Thursday, April 27, 2006

serenity looking out from the herb garden Posted by Picasa

Azalea Posted by Picasa

Wysteria Posted by Picasa

A Visit to the National Arboretum

I was inspired to make a return visit to the National Arboretum earlier this week to see the National Herb Garden. It is a remarkable collection of herbs clustered in plantings by theme. There is a medicinal section, a dyeing section, a Native American section, a culinary section and so on. As you might imagine there is overlap, but it is VERY informative. There were more varieties of rosemary than I had ever seen. I only wish blogs had a scratch and sniff function so that all the different fragrances of rosemary could be immediately available here. I felt a little like I do at the perfume counter as I run out of portions of my wrist and arm to adorn with a new fragrance. Normally I will run my whole hand through a rosemary plant to catch its fragrance, but with so many to test I was sliding the plant between individual fingers.

A vegetable that has been a mystery plant for me is the cardoon. I ran across it in a recipe for bagna cauda, a garlic and oil recipe, into which you dip cardoons. Well the cardoons in this garden were well on their way to summer fullness. I can only hope to grow cardoons of this size.

As I say I was inspired to go to see the Herb Garden, but I ended up being enchanted by a visit to the bonsai garden and the azaleas. There was one bonsai tree that captured my heart it was a Trident Maple tree that was donated to the arboretum by Prince Takamatsu of Japan 高松宮宣仁親王. It had been in training since 1895 and the shape was so pleasingly perfect and the leaves like a baby’s hand. It was heartbreakingly beautiful.

Moreover, the wisteria were in bloom and they adorned the Japanese architectural elements exquisitely.

Next it was off to the azaleas. I was pleased to see that there was a whole section there of Polly Hill’s North Tisbury azaleas. Polly’s work is well known in Massachusetts. She began her arboretum at age 50 and has built it into a special treasure for those of us lucky enough to live nearby. I have always taken her as an inspiration of what a woman can accomplish in life after 50. I was also pleased that so many of the tangerine colored azaleas were in bloom. They are my favorite, though I’ve never had luck growing them.

After having just sent so much of my money on April 15 to a government whose decisions I don't always agree with, it was nice to be surrounded by such beauty created by my tax dollars.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Farmers Market is on SaturdayPosted by Picasa

Farmers Market

One of the sure signs of spring is when the farmer’s market starts to expand from its hunkered down winter size. God bless our vendors. They come all winter long and bring us fresh eggs and apples and cheese and mushrooms as well as local pasture grazed meat and poultry. I am very loyal in the winter months and can remember bitter cold mornings when our hands were so cold we could barely exchange bills and change.

But THIS morning things were different. The spring vendors are back and the small one block market is now two full blocks. The great news is that Westmoreland Berry Farm showed up with BUCKETS of fresh asparagus and boy did I load up. I also picked up meat and eggs from Smith Meadows and then I headed over to the folks from Polyface for some chicken.

Polyface has gotten some excellent and well deserved press lately with the release of Michael Pollan’s new book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in which he highlights the work of Joel Salatin its founder.

I will be away from Arlington during the May “Eat Local Challenge.” My Farmer’s Market would make the challenge to eat within a 100 mile radius lots easier.

Friday, April 21, 2006

a carpet pf pink Posted by Picasa

Balancing brown, green and PINK?

The double blossom cherry in the backyard has dropped its blossoms. The back deck is blanketed in pink and this allows me to add one of my favorite additions to the compost bin.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Working from this year's garden plan Posted by Picasa

Garden Chores at Walatoola

I enjoyed the garden work we did at Walatoola last week. Jim had made a plan for this year’s garden that took into account crop rotation, the location of the new garlic beds and the expropriating a portion of the garden for a permanent asparagus bed. He and Mike had already staked out the garden and put in some pea trellises, so if you followed the plan, it was clear where everything went. My task was to help amend portions of the garden with greensand, Azomite and Harmony. Jim had picked up a load of these amendments at Seven Springs Farm in Check, VA and we spent most of the morning distributing them liberally in the appropriate beds. I also did some watering and planted some broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

I must say that their garlic is some of the healthiest I have ever seen. I think they have 1,500 head in the ground. You can tell by looking at the girth of the stalk how big the bulbs will be. They have some really excellent results. Perhaps it is due to the colloidal phosphate Jim put down last fall.

