Posts tagged gardening

About a year ago I began a post with this photo, accompanied with plans for growing a “lush, overflowing garden of kitchen ingredients” intended for backyard backyard fêtes. All photos: Jennifer Salazar.

Ah, yes…summer officially arrived a week ago on June 20th at 9:24pm. It was at that exact moment the sun reached its most northern apex from the equator. Given the passing of the season into the next, alongside the extreme temperatures torching across the entire southwest United States recently, I found myself inspired to offer an update about my kitchen garden.

Sadly, I begin with a bit of disappointment: some of the strawberries have not survived, and I have yet to see any fruit. The sugar snap peas and sunflowers sprouted without any problems from seed, while my tomatoes – old standbys like Early Girl – are thriving as well, and filling up the bottoms of their cages. Thyme and fennel continue to thrive, while the hot colored marigolds bloom and dry out in a continuous floral cycle of bloom and bust (the flower even coordinate with my orange gardening Crocs!).


Surprisingly, the basil plants which I always have trouble keeping alive are doing ok. The hot pepper bush, cilantro, and a couple Italian parsleys are withstanding the heat, continuing to grow.


A couple of squash plants are spreading their vines out confidently, my fave being this watermelon’s variegated and highly articulated leaves – its expanse creating a pleasing flat carpet of green over one of the beds.


The large pomegranate shrub at the back of the beds continues to set fruit, so I hope that will produce a bounty of pomegranates to enjoy this autumn.

Another favorite is the Geranium (though not the botanically correct Pelargonium species) – a favorite because their constant bright blooms appear even during drought conditions, and also because of the everlasting memories connected with my grandparents’ Inland Empire backyard growing up.


Unfortunately I had to install a set of plastic green stakes with fencing to keep our 2 dogs from digging up the beds before we planted. It was the least visually obtrusive solution, though I cannot say I am a fan of it.

Who knows, there may still yet be a chance my backyard will one day produce a summer harvest to meet my goals of this ideal backyard feast!

As landscape architects we are kept perpetually busy with creating drawings, coordinating with other disciplines, and seeking out vendors for products for our projects. It is all too easy to forget what is at the core of why enjoy about our profession: the utter beauty of the natural world and how it changes throughout the seasons.

Photo: Jennifer Salazar

Spring officially arrived in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago on Monday, March 20th, at 3:29am PST to be exact. Springtime’s arrival in Los Angeles is announced by a characteristic and ever-present perfume: the sweet smells of citrus blossom and the aroma of jasmine wafting on the light breezes of warmer days and evenings. “Springing forward” with daylight savings has affords us extra daylight to enjoy these blooms into the early evening in our neighborhood when their presence is at their most palpable.

We were fortunate to finally have enough rain this past winter. Because so, many plants have had proliferate blooms in the last month, inducing the stunning displays of native flowers exploding across the Anza-Borrega Valley and other wildflower regions. Another consequence of the heavy rains was a proliferation of weeds as well. They’ve covered our backyard kitchen beds, as shown below.
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All photos by Jennifer Salazar

All photos by Jennifer Salazar

I cannot speak for all landscape architects, but I think many of us found our way to the profession initially through a shared passion for plants. Large trees with their huge trunks and long branches are inspiring for their longevity – beyond so many human lifetimes. Tiny, dainty pansies, mere inches tall are so beautiful with their lively colors. And then there are all the plants in between: flowering vines with lovely smells, colorful orchids with stunning shapes, and my favorite – the ones that provide us culinary spoils – herbs, seeds, and produce.

Back in January, I posted about our backyard kitchen garden. Well, I am back with an update. As they say, it’s the cobbler’s children who don’t have shoes! My dreams were of a lush, overflowing garden of kitchen ingredients that I could use as an endless pantry all summer and autumn for backyard fêtes, like those seen in magazines.

Rosemary with sunflowers

My garden has since offered  a few culinary treats thus far. My biggest challenge is keeping everything watered after planting while the roots are getting established. In the usual morning rush, I often leave the house without watering newly planted plants and seeds, causing them to prematurely perish during warm or hot days.

I remember joking one time with others in my profession that it’s not that landscape architects are superior plant people. Instead we tend to know which varieties are lower maintenance because we spend so much time at the office working on OTHER people’s plants and gardens instead of our own.

