Gorgeous Garlic Scapes

Savoring Swirling Scapes

A generous friend (thanks, Rick!) gifted me with one of early summer’s tenderest treats; a bagful of curly, tender-crisp garlic scapes. These slim, whippy stems are harvested before they bloom, so that the garlic bulbs will continue to ripen without expending energy on producing flowers and seeds. The bulb quality is always better if the scapes are removed before the blossoms open, though if a few escape your notice, a host of pollinators will be thrilled to visit the fragrant florets, a sweet reminder that garlic, onions, and their kin are members of the lily family.

Mushroom & Garlic Scape Salad

1/4 cup fruity olive oil or avocado oil
1 large lime, juiced, rind grated
1 cup finely chopped garlic scapes
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
pinch of smoked paprika
12 spears asparagus, thinly sliced diagonally
2 cups stemmed, thinly sliced brown field mushrooms
1/4 cup crumbled soft goat cheese
1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds

In a serving bowl, whisk oil with lime zest and juice and add salt and smoked paprika to taste. Add asparagus and mushrooms, toss gently to coat and let stand for at least 20 minutes or up to an hour. Before serving, toss with goat cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds. Serves 4 (or at least one).

A Savory Summer Frittata

This Umbrian specialty was one of the first recipes I learned from Signora Savino, my kitchen mentor during my student days in Perugia. It’s a very flexible recipe, so you can add or substitute many kinds of summery vegetables, from zucchini and pole beans to tomatoes and sweet corn, and change up the seasoning as well.

Asparagus & Garlic Scape Frittata

1-2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon minced rosemary or oregano
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup finely chopped garlic scapes
8 spears asparagus, chopped in 1-inch pieces
1 cup cooked rice (short grain brown or whatever you like)
6 large eggs, well beaten with 1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
1/4 cup grated pecorino or Romano cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a wide, shallow pan that can go from stovetop to oven, combine 1 tablespoon oil, onion, salt, herbs, and pepper flakes if using and cook over medium heat to the fragrance point (about 2 minutes). Add garlic scapes and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add asparagus, cover pan and cook until tender crisp (about 3 minutes), shaking pan a little to keep things from sticking. Add rice, stir well and cook for 1 minute. Add more oil if needed, then pour in egg mixture and shake pan to distribute evenly. Sprinkle with parsley and cheese, then cover pan and reduce heat to lowest possible setting. Cook until barely set (6-8 minutes or so) then uncover and transfer to oven until top is lightly browned and cheese is melted (10-12 minutes). Serves 4.

Perugina Pesto

Piquant with lemon and spicy with garlic, this recipe is traditionally made with a mortar and pestle but a food processor does the job in no time and the results taste just as lovely.

Garlic Scape Pesto

4 cups chopped garlic scapes
1/2 cup lightly roasted hazelnuts
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Juice and finely grated rind of half a large lemon
1/2 cup coarsely grated Pecorino cheese
2-3 tablespoons fruity olive oil

In a food processor, grind garlic scapes, nuts, and salt into a rough paste. Add lemon zest and 1 tablespoon lemon juice, blending quickly, then add cheese, adding olive oil as needed to make paste smooth and creamy. Season to taste with salt and lemon juice, then spoon into glass jars, cover with a little olive oil and use at once or refrigerate, tightly sealed, for up to 2 days. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

And By The Way

Feeling frustrated, helpless, uncertain about the state of our country? Here’s a comforting and clear guide to action:

Americans of Conscience Checklist

Each week, Jen sends out list of accomplishments, of successes, and of key tasks that need our focused concern. If it’s all too much, pick a single pressing issue and let your voice be heard. Every little bit, right? For me right now, it’s a family matter. As the current regime continues its assault on innocent people of many descriptions, the ongoing attacks on refugee families are among the most brutal. If you are horrified that families are being divided and that children are being incarcerated in cages without help or hope, you, like me, may want to speak out by calling your Senators in support of S.3036, a bill called Keep Families Together.