After I left, they busied themselves with transplanting everything they had under lights into larger pots. They will be eating from their garden in no time. This of course begs the issue of the VERY FULL freezer they have from last season’s bounty.

Walatoola's first asparagus stalk ! Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

In search of prize winning tomatoes Posted by Picasa

"In your easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it......." Posted by Picasa

The nursery tour

Midweek last week I went off to Bath County, VA to visit friends at Walatoola and to scour local nurseries for tomato plants. Our day began with breakfast in a town that time forgot. The town of Low Moor, Virginia was once a thriving community built around the mining of iron ore. The old “company store” is today Averill’s Store and it is presided over by Granny Averill who celebrated her 99th birthday last January. Not only does Granny run the cash register, but as we were eating our breakfast (cooked for us by her 68 year old son) Granny took to the piano and played a snappy version of Easter Parade for our dining pleasure. No flies on Granny.

Our first nursery stop was in Covington. It is a daunting operation to run a nursery this time of year and the owner informed us that much of the work was being done for free by two friends. They had repotted 4,000 tomato plants the day before and were on their way to another 4,000 as we watched. I bought some German Johnson’s, Mortgage Lifters, and some cauliflower there as well as some harvest baskets.

Our next stop was at Longdale Nursery on VA Rte. 42 in Longdale. It is a funky little nursery with plenty for a single owner to do. The speckled swan gourds hanging from the barn to dry and the “boot planter” give it a homey feel. It was here last year that I first encountered the tomato variety Box Car Willie. It was this variety that won the blue ribbon at the Ag Fair last year. But alas there were no BCW’s to be seen. When I inquired, the owner asked if I could come back in 10 days. I explained that I would not be in the area and asked if she could pot up four seedlings for me which she did along with some Italian Sweet seedlings. Italian Sweet may be the best tomato I have ever tasted. I left Longdale a happy camper.

We stopped by the farm for lunch and then headed over the mountains to Rockbridge Baths. There we found a highly efficient floral operation at Mountain View Farm Greenhouse. I was not in the market for flowers though I did pick up a geranium. They had a good selection of herbs, and I came away with a selection of dill, sage and marjoram.

I did pick up a garden tip at Rockbridge Baths. I noticed that the watering wands in these greenhouses were all resting vertically. There were little wire nooses hanging from the tops of the greenhouses or pergolas and the head of the watering wand rested in these nooses. The owner said it really saves wear and tear on the watering wands (which they buy by the dozens) to rest them this way.

Our day of meandering through nurseries in Bath, Alleghany and Rockbridge counties in Virginia was a success.

Harvest baskets Posted by Picasa

Tomatoes plants as far as the eye can see Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 17, 2006

Two old friends

Over the April 8th weekend I visited Chicago to attend a wedding. While there I visited the Art Institute and dropped in on an old friend, the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks. It’s not my favorite of his paintings, but it does draw me back. I decided to take my photos from inside the painting.

Then the next weekend our own Phillips Collection here in Washington heralded the return of another old friend, The Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir. It has been traveling around Europe and has returned to a newly renovated gallery. I have come to treasure that painting as DC’s own … a painting that, unlike those of the National Gallery, belong not to the nation but to our city. On Easter Sunday they opened without charge, and I decided to go back and see my old friend. It is great to have it back home.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Garlic Order 2006

The garlic has over wintered well. As usual the ophios seem hardier than the soft necks right now. I have to admit that I prefer to grow ophios, but I grow soft necks because they are supposed to store longer. Well now I find that my braids of soft necks from last year have almost all gone dry. I still have a few ophios that are staying crisp. Perhaps it is all due to curing and storage and not the fact that ophios do better in cold climates, but I am thinking of switching to all ophios.