Meyer Lemon panoramic

Since January the sugar snap peas have grown up the cages. I left them on the vine beyond their time to enjoy the shells too – shelled and frozen for a lovely, fresh, and crisp side dish for Easter supper with the family. After the peas, I planted tomato seeds on two different cage enclosures, caging two “wild” tomatoes that began to grow in another kitchen bed. I think some of the tomato seeds died because they were not watered, OR perhaps they were picked up by the small resident birds in our neighborhood that we see every morning foraging for food in our backyard.

Single sunflower

Eaten sunflower leafThere is also one wild sunflower that miraculously continues to grow upward. I say “miraculously” because the smallest birds perch on the plant’s lowest stems and eat the leaves! When I witnessed this behavior last year, I believed an aggressive worm or family of worms were eating the plant’s leaves. But, lo and behold, one day I caught sight of the little brown birds perched on the swaying leaf petiole, each picking away at the green leaf. I feel okay that these plants are being eaten by another creature that truly needs them if I do not get to them first. Thus, my culinary kitchen has doubled up into a wildlife food source, and it’s really not so bad (at least I am not feeding pigeons!).

There have also been so many other successes since January: more Meyer Lemons continue to ripen, fantastic for making fresh squeezed lemonade, whole lemon bars (recipe from the Smitten Kitchen), and generous amount for homemade lemoncello. A new single sprig of Mexican Tarragon survives amongst my other French specimens. A whole row of sunflowers have – despite bird nibbles – continued to reach upward to the sky, with a single pumpkin growing larger and establishing a couple of heavy leaves. We’ll always have the perennial rosemary, attracting the happy buzzing song of industrious bees, and oregano and mint contained in their containers, thank goodness. And the pomegranate has many promising blooms and flowers now, promising another autumn batch of homemade grenadine.

In thinking about my garden in part and in its entirety I am reminded of Alexander Pope’s famous poem, Essay on Man:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast; 
Man never Is, but always To be blest. 
The soul, uneasy, and confin’d from home, 
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

Eastern beds

From ground level Missing or dead tom seeds Only-surviving-pumpkin-sprout Tom seedlings with sunflowers Toms_sunflowers plan

Like the unending cycle of the seasons, so too do my hopes and dreams of edible plants continue to evolve every year as I look forward to the coming seasons, aware that Mother Nature’s cycles do not wait for anyone. Not even a very busy landscape architect.

Kitchen-beds

As a child of Southern California, I used to envy those Americans who were able to spent cold, snowy winters inside by a fire, thoughtfully combing through seed catalogs and planning for their spring season planting. Our family would also wait to plant in spring, but in typical temperate climate Southern California fashion, we’d seed our garden with our usual tomatoes and strawberries that always provided plentiful summer harvests.

Seed-catalog-pages

I find it comforting seed companies still print and mail out their catalogs via the old fashioned United States Postal Service. I enjoy the color catalogs filled with photos of beautiful vegetables and herbs. These days, I imagine the recipes we could make using the fresh bounty of produce promised within these seed catalog pages.

Meyer-lemon-trees-closeup

Currently growing in our four raised kitchen beds: 3 puny French tarragon and thyme plants, a healthy low shrub of rosemary, and some seedling snap peas I have on hacked supports (i.e. an inverted tomato cage with a right-side up tomato cage). The herbs are perennials, while the snap peas are what I imagine as the flavorful embodiment of spring – fresh, crunchy, earthy. My large pomegranate shrub stands bare (see: grenadine recipe), while our Dwarf Meyer Lemon tree –shown on the right – is laden with fruit, perfect for making homemade limoncello!

Our ten-year old daughter voiced a request for us to plant artichokes, one of her favorite vegetables. As glad as I am for her affinity for veggies, artichokes are large plant that result in only a few edible pieces. I decided this was an unsound choice for our kitchen garden, considering the limited real estate of our four 3’ x 8’ raised bed gardens. My goal is for high yield, small footprint plants so we can grow many plants of produce that we really enjoy eating, including zucchini, tomatoes, and peas. Decorative plants such as sunflowers and pumpkins are also welcome, but they really need to have high aesthetic or nostalgic value to go in with the edibles.