If you’re feeling outraged and overwhelmed, here’s a terrific link to a helpful site: 5calls.org (there’s a phone app too). I especially like the 5calls site because they offer a changing menu of topics you care about and a basic overview for whichever you select, various numbers to call depending on your zip code (including local offices if your politician’s D.C. line is busy or a voice mailbox is full). There’s also a guided script which you can change up or amplify as you like. I find this part really useful as I tend to start crying when I explain why I care so much about liberty and justice for all or basic human rights or human decency or Constitutional rights or…pass the hankies, please and hand me the damn phone.

 

 

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When Bees Ignore Blossoms

Keeping Gardens Fruitful

This spring, I was invited to a farm that included a small (20 tree) cherry orchard where the bees were ignoring trees in full bloom. The owner wanted to know what if anything he could do to get some bee action for his blooms. As a rule, bees will snub flowers that are low in nectar and pollen. Even favored blossoms like cherries can be lacking and the bees are evidently able to detect (nobody quite knows how) blossoms with low levels of these important substances. Sometimes this is because other bees have already been there and done that. There is some evidence that foraging bees leave behind a scent marker that other bees can sense. A study done at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California found that when bees approached flowers, then flew away without foraging, the rejected blossoms had about half the nectar of an average bloom.

Foraging is a lot of work. Honeybees boost efficiency by tending to ignore empty flowers in favor of loaded blossoms. The most common reason for low nectar and pollen levels in flowers that normally have high levels is nutrition; poor soil or soil that has been chemically fed or treated can low in nutrients. In this case, some of the orchard trees are mulched with shredded paper or chopped field hay, while other are surrounded with bare soil. Hmm. In an orchard setting where trees are expected to be fruitful, low-nutrient mulches are not adequately helpful. The owner wanted to keep weeds down, and the paper did that, as did frequent scuffle-hoeing of the bare earth areas. However, mulches can also be valuable soil amendments. A nutrient-rich mulch like shredded leaves mixed with grass clippings, coarse compost mixed with fine shredded bark, or chopped hay mixed with shredded leaves could make those trees more attractive to pollinators.

Investments That Pay Off

For one thing, improved soil will boost blossom fragrance, which is one of the factors that can draw in pollinators. Fragrance is costly for plants to produce, and when soil nutrients are low, it’s one of the qualities that can diminish (along with color and flavor). Instead of using paper mulch, or none, I suggested that the owner surround each fruit tree with a generous circle of compost. Fruit trees benefit the most when compost is concentrated in a 3-4 foot wide band around the dripline of the tree. That’s where the active feeder roots are so that’s where compost will be of most use. Pile it on generously, heaping 3-5 inches of compost or aged dairy manure around each tree.

To keep that inner circle weed free, I suggested surrounding each tree with a ruffle of big, easy going plants such as Six Hills Giant catmint (Nepeta), which quickly makes a 2-3 foot mound. That has the advantage of keeping mowers and weed whackers away from tree trunks (important since mechanical injury is a leading cause of death). Catmints are also deer resistant, drought resistant, healthy ad vigorous, besides being highly attractive to bees and other pollinators. To pull in early bird pollinators, plant native annuals such as Clarkia, bleeding heart (Dicentra), poached egg plant (Limnanthese douglasii), and California poppies, as well as calendulas, sweet alyssum, and annual forget-me-nots. One of the prettiest orchards I ever saw was an Oregon hazelnut plantation that was carpeted in blue scilla in early spring. The bulbs had been spreading for decades and the result was a haze of happy bees.

