Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Not that I don’t admire the obvious robin perched high on the fir near our house warbling his heart out each morning and each evening. But when I stumbled upon these nests a mystery opened before me requiring the utmost delicacy of spirit as I peered, as I photographed, as I flitted away bird-like and silent.

Five towhee eggs in the n middle of the perennial border,\.

Literally two in the bush, a rufus hummingbird nest with eggs the size of peas in the thorny tangle of a blackberry thicket.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


I love legs.
I love the long legs of a Cabernet Franc caressing the inside curve of a stemmed glass.
I love the naked lankiness of the kitchen table after the table cloth has been stripped off, exposing the legs and the floor littered with dog and cat hair, and crumbs.
I loved the first leg of the trip, Seattle to London, the second leg, London to Delhi; but was not so fond of the last leg of the trip London to Seattle, when the trip starts feeing like a millipede, and all I want is to be home.
I loved the unabashed 70s when shorts were short and legs long, but not so much this modern baggy false modesty.
I love my legs, my well used legs. After years of walking, biking, hiking and gardening, they are veiny, prone to cramps, and, I’m ashamed to admit, not very flexible. My mother always likes to tell the story about how, at 2, I walked 4 miles without complaining, until the last block before we got home.
I guess I’ve been legging it a long time.

Once as graceful as chinese acrobats balances plates, the giant alliums are on their last legs, beginning the slow decent to the ground.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I’ve been avoiding something my whole life.
Sure I’ve had plenty of clients over the years with roses. But I begrudgingly tended them. Dreading, sometimes, the days of picking black-spotted leaves, deadheading and raking around the thorny beasts. I was invariably bleeding by the end of the day. But I still did not come to love roses. “Miscreants,” I’d cry.
You would think since I inherited my mothers love of gardening, to the point of making it a mania, I would have inherited her love of roses. In our little urban garden most space was devoted to food production. Fruit trees, vegetable beds, and lawn to keep us kids out of her garden. But my mother kept one small bed for roses and asparagus. She grew several hybrid tea roses, but I only remember the one she revered most. The popular and easy ‘Peace’ rose. It’s wimpy color was wasted on this small boy who loved red above all colors. It’s delicate fragrance wasted on a nose that woke only to the smell of french fries frying. Maybe if she had grown some shrub roses, or ‘Abraham Lincoln” I would have caught the rose bug.
But subliminally I was being lured in by the roses, through their relatives the cherries. We had two large cherry trees outside are kitchen door. Climbable cherries covered with fruit each year right when summer vacation started. The first rewards. And they were red.
Cherries are, along with strawberries, plums, apples, peaches, blackberries, et al, in the rose family. They have the same simple five petalled flowers of species roses and , in general, sweet fragrance in bloom. Actually roses produce edible red fruits, or hips, too.
But of all these fruits I have to say cherries are my favorite. Foolishly a few days ago in the heat of the moment I said, “Watermelon is my favorite fruit.” And just a week ago I posted about my favorite vegetable/fruit, cucumbers. Yet it is truly cherries that receive this honor.
The thing about cherries is they are such a perfectly complete package as a plant. Beautiful architectural trees with shiny bark, a beautiful display of flowers early in spring, great fall color and of course those shiny tidy red fruit perfect for popping in your mouth.
Years before I landed at the farm Michael had planted six cherry trees. They are in their prime now. This spring the cherry orchard looked like a wedding cake and hummed with our neighbor’s honey bees. I lied down in the grass under the trees and tasted the first sweetness these trees had to offer. Now, just a little over a month later the cherries are ripening.
It feels like a picnic, so I got out the aluminum ladder to pick some of the highest cherries which were ripening first. Our local robin perched defiantly on the wobbly top of a near by fir tree and scolded me. He had been staking his claim for months, drawing a musical property line around our little cherry orchard with his melodious “ mine, mine, mine.”
We don’t always win at the cheery picking game. Last year when the number of cherries were fewer the birds and the raccoons beat us to most of them. So this year I wanted to be ahead of the game.
The cherries I picked were not quite ripe, lingering at the door of sweetness, just collapsing toward tenderness. Actually some were as crunchy as radishes. I ate a handful of tart redness anyway, like an over-anxious kid. The dogs waited below the ladder incase I dropped a few, their reward for waking me at 2 a.m. the other night to alert me. The raccoon was in the cherry tree again. I let them out and they chased her away. Not that I don’t like to share, but a raccoon can strip the whole tree in a matter of hours.
I even saw the black-headed grosbeaks, those good pest controllers, rapidly gobbling cherries under the radar of the robin. I guess everyone loves cherries, so I have no doubt, they are not ours alone. But with vigilant timing we might get enough for Michael to make preserves, and me, a pie. But up on the ladder it was directly into the mouth like a bird, like a raccoon, with a few falling to the waiting dogs below.
I realize I am still avoiding the roses even though we just bought two more yesterday at Antique Rose Farm in Snohomish. That means we’re up to 20, I think we lost count, new roses this year. They’re out numbering the cherries which is making me uncomfortable. Of course if you add up all the apples, plums, pears, raspberries and cherries we’ve planted it might be about even.
Eventually I will begin to photograph and to write about our burgeoning rose collection. But for now It’s the unavoidable cherry harvest requiring our vigilance.