In part this love of the hard necks is inspired by the fact that when I went to the mailbox today there was the Filaree Farm 2006 catalog. There on page 7 looking up at me with a flirtatious “come hither” look in his eye was MONTANA GIANT advertised with “consistently extra large bulbs.” Then in the next column was YOUGHIOGHENY PURPLE which is so rare it has a one pound purchase limit. I have always been aced out of these because I order too late in the season. Who is really thinking about what they can order for NEXT year when THIS year’s crop is still struggling to establish itself?

But I think after years of doing this, I have come to some conclusions.

#1 Only plant as many Rocamboles as you can eat or give away by Christmas.
#2 Concentrate on Porcelains like MUSIC PINK because of their longer storage.
#3 IF you plant soft necks, make them Silverskins for their cold climate adaptability and longer shelf life.

My seed order has gone in and here are the new varieties

Montana Giant (rocambole)
Zemo ( porcelain)
Rosewood (porcelain)
Silver White (silverskin)

Monday, April 03, 2006


Yesterday was a lovely day. Low sixties, bright sun, no wind. I took on the task of weeding around the clematis that grows up a trellis on the side of my outdoor shower. Every spring I have a battle with the guy who mows our lawn because he forgets that the clematis is there and takes the weed wacker to it. So every spring I start from scratch with my clematis. I can’t really blame him if I don’t keep it cleaned out.

I started by removing the grass. Next I sprinkled in a cup of pelletized lime and then a cup of calcium. I watered that well and then topped it off with half a bag of composted manure. I covered the roots with stones to keep them cool, and then I marked off the area with white stones. I think this should keep him from wacking away at my clematis this spring.

the mighty parsnip Posted by Picasa

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Spring Dug Parsnip Chowder

I have come to enjoy more and more eating things as they come into season. It starts each spring with parsnip chowder. I couldn’t live on a steady diet of it, but that first taste on a cold spring afternoon is one of life’s great comfort foods. It is soooo sweet and is such a silky broth. The magical thing about spring parsnips is that they need no other flavorings. They carry hints of mace, cinnamon, celery seed and clove.

My parsnips were neither as big nor as difficult to harvest as they have been in past years., I pulled up one two years ago that I think had a taproot in the aquifer. It was the size of a sperm whale. Such parsnips can get pretty woody at the core, but there is still plenty of sweet flavor around the edges.

Spring-Dug Parsnip Chowder

3 slices bacon
2 Tbsp butter
1 large onion cut into ¾ inch dice
1 pound parsnips peeled and sliced into rounds
1 pound Yukon Gold, Maine PEI or other all purpose potato peeled and cut into ¾ inch dice
3cups chicken broth
1 ½ cups heavy cream ( I use skim milk)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. In a 4 quart heavy pot over low heat cook the bacon. Leave the fat in the pot and reserve the cooked bacon until later.
2. Over medium heat add butter and onions and sauté until onions is tender but not browned 6-8 minutes.
3. Add parsnips and potatoes and stir. Then add the broth and turn the heat up to a boil and cook vigorously for 12 minutes. Reduce heat to low
4. Remove 2 cups of the chowder from the pot and puree in food processor or blender, and return to the pot. Let the chowder simmer slowly for another 5 minutes; the broth should look silky-smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream. Let the chowder sit for an hour to meld the flavors. Season with salt and paper to taste.
5. When ready to serve reheat over low heat; don’t allow it to boil. Warm the crumbled bacon in a 200 degree oven for a few minutes.
6. Ladle the chowder into cups and scatter the bacon over the individual servings. Sprinkle with a little chopped parsley

from 50 Chowders by Jasper White