Healing Ground Covers And Mulches

Small home orchards can profitably be sown with an annual soil improver such as crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum), (NOT red clover, Trifolium pratense, which can be a trouble maker). A splendid nitrogen fixer, it will reduce the chore load for you by forming a summer cover crop in empty beds and around established trees and shrubs. Crimson clover is often called a “green manure” since it acts much like compost. Don’t skimp the true compost, though, because flowering and fruiting plants grown in compost-enriched soil have more fragrance, more nectar, and better flavor than fruit given only chemical fertilizer. That’s because the combination of plant- and soil-feeding nutrients in compost increase beneficial biological life in the soil. Healthier soil makes for healthier plants. In addition, compost helps plants take in and store a higher percentage of natural sugars. A sugar meter (called a brix meter) tells organic growers how well their crops have been nourished. The higher the brix, the better the flavor and nutrient quality.

My orchard owning pal recently told me that tiny cherries were forming, so his fruit had been visited by somebody. Who might have been busy in those cherry blossoms? Most native bees are a lot smaller than honeybees and are not as obvious in the garden. Other less visible insects do their share of pollinating as well, from hover flies to little wasps, so it is possible to get some fruit set without seeing the usual big bees bustling about. He had also done some hand pollinating, transferring pollen from blossom to blossom with a small brush. This is manageable for those growing miniature fruit trees in half barrels on the back deck, but a daunting task for a farmer with 20 trees to service.

Enlisting Help From Friendly Natives

To encourage visiting bees, he decided to plant more flowering native shrubs around his farm. This will most certainly help to bring in bees and other pollinators. Some good choices for those with fruit trees are early bloomers like native mahonias (Oregon grapes), Indian plum (Oemleria cerasifolia), and flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum). Later blooming fruit crops may be boosted by adding summer bloomers like native roses and ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor), which drapes the wood verges with frothy plumes of ecru lace right about now. It’s one of my favorite natives, since besides being a bee magnet, nectar rich ocean spray is a great favorite with butterflies, including Spring azures, pale swallowtails, Lorquin’s admirals and Gray hairstreaks.

Onward!

 

 

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Foxglove Magic

Nurturing Peloric Plants

As I was working in the library garden this week, I was happily singing a little ditty with the refrain “We are marching to Peoria” and wondered aloud what on earth the marchers planned to do in Peoria? Another Friday Tidy volunteer kindly explained that they were headed for Pretoria, not Peoria, during the South African Boer war. I soon realized that the song stuck in my head was triggered by the foxgloves I was weeding around. A week or so ago, I had noticed a lovely mutation on several foxgloves growing at the library. The top bud on each stem in this small clump opened into a bowl shaped blossom rather than the usual tubular form.

I took a few pictures and through consultation with knowledgeable plant folks (thank you, PNW Plant Geeks!), I learned that the unusual flower form is the result of a more or less common mutation. The tendency of normally asymmetrical flowers to become symmetrical (or vice versa) was first described in 1744 by Carl Linnaeus, who codified the plant naming system still in use today. Linnaeus called the phenomenon ‘peloria’ after a Greek word that can mean either monster or prodigy (in the sense of being larger than usual). Ahah! These prodigious foxgloves were marching to peloria, a different drum indeed.

Preserving Pelorism

It seemed like an excellent idea to try to preserve the mutation by saving seed. Having experimented in the past with capturing unusual plant forms, I am aware that some variations are easier to preserve than others, and that some plants are more amenable to domestication. Millennia old landrace seed strains of heirloom tomatoes and traditional corn varieties are largely stable, but even so, to keep them true to type, they must be grown in groups and in relative isolation if their seeds will be saved. This particular clump of foxgloves is on its own, far from any kin, so there’s a chance that the seeds might contain the mutation.

I’ve been hearing anecdotally that many people have seen peloric foxgloves from time to time, so I’m enlisting friends who will mark any plants that present the mutation and save those seeds as well. An online search turned up a few commercial sources for peloric foxglove seeds, though all are sold out for this year. Commercial seed strains of all kinds are grown in strict isolation from anything that could potentially cross with the intended plants. Each season, the growing fields are scrupulously rogued to eliminate plants that don’t show the desired characteristics. Even so, gardeners who have raised plants from such strains report that not all of the resulting plants will display the desired mutation.