Our quirky, and totally inedible, native cucumber is setting it's first fruits, too.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Everyone loves tomatoes.
There are tomato taste tests, cook-offs, blogs and chat rooms.
One survey says that tomatoes are the most frequently home grown vegetable. Nearly 85% of all home gardeners grow tomatoes. I may be wrong but ask just about anyone what their favorite vegetable is and they’ll say most emphatically, “Tomato.”
Ask me and I’ll say most emphatically, “Cucumber.”
To me it is the ultimate summer fruit, they are after all like tomatoes a fruit. Though I love to eat them pickled, there is nothing like a cucumber in one hand and a salt shaker in the other on a hot summer day. I’ve read there is actually a 20 degree temperature difference between the outside and the center of a cucumber. Thus the “cool as a cucumber”. They are also about 95% water, so on a hot day with a little salt they make a marvelous re-hydration snack. Unfortunately they are relatively low in nutritional value having modest amounts of protein, fat, minerals and vitamins B and C.
Yet Cucumis sativus has been cultivated with love for over 3000 years, starting in it’s native India and moving westward with civilization. It was grown in the New World only two years after Columbus’ first landing and was quickly adopted by Native Americans. Though the fruits are rather phallic, herbalists have attributed this fruit “ruled by the moon” with the feminine qualities of cooling. It has long been used in cosmetics. My sister used to apply cucumber slices to her eyes, to which my mother would cry , “That’s a waste of a good vegetable.”
Yesterday I transplanted our cucumber starts into the field. We have finally narrowed it down to 4 cultivars after 3 years. Our favorite is 'Poona Kheera' an heirloom cucumber form India which produces well here even in our cool summers. The skin turns an ugly crackled brown color when they ripen but the flesh is white and sweet and crunchy. I haven’t tried pickling these yet. For pickling we grow a variety called 'Delikatesse'. We also grow 'Satzuki Midori' which I reluctantly allowed in our cucumber patch a few years ago. I was never impressed with the Japanese cucumbers I bought either heavily wrapped in plastic or waxed to keep them fresh. “ Overpriced and overrated,” was my assessment. But Michael, insisted so we planted some. They are miraculous fresh from the vine even the forest green skin has a delicate fresh taste and I will not have a summer without them now, except last summer which lacked heat and Suzuki Midori. I’m trying one new cuke this year ' Jaune Dickfleischige'. Michael swears I ordered it for the name alone. But my favorite seed catalogue Baker Creek Heirloom Seed had me convinced with their description ending with: “Rare!” So I had to try it.
The other thing that is rare to find in American gardens is the Mediterranean native, squirting cucumber (Ecballium elaterium) . I collected seeds of it at il orto dei semplici elbano when I was there last fall and they sprouted like crazy this spring. They are hardly edible, bitter and toxic, though used medicinally for millennia. The Greeks considered it to be a remedy for all ills. And the ancient herbalists lauded it as the medicine with the longest shelf life. Theophrastus mentions a doctor who had 200 year old elaterium pills which had “marvelous healing properties.”

