And then the Strawberries started Whimpering. Sunday May 10th

Lovely cool day. Woke at 5 and read a little of Hard Times – so dramatic, marvelous oratorical speeches, and magical conversions of villainy. The inventiveness of the language is breathtaking, like discovering a new plant that you could never have imagined

This week have been throwing myself into cooking and heavier garden work. First up fish pie After all that work in the garden needed some comfort food. Heike went to the fish market and got us some fish

An orange-hued fish pie! Because there weren’t enough potatoes I added in some yams (which looked fun but rather overwhelmed the subtlety of my oh-so delicate white sauce and the fish itself). Also, didn’t have enough fresh fish so added in a can each of salmon and tuna. That worked well. Somehow fish pie, like shepherd’s pie, always does the trick; like Dickens it can turn a hard or dull day into a marvel of festivity. It’s partly about texture – the merging of mashed potato with more gooey delights, and the surprise of comforting blandness shot through with unexpected tastes and aromas.

And of course I added in

fava beans

In the mornings I worked in the front garden before it was sun drenched, where the ongoing project is the pathway where I have been trying to keep the weeds out so that the dymondia

can grow between the stone paving.

Grass is the worst culprit but there is another alien moving into the territory: dichondra.

I suppose I will let them battle it out

and wait to see which survives best, with least pampering. Both of them, however, spread beyond the pathway and I suspect that the dichondra will be harder to keep under control. When did I plant it? I have no memory and suspect it’s wandered in here from some other garden. But I’m constantly amazed when I look back at photos and notes to recall the plants that once grew in this garden which I have entirely forgotten, or they have been edged out by the obsession of the moment.

Every so often I stand and stretch and then am deflected from the chore in hand by the need to pull grass and dandelions growing as high as the flowers. The wretched weed we call hydra is back, I think it’s ruella, it has a pretty purple flower, though I am trying to expunge them before they flower this year. The approach I take is one of attrition – with these plants that have  spreading rhizomatic roots it seems useless to try pulling, they just spread more aggressively. The way we finally conquered the bamboo was to cut cut cut, as soon as the shoots appeared, and eventually the roots were starved and died away. Eventually, however, can be  a long long time and attrition can wear down the perpetrator as well as the victim.

As well as grass and dandelions and other hopeful vagrants I thinned and wrenched from the earth a lot of fennel. The way it seeds and spreads would seem to assign it to the category of weeds. And it’s true that I seem to spend almost all the year thinning and pulling. Yet still I love to have it in my garden, front and back. As gardeners know the distinction between a flower garden and vegetable garden is not clear cut. All vegetables produce flowers. And many flowers can be eaten. One of the reasons for growing flowers in among the vegetables is that they attract pollinators – the butterflies and moths and humming birds. And one of the reasons for letting the fennel grow in the front yard, among the flowers and fruit trees, is that the foliage is fabulous – feathery and flowing, a willowy green. Then, when they bolt, they grow pretty high and bold and the flowers appear – large yellow umbals. 

Posh restaurants charge a lot for dishes mottled with fennel pollen, and here we have a meadow! But this is the real clincher

the roots


fennel grow long tap roots so they are great at breaking up and conditioning clay soil.

Then the strawberries started whimpering: After harvesting so many beautiful luscious squishy berries I felt remorseful for the way I have neglected them. I cleaned up the bed, getting rid of the dead leaves, composted, watered (the irrigation doesn’t seem to be working, tho it hardly matters now as they have mostly escaped the bed and put down roots all over) and then a jug of diluted fish oil and seaweed. I haven’t grown strawberries for about thirty years, so am kind of winging it. After this summer I will do some research and divide them properly.

After the renovations I felt better about eating the strawberries, gathered a bowl and on my way in to the kitchen, stopped by the chickens. They love strawberries even more than we do if that’s possible. I throw them the damaged berries, but not in any random fashion, it’s a skill to make sure they each get one, especially Lorelei the most timid. Isadora is the greediest and a bully to boot, and Gigi is the smartest. To begin with you have to know how to hoodwink Izzie, and then it all flows smoothly.

The strawberries we ate with some quickly made scones (or what, in this country are called biscuits) and a drizzle of cream

While weeding and cleaning in the front my frenzied mode would subside every so often, I’d sit sit back on my haunches and look around. And saw some surprising things growing in the garden

like a cat, hiding in the shadows

or a single remarkably late exhibitionist freesia

Suddenly while my back was turned, hunched over the weeds

Graham Thomas burst into bloom

and the first pomegranate blooms

turned into small fruit

Last year was the first fruiting year for this small bush and it yielded precisely ONE pomegranate, that was plucked and made off with by some villainous poacher, before it was even fully ripe. Growing fruit in the front yard I am happy to share, but that is just plain mean. Though of course it could be that the poacher was just seduced by the glorious shiny ruby-slippers quality of the fruit and imagined that, if in possession of the prize, they might be transported to the Land of Oz, or perhaps to somewhere rather more lascivious.

I was happy to hear last week from two gardeners in other parts of the world. My friend Liz Sisco, who has moved to Tucson with her husband Charlie for part of the year, sent me images of her developing garden. When I visited her in the New Year of 2019 (a great road trip with my old friend Lyndal Jones, a performance artist, who was here from Australia and keen to visit Biosphere which also intrigued both Liz and I) there was no garden. Tucson has such a different climate from San Diego. It snowed while we were there and now the temperature is over a 100 degrees. So Liz’s vegetables are growing in pots, very productively, and she has planted trees (fruit and others) and natives of various kinds. I particularly love this photo which shows

a very different garden

from what you have been seeing on my site. And here’s a close up of that elegant Parry’s penstemon, a wildflower native to the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona and northern Mexico.

The other message from afar came in the form of a posting from Judy Annear, who moved last year from Sydney to a town in the country about an hour from Melbourne. She writes, “As someone who never, until 6 months ago, had a garden I am slowly learning the nuanced lives of plants.” Not so slowly, I think, her description of the plant life in her neighborhood is so vivid. I believe that all her years as a photo historian and curator have trained her powers of observation to the nth degree, and close observation is a good part of gardening. I laughed at the way her quite lyrical posting ended thus: “The new romance with plants is somewhat back breaking, and I am deeply annoyed that the possums come in the night and shit in the birdbath.”

You can read her full posting as a comment at the end of ” Turning Something Sweet into Savory Delight,” Friday May 1st.

3 thoughts on “And then the Strawberries started Whimpering. Sunday May 10th

  1. I’m glad to are resurrecting strawberries into you garden. I have become a more serious strawberry grower since one of the twins loves them. The other one loves my blueberries. Needless to say they love visiting my garden.

    • great! I’ll have to pick yr brains. Conni i have some plantlets (tho growing fast) for which i have no space and wonder if you’d be interested (one of each): delicate squash, sweet passion melon and sugar cube melon. If you’d like them Jeffrey could drop them off to you. If not no worries there are other takers. Thankyou for all yr comments

  2. Dear Lesley, Thanks for including pictures of my fledgling garden in your blog. I long for the day when it will be as grown up, dense and vibrant as yours. With the temperature rising to 100 + most days I have to tamp back my desire to plant, plant, plant and cultivate patience during the hot dry season. I have saved a bag of penstemon seeds for you.

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