Raising A Horticultural Ruckus

When pelorism was first discovered, it caused quite a ruckus, since Linnaeus believed that genera and species were an expression of divine order and therefor could not possibly be changed. (Remember, this was over a hundred years before Gregor Mendel made his daring experiments with peas.) In foxgloves, generally only the terminal or top flower displays the peloric mutation. Some hundred and fifty years later, Darwin would speculate that this was because terminal buds have the most sap. Intrigued by pelorism, Darwin also observed that some species seem especially prone to pelorism; for instance, certain orchids frequently display peloric tendencies.

Darwin also found noted that while certain plants, such as foxgloves and snap dragons, had “a strong latent tendency to become peloric, there is also a still greater tendency in all peloric plants to reacquire their normal irregular structure.” Basically, that means that even if we manage to create a seed strain that produces a fair number of peloric plants, over time their offspring will tend to revert to their normal form. More recent research indicates that pelorism can be triggered by environmental stresses, including changes to a site (such as the removal of a shade-casting tree), changeable weather, and weather-related diseases such as mildew. With 100 year weather events occurring every few years now, this may be a splendid time to find peloric plants in our own backyards.

Create Your Own Seed Strain

Developing a (more or less) stable seed line can be a pleasing project for the home gardener, though the selection process can take years. I treasure a lovely strain of California poppy developed by the late Connie Caunt in her tiny garden in Victoria, B.C. The strain includes many shades of cream, pink and lavender, from palest baby ribbon pastels to vivid rose and near purple. However, even after many years of Connie’s patient work and my continuing efforts, genetically dominant orange poppies recur every season and must be removed lest they overtake the rosy ones. Similarly, creating a reliably peloric seed strain is probably not the work of a few seasons, thanks to that tendency to revert to the norm.

While most foxgloves are biennials, forming a leafy rosette in the first year and blooming the next, quite often in our climate they will rebloom a second year. If the original bloom stalks are removed, a whole cluster of shorter bloom stalks may appear a few months later or even the next season. While weeding, I found a plant tag identifying the peloric foxgloves as part of the Camelot series, a semi-perennial strain that has been blooming at the library for several years. Though they were definitely not peloric in the past, we’ll eagerly watch to see if these same plants bloom this way again next year.

Make Like A Bee And Hand Pollinate

Foxgloves are mainly pollinated by bumblebees, which are especially attracted to the color purple. The flowers have adapted to suit the chubby bumble body, lining the path to the nectar with little hairs that block smaller insect’s journey. You can play the part of the bumblebee by using a cotton swab to gently exchange the pollen from open flowers on peloric plants. To discourage bumbles from barging in with unwanted pollen from who knows where, remove the petals from your pollinated blossoms and mark the stems with yarn or soft ties.

According to Kew Gardens expert Paula Rudall, “Breeding experiments have shown that the terminal flower mutation in Digitalis is inherited as a simple Mendelian recessive, and can be reproduced from seed via either the peloric or normal flowers of the same plant, which are all fertile. Mutations that can be inherited and reproduce by seed could theoretically be capable of establishing new plant lineages…”

Onward!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Winding The Spirit Spiral

Walking With Fragrant Herbs

A few days ago, I wound my way around a low hillock, following a spiraling path. After some twenty years, the spiral garden was in need of some editing, but the rock edged path felt serene, imbued with spirit. I’ve designed and worked on several spiral-based gardens and though each shares a distinct character with its gardener, they also share a common serenity and peaceful sense of purpose. Spiral meditation paths are both engaging and soothing; engaging because it’s impossible not to ponder life’s spirals while walking such paths, and soothing because they help our thoughts move with our feet from the open edge into the tighter, concentrated middle and back out into the wide world again.