I’m not growing this plant for anything but amusement value. Actually I find it rather attractive, too, with it’s succulent hairy leaves that remind me of plectranthus, yellow nodding flowers held above the foliage and the adorably prickly fruits like unripe hedge hogs.
It is actually hard to think of cucumbers as attractive. The edible ones have rather course foliage, hidden flowers and warty fruits. But we have a native in the Northwest sometimes called “wild cucumber” but more commonly “manroot”, because of the large tuber this herbaceous perennial forms.

Marah oreganus is a vine that climbs 30 feet into the trees each year and when it blooms in late spring with millions of small white stars is quite beautiful. It grows on the banks of the Snoqualmie River across the road from us. Though I will never eat the bitter fruits of this vigorous vine, I’m happy to see it in bloom because that is when we’re planting our edible cucumbers. And because we save them for last it marks the end of the rigorous planting season on the farm. Now its just waiting, and weeding, until harvest.

I built these "Temples for Cukes" from book palettes and goat fencing. The object is to keep the fruits off the ground where slugs might get them. The fruits dangle below the foliage and are easily harvested without damaging the vines. It's an old Portuguese method, so a friend tells me, though it seems too common sense to have occurred only to the Portuguese.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


June is not white like a bride bound in bolts of lace. June is green, even though the bridal wreath spirea ( the one I’m thinking of is Spiraea x vanhouttei, though many list Spiraea prunifolia as “bridal wreath” ) is blooming, filling me with memories of the Good Neighbor Tap, the corner bar near where I grew up, and the bridal wreath growing in front of it nearly hacked into posts. They bloomed none the less. It was the first plant name I remember learning, my cousin Dawn said “Bridal Wreath” and we pulled off the clusters of flowers and threw them at one another polka-dotting the side a walk in front of the bar.
June is not red like stage blood spilled at the right moment to enhance Shakespeare’s words. June is green, even though I give impatient nodding glances to the one hybrid tea rose we grow. Michael had taken a cut long stem rose from a birthday bouquet and stuck it in the ground 7 years ago. It’s 6 feet tall now and gives us long stem red roses all summer long. “ Love is like...” I’m still waiting, not for love, but for the “...newly sprung in June.”
June is not purple like grandmas in floral print sweatshirts cruising thrift stores. June is green, even though the second flush of lilacs ( Syringa x prestoniae) is purpling up our hedgerow. I’m hesitant to love theses lilacs like I love the earlier lilacs( Syringa vulgaris cvs), that remind me of my always-dress-wearing grandma and the square foil wrapped Choward’s Violet Mints she kept in her purse. She doled them out cautiously on us kids, who found their sweetness pleasurably soapy.
June is not pink like a slapped cheek. June is green even though everywhere you look is a Fantin-Latour moment with heavy-headed peonies dropping over from the weight of too many petals. Like too much talk or too much sleep makes you feel cranky, even angry, capable of slapping a cheek, I like to shake a saggy peony to free it of some petals, they seem so foolishly burdened, when they could just be leaves.
June is not any color, like rainbow oil slick, but green. To me. June, named for a goddess, is the triumph of leaves making so much green it can’t be seen, I walk blindly through all this beauty each day complaining, or making lists or looking for something to buy, or whatever else I do to occupy my mind instead of using them to see all the green.
Beautiful green.
Beautiful June for being green.

Named after another "goddess" this lovely hosta is called 'Marilyn Monroe', who was born on June 1, 1926.

Before flowers are red or pink or purple they are green buds. I started this yellow flowering clivia from a seed 5 years ago. It is sending up it's first flower spike. I'm still waiting.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Michael loves this orange binder twine. He calls it “ A farmer’s best friend.” It drives me crazy. Too stiff to tie gracefully, too persistent to let rot into the garden like jute. We always find it tangled in the mower blades and the roto-tiller tines. Though I’m an orange lover I also find the color unnervingly “plastic” in the garden. It’s very cheap, so it’s cost effective. But how long will that last? Probably not as long as the little bits do in the vegetable patch.

Who needs vaseline on the lens when plastic makes the world dreamily blurry?

Tarp blue is one of my least favorite colors, but I wouldn't be with out my blue tarp great for covering and dragging debris.

This life-like goose is actually plastic . It floated into our yard during the flood and is now our mascot.

My water bottle is no longer plastic.