garden

the garden

I've been thinking about writing about gardening here. Not how-to, by any means as I'm still slowly figuring that out, but about the gardening itself. This is the third summer we'll have this garden. The first year, we roto-tilled the grass under, bought a few inches of topsoil, lime and other things to amend the heavy clay. We sprinkled seeds, sowed seeds in rows and grew starts in the living room. The garden that year was a jungle. Cosmos and hollyhocks tangled with orach, chicory, tomatoes and brussels sprouts. It was dense, lush, verdant and a mess. We planted so much that there were beautiful plants tumbling over themselves and each other in a feral tapestry. Last year we had another project on the go and thought we would be moving so we mostly left the garden to its own devices. I have an incorrigible curiosity when it comes to gardening and had let almost everything from the year before go to seed. I am also reticent to pull unknown plants in case they turn out to have pretty flowers, or to maybe be something I planted and forgot about. I delighted in American black nightshade for weeks thinking I had hit a west coast eggplant jackpot before they developed enough identifiable characteristics that a google search led me to pull them all out. I also let an elegant frondy member of the carrot family grow to monstrous proportions before a parent pointed out it was poison hemlock. But there was broccoli, and beets and raspberries and strawberries, and the borage, nasturtiums and lupins came back along with the ever-present fennel and what I think hope is lovage. A thimbleberry shrub erupted in one of the main garden beds and though I've relocated it three times, I'm sure it will be back as I can't seem to get at the deeper roots without dislodging neighbouring plants. Last October, I picked up some gardening books but had to put them away after reading "I understand plant domestication as an eternal contract whereby we humans promise to nurture a wild plant and protect it and its progeny from competition." in Steve Solomon's introduction to Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades (it took me six months to pick up the book again and finish it). So much for my curious, laid-back approach to letting plants seed themselves and see what happens. I like wild places and find that nature rarely looks messy to me. But I didn't want to be mistreating my vegetables and causing them to struggle. Our soil is bad enough as it is. That, and the relentless wind around here, and the shading buildings, and the slugs. So this year, this year things will be tidier. I've let the raspberries migrate where they like though, because I have never had too many raspberries, and have moved the strawberries to where it looked like they were trying to go. Those giants, fennel and hollyhocks and lovage(?), that turn up throughout are being moved to the edges. I'm not sure I have the heart to pull the poppies(?) that are coming up amongst the leeks and garlic, but maybe I'll try to move them. I was going to plant a small bed of parsley, and a small bed nearby appears to be full of parsley seedlings, so that works. The big plan for the garden this year was to grow lettuce for the rabbits. Unfortunately, most of the ground I thought was free is now home to a multitude of little gemlike chard seedlings. It's a good thing rabbits also eat chard. The things I have planted so far (peas, sweet peas, endive, lettuce, orach) have all been in rows, but I couldn't resist also sowing blanketflower, marigold and borage (and zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers to come). About the gardening: I don't think I quite actually like pulling weeds, but I do like the moments when I'm out there weeding. I like the meditative calm that comes of having one's hands in the dirt, and the quiet of the sky and the birdsong filtering through my thoughts. At the risk of sounding cliche, it's grounding. At the end of a busy workday downtown, the garden feels like an oasis.

because: caramelized onions

I felt productive this weekend, mainly because I roasted more tomatoes and had the inspired plan to caramelize onions in the oven at the same time. It worked brilliantly, beautifully. I know this because I couldn't stop eating them this morning. They are velvety, jammy, savory and sweet. We planted onions this spring and ended up with a lot of them come harvest time. I'm pretty happy about this. However, there were a few that didn't cure well that had begun to go a bit mushy. I decided that since I had the oven on at 275° for the next five hours anyway, I may as well put some onions in. I sliced the good parts of five or so of such onions thickly and tossed them with a drizzle of olive oil in a pyrex dish. Nothing makes me tear up like these homegrown onions (not quite true, but they are certainly tear inducing). I think I stirred them twice over the course of the evening, and by the end of the cooking time they were very soft and lightly browned. I turned off the oven and left them to stew overnight. In the morning they were perfect. I added a touch of thyme-infused sea salt, and ended up snacking on a few spoonfuls before breakfast.

Because I wanted to eat more caramelized onions and because I was pretty hungry, I concocted a salad which made use of a few generous forkfuls.

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September Salad with beets, caramelized onions and pecans

I didn't measure anything because I wasn't planning on writing about it, but it turned out so good that you will have to accept my approximations until I make it again, and adjust it to taste. I thought about dressing the salad, but I'm glad that I didn't because the oil from the onions coated everything nicely.

