Sunday, August 16, 2009

Garden Bouquets and Country Rides

After a cool down and a day or two of showery weather, everything is looking refreshed! The dust has been washed off the leaves and colors are brighter. On my morning walk around the veggie garden I was entranced by the 'garden bouquets' that emerged around every corner. It's really hard to pick the deep purple Russian Kale when it looks so beautiful with the Basil and tall yellow Helianthiums. Nearby Echinacea sits among Queen's Ann Lace.

There is lots of produce to pick now that Summer is on the wane. It's been a busy week....I finished up a large landscape design and tried to fit in some bike riding so I'd be ready for the annual Vineride, which took place yesterday. Mid-week I had taken a 20 mile ride and was caught in a deluge of both rain and hail that fell out on a country road where I had no place to take cover. I was so wet that I decided to just continue on. When I finally got near home the sun was out and it appeared that our area hadn't received any rain at all!

Yesterday about 500 people cycled through the Oregon vineyard country of rolling hills dotted with farms and vineyards. The weather was overcast and only in the 70's which made for perfect conditions. My husband did the 100 mile route, leaving the start in Newberg at 6 am. I started with a friend around 9:30, and we did about 38 miles, going through the farm towns of Carlton and Yamhill. Near the end my legs and hands ached a bit and my neck muscles were tight, but on the whole, it was a great ride! The money raised goes to help children with cancer.....a truly worthy cause. ( This ride takes place every August and is a great way to see the countryside just South of Portland.

Today I plan to do some garden puttering, and make sure everything is well watered. I also have a big bag of beans from the garden to blanch and freeze. They are predicting another change in our weather...with a swing back to the mid 90's and maybe even another 100 degree day! Hope that doesn't happen. The poor plants are having a hard time adjusting to these wild swings in the temperature. This past week we had night temps down in the low 50's and I had to get my fleece shirts out again!

If it does get hot again I'll make up some batches of Gazpacho soup...since we'll have all of the ingredients. It's the best on a hot day: Take 4-5 ripe tomatoes, a cucumber, 1 garlic clove, 1 onion, 1 red sweet pepper, 1 cup cold water, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, plus 1 cup of diced bread and salt and pepper...then put them all into your blender and churn until you have a slightly chunky texture. Voila!...dinner.

I'm anxious to get out riding again now that my legs are broken in! It's such a great way to really see things up close. Just the ordinary dry grasses and weeds along the roads were beautiful. Perhaps I'll tuck a camera and sketch pad in my pack and make a few stops along the way. Next week we'll be heading for the Oregon coast while my husband takes a photography workshop.... so I'll have another area to explore!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Celebrating fresh vegetables

Did I say it was going to get a bit warmer? Try 10 consecutive days above 90.....and four days over 100, topping out at a record 107 degrees! That was Portland.....up here at Cloudrest we were slightly 103 for a few days. The grapes loved it, along with the hot peppers and tomatoes. Everything, as long as I watered, seemed to be growing as I watched. I did have to cover the lettuce with a sheet everyday, and worried that the grapes might get sunburned. We had put off 'hedging' the vines so at least they were partly shaded by the long arching canes. Once the heat wave broke, we had Gilberto come with his machete to do the needed trimming. So aside from a rather brown lawn ( we don't go overboard on that since we have a well ) and a few plants that suffered some scorched leaves, we're looking pretty lush around here. The veggie garden in particular is a jungle...and we're eating well!

I hadn't grown Broccoli in awhile and am amazed at the size of the heads. The plants, along with my purple kale, Japanese eggplant, and rainbow swiss chard are almost too gorgeous to pick. Fresh veggies right out of the garden are hard to beat for tenderness and flavor. The kitchen counter top is filling up with bowls of ripe tomatoes ( I love the bright orange variety) and piles of too many zucchini. Italian flat beans and French stringers add to the global mix. There is something very soothing about wandering about a vegetable garden on a warm summer morning or evening. The produce may feed the body but it also feeds the soul. Everyone should experience it. When we have decidedly urban guests for dinner I make a point of having them help me pick the vegetable that we'll be having for dinner that evening. It's amazing how many people have no idea how their food actually grows!

Besides the vegetables, my garden also contains roses, herbs, and perennials like rudbeckias, echinaceas, helianthiums, phlomis, lavendar, geranium, and alchemilla, along with annuals like sunflowers, and verbena bonariensis. The bees are everywhere doing their thing. On a large coneflower plant, nearly every flower often has a bee working diligently....providing a fascinating science lesson for my 7 year old grandson. Once the heat wave was over I was forced to wade into the jungle and hack away at the encroaching rose branches that were leaning into the tomato patch ( 22 plants). I also discovered that the winter squash plants had woven their way through the tomatoes, making it quite a challenge for picking! It was a good thing that we had
put in drip soaker hoses before the plants had gotten too big. Needless to say, a vegetable garden is serious business and does require both time and effort. You can't just leave it for a week. Here in the Portland area there has been a concerted effort to encourage small edible gardens....even in front yards, where there is often more sun. It's amazing how many raised beds are popping up. Large pots and containers, lining the front walkway or porch steps, can also house an amazing amount of produce.

On another note....having been inspired by the colorful garden beds that I saw during the recent APLD Conference here in Portland, I decided that my 30 year old border just south of the house could use an overhaul. The Geranium macrorrhizum, golden oregano and alchemilla had engulfed many of the prized plants. Three days and many sore muscles later, I am excited with the new textures and colors that were added. It will take a season or two for the plants to fill in and achieve the look that I want. Now I just need to stay on top of it and keep up a more regular maintenance schedule. This winter I'll heavily prune back both the Viburnum 'Spring Bouquet' and Viburnum davidi, which have gotten way too big over the past 30 years. Luckily, they can even be cut down almost to the ground and like rhododendrons, will grow back to a smaller scaled shrub. When you live somewhere for over 35 years, you will need to do some major editing!

I may not have done much bike riding during the heat wave.......but my muscles tell me that my gardening chores gave me plenty of exercise. I look forward to a more relaxed August where I can reap the rewards that the natural environment can give...both spiritually and physically. Next weekend is the 'Vineride'...a charity ride through Oregon wine country where you can pick 35 to 100 mile routes. I'll do the 35 and hubby will be doing the 100! ( he's been in training for the big Cycle Oregon ride in September) There's nothing better than a summer in Oregon!