This particular garden had winding beds between the path loops, filled with herbs and traditional medicinal plants. The gravel path was just wide enough for one and the beds were about the same width. With a few modifications, the same modest amount of space (about 12 x 20 feet) can hold a labyrinth, a pattern of sacred geometry that was often incorporated into the stone flagged floors of medieval European cathedrals. Unlike mazes, which seek to deceive with blind alleys and false turns, labyrinths use a single continuous path that winds in usually circular patterns into the heart of a space and back out again without retracing or crossing itself. You can’t get lost or led astray. You always find your way to the very core of whatever has you walking and you always come safely home.

Free Wheeling Meditations

Years ago, I helped to make a beautiful wheelchair accessible, herb filled labyrinth at Harmony Hill. The Hill is a retreat center above Washington’s Hood Canal. It’s also a sacred space, a community of hope and healing where over six thousand people come each year, and none leave unchanged. Whether they come for a concert, a workshop, a meditation practice or a cancer retreat, all are touched by the place and the people who live and work there. The Hill’s main labyrinth is appropriately enough on a slight slope, so the paths are level and the beds slant to make up the difference. That first year, we filled the running beds with hardy herbs and fragrant annuals that barely brushed the fingertips of anyone traveling the labyrinth.

I’ve walked many labyrinths over the years, and for me, designs which include plants make spirit walking particularly joyful. If the site is in full sun, I like to lace the paths with fragrant hardy herbs such as creeping thyme, oregano, pennyroyal, and Corsican mint. Where paths are mainly used by one or two people, many of these toughies are walkable, recovering well between meditations. The gentle wafts of scent released by our footsteps are relaxing and refreshing and the herbal carpet hushes the crunch of gravel (maybe I’ve watched too many noir films, but I find that sound mildly disturbing). These walkable herbs are willing workers both in garden paths and as infill between pavers or flagstones.

Walkable Herbs

I love to use many forms of oregano in gardens, both as bed edging and in pathways, especially since they form wide, evergreen mats that look handsome all winter. Most forms of Origanum vulgare make good ground covers and are at least fairly decent walkables, including Westacre Gold, Golden Crinkled (O. v. crispum) and Aureum Gold (O. v. aureum). Dense, low growing Compact Oregano (O. v. compactus) is lovely underfoot, as are Mini Compact and Dwarf Greek (O.c. Nana). Greek Mountain oregano (Origanum herocleoticum) is happiest in rocky beds, gravel paths, and hot, exposed positions such as a sunny patio and tolerates moderate foot traffic quite well.

Chamomile lawns have been popular since medieval times, usually made with Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). Treneague, a non-flowering form, is especially appreciated by those who like to walk barefoot and want to avoid bees. Similarly, thyme was an important lawn ingredient before grass came onto vogue with the invention of the lawn mover in 1830. (Before that, grass lawn care was managed by sheep or laborious hand scything.) Where drainage is good, Woolly thyme (T. praecox subsp. arcticus Lanuginosus) is a common plant pick, though Elfin thyme (T. serpyllum minus) works very well in gravel paths and on rocky walls. Other especially attractive forms of creeping thyme include Pink Chintz, Red Creeping, Snow Drift, and White Creeping, all low carpeters that spread willingly.

A Harmonious Meditation Retreat

Anyone with a bit of room can create a meditative garden that combines favorite plants with calming pathways. If you need a little inspiration, I encourage you (particularly anyone whose life is touched by cancer) to come and see what Harmony Hill is all about. A great deal of thought and work has gone into creating a healing environment that is as wholesome and free from stress as possible. The staff practices deep and soulful hospitality, from fresh garden flowers by guest bedsides to marvelous vegetarian meals made with organically grown foods that nourish the whole person. It’s a great place for a family reunion, a staff retreat, or a lovely day of strolling the meditation labyrinths.

For more information and directions, contact:
Harmony Hill Retreat Center
7362 East State Route 106
Union, WA
360-89 82363
www.harmonyhill.org

 

 

 

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