A Garden In Motion

IMG_5440I think I may have finally figured out why gardening astounds me season after season. Aside from the almost everyday amazing things — pondering how tiny seeds sprout into giant plants, witnessing the life cycles of various creepy insects, observing the slow but methodical progression of spring into summer into autumn — I think gardening surprises me every year because my mind is so limited when it comes to planning and envisioning the microcosm that is a garden. It’s as if — when I’m drawing out the plans and calculating the hard figures — I’m only able to see the garden as a stationary thing. So, when summer arrives and these stick figures on my graphing paper roar into life, I never cease to be surprised by the drama and suspense that unfolds.

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To be honest, since we got such a late start, this year, I was expecting to get few if any flowers of any sort. I’m glad that nature has decided to permanently label me a hopeless pessimist… at least this way I get to be surprised by the colorful bounty! Just look at all these zinnias popping open like fireworks in the summer daylight…

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While the Mammoth Grey sunflowers are still reaching higher and higher into the stratosphere building suspense before opening their immense flower buds, the Autumn Beauty sunflowers have unleashed tons of cheery, sunny blooms for us to enjoy (and for the goldfinches to covet).

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What started as a small trickle of blooms became a steady stream — so many that I allowed James to harvest some blossoms for a few table arrangements when we recently had some very special dinner guests. He gathered the flowers we’d nurtured so carefully in the garden while I went into the wilds to pick a few hardier blooms that had street smarts (Goldenrod, Queen Anne’s Lace, Knapweed). We both had the idea to use some of the persistent Bracken Ferns and Spreading Dogbane as greenery in the arrangements.

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And the poppies! Walking near their row, now, it looks as though a Mardi Gras parade has passed through. The ground is littered with jewel-toned, spent petals while the plants continue to put forth more and more flowers. So far, we’ve had orange, butter, mahogany, gold, and an almost violet-red color I don’t quite know how to describe and have yet to get into a photo!

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Aside from the just plain beautiful surprises in the garden, there’s also the always surprising transition from anticipation mode to harvest mode that always comes of growing things like cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers. You get so accustomed to seeing these infant-like fruits on the vines that when you stumble onto a full grown specimen, it’s IMG_5486almost as though you’d forgotten what the original goal was!

The cucumbers are such work horses that I’ve been frightfully busy making batches of pickles for the past several weeks… yes, even so busy that I’ve not had a free moment to make a single blog entry for the month of August (sorry!). One of our dearest friends happened to be here for the first cucumber wave to arrive and was able to cart several pints of long-awaited Refrigerator Dill Pickles back to Illinois with her — especially fitting because they’re her favorite kind. The vines show no sign of stopping, however, so we’ve also made Bread ‘n Butter Pickles and Dill Pickles. This year, there’s also a new concoction we have yet to name that I created from our cucumbers married with a melange of our spicy chile peppers — they’re our new in-house favorite!

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Another bit of harvesting that recently had me on my feet for the better part of a day was our beloved Red Russian Kale. James and I got up early one morning just before a much-needed rain and harvested every last bit of the kale (you have to harvest greens early in the morning to avoid wilting them). Then, while the thunder crashed and the rain mercifully poured outside the kitchen window, I turned the kitchen into a tumultuous mess of giant pots and bowls, transforming the mounds and mounds of stems and leaves into very orderly 10oz packages of chopped, blanched kale for the freezer — 11 packages in all, not bad for less than a row of kale!

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What do you do with all that kale?! Make mind-blowingly tasty dinners like this Tennessee Pork & Greens recipe from a recent issue of Cook’s Country. The kale is wilted with some garlic and two or three slices of smoky bacon while the pork tenderloin is very lightly seasoned and topped with a sweet and yet savory bourbon sauce. If this were the only recipe I knew for kale, it would still be reason enough to grow kale every year! We’re looking forward to making this again — I might even share the recipe in a later entry, this fall!

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We’re watching as more cantaloupes than we would’ve ever imagined are popping up along the vines. Growing melons is a science we’re fairly new to and the gardening world is full of conflicting advice on the surest path to success. So, we’re especially eager to pick one of these the moment it fully ripens to see if our method (letting the vines do as they wish, not culling any melons, and placing each melon on its own little pedestal for protection) yields tasty fruits. Here are some pictures from the earlier stages of their progress before we put the terra cotta platforms underneath. We have at least a dozen melons, now… some are almost ready!

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As for the rest of the garden, things are progressing at their own pace. We’re hoping against hope that we’ll have mature pumpkins before the frosts begin, but we definitely have some acorn squashes in the bag. The beans are beaning IMG_5444and I’ve decided to harvest them all as dried beans rather than experiment with canning them as green beans, this year. Knowing that the large waves of tomatoes are likely on their way, there’s only so much canning I’m willing to commit myself to at this point! At least as dried beans, I can cook them up in large batches and can them as ready-to-use beans this fall… or even winter at my leisure.

The Golden Zucchini plants have cranked out enough zucchinis that I’ve begun to think of zucchini as a thinly-veiled IMG_5429excuse to bake treats. Throughout the season we’ve been harvesting them as faithfully as we can and using them in various ways. My favorite way, though, is to bake them into clever disguises and freeze the treats for later. So far this summer I’ve made Whole Wheat Zucchini Tea Bread, Zucchini Nut Bread, Zucchini Cookies, Coconut-Zucchini Muffins, and Double-Chocolate Zucchini Bundts.

Lastly, this morning’s harvest was a very exciting one as we harvested from our little patch of Blue Jade Sweet Corn! The plants — most of them not more than two or three feet tall — produce ears that are seldom more than five inches long. The color of the kernels, though, is so striking you don’t mind that the ears are so small. I’ll be sure to let you know how it tastes.

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~ by Jason on August 21, 2012.

3 Responses to “A Garden In Motion”

  1. STUNNING!! The flowers, the bounty, the prepared FOOD! To say I’m jealous doesn’t even begin to cover it — but I know, remembering your initial images, how much work went into preparing for this amazing garden.

  2. Very nice Jason. Not only looks good but well written. It seems like the flowers suddenly took off since we were there. Though many were out then too. The display at dinner was wonderful.

    Thanks again for hosting us. It was a joy.

  3. Looking awesome guys! beautiful flowers and produce – got to know how that corn tastes.

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