Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Monday, April 27, 2009
A guest post from award-winning poet, essayist, and radio presenter, Molly Fisk. Molly gardens in Nevada City, California. Her beguiling radio essays are broadcast on KVMR-FM and collected on two CDs, Using Your Turn Signal Promotes World Peace and Blow-Drying a Chicken.
In spring a young man’s fancy turns to love, as the saying goes, but quite a few of the rest of us turn toward asparagus. Despite the evidence in your grocery store, it’s ripe only during a one-month window in spring. You’ll know that month has arrived when the price suddenly plummets.
Martha Stewart recommends snapping the ends off where they naturally snap, vowing that this is the tastiest part of the stalk. But she has 400 asparagus beds tended to I’m sure by Japanese master gardeners. The hoi polloi, which is another name for rabble, i.e. us, will often just cut off the last inch or so and not waste so much, figuring a little toughness is par for the course, in asparagus as in life.
I’ve done some longitudinal studies of asparagus-lifespan in my ice box. They generally last a week. Any longer and the stalks get floppy, the heads with their little cedar-shingle-like design begin to slime up. Martha Stewart, however, and Alice Waters and others in the know insist we eat asparagus as soon as it’s picked, and this time, I agree with them. Again, it’s hard on the hoi polloi to search out the nearest asparagus farm and buy directly. For some reason, we’re usually at work. But you can make a phone call to discover when your grocery gets its delivery, arrange to shop that day and eat the little darlings that night, and you’re getting closer — if you live in an asparagus-producing state, those stalks were probably picked no more than two days before.
The novelist Barbara Kingsolver and her family spent a year eating what they could grow themselves or what was made nearby. Her entertaining account is called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Luckily she’d put in asparagus beds three years before, so they were producing — you don’t get any in the first couple of seasons. She said about eating in season that you start out delighted at your first taste, enjoy it for a week or two, and then start to wish you could eat something else. But you can’t. The beans and tomatoes are nowhere near ripe — you’re stuck with asparagus. Then suddenly it’s gone, you’ve eaten your last bite until next April, unless you’re going to buy those expensive ones from Chile that were bred for long distance travel, not flavor, and ruin your carbon footprint.
The big trend in gardening this spring is growing vegetables. We saw the White House lawn torn up for the purpose — backyards across the country are being roto-tilled as we speak. Nurseries are selling out of starts (the seedlings some people plant instead of actual seeds) — it’s a phenomenon, an intersection of the natural foods movement and the recession. This year I’m splitting my loyalties between an organic farm I support and a young friend just starting up on an acre she’s rented.
Don’t I sound knowledgeable about all this? In fact, I was raised a city girl in San Francisco — somewhere in the back of my brain I still don’t believe plants really come from seeds. But everyone says they do.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Guest post today from Jenny Bennett, a writer, editor, hiker, and not-too-serious gardener. Jenny has an entrancing blog, Endless streams and forests, on hiking and history, that you can find in the non-garden section of my blogroll. At one time Jenny worked in a garden center on Boston's North Shore and met some unusual customers. Do any of them sound like you?
Most of the time, the customers walked in with smiles on their faces, for they were happy to be in the world of plants. And that was a benefit of working at the garden center. It was certainly better than selling duct tape or plumbing supplies. But then, for every nine or ten contented visitors, there would be a cranky sort or (perhaps even worse) someone who was both eccentric and indecisive.
Here is a list of some of our favorite garden center specimens.
-- Nervous house seller: Would load up with whatever shrubs happened to be in bloom, even if it meant putting a rose of sharon under a pine tree. (Actually, I sympathize with this, being about to put my own house on the market.)
-- Seeker of “miniature” plants: Would look at an ornamental pear or a hemlock, then ask, “Is it available in miniature?”
-- Seeker of “frozen in time” plants: Didn’t mind that the plant was six feet tall, but wanted it to stay that height.
-- Unrealistic window box filler: Had large empty window box in full shade: “I’d like it to be a riot of color.”
-- Time-consuming window box demander: “I need to fill six window boxes, and I want you to show me something trailing for the front, spreading for the middle, and tall for the back. In yellow and red.”
-- The knowledge tester: Liked to point at something specialized, such as one of the 20 varieties of groundcover juniper, and ask for full details of siting and care, then move on to another plant, and another: push button, hear salesperson speak.
-- The “yoo hoo” ladies: Invariably elderly. Would go out to the roses or the hydrangeas and then cry out for assistance in loud bell-like tones: “Yoo hoo!” Some of the guys who worked there took to calling out “Yoo hoo!” to each other in a remarkable falsetto.
-- Adventurous buyer: Wanted to look at the blue spruces even in the midst of a furious thunderstorm.
-- Fussy car owner: Required the interior of their vehicle to be completely encased in plastic sheeting when purchasing a couple of container items.
-- Soul-chilling customer: After being shown many plants, would say, “Nothing here interests me.” (I could swear the plants wilted in the presence of these words.)
-- Cash register confuser: On Mother’s Day weekend, with a long line of people waiting amidst a great tangle of carts, would decide they wanted to put back the Japanese holly and get a spirea instead.
(The following two are particular, very special individuals rather than types.)
-- The bunny lady: Extremely wealthy, but dressed shabbily and drove a wreck. Carried her pet bunny in a straw basket, but worried aloud to us that a swooping hawk might carry it off. (There were, in fact, a lot of red-tailed hawks in the area.) Would pick out dozens of her favorite oriental lilies and then keep them on hold for weeks at the garden center. Always came in just before closing on hot, tiring days.
-- The imperious country-club man: One of my all-time favorites—the 60-ish gentleman in the blue blazer who marched up to me and barked: “Show me the lilacs! Chop-chop!”