Archives for 2011

Sunday Opinion: The Greens

The topic of today’s opinion is vegetables, and not vegetable gardening.  Let me explain.  I have no opinion about what varieties to grow, or how to nurture them through the harvest.  I know nothing of companion planting, spacing, sowing vegetable seed, designing or installing a vegetable garden.  I cannot hold forth on which tomatoes are a must grow for my zone.  Should you want to talk peonies, I might have something to say and the experience to back it up. Should you shriek the word beets at me, I would raise both hands and say yes. Beets, and their greens-a favorite.  Not to grow-to eat. Though I am a better than decent horticulturist, I eat greens of which I have little or no knowledge.  Buck buys Shanghais most every week-I love these greens.  What is a Shanghai?  Should you know, please write.  I grow cardoons for the beauty of the plant-I would not dream of devoting space, time or thought to cultivating artichokes. Were I stranded on a desert island, I would only wish to be stranded with good bread and butter-and artichokes. zOK, I would probably learn to feed myself if I had to. I could pass a wand over my vague body of knowledge of indeterminate growing, cross pollination of corn, successive lettuce plantings, brassica pests, the cultivation of grains, raised vegetable beds and the efficacy of worm castings;  an uniformed person might be convinced I knew something about growing food.  Not so.  I am so lucky that other people grow great vegetables that are available for me to eat.

The greens-I don’t grow them.  More than likely, I would do a poor job of it. Eating them is a different story. My first and best love-beet greens. Next up, a close second-chard.  Bok Choy, turnip greens, rapini, Tuscan kale, any green leafy thing gets my attention.  Buck has no use for lettuce-what is wrong with him?  Escarole, endive, romaine, Boston bibb, leaf lettuce-even iceberg.  I could chow down a half head of iceberg splashed with Girard’s Champagne dressing-a feast. I could go on to say I could eat any lettuce plain, and be happy.  Cole slaw-bring it on.  I like my cabbage dressed with balsamic vinegar-no sweet slaw for me.

Lima beans-my favorite bean, though I have never been faced with a bean I did not like. Peas and their pods-delicious. Field peas-a new addition ala Buck. Broccoli has such an undesevedly bad rap-it really tastes great.  Brussel sprouts taste even better, but my favorite green thing is the artichoke.  I have been known to eat a pair of them at one sitting.  I grew up with a minimum of 3 vegetables on the dinner table every night-this in addition to the salad. I am talking about the 1950’s here.  Some were cooked, but lots were raw.  On the regular raw list: lettuce, radishes, celery, lettuce, kohlrabi, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, carrots, spinach.  Broccoli and potatoes-I like them just fine in their raw state.  I prefer raw kohlrabi or the heel of a head of celery to an apple.  Buck likes his vegetables cooked, but over the years, he has scaled back the cooking time.  There was a time when my penchant for raw vegetables and his love of vegetables cooked for days in slabs of bacon was a topic of much discussion.  If I can’t have a vegetable raw, I like it hot and almost raw. One of the few things I remember about being a freshman in college was how many others had never eaten any vegetables beyond tomatoes, peas, carrots and corn.  Not that I don’t like these, but there is so much else out there. 

I shop the farmer’s market and my favorite grocery stores for my vegetables-on and off.  In the late summer, I go to market at 6am-I call Buck that I am dropping off the greens.  He meets me in the driveway.  Buck and I shopped two grocery stores today together-January 2.  He ordinarily does all the grocery shopping; he walks through the door with a list, scoops up what he needs, and heads home.  As I rarely go, it was a shopping trip for me.  It was amazing the variety of food that was available under one roof.  I had to look at everything. The Nino’s in Rochester of course specializes in fruits and vegetables.  I saw plenty of vegetables I had never seen before-what a treat.  The bulk of our purchases-vegetables, fresh pasta,  and cheese.  And enough greens to have them every day of the week.     

There are plenty of other vegetables I would not want to do without besides the greens. The yellow, white, red, yellow, green and bulb onions, the Cippolinis, the chives, the Vidalias, the leeks.  Just yesterday I persuaded Buck to buy an eggplant-we’ll see what he does with it.  Peppers, mushrooms-they are all good to eat. This focus on food is a phase unique to my winter. Soups and stews are not just good to eat-they warm the soul.  Good eating is a winter event.  I can barely remember what I had to eat in May.  When I am gardening full tilt, I eat with the express purpose of keeping my energy level where it needs to be.  In the winter, I am much more likely to eat for fun.

