Tag Archives: harvest

My Garden, My Friends

Although fall is here, October is still a time of harvest in my Virginia garden. I am still picking (and freezing!) tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash and even goji berries and little pumpkins. Zinnias, asters, mums, and dahlias are cut for my office every week. The pineapple sage plants just began flowering and my new mums are showing their colors for the first time. Basil and cone flowers have gone to seed but I let the finches enjoy them. For next season, I have gathered seeds from plants such as marigold, calendula, and okra and later I will collect four o’clock. Right now, the four o’clock plants are still blooming while at the same time, some have seeds nestled in like black eyes and I cannot bear to change this fantastic image.

Despite this abundance, I felt that I was saying goodbye when I was cutting the yellow peppers yesterday. I know frost is around the corner; I have to think about bringing in the hibiscus and bay plants. But the concept of “putting your garden to bed” escapes me. I feel like I garden all the time. If not in my actual garden, then in my house with seeds, bulbs, houseplants, and even microgreens. To me, a garden is alive all the time, it is a living community and it does not go to sleep in the winter. My kids had a math teacher who said “a day without math is like a day without sunshine.” A gardener would say: “A day without plants is like a day without sunshine.”

A few months ago I was listening to Erika Galentin, a clinical herbalist, speak on an episode of the Native Plant Podcast. Erika said something that was a real eye opener. I am paraphrasing below but this is the gist of what she said:

Plants bring something to the human spirit. Plants can communicate to us and it is not through fantastical means, it is through our senses, our eyesight, our sense of smell, our sense of taste, our sense of touch. When I tune in to that and I learn how to “listen” to plants I feel something deep inside me, I feel an understanding, a connection, the knowledge that has transferred from the plant to myself because I am focusing on it, seeing it, I am touching it, I am tasting it, I am growing it. A relationship has formed with that plant and like any kind of relationship that can bring us spiritual enlightenment, it can bring us emotional enlightenment, and it can bring us physical enlightenment.

Listening to Erika made me realize that I have a relationship with my plants in my garden. Conversely, I have lived in my house for over a dozen years and would never say that I have a relationship with my house. Outside, however, I have interacted with my plants through the five senses whether for years, or in recent plantings, for this year only. They have all, however, grown like my own children have grown in this space, a typical suburban plot in Virginia.

I have trained the peas up the trellis, wrapped the passion flower vines around the banister, re-positioned the morning glory to get full sun, and moved many plants to other places in the garden where they could get more water or more sun to be happier.

I have enjoyed the taste and nutrition of fresh vegetables such as beans, squash, peppers and fruits such as raspberries, goji berries, and ground cherries. I even enjoy the relaxing herbal teas made with holy basil, pineapple sage, and roselle. I have enjoyed the smell of fruity melons, pungent rosemary, and sweet hyacinths. While I am picking vegetables in the garden, I hear that satisfying “thunk” when a large red tomato falls to the ground while bees buzz around the zinnias and marigolds. My ornamental grasses rustle in the wind and the birds squabble over the seeds on the dried flower heads.

I have the plants’ cries for water, met their needs for fertilizer, and provided support with bamboo stakes and trellises. I grow many plants from seed, constantly nurturing them inside under lights until they are mature enough to be on their own outside in the ground.

People might think of this as “work” but for me as a gardener and horticulturist it is about having 200 friends who live directly outside my house (some actually in my house). I am always thinking of my friends as I think of my family: are they okay, is it too hot or too cold for them, do they have enough water, do they need food?

Although some people may not be interested in this type of “work,” they too benefit from plants, especially when they visit a garden. The impact of nature on our senses, on our being, is overwhelming and can be and should be championed as the positive experience it clearly is for most everyone. That is the value that gardens and the act of gardening can provide.

Cookbooks That Focus on the Harvest Are More Useful to Gardeners: The Renee’s Garden Cookbook

The Renee's Garden CookbookThe more I garden, the more I want to increase my repertoire of vegetable and herb-based recipes. I have plenty of cookbooks that were given to me years ago, but they are of little use to me now. With them, I have to wade through dozens of recipes to find one that highlights fresh chard, kale, or spinach, much less mention rosemary, thyme, or basil, all of which I have in abundance in my Northern Virginia garden. For me, cookbooks that focus on the harvest are more useful to gardeners than ones that focus on the type of course. Because many of my vegetable seeds come from Renee’s Garden, an online seed company in California, recently I learned that owner Renee Shepherd published The Renee’s Garden Cookbook with co-author Fran Raboff, cookbook author and cooking teacher. The Renee’s Garden Cookbook is the third in their collaborative effort; Renee and Fran already published Recipes from a Kitchen Garden and More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden a few years ago. The recipes for these cookbooks come out of a gardener/cook partnership; Renee brings the harvest from her company’s trial gardens to Fran’s kitchen and together they cook and test recipes to make easy dishes for families to enjoy. The recipes are by no means vegetarian dishes but vegetables and herbs are prominent.

I have the most recent cookbook, The Renee’s Garden Cookbook, and I suspect from the sample recipes on the Renee’s Garden web site that the other two books are similar. Unlike traditional cookbooks, Renee and Fran divided the recipes in The Renee’s Garden Cookbook by the main vegetable, salads, and herbs. In the first section, 29 vegetables are highlighted in alphabetical order, each with several recipes and sidebars on growing the plant. The section on salads and salad dressings has both leaf as well as fruit salad recipes with instructions on growing lettuce and Asian greens. The third section covers savory and sweet herbs. Savory herb recipes include herb encrusted lamb chops; Whitney’s tender chicken with pasta, mushrooms, and fresh herb sauce; apple chutney with wine and sweet basil; Thai shrimp soup with lemon grass; and spiced mint vinegar. Sweet herbs are used for desserts such as upper crust pear pie with lemon basil or lemon thyme; yogurt cheese pie scented with lemon geranium; caramel custard cups scented with rose geranium; and lavender jelly to name a few. Your mouth waters and you instinctively add the plants you don’t have to your “garden wish list” (got to get those scented geraniums!). Illustrated by Mimi Osborne who designs the watercolor images on the Renee’s Garden seed packets, the 158-page book has over 300 recipes.  Each copy is $17.95 or $19.05 for a gift box (great holiday present). To order and to view sample recipes and the other cookbooks, visit http://www.reneesgarden.com.