Posts tagged gardening

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.

All Photos by Linda Daley

All photos by Linda Daley

If you were to look around my home you’d find I’ve placed buckets in the tub, shower, and sinks. The reason? I am intent on conserving water during the drought by capturing as much of our household water for reuse in my gardens and flushing the toilet. The daily yields of greywater captured from the sinks and tubs have given me useful information about our household water habits and usage. For example, I discovered that running our shower water until it gets hot fills up a five gallon bucket in no time.

IMG_1691

At some point our buckets graduated from an everyday utility pail to decorative home accessory. How did this happen? I blame the process of trial and error. I managed to accumulate a number of pails and containers while looking for the best ones for collecting water. Rather than storing my “failed” purchases in a closet, I thought instead to keep them where they may be needed. Hence, one bucket started holding long stemmed flowers – just like the ones you see in the farmers market – to add cheer to the bathroom, while another one was flipped upside down to serve as a convenient table or seat next to the tub.

farmers market flower buckets

Not my best decisions. Luckily, my husband put a stop to it. So I am passing along a few tips in case you have not yet ventured down this path during these drought-conscious times.

Things to Consider When Purchasing a Bucket for Greywater Collection:

Bucket size: The first set of buckets I purchased were too large. At 15 inches in height, I kept scraping my calf against them in our small shower. For my 5’-7” height, a 9-10 inch high bucket with rounded edges solved the problem. I also think the rectangular, versus round, buckets capture more water. For the shower or tub, you can purchase the larger sizes, but you will need a smaller pail to pour the water into (see why below). A 12-15 quart pail works for me.

Plastic versus metal: A bucket full of water is heavy. I learned right away that I don’t have the strength to carry a 5-gallon container of water (what was I thinking!) to the garden. Although I like the look of galvanized metal pails, the plastic ones are a bit lighter, and every ounce matters when you are hauling water through the house. Don’t go cheap on the plastic either; they won’t last long with constant use.

Handles: Make sure your pail has handles. I use the smaller 5-6 inch high containers in my kitchen because they fit perfectly in my sink. These containers do not come with handles but then my backyard is also a short distance from the kitchen. Sturdy handles just make carrying the water easier. Look for the ones with sturdy grips. Your hands will thank you.

Color: The first set of buckets I used were painting buckets. They are bright orange. I developed a negative emotional response whenever I saw the bright orange. Color matters. Surprisingly, buckets come in neutral and other colors. I now prefer to stick to white. Otherwise, I get caught up with the whole matching-to-décor thing. And my husband will have none of that anymore.

We live in Eagle Rock. It gets hot. A couple of years ago, we decided to make the plunge and install central air in our little 1922 bungalow. When the unit was being installed – on our roof, no less (thank you, narrow residential lot) – I noticed a PVC line being routed along the roof and down the side of the house: for drainage of air conditioning condensate.

Note the PVC line running out of the lower left of the package unit.

Note the PVC line running out of the lower left of the package unit.

I began to notice just how much water was being generated…and discharged into the dirt. This water begged to be captured. The solution was simple: I cut the PVC line, attached a threaded fitting, and ran a super-short hose into a bucket. On a warm summer evening, as our 1,400-square-foot house cools down, the 4-gallon bucket fills up in less than an hour! In the morning we pour the contents to water our lemon trees.

For less than the cost of a cold-pressed kale/banana/ginger juice, you can buy these parts.

For less than the cost of a cold-pressed kale/banana/ginger juice, you can buy these parts.

This represents 45 minutes of air conditioner condensate on a warm July afternoon.

This represents 45 minutes of air conditioner condensate on a warm July afternoon.

Plants need to stay cool, too.

Plants need to stay cool, too.

In a few months, I’ll let you know if the lemons have a peculiar aftertaste.

*This of course begs the question: is air conditioner water sanitary?