⋅ ~ 4 leaves kale, washed, stemmed, kneaded til bright green and cut into ribbons ⋅ several handfuls diced cooked beets (I used cold beets but warm would probably be lovely as well) ⋅ several forkfuls caramelized onion (and I do mean full) ⋅ soft cheese, crumbled (I used fromage frais, but a creamy feta would also be nice, such as Doric Macedonian Feta - Elise I silently thank you every time I find myself in possession of a bucket of the stuff) ⋅ a smallish handful of pecans, hand crushed and toasted over medium heat = Assemble and eat.

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again

It's interesting the roundabout ways in which we get what we want. I wanted another day vacation (actually I'd like many more, but let's not go there just yet), and here I am at home on the couch with stitches in my knee thanks to a careless move when building a sheet-metal shed yesterday. It's not that bad; I'll be back at work tomorrow, but when I woke up this morning it hurt a lot and I couldn't walk. Instead I managed an awkward painful hop-shuffle-drag gait across the house and called in sick so I can keep it still for the day. I'll have to work on a more comfortable way to get those other vacation days. Speaking of vacation, we just had an excellent week of freedom. We built a shed, swam at several new old beaches, cleaned the house and let it get messy again, harvested onions, had some dear family moments and saw an old friend, and explored tide pools. Again, please (though maybe without the shed).

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this morning, and last night, and the night before

I go out into the garden before I'm fully awake in the mornings, last tendrils of sleep wrapping around the trellised peas and eyes a little blurry in the light of the already blue sky. My purpose is to pick greens for the rabbits' breakfast, but it is also a lovely way to start the day. This morning there were two juvenile crows just waking up in the big tree by the house, stretching their glossy black wings and shuffling their feet, looking down at me in the garden and making soft groggy sounds, and a squirrel already busy in the tree's higher branches. Last night we watched the Canada Day fireworks from our front porch. It was so nice to be home, and to lean against my husband on the porch rail. Earlier in the evening, we had walked through the park to the footbridge and watched all manner of boats streaming by towards the inner harbour- rowboats, kayaks, paddleboards, powerboats. People also drifted past on their bicycles, some with pockets bulging with beer cans, and families walked by in hordes, lugging blankets and lawnchairs. Coloured lights expanded in circles, hovered for an instant, some shimmering as they faded. Their spidery smoke shadows lingered longer, illuminated in the dazzling brightness. But you've all seen fireworks before.

Better still was the swimming in the afternoon - we slipped into a lake that was refreshing but not cold, shallow rocks to dive off, and I swam past water lilies, out to an island and under overhanging Douglas fir branches laden with cones and a steep shore covered in fireweed and pink spirea.

I made a crazy hippie necklace today, with a quartz point hanging from a large faceted chunk of blue kyanite, the rest a frenzy of twisted silver wire and gemstone beads. I made it for fun, not thinking I would actually wear the thing, and playfully named the creation "dreaming happiness" as only an ornament involving a large chunk of kyanite and multiple other coloured crystals should be called. I did try it on to make sure it was a reasonable necklace size though, and ended up wearing it to the grocery store, and out for dinner, and I felt so sad and mopey after I took it off this evening that I put it back on and am wearing it now. So that's that.

I'm not sure if I realized before beginning, but gardening is a labor of love. That, or folly, but we are just novices. I've been tugging out some kind of nightshade with white flowers and fruit like small green tomatoes. I had yet to identify it so left a few of the robust, sprawling plants in case they turned out to be a lovely elephantine wildflower that we planted in a misguided attempt to decorate the garden borders, or perhaps the best crop of accidental eggplants this island has ever seen. It turns out the stuff is American Black Nightshade, so I will definitely be removing the rest of it tomorrow. My greasy hair drove me to the garden (I know, the shower would have been an excellent choice, but the weeding really needs to happen around here somehow), where I weeded with angst and ferocity, and also patience and some mindful and methodical mulling, for hours. The moonrise found me sullen and tired, though the full moon shone bright opalescent in a gradation of sky all smokey blues and lilacs. I barely noticed the sunset light up hot pink along long, low clouds in the west. Later, in a lull in the dull popcorn sound of amateur fireworks and the wails of sirens towards town, Venus and Jupiter appeared, glowing brightly very close together, well beyond the branches of the big pine tree that towered over us. The darkening garden was quiet with the small rustles of an evening breeze, moths' wings, birds settling.

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