Monday, July 14, 2014

In Lee's Garden Now is moving!

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Friday, July 4, 2014

Talking Fruits & Pleasant Aromas


August 6, 2014, “Trials, tribulations, and rewards of growing fruit” meeting of Home Orchard Society (, North American Fruit Explorers (, and California Rare Fruit Growers ( Conference, Troutdale, OR.

August 9, 2014, “Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden” and espalier tour, Western Washington Fruit Research Foundation (, Mt. Vernon, WA.

August 10, 2014, “Luscious Landscaping -- With Fruits!” sponsored by City Fruit, Bradner Gardens, Plant Amnesty, Seattle Fruit Tree Society, and the Washington Association of Landscape Professionals,, Warren G. Magnuson Park, Seattle, WA. 

Earliglo strawberries are on the wane. Time to move on to other fruits, still strawberries but very different strawberries in all respect. Alpine strawberries. The largest of them are the size of a nickel but each packs the flavor of a silver-dollar sized berry.
Alpine strawberry is one botanical form of wood strawberry (Fragaria vesca, often referred to by the French name, fraise de bois), a different species from the familiar garden strawberry. Wood strawberries are dainty plants that grow wild along the edges of woods in Europe, North and South America, and northern Asia and Africa. This is the wild strawberry of antiquity, mentioned in the writings of Virgil, Ovid, and Pliny, the strawberry that garlanded medieval religious paintings and was later depicted in grand proportions in Bosch’s Garden of Delights (c. 1500).
'Pineapple Crush' white alpine strawberries
The alpine form of wood strawberry was discovered about three hundred years ago east of Grenoble in the low Alps. It soon surpassed other wood strawberries in popularity because of its fruits are larger and borne continuously throughout the growing season, and because the plants do not make runners. I’ve even coaxed them to bear fruit in small (4-inch) flowerpots.
Some alpine strawberries bear white fruits, and those are the ones I grow, for two reasons. First, the flavor, sweet and pineapple-y, is better than the red ones. And second, being white, the birds don’t notice them so I can wait to harvest until they are dead ripe and delicious. All season long.
That same leisurely harvest is not possible with another uncommon fruit that’s just starting to ripen. Gumis (Elaeagnus multiflora) have a pleasant, tart flavor with a bit of astringency. More than a bit until they are thorough ripe. The variety I planted, Sweet Scarlet (from may be a tad sweeter than run-of-the-mill varieties.
The three-quarters-inch-long gumi fruits, scarlet red and speckled with silver, make a striking picture as they dangle on long stalks from the undersides of the branches. Birds also find the fruits very attractive. I’ve grown gumi for many years and last year was the only year in which I was able to harvest gumis ripe and in quantity. That was the one benefit of last summer’s invasion of cicadas, which birds evidently found more luscious than gums.

Cicadas or not, I’ll keep growing gumis. The large shrubs are able to garner nitrogen from the air, the leaves have an attractive silvery sheen that contrasts beautifully with the scarlet fruits, and the flowers perfume the air with a sweet aroma.
Perhaps the birds will leave me a few fruits to enjoy.
Read and learn more about alpine strawberries and gumis in my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden (2004).
Let’s segue from tongue to nose and eyes. For years I’ve grown various David Austin roses with increasing success, the increase due to Mr. Austin’s breeding increasingly better roses rather than to my increased skill as a rosarian. It’s cold here on the farmden, and cold is what usually weakened or did in the roses.
My attraction specifically for David Austin Roses lies in the full bodied bushes, their pest resistance, and -- most important -- the old-fashioned shapes (often rounded or cup-shaped), colors (often pastels), and fragrances of their blossoms.
'L. D. Braithewaite' rose
'Strawberry Hill' rose

Last winter was brutal for many plants, roses included. Yet the variety L. D. Braithwaite rose, planted in an unprotected location just outside the vegetable garden, weathered the cold unscathed. It is now drenched in deep red blossoms against a background of reddish leaves. The variety Charlotte didn’t fare so well. It was killed to the ground, perhaps lower; I dug it up.
The variety Strawberry Hill suffered some dieback despite protection afforded by the south-facing brick wall of my house. I’m glad I didn’t trash this bush because it’s also now covered with blossoms -- flat-topped cups of pink petals that emit a sweet, almost candy-like fragrance. Delicious!
And more good scents: Catalpa. Although native to a relatively small area in the Midwest, catalpa can now be found throughout the East and as far west as Utah. And it’s spreading.
But let me first backtrack to a few years ago at the local farmers’ market. One farmer had buckets filled with white blossoms that rivalled orchids. I looked and looked at them, trying to figure out what they were, then finally asked. I was embarrassed to learn that they were catalpa blossoms, which I’ve admired for decades but always from afar and with their surrounding cloaks of large leaves.
This year I decided to cut some blossoms, strip off the leaves, and put them in a vase. And that’s when their delectable scent was fully revealed.
By the time you read this, catalpa’s will have finished blossoming. Mark your calendars for next year.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Chickens & Gooseberries, A Bad Combination

