Thursday, April 30, 2009

Last year a good friend gave me a pair of red leather gardening gloves that are really too beautiful to use while grubbing in the dirt. Generous as the gesture was, I am not the sort of gardener who wears gloves. I like to feel the texture and temperature of the soil. I like to sink my fingers into a nice mix of sand, bone meal and humus when I prepare a spot for recalcitrant poppies and lavendar. Though they might keep my hands and nails from being brutalised, gloves get in the way. I feel like a wuss when I wear them.
Early in the season, a hard day of sewing the abominable trees of heaven that find their way into my Nanking cherries and lilacs, makes my hands look like they belong to a wussy urban gardener. Today, after clearing beds for snow peas and sunchokes, I earned broken nails, abrasions and blisters. No matter. During my thirty some years of gardening and seven years as a metalsmith, I learnt that a certain amount of discomfort comes with the territory. Sure, there are times when I would like to be Vita Sackville-West, mistress of a bevy of hired hands in charge of grunt work. Quite often, at the jeweler's bench, I wish I were Faberge or Spratling and leave the uncomfortable tasks for minions. Somehow, I doubt that I would enjoy either gardening or silversmithing as much, I have no castle--I garden in a half acre lot. My silversmithing clients are every bit as discerning as Russianj aristocrats, but they have a smaller budget. I think that I am doing what I have always been meant to do--gardening and making jewelry my own way, gloves off, all senses on the job.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

As the temperature drops to 37F I worry about its effect on my little garden. The seeds I planted outdoors in a an wheelbarrow--pak choi, mustard, bunching onions--have germinated and put out leaves the size of a ladybug. They are cold weather crops known to thrive in even lower temperatures. It is the infant fig and tender banana trees that worry me. They live out in the open, in whisky half barrels that offer them zero protection from gusting windows. Ideally, they should have been heavily mulched, but I operate a tough love garden where plants receive precious little coddling. Nevertheless, I hope against hope that these tender imports from warmer countries will survive this unusually chilly April.
As for me, I am also an import from a warmer country and I do not thrive in cold weather. For me, 37F feels positively so Siberian I must wrap myself in woollen shawls and feather comforters if I am to survive at all. Good hot chocolate helps keep hipothermia at bay and so do the comfort foods of the tropics. Piping hot black beans spiced with cilantro, garlic and onions, served over rice with orange salad or bananas as a side dish, are very good for the morale. So are Persian dishes perfumed with saffron and seasoned with sumac, Spanish stews and rich French soups. This is no time for delicate cups of consomme unless it contains generous dollops of cream and sizable splashes of cherry. It helps to read about warmer climates, too. Camilleri's mysteries, which are set in Sicily are rough and brawny and their main character, Inspector Montalbano is as coarse as new grappa and just as welcome when the thermometer drops.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

April came in like a lion, waving a rainy mane, blowing down tree branches, making the new blossoms on cherry treees shiver. There is nothing to fear. Frost date for my county is mid-May. While it is not to early to plant peas, potatoes, radishes and edible flowers such as calendulas, the tenderer crops will have be cossetted indoors for a few weeks yet. Mine are tucked into recycled yogurt containers and clear plastic boxes. Cake boxes from the grocery store make wonderful containers for potted seedlings. I find them fairly efficient as mini greenhouses provided that I do not forget that without adequate air circulation, my seedlings will succumb to the dreaded damping off fungus.
At the moment, I have Pink Oaxacan, Bulgarian, Fig, Hilbilly, Delicious and Jetsonic tomatoes planted in peat pots. In addition, I have Volcano and Peter peppers, Finissimo a Pala Verde basil in a motley collection of recicled containers. I am anxious to get out and plant the Jerusalem artichokes, the misnamed, yellow flowered plant. Heliantus tuberosus produces tuberers, as its scientific appelation indicates. Its place of origin is Virginia, where Sir Walter Raleigh found it in 1585. Jerussalem is thought to be a corruption of the Italian word for sunflower, girasole. In French, the tuber is known as Tupinambour, from the Tupi word Tupinamba, a Native Brazilian coalition whose members tended to eat French people around the time that good Sir Walter was plundering the natural resources of Native Americas. Toupinambour means uncouth and I suppose the French have a legitimate reason to the manners of the Tupinamba slightly objectionable. Nothing is known about the thoughts of the latter on the former. I imagine they might have said,
"Might taste good if washed thoroughly."
The bathing habits of XVI Century Europeans are neither here nor there. Sunchokes, by any other name are delicious baked with cream and sprinkled with nutmeg. Plant yourself a row.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Watching the British police bash protesters over the head with billy clubs is not an edifying activity. Neither is reading about Michelle Obama's wardrobe. Therefore I intend to skip further media's regurgitation of events peripheral to the G20 conference. For heavens sakes, 720, 000 jobs just vanished from the American private sector and TV talking heads are discussing similarities between Mrs. Obama's and Mme Sarkozy's fashion style. Is something wrong with this picture?
Voltaire was right. One must cultivate one's garden. Planting a veggie garden these troubled days is not only an economic necessity, it is a way of holding on to the sense that while the world may be out of control there at least one aspect of one's life that is manageable--never mind the vagaries of the weather and the appettite of the resident deer herd. Today, I planted Asian veggies. Ice storms may blast my crops, Bambi may eat the lot. If that happens, I will replant. Heck, my First Lady dresses stylishly, non? What is more, she is prettier than the Queen.
Rescued Dutchmen's britches grow in a safer place.

I know that it is wrong to dig up wildflowers. In this case, however, there were mitigating circumstances. The plants in question grew in a spot road crews were about to douse with weed killer. Having seen them in action, I suspect that to local road crews, whatever grows somewhere other than Wal Mart's gardening section is a weed. I am not talking about Gaia loving folks here. I am talking about fellows who would like to Agent Orange the whole of West Virginia so that it can be covered in low maintenance AstroTurf. These are the people who replace horse chestnuts, wild cherry, locust and Osage orange trees with Bradford pear trees so ubiquitous in the parking lots of American shopping malls. In my own village, municipal crews have been assiduously uprooting trees that do not fit into the Town Council's plan to Street scape Main Street. Something tells me that by next year neat rows of Bradford pears will magically appear in the god awful cement boxes that are being built in the very heart of our historic district. Thomas Jefferson would weep if he see that democracy sometimes leads to eco terrorism.
OK, so planting Bradford pears is not exactly eco terrorism, but drowning Dutchmen's britches in weed killer has got to be a crime. I will not stand for it. Whenever possible I will move them to a safe place. It would be nice if the local authorities would allocate the funds they are currently spending to uglify Main Street to a wildflower preserve. I do not intend to hold neither have the committees appointed to care for the few green spaces remaining in the village.
It is good to know that sometimes Divine Providence intervenes in deliciously mysterious ways. for example, the village had no real police protection late at night until the mayor's house was stolen and his house broken into. By sheer coincidence, funds to hire more police appeared and now the citizenry can sleep better. Police response time continues to be a frighteningly long thirty minutes, but who knows, Divine Providence might help again. As for wildflowers, sorry folks. They and the local fauna are doomed unless. One would imagine that a popular uprising might help, but in this here village folks would only rise up if there were a shortage of latte at the local espresso bar.