An Underwater Desert

My mother is a painter and a gardener, so it makes sense that her plantings have an artist's eye. I can't really do this year's doorway composition justice with my photos, but it is my favorite garden arrangement of the season, so I wanted to share it anyway.

Above, there is a wide, squat pot just southwest of center... It is stuffed with succulents my mom picked up in the spring. To me, they look like sea anemones that are cactuses. The mat underneath is golden moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea').

Below, the zinnias in the background are terracotta colored when they open, fading to sun-bleached sand when they are spent.

This astounding purple fellow has little cups that hold water.

Sometimes people ask if the saddle shoes were mine when I was small. They weren't. I was born to be woods-wild, so white would never do.

You can only see its leaves in the first picture, but this hot red hibiscus unfurls a flower or two each morning.


Tomatoes. Lots!

It's been a good year for tomatoes. Despite the dry, we had a hefty haul, and this is the first season in a few that we haven't had some sort of blight affliction.

That's a picture of our second big picking off the six plants in our city garden (mid-August). I processed those into sauce, using my mom's old Victorio strainer. And was it ever a tedious endeavor. Remind me to rein us in next year and stick to two beefsteak heirlooms, for rushed lunches.

Impatient goes hand in hand with stubborn, and I claim expertise in both. Here's a picture of me, the last time I used the Victorio.

It will be another 28 years before I'll think the Victorio is a good idea again, and by then, I'll have unloaded it at a garage sale. Or heaved it down a mine shaft, Scranton style.

Overreacting to the amount of work that little pile of tomatoes was, you say? Indeed. This isn't a food blog, after all. Those beefsteaks are mostly water, and after the wall-splattering event of churning them through that contraption, and the sticky floor, thrice mopped, you still have to cook them down into a disappointingly small pot of sauce. Such a little dribble! You could never survive the winter on it.

The first batch of tomatoes I "processed" was whole fruits thrown in freezer bags, skins and cores and dirty bits intact. The second batch was as detailed, above. The third batch was a giant five-dollar-farmers-market sack of Romas, roasted in a pan with garlic, then buzzed up with fistfuls of herbs and the immersion blender. For all you lazy homesteaders out there, I'll tell you: that's the way to go. If your significant other, who happens to be a former chef, scowls at the idea of skins-left-on, just tell him you have way more important things to do. Like drink wine on the back porch. Drink whiskey on the back porch. Draw pictures, dance dances, drink cider.

I refuse to undertake any task at all that requires more than three hours to complete, starting RIGHT NOW.

But it only takes ten minutes to pick clean the cherry and paste tomatoes in our country garden. Then I wash them, cut them in half, and spread them on a sheet pan to dry in the baker's big ovens, after a night's bake. They turn into rubies that are better than jewels, because you get to eat them. This is the kind of kitchen labor I can get behind.


For the Love of Toad

I really, really love toads. There has always been a toad, forever and ever, that lives in my mother's greenhouse. Some years the toad spent sunny afternoons in a little pillow of baby's breath on the gravel floor. Some winters she bedded in a potted plant... geranium, cyclamen, begonia - a soft rising and falling of the peat soil after watering. Always the same big toad, the size of a whole heaping handful? I don't suppose, but I don't know... But always a toad, on the sidewalk at the greenhouse door, catching bugs in the butter-melt of light at night.

Today there was a big toad in the garden I weeded. We both were sheltered under cosmos. The toad startled me in a clump of grass, half submerged in the black-pearled dirt that worms had roiled up. Later, I startled some skateboarders just off the school bus - me, short and blond and quietly rattling around inside sunflowers and polygonum. Hidden, like I like to be.

I would never have seen the toad if it were not for the warts on its back. They look like geodes.

I live in the city now. There are no toads in my garden, or snakes. I hate that. I've been waiting for one for six years, and I'm going to move to the country soon because, while they have not come, I still seem to be here.

But there is a toad who lives between two sidewalk blocks on Cherry Street. You have to go down the alley, then up, anytime after the streetlamp has switched on. Then, there's Toad! So you say "evening, Toad." And Toad says nothing at all.


Prospect Street Gardens

I visited the small farm of some friends a couple of weeks ago. Rena and Mark use organic/biodynamic techniques at Prospect Street Gardens, right on the edge of Montrose, PA. They sell produce Fridays at the town's farmers market. I took a few photos while I was there...

Panorama of the main gardens (click to enlarge)

I was really impressed with how tidy everything was. Who doesn't love clean fluffy weed-free beds, or for that matter, any job well done? The three beds in the lower left had recently been seeded to winter crops (greens and carrots, I think).

Mark plucking pesky borage volunteers out.

The hoophouse was overflowing with tomatoes, basil, peppers, ground cherries and marigolds.

Mark and Rena, having just staked
some heavily laden pepper plants.

Rena collecting tomatoes in her shirt.

See more pictures of the farm at their facebook page... Prospect Street Gardens.


Bathroom Toad

This is the little walnut-sized toad that lives in the corner of the lady's room at Gibbs Garden Center in LeRaysville, PA. He is short (under three quarters of an inch), so he can go in and out under the door as he pleases. He is my favorite thing that I found this week.

And this is the spider who lives in my orach seeds. He (she?) resembles toad, don't you think? (Click the picture to make it bigger.) This spider is my favorite thing that I found last week.


Four Hopes

one I've been checking milkweed plants for monarch butterfly caterpillars my whole life. In my (un)professional life, the caterpillar search is useful as a diversion from weeding, which becomes really freakin' tedious somewhere around August 1st.

But monarch caterpillars aren't as plentiful as they were in my childhood. I didn't find one for years. With a bumper crop of butterflies this year, though, I was hopeful... and hope paid off.

Check out this plump specimen! The best thing about it, besides being striped and wrinkly, is: Which end is up? I think it's the left end, but maybe it's the right end.

two So you get to hoping for a thing, like say a fairy ring, and there you are, speeding through the countryside on the way back from a hike. Your boyfriend is presenting the outlook on your combined finances for the next twelve months. Somewhere just past the good news that "we ought to scrape by, plus drink really good beer," he looks out the window and says all casual, "hey, there's a fairy ring of puffballs."

Well, I'll be. So there is.

One theory on what a fairy ring is this, from Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora: "When there is an even distribution of nutrients in the environment, the mycelium of a terrestrial fungus may grow outward at the same rate in all directions, periodically producing circles of mushrooms on its outer fringes."

Another theory is that fairies partied there, last night while you were sleeping.

three With such a good track record, I thought "hell, I'll hope for a garden spider," because I was afraid they'd gone extinct. And sure enough, my friends Rena and Mark of Prospect Street Gardens showed me one of their multiple greenhouse spiders, hanging out in the harvest.

four Summer doesn't afford me much time for reading, but some days I get in about five minutes of Found Magazine, a collection of sad-hysterical-dark-and-dirty found photos, letters, etcetera. I read one night that if you send Found any money you find, they'll use it to mail their magazines to prisoners, which I thought was pretty cool. So I hoped to find some money.

Two mornings later, what did I find on our dog walk? Six bucks! Usually it's Laika, the dog, who finds good things on the ground on our dog walk. She wasn't interested in the cash because it didn't have anything brown and maggoty smeared on it that she could scarf down in a millisecond. I stepped over it on the way out, figuring I'd give anyone lurking in the bushes a chance to reclaim the part of the drug deal that got dropped on the ground. But I picked it up on the way back.