Master’s thesis and had found that one of our earliest relatives was actually a Morisco from Spain. Fresh in my mind was the way my father had vehemently been unable to accept this discovery. Today he’s softened and has accepted that it’s likely true, but at that time, it dramatically altered how we saw ourselves.

Jardín de Carlos V en el Alcázar de Sevilla (Joaquín Sorolla), 1910.

Before I knew it we were in the beautiful city of Sevilla. We stayed there for a few nights and went to several museums, a Flamenco performance, we ate delicious food, and then one day, while walking around on my own, I stumbled upon the Alcázar of Seville. I went inside. 

The gardens of the Reales Alcázares de Sevilla changed me. I think I was transported there away from myself. They were—and still are—my dream gardens. It was there I felt so many new and wonderful things as I saw plants that seemed so unreal to me. I felt so alive and so awake. In many ways it felt more like home to me than my own home. I had never felt that way before and I haven’t felt that way again.

To me that’s what a dream garden is about and it’s what we seek to make when we design gardens. We want what I can only describe as being a kind of religious experience. Like in meditation, we consciously count our breathing until we transcend and forget ourselves. We want gardens to give us that kind of rush too. It’s deep. I know. It seems very much connected to something inside of us that’s human. Many of us crave this feeling. It’s spiritual whether we like to admit it or not. It’s calming. It’s soothing.

To Christians, it’s a return to Eden, and to those who follow Islam, it’s called Paradise. In Arabic the word is جنّة or Jannahand that’s short for garden. That day in Sevilla I felt like I’d visited Paradise. Ever since then, as a gardener, I’ve wanted to recreate that feeling.

That has been my dream.

(The Grow Write Guild is a creative writing club for people who garden. It’s a series of bi-weekly writing prompts created by garden author and blogger Gayla Trail. I’m starting out late with the series but hope to catch up soon. It’s just what this blogger needed for some summer fun.)

Wordless Wednesday: Kissing the Sky, the Earth, and all the Flora

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Columnar Apple. 
Lunaria annua 
Acer japonica ‘Villa Taranto’. 
Anemone nemorosa ‘Green Fingers’.
Clematis alpina ‘Stolwijk Gold’. 
Dodecatheon poeticum 
Unfurling fern seen during a walk.  
A canopy of Japanese maple trees.
Primula veris.
Dicentra ‘Hearts Desire’.