Growing vegetables is not my idea of fun.  Thank heavens that so many people like to, so I don’t have to.  I might go so far as to pot up rosemary, or tomato pots ringed with basil and chives.  I do plant lettuce and parsley in my spring pots. I read seed catalogues all winter long. But this is as far as my vegetable gardening gets.  Eating vegetables-this I am good at.

At A Glance: Winter Reading

No Resolution


As much the week between Christmas and New Year’s seems mostly about the pause button, it has gone by quickly.  The shop has been very busy.  I also try to use this time to plan and construct for the holiday to come.  My holiday shopping for 2011 comes up mid month.  Am I weary of the holidays?  Au contraire, I am just getting warmed up.  Having spent the better part of 2 months working with holiday materials, I have only just now hitting my stride.  Working steadily endows the hand with a certain confidence some call rhythm.

Some materials we still have are being put to use in sculptures we are making now-for 2011.  The raw materials that made for a beautiful 2010 holiday season can now be turned over or inside out.  They can be cut up, moved over, or rotated in space-reconfigured.  I like nothing better than a project with a list of must haves, a list of cannot do’s, and the feeling that I am about to be cornered.  That kind of challenge sounds good to me. This is much about what I really enjoy about landscape design.  Rob redid the front door to the shop.  Two left over evergreen wreaths sit perfectly on the rim of a pair of iron pots.  What is left of our yellow twig fills those pots.  A few bales of douglas fir boughs carpet the ground.

Some of that yellow twig got woven into wreaths.  Willow twigs are incredibly flexible.  There is no form inside, just layer after layer of branches wound round each other and tucked in.  The greens carpeting ground-why not?  I’ve seen them swagged over doorways and banisters, in pots and wreaths-but I like this carpet idea.  They were left over materials in search of a reason to be.  Lots of ideas come to mind if you deal with a material long enough.  Flooring from greens-new to me.

Years and years ago I made wreaths from the rosa multiflora rose canes that grew wild on my property. The new canes made gorgeous wreaths-but steering clear of those thorns was not so easy.  I do not own that property now; that material is no longer available. An old idea in a new material; the dogwood is easy to work with with.   Every holiday season is a new season.  No need to trot out the old moves.  Natural materials are just waiting for a new idea to emerge.  I hate to throw away any material for lack of an interesting idea-I have been looking at the twig remains.   

No matter how many times the yearly twig truck arrives, I always feel a sense of anticipation.  I have another chance to interpret them.  The same applies to my garden.  Though it is a relatively small space, there will always be room for a big idea.  My plans for the new year?  More roses.  Less grass.  The corgi grass-inviolate.  I know when to leave well enough alone.   But I have other grass that could instead be a home for really cool plants.  Planning-the winter is perfect for this.  Not one creature, not one plant stirs when the ground is frozen solid.  I have time to think, look at the existing materials, and plan.

These ideas are not really resolutions for the New Year. Expecting a garden to provide rersolution seems like a contradiction in terms.  Resolving to tackle this project or that spot that isn’t working, adding something that will improve the overall look-a good idea.  Resolving is a verb, suggesting some thought, and definitely implying some action.  It is a paradox-how all of the resolving of a gardening lifetime won’t result in a resolution.  A garden is a living thing-always moving in one direction or another.    

Some leftovers need to be taken out to the trash. Some obsolete ideas need to be trashed.  But I cannot help but think there might be a future in store for these materials. I so like making something of what is left to the last.

Already these round forms are suggesting other forms.  Maybe a twig mix could be interesting.  The yellow and copper colors look very companionable here-where can I go with this idea?

A year, a gardening season, every season comes to an end, like it or not.  I do much better facing the winter with resolve.  If all goes well, I’ll be cleaning out, and cooking up.

 In simple terms, I would so resolve to try new things.  New plants.  Unfamiliar arrangements.  The toughest part of design is to look at any given arrangement, and realize that it can be different.  It just takes a willingness to entertain new ideas-no matter from whence they come.  This almost makes the idea of winter sound good.

Happy New Year-that’s what we plan to call it.