Thursday, June 30, 2011

Easy edible landscape plants (really, really easy)

Lavendula 'Hidcote'

 I love the idea of having edible plants in the landscape, but only if they are really really easy to grow. I work a lot and when I get home, I want to be able to cook with the plants in my garden every night, but I only want to pay attention to them about once every two weeks for about an hour or so. You'll need some kind of automatic irrigation to pull that off (I use drippers and soaker hoses). With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite edibles and what I like to do with them:

1) Lavender: Easy to grow, drought tolerant. Ever cooked with it? It makes everything taste more French to me! I chop it very fine and blend it with rosemary and thyme and toss it onto home fries.

2) Oregano: Easy, low growing, drought tolerant. Add it to homemade spaghetti sauce. Or try it instead of basil in a Caprese salad.
Origanum (oregano)
3) Rosemary:  Easy, low growing, drought tolerant (sensing a trend here?) I love rosemary on lamb. Combine it with garlic, olive oil, lots of salt and a little pepper and marinate the lamb for as long as you can and then throw it on the grill.

4) Salvia (Sage): Easy, low growing, drought tolerant and some of them are so colorful! Salvia tricolor is one of my favorites for its fun foliage color. I love Sage with butternut squash. Add it to brown butter and coat butternut squash or butternut squash ravioli with it.

5) Strawberries: these make a good groundcover in slightly shady areas. Its tough to beat the bugs and critters to the strawberries, but its worth the effort when you get one! Try tossing the sliced strawberries with a few drops of balsalmic vinegar (just a few drops!) and then stick them in the fridge for 30 minutes. It will bring out the sweet sunny flavor without adding sugar.

6) Kumquat: these are adorable tiny trees that produce a super tart citrus fruit. They are hard to eat straight but try them cooked instead. I like them with game birds like Game Hens or Duck.

7) Artichoke: ever seen one growing? They are a lovely, startling plant to look at. A little spikey, very silvery. The artichokes, if left unpicked, become gorgeous purple thistle flowers. But why would you let them do that when they are so yummy? I steam them for 45 minutes and make a dipping sauce from 1/4 cup chicken stock, a half tablespoon of melted butter, juice from half a lemon and a little finely chopped garlic.

Salvia tricolor
Fragaria (strawberry)

Cynara (artichoke)
Thymus praecox
8) Thyme: This is one of my favorite favorites. It is a groundcover. It makes joyful tiny pink flowers in the spring. The rest of the year it stays green with very little water. I like it in so many dishes. One of my favorites is with Tilapia. In a big frying pan, combine 2 cups of chicken broth, 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar, lots of fresh thyme and some garlic. Bring it to a boil. Gently place the Tilapia filets into the boiling liquid. It will help to keep the fish firm but moist and will infuse them with flavor.

9) Apple 'Anna': did you know that there is an apple that grows really well in San Diego? Anna doesn't require very many chill hours to produce tasty fruit. They make great eating as fresh apples (they are a lot like a Pink Lady), but sadly don't cook well.

10) Meyer Lemon: to me these are the taste of homeade lemonade. Warm and sweeter than the lemons you'll find in the grocery store, these are easy to grow if you know one trick: you'll need to buy them some Citrus/Avocado fertilizer. I prefer them as semi-dwarfs because the dwarfs don't produce enough fruit and the full sized ones become too big for my urban garden. I use lemon pretty much daily in my cooking! Here is one favorite: marinate chicken thighs overnight in 1 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce, juice from 1 lemon, 1/4 cu olive oil, 3 cloves finely chopped garlic. Take them out of the marinade and coat in bread crumbs. Bake them for 45 minutes. Make more than you think you'll eat. Seriously- lots more.

11) Tarragon: This isn't a very common herb but oh it should be! I find it easy to grow, but hard to find in the nurseries. If you find one, buy it! It makes everything taste more elegant with its slightly licorice flavor. Try this recipe for a roast chicken: loosen the skin on the breasts of a whole chicken. Under the skin, place a mixture of tarragon (2 teaspoons finely chopped), 1 tablespoon melted butter, one clove of finely chopped garlic, a dash of salt and pepper. Pour boiling water over the bird to tighten the skin (if you've never done this you really should try it. Its fun to watch the skin tighten and it makes the chicken more crispy). Make sure to get all of the water out of the pan. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to an hour. I like it so much you get a bonus recipe for pork. Cut a pork tenderloin into thick rounds. Salt and pepper all sides and brown them in a frying pan. Reduce the heat to very low. To the pan, add 2 cups chicken stock, a whole bag of mini carrots, and 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic. Put a lid on the pan and cook until the rounds are just barely firm when you push on them with a spoon. Turn off the heat entirely. Add 1 cup of sour cream. Do this carefully- if the pan is too hot it will curdle. Add 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon. Salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately. The flavors will be so unusual and yummy that a dinner party will scarf all of this down before you can blink.

