Earnest, Anxious, Envious and Boastful. Sunday 24th May

The blog today is dedicated to George Freeman Winfield, who I did not know, but he grew things, and he died.

Eleanor sends me a photo of her first harvested green beans and a tomato, Lucky Tiger, planted at exactly the same time as mine. I bought us each a plant at Tomatomania, and mine hardly has any flowers yet, let alone fruit. Lucky Tiger is beautiful and she assures me he was tasty. This provokes in me a response of unmitigated envy and I can hardly bring myself to congratulate her. But, steeling myself and acknowledging how childish is this response I generously ask her if I may post it. I go searching for the photo and find that it exists nowhere on my computer. Somehow it has managed to erase itself.

Refusing to play tit for tat I don’t tell Eleanor that I have harvested my first zucchini. But let me humbly offer here am image of my tromboncini. Remember

this is what it was like not so long ago

and now

Come in closer and take a look at the fruit

This is the new variety bred by Row7 Seeds for flavor. I have high expectations, but must beware to pick the squash before they

get out of control, as a few years ago (pre-Row7)

I am always so earnest, anxious, envious or boastful about my garden. I wish I could cultivate sprezzatura; this blog should be a kind of playground for developing that kind of studied nonchalance, but somehow my baser instincts rise, unsummoned, to the surface.

Actually envy can be a great motivator in the garden. Nothing like a bit of nudging from the green eyed monster to move one along, to spur experimentation. Let’s face it, though, malice frequently shadows envy. And if you throw in a bit of money much can be achieved. Consider the case of Louis X1V who was so envious of his finance minister’s grand garden at Vaux-le-Vicomte that he had the minister put in prison and proceeded to appropriate his architects, his gardeners, and over one hundred of his trees. Included in the appropriated  staff was Jean Baptiste de La Quintinie (Quintyne) who so famously developed the vegetable gardens and orchard at Versailles.

One of the vegetables that La Quintinie grew at Versailles was artichokes. This last season I replaced the cardoon on the nature strip with artichokes, but the plants are still small. We were lucky, however, to score an abundant gift of small artichokes that Steve gathered from the garden of a friend of his

it began like this

some were stewed in a silky sauce and tossed with favas and lemon zest

the rest were pared down to their hearts and double deep fried (!!!). They are meant to look like roses, their petals opening out. In that respect the dish was a failure, but tasted crunchy and like nothing else imaginable on this earth

Speaking of envy and jealousy in the garden brings Peggy Guggenheim to mind. She made a garden with one of her lovers, the English poet Douglas Garman. In her autobiography, Out of this Century, she unashamedly revealed that when he refused to marry her, “I went out into the garden and tore up his best flower bed. It contained many rare plants and I…hurled them over the fence into the field next door. It happened to be the coldest night of the year.”

She wasn’t really a great garden lover, or perhaps she was indeed the best kind of garden lover – when one of her grandsons asked her what she most liked to do, she replied, “The best thing is to make love in the garden.”

And talking of such things I have been doing a lot of tying up this last week

the fig trees for instance

You wouldn’t really call this espaliering. But you should have seen the mess before i disciplined them. This way we get fewer figs but I can grow three trees against the fence and still have room for other plants. It’s enough. If only they can be protected against the varmin this year.

and some refining of the tepees, to assist the cucumbers

While working on the figs my eye was caught by the delphinium. So slowly it opened, every day adding some blueness to the world. Now it is beginning to fade, but a new spire on the same plant is shooting up

You can see the borlotti beans at the base of the delphinium. One day they will catch up with Eleanor’s beans ….. and maybe overtake her …

A highlight of the week in the kitchen was our tapas night. We have been hoarding and anticipating this for months now. My dear friends Katie in Austen and Susan in Santa Cruz sent me a mighty gift certificate for my birthday from Zingerman’s. They sent this before my planned party but there was a mix up in the mail and by the time it arrived shelter-in-place was well underway. So as well as some wondrous cheeses I chose a selection of Portuguese canned seafood. When Lyndal was here from Australia for Christmas 2018 I gave Jeffrey a bottle of grey goose vodka which we sipped with blinis and salmon. So in memory of absent friends we kind of reprised that night (not having touched the vodka since), extending it into a tapas affair. I made the blinis but where all recipes say add caviar and creme fresh, we went with a more modest but equally delicious option.

the cheese cubes are feta that i made ages ago, preserved in olive oil and chiles, discovered at the back of the fridge and amazingly OK and tasty still. The smoked cod in olive oil – mmm.

peppers stuffed with calamari and other stuff. The vodka glass was part of a set, a gift from my friend Jennifer Kitchener, who long ago lived around the corner in Bondi, Sydney

Returning to work on the white garden:

see how that single white sweet pea is turning pink, and how the hollyhock is slowly lifting its head, thinking about blooming, against the sky and the sheets hung out to dry

and the two little Mexican lions; one has lost an ear amidst the rough and tumble of the white garden

Meanwhile the strawberries refused to slow down, so I made a quick emergency jarlet of jam, and even though there is nothing like a fresh strawberry the alchemy involved in jam making is always surprising and magical. This is how it goes:

from here

to here

with a few sprigs of rose geranium, and a few drops of rose water, it finally lands up here

In case you think I’ve been neglecting the front garden here are some snatches of spring, the last gasp really.

up close

those frilly shirley poppies

and here an unlikely mingling, of the wild – california poppy – with the domesticated – sombreuil rose

To extend the spring I got out the extension snippers Steve gave me for my birthday, started dead-heading and also snipping a few beauties out of reach

The next morning I woke with a very bad back. Moreover it looks like a lot of work for a minute reward. The bad back, however, was no doubt a result of obsession (not pausing to stretch) and an accumulation of many ill- advised gardening malpractices and maneuvers. But the reward was hardly insignificant:

And it lasted.

the same rose a few days later

So I took a day off gardening and made some cheddar and chive scones which we ate with Jeffrey’s cabbage and blue cheese soup (yes, we like cheese)

Today, as I finish this blog, it’s Monday, Memorial Day. The neighborhood is horribly quiet. Yesterday, across the front of the New York Times was blazoned a headline: U.S. Deaths Near 100,000. The rest of the page is filled with names and brief descriptions, because “They were not simply names on a list. They were us.” Only 1,000 names are recorded here, just 1% of the toll. Jeffrey rings a name for me: “George Freeman Winfield, 72, Shelburne Vt, could make anything grow.”

5 thoughts on “Earnest, Anxious, Envious and Boastful. Sunday 24th May

  1. I love the two Mexican lions…they look so pleased to be in your garden. I envy your meals but not the actual gardenING – I feel about gardening like I do about staring at guys on construction sites or carpenters: “Wow, look at that, so amazing what they are doing!” So thanks, Les, for the great treats!
    This, found today via Facebook of friend, is really in response to Fuck the Bread…and maybe your kind of gardening to table occupation. Sorry, cannot make it a hyperlink: copy-paste.


  2. Hi Lesley Stern,
    I’m a writing friend of Eleanor’s and enjoy your musings. I feel as though I’m walking through your garden with you, walking and talking, hoof-and-mouth disease of the best kind. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and luscious photos. Makes me wish you’d open a small cafe inside your garden. The last gasp of spring–love that!

  3. Dear Barbara, thankyou for yr comments – i love to know how is reading. i think you are in SD and a gardener too? Whereabouts? Hopefully we can meet in person when and if this is all over, with eleanor

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