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Garden Gifts

Friday, July 29, 2016

The birthday post goes on. All this stuff happened on my birthday. I'm counting blessings. I think I hit 14 in the last post, and they were things I saw out my window as I worked. Toward evening, I headed to the garden to pick some dinner, and it hit me how many gifts it's pumping out, at last, after all the weeding and mulching, the staking and coddling and the minimal watering I've done. 

It is truly amazing how fast a tomato can grow when it decides to take off. Remember, they were all frosted to sticks on May 10 and 11. Amazing! Helps to support them well, with cages and heavy-duty stakes. Dang, that's a good plant. The Sungolds are in, and the Cherokee Purples and Mr. Stripeys have already blessed us with about six BLT's. MMMMM. Mmm, mmmm! #15. My favorite sandwich anywhere, ever, is a homegrown tomato BLT.

The peppers didn't like the mid-May frost much, either. I had to go out and buy plants after all my seedlings, tenderly grown in the greenhouse, died. Waah. But here comes a golden Baby Bell! I like Bonnie Plants. They get results fast, and they're well-grown, with a nice selection. All hail Bonnie!especially when frost takes yours. Gift #16.

Tendergreen beans are in and they are sooo delicious. #17.  I had to pick again right before I left for Arizona. I finally got smart and planted only two rows at once this time, with the third row (foreground) planted a couple weeks afterward. That way I'll get more tender young beans just as the first two rows peter out. Last spring I went nuts, planted four rows at the same time. And I remember declaring, "I will be buried in my own beans." A bean is a wonderful thing.

Every year, things volunteer in the garden. Cherry tomatoes, of course, but most of those get pulled up, because none are as good as my Sungold hybrids. I had a mystery plant come up right where my tomatillos were last year. I was suspicious of it, because it looked so much like a nightshade, but I let it grow, as there was something tomatilloey about its leaves and flowers. Still wasn't sure about it...

It got bigger and bigger.  Ye gods! If this isn't a tomatillo, what is it? I kept checking to see if it was fruiting. Nope. I decided to let it continue to eat real estate and cow manure until I figured out what it was. Maybe it was a wild ground cherry, and I hear they're edible, too.

Finally got my answer on my birthday! They're tomatillos!!! Inside that husk is a marble-sized green fruit, and when they get big and burst the papery husk, I'll be throwing those into quiches, stir-fries, salads and soups all summer long. Not to mention eating them right off the plant. A little green tomato with firm flesh and a citrusy tang! Love tomatillos! If you've never tried growing them, you must. Vital ingredient in salsa too. To have one of these hot-weather plants volunteer in my garden seems a very extravagant gift. And it's JUST HUUUUGE. #18!! with a bullet.

In a sweet bit of irony, the most valued volunteers in the garden actually germinated just outside it. I started growing tomatillos and cucamelons in the spring of 2013, when a friend sent me seeds for both. Look at these four cucamelon plants, which took root in the soil at the base of the garden planks. I found them as I was hand-pulling crabgrass along the boards. The tags and terra cotta are to protect them from the occasional weed whacking.  Funny how plants make you remember people. Cucamelons and tomatillos come unbidden, spring up like thoughts, volunteering, popping into my garden just as thoughts of my friend pop into my mind.

Unlike random thoughts, these unbidden visitors bear fruit. A tiny cucamelon forms, its yellow blossom about to drop off. If you're curious about cucamelons, type it into the search box in the upper left corner of this page. You'll get several posts about these tiny crunchy wonders, by far the crunchiest thing I've ever grown. Also called "mouse melon."  #19.

Gift # 20:


It's going to be an incredible tuberose year. I've been dividing the bulb clusters and planting them singly in rows for about a decade now, and they've responded by multiplying like bunnies, like my friend Gordon says. He gave them to me ages ago, just a brown paper bag of them, after I swooned when he put some in a vase by my bedside when I visited. And now I give them away.

I have enough to plant absolute windrows of them--this one by the heirloom bed of asparagus, of  rhubarb from North Dakota and golden raspberries from Connie Toops. It looks like every one of these plants is going to spike up and bloom this year. August and September are going to be something, my friends.

This year, we cut a bunch of sumac that was shading the heirloom bed, and I dumped two top-dressings of cow manure on it, and oh my. Stand back! I dug a little trench, put cow manure in it, added tuberoses...

Come August, this lovely member of the agave family will start pumping out the tubular white blossoms and their intoxicating evening scent. One blossom will perfume a bedroom.

More tuberoses, by the garage, and a Thunbergia (black-eyed Susan) vine that couldn't live in a pot any longer. Cow manure, cow manure. It's the new drug in my happy sanctuary.

Another testimony to cow manure: this gardenia. As of late April, this plant had barely a leaf on it, thanks to a non-watering event combined with a red spider mite invasion. I apologized to it, gave it a bigger pot half-filled with aged manure, and am now reaping the rewards.

It's so incredibly beautiful, with four-inch flowers, that I brought it into the studio for perfume, and to escape the 98 degree heat outside. It's thankful, and so am I.  That's Gift #21, and they're still coming.

I'm in Arizona right now, speaking this weekend at the Sedona Hummingbird Festival. Took Shila along, tacked on three days for exploring, and we're having the time of our lives. Needless to say, this "working" trip feels like a great big vacation.  This is one of the most glorious places I've ever seen.  Thankful.

photo by Shila Wilson


I learn something EVERY SINGLE TIME I visit here. Thank you. I added the mouse melon to my garden file to try next summer. Next I will look up tuberoses. Thanks again!

Tomatillos are one of my "secret" ingredients in bread and butter pickles. They stay firm and go well with cucumber and onion. I have other secret additions to some of the mixes but they remain a secret. Hint: I live in NM.

Elephant poop is really good too. Just thought you'd like to know. Hey, I hope you get to Zion!

Not sure if I remembered to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY on FB. So, have a happy one! Although, I can tell you are.
I barely could read this post...had trouble getting past the photo of the BLT. My favorite sandwich!

Gifts all. BLT is gorgeous! It IS the best summer sandwich with homegrown tomatoes. Here in NW PA we're still waiting for the first ripe tomatoes. (Bought Marietta, OH tomatoes at the farmer's market a few weeks ago.) Still waiting for a local farmer's Bodacious corn to mature...yum. I brought Marietta, OH corn home after a visit back in June. I miss living in your growing season. Kim in PA

Julie, I turn to your stuff first in BWD and now I find your wonderful blog. Thank you for reminding me of all the gifts of nature. Reading your blogs, I'm gorging on the archives, helps put the troubled world in perspective and is a treasured place to for me to be. Thanks for your spirit, insight and beautiful pictures. Caroline in Colorado

Posted by Caroline Gilbert August 1, 2016 at 3:38 PM
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