Apple 'Anna'
Lemon 'Meyer'


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lawnless front yard: how can that look good?

Before: plain and unattractive
Taking out your front lawn and replacing it with colorful flowering (and drought tolerant) plants is the single most prevalent trend in landscape design right now.  But, so many of my clients are nervous about what that could look like. "How can a front yard have curb appeal without at least some lawn?" is a question I hear all of the time.
After: Loads of color and interest!

Just so that my bias is laid out clearly: I am all for taking out front lawns left and right. I think they a) take a lot more water than we should feel okay about, b) are rarely ever used, and c) often don't really look that great to begin with. For an urban or suburban garden where space is tight, I tend to delegate only one role to lawn: playing with small children. Small children actually sit in the grass and play, but when was the last time the rest of us actually did that?

So,  jettison your lawn! Eliminate your grass! Lose the turf! There are beautiful ways to design a front yard without lawn that have way way more curb appeal. Today's example is from Eden Maker's blog. She made this unexceptional house really pop with a few small changes to the house itself (ie the shutter color) and a lovely and simple low water garden. What do you think? Is the lower (after) photo an improvement on the before (upper) photo? Please know, if you say "no" I'll think you are a little crazy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Vegetable humor by Soggy Creek Seeds

Even if you have no interest at all in growing your own vegetables, you should still pay a visit to Soggy Creek Seeds website where you'll find such gems as Pea Seeds for Peace. Strange Squash from Outer Space. Kissing Booth Beets. And my personal favorite: the Hobo Turnip.  Here is their description of the humble Hobo Turnip:

Since these turnips keep well while tramping around, they became popular with hobos who could make many good meals with each one. Still today, tramps trot around with these turnips tied to sticks. The Hobo Turnip has an impatient-sorta way of sitting on the soil rather than settling down into it. This seems to suggest a certain restlessness, like it is some rootless vagrant that moves along with the winds of opportunity. In a sense, these turnips have become like their hobo friends, never to put down roots. (Performs well in poor soil, even trainyards).

And a thank you to Dirt du Jour, for turning me on to Soggy Creek Seeds!

Peonies! Summer is here!

In San Diego, we can't grow Peony, not in most of San Diego, at least. Well actually, I've heard rumors that we can grow some very special varieties that can take our mild weather and lack of cold, but I still have yet to see one in real life thriving in a garden here (hint, hint: for anyone who has tried and succeeded- I want to know about it!). So instead, we have to make do with the few that make it here as cut flowers.

Aren't they just gorgeous?! So elegant, soft, papery, and just downright summery. They make me want to put on a tea dress and picnic on the lawn. I wish mine would last and last, but like summer, they are so fleeting.

So, for all of you East Coasters and Mid-Westerners who envy our long gentle summers here, just know that there is at least one San Diegan envying your Peonies. Oh, and your lilacs, but that is a whole other rant!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Happy Friday!

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you all have some time this weekend to relax and enjoy the sunshine. Picture this: you and your friends, a few frosty beer steins, a loaf of crusty bread, a sharp earthy cheese and a balmy summer evening..... wouldn't it be even more perfect with this fun vintage picnic table? This is the Biergarten Picnic set from Napa Style- you can get it here.

Modern fountain

 So, you know that the economy is doing really strange things my doctor's office can afford to take over a really lovely modern building on a brand new corporate campus, but that's what led me to stumble upon this lovely fountain, so this article is a little thanks to the weird economy having a silver lining. 

What got me to stop and take a photo is the amazing amount of texture in this fountain. The basic premise is simple enough: water spills from the upper wall onto the secondary wall, and also spills out of the top of the secondary wall. The water from both runs over a textured stone to create a whitewater effect (that I hope you can see in the photos). This texture means that the fountain has a dancing sound, that, sadly, you can't hear. But you'll just have to trust me- it is very peaceful.

 This is a close-up of the top of the secondary wall. See how they have created a well so that the water is forced to spill over the wall in a very uniform way? If you want a fountain that creates this whitewater effect, that's the way to get it. Otherwise, the water may spill out unevenly.

This photo probably shows the whitewater effect a little better. The other thing I like about this fountain is that the stones are carefully placed in the pond so that people can hop onto them and get close enough to the fountain to touch the whitewater. I love this! Too often, with large public fountain like this one, people have no way to interact with the water, and isn't that half the fun? The little kid in all of us still wants to play in the water, and I for one vote that we let her/him!

The scale of this feature is obviously too big for a residential garden, but I do think the takeaway lessons here are good ones: 1) texture is an amazing thing, 2) if you want water to spill evenly, you have to make a trough for it to come out of, and 3) let people play in the fountain 'cause life is so much more fun that way.