Good gardening is not religion. Balancing and rebalancing is what’s needed, not the constraints of dogma. You want to garden naturally? Dogma would dictate doing nothing, in which case you wouldn’t have a garden. You want to grow only native plants? Then forget about tomatoes, apples, and tulips. And are the plants you want to grow truly native on your “back forty,” or down the road where the soil is slightly wetter in summer?

Gooseberries and chickens are what turned my thoughts to the need for balance today. I grow over a dozen varieties of gooseberries, dessert gooseberries with flavors akin to those of grape, plum, and apricot. I also “grow” seven Bantam chickens; they provide decoration, insect control, eggs, and some degree of entertainment.

On the downside, chickens’ scratching in my garden beds in search of insects and seeds messes up what could be a very neat and orderly space. (Or, looked at in a more positive light, the chickens’ scratching adds a cottage-y blowsiness to the scene.) A four-foot-high fence surrounding the two vegetable gardens keeps out the chickens and those gardens productive. An eighteen-inch-high fence around some other garden areas was meant to, if not to definitely keep the poultry out of those areas, at least to make them do their own balancing, weighing the benefit of entering the fenced area against having to vault the fence. (Clipped wings tips the balance somewhat more in favor of not vaulting the fence, but not enough.)

A few days ago I noticed that this year’s especially good crop of gooseberries in the making were no longer in the making; most were gone. Gooseberries rarely suffer from late frost, at least here, so that could not be the reason. Gooseberries do not need cross-pollination, and, anyway, I have plenty of varieties for cross-pollination and bumblebees were buzzing all over the bushes in bloom. So pollination issues could not be the problem either.
Chicken and young, gooseberry bandits

I lay blame for the paltry crop of gooseberries squarely on the shoulders of the chickens, who have been hopping the low fence around the planting for weeks. Mostly, they seemed to be scratching the ground beneath and around the gooseberry plants but I wouldn’t put it past them to help themselves to berries also.

So, what to do? Putting a four-foot-high fence around the gooseberry beds would keep the chickens at bay but, with all the other fencing here, the scene could begin to look like a prison. The chickens could become soup. Or I could allow the chickens their indulgence.

Another balancing act: Roses, now in bloom, look great either on the plant or in a vase. For roses that bloom all season long, cutting the blossoms coaxes new ones forth. A win-win situation. Except that towards the end of the season, it’s best that plants get ready for winter by slowing down and toughening up. Letting rose blossoms remain on the plant and go on to make fruits -- rose hips -- helps slow them down.

A couple of weeks ago, a visitor looking at my asparagus patch commented on how nice it was that I still had asparagus to harvest. Of course asparagus was still coming on strong; it was only early June!Balance again.

Asparagus is a perennial vegetable whose spring spears are fueled by energy stored over winter in the plants’ roots. For a good asparagus harvest, the goal is to balance spear harvest against the plants’ need to pack away extra energy, created by photosynthesis, in their roots.

Greenery is needed for photosynthesis. If spears are harvested all season long or even for too much of the season, roots are left with insufficient energy reserves going into winter. The result: Plants either die or push forth few, spindly spears the following spring.

So the tack is to harvest for a period in spring short enough to let plants start packing away fuel for winter and the following spring. A good balance is struck by allowing about eight weeks for harvest. After the end of June, spears emerge and then unfold into those ferny fronds which, left untouched until they turn brown in autumn, have time to create energy and store away energy in the roots for another eight weeks of harvest the following year.

With warm weather, asparagus needs to be harvest every couple of days or so. At each harvest, I cut down each and every spear, including those that are too skinny for eating or those that escaped previous harvest and have begun to unfold ferny foliage. Thorough harvest not only keeps new, fat spears emerging but also helps control asparagus beetles. These beetles feed on those early emerging spears. Cut all the spears early in the season and the beetles starve.

If you have never seen the beetles, look on the spears for small, black specks. Those are beetle eggs. Just wipe or hose them off, or go ahead and eat them with the spears. Asparagus and eggs is a classic combination -- admittedly, the eggs for this combination are chicken eggs. Perhaps the chickens should stay.