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!

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