After combing through this year’s seed catalogs, I am inspired to plant the following plants: jack-o-lanterns of different sizes for a varied Halloween display; small cucumbers for pickling; crimson, magenta, and gold sunflowers for their floral beauty and the food they provide for both our family and the local wildlife ( last year a dozen birthday party guests witnessed a squirrel scampering up some large sunflowers we had grown to eat through the stalk and cart off the seed head!); hot colored zinnias for their lovely hues; garlic and shallots for menu flavoring; zucchini for pancakes (see recipe below) and old fashioned zucchini quick bread; kale for green juices; and as many different types of tomatoes that will fit for a variety of tasty treats in late summer!

Garden-Vertical_kitchen-beds

Depending upon the success of our spring plantings, we’re hoping to enjoy the bounties of our garden with the following recipes in a few months:

BX0214_zucchini-pancakes_s4x3Ina Garten’s Zucchini cakes: an easy recipe which only takes 20 minutes from start to finish, requiring only 4 minutes cooking per pancake (the recipe yields ten 3-inch pancakes).

Tomatoes with salt

  • Pick warm, ripe tomatoes off vine on a hot summer afternoon.
  • Rinse off with a small amount of water from the garden hose.
  • Slice tomato and sprinkle cut surface with salt.
  • Devour. Lick up juices from chin and try not to grin.

Sugar snap peas

  • Remove ripe seed pods with stem from vine.
  • Rinse off with small amount of water from the garden hose.
  • Devour pod and peas. Savor the taste of spring!

Creative Commons Photo by epSos .de

Creative Commons Photo by epSos .de

Fall is already upon us, but I don’t recognize it.

In Octobers past, I would have my garden prepared for new plantings after spending weekend hours on tilling, amending, mulching, trimming, and dividing. This year, the unusually long period of heat has kept me away from the garden except for minor garden maintenance.

My garden does not really need more plants, but this realization doesn’t stop me from visiting our local nurseries during weekends where I’m prone to stare at plants like tourists eyeing Bottega Louie’s delightfully curated arrangements of macarons, eclairs, and other treats. Like their faces, mine lights up mesmerized with the rows of plant containers luring me into yet another “sweet” purchase.

Creative Commons photo by Jennifer Chong

Creative Commons photo by Jennifer Chong

I consider myself a good gardener, but I have made many mistakes over the years. If there is a book about gardening missteps, don’t be surprised if I wrote it (I did not). Here are five lessons I’ve learned during my time preparing, tending, and nurturing my garden:

Creative Commons Images: Natfot

A gardener’s best friend and the bellwether of good soil, the earthworm. Creative Commons Images: Natfot

  1. The importance of good soil. When I first began gardening, I pulled away in disgust whenever I saw worms in my soil. I now cherish these squiggly creatures. Their very presence are signs of healthy soil, and their absence is an indicator of little or no organic residues in the soil. If you don’t see them in your garden soil, it’s time to aerate, compost, mulch, and add other good practices into your routine.
  2. Plant what is appropriate for your garden. I often fight the urge to buy plant species that I consider “special” but know won’t work for my climate zone or garden conditions. Trust me, you won’t run out of appropriate species for your garden. When you plant is also important. Plants, particularly crops, don’t do well if you plant them in the wrong season. If you plant too late for example, you may expose certain species to pests and diseases which can spread to other parts of your garden. Do some advance research on the cultural requirements of different species; the information is readily available.
  3. Water properly. I water my garden by hand. With my maturing native garden, I don’t have to water as frequently as I would for a newly planted or non-native garden. In our current drought condition, I simply cannot be lazy about this chore. A sage in my garden serves as my touchstone when I am busy with other things. Water deeply and regularly to get water down to the roots. The water should soak 6 to 8 inches. Mulching also really works. Don’t skip this step.
  4. Trim Plants. I used to avoid trimming back my plants because they filled a space in my garden nicely. Plants need space, air and light. Trimming allows them to get enough of the resources they need to grow properly. Plants also have their trimming season.
  5. Invest in garden gloves. When I first started gardening, I did not use gloves because I wanted to feel the earth and the plants. I have grown wiser after many infected cuts and painful pricks from thorns and needles. Find gloves that fit your hands and buy several for different tasks. Used gloves get stiff, cracked, or get gross with regular use. I replace mine often and feel better about my own health.