I know this is going to sound sacrilegious — and you probably already know this about me — but I’m not into growing food. Crops generally require more time, effort (the calculus involved in succession planting makes my head explode), and watering than I’m interested in giving them. I’d much rather be lazy, sit back and watch my garden grow and I’m perfectly happy to buy vegetables from people willing, able, and eager to do all that hard work. More power to them. But I do have a deep appreciation for the edibles I have growing my garden that put out with very little input.

thornless blackberry

My first summer here, my mom bought a thornless blackberry (Rubus ulmifolius) for me at a plant sale and I planted it with everything else I had at the time against my front yard fence. A mixed garden is maybe not the ideal place for a suckering bramble — no doubt it would be much more productive given plenty of space and its very own trellis. And no doubt it would be easier to harvest the berries if I didn’t have to dive headfirst into the border between iris, daisies, and teasel to find them. But I’m all for being rewarded with handfuls of warm berries while weeding and I’m not a pie maker anyway.

All this blackberry seems to require is a good bit of sun and some judicious pruning/editing. Flowers and fruit occur on second year canes and fresh canes shoot out of the ground in 10′ arches every year. I whack those back midsummer to encourage them to branch. Old canes that have done their business should be cut off at the ground in the fall. Suckers — these plants are very generous — can be removed and transplanted anytime. My experience in moving this plant — even a well established clump with several thumb-thick canes — leads me to believe it’s virtually unkillable.

My other favorite garden snack is ground cherry (a.k.a husk cherry, dwarf cape gooseberry, Physalis pruinosa). The first time I ever peeled open the tomatillo-like papery husk and popped one in my mouth was at a farmers market only about 10 years ago and I ate an entire pint in one sitting. I think they taste like fruit salad heavy on the pineapple. I must have eaten and dropped a few  near my front steps because the plants first appeared in cracks along the stoop and have since planted themselves like weeds along the sunny front of every border. In fact, they are weeds. But I’m thrilled to have them will always allow a few to grow and fruit because they’re awesome. They fruit best in full sun and don’t seem to require much water. Cherries form underneath a canopy of moleskin leaves and are ripe when the husks are yellow and they drop off the stem into your paw.

ground cherries ripening

What are your favorite garden snacks?

Down to earth – On artful, art-full gardens

Originally published on November 28, 2012 in East Bay/South Coast Life

My garden art is showing again. I must have forgotten how many ornaments I have stashed around because I was pleasantly surprised to see birdhouses reappear between the branches and my concrete goose poke its beak back out from behind some melted annuals.

I don’t mind that they, and a few other things, have suddenly resurfaced because they’ll add to the winter view in a way they never would have succeeded in doing over the summer when flowers and foliage were all the ornament I needed.

I also don’t mind that they were mostly hidden for the summer — all but our ironic pink flamingo named Floyd who hangs out by the mailbox — because I’m a little bit worried that one day tchotchkes will take over the garden the way they have the house. Then perfect strangers might see me for the loony collector of bits and bobs that I am. As it is, perfect strangers and fellow gardeners alike probably read my garden as an obsessive collection of plants, albeit strangely lacking in statuary.

This past summer I visited Bedrock Gardens, a private garden occasionally open to the public in Lee, N.H. that blurs or even crosses the line into being a sculpture garden. The property is owned by sculptor Jill Nooney and her artistic husband, Bob Munger, who together have created acres of gardens that are more like earthworks.

Among other delights, there is a 200-foot waterway called The Wiggle Waggle, a grassacre not of lawn but of blocks of native flowering grasses that reads as an abstract painting from the vantage of their barn, and a collection of 50-plus conifers in a stand called Conetown. And, the entire sculpted property is peppered in sculpture, both Nooney’s found-object welds and Munger’s structures, as well as a vast collection of art by friends. Most (all?) of it for sale. Somehow, rather than overwhelming the garden and stealing attention from their fabulous collections of plants, their art embellishes the garden and tells a fascinating story of its owners. Which is exactly what art in the garden is meant to do.

A few years ago I trespassed another very different but entirely art-full garden in Buffalo, N.Y. that came pretty close to crossing the line into miniature golf course-ness: An abandoned mill towered over and shaded a tiny, intensively planted backyard absolutely filled to the gills with statuary. Concrete Venus de Milos and Davids shared the shrubbery with saints, Asian lanterns and gnomes.

But it worked, not just for the owner who clearly loved his all-inclusive sanctuary, but for this perfect stranger as well. And that right there is why. His garden and Bedrock Gardens are loved unabashedly. They are intensely personal spaces created by unselfconscious gardeners who probably don’t give a damn what I think, which made it hard not to love and be inspired by them.

I recently heard a lecture on “infusing the garden with personality” by gardener and author Tovah Martin who, decades ago, wrote about one of the most fiercely idiosyncratic and self-possessed gardeners ever in “Tasha Tudor’s Garden.” Tovah offered a reminder that I’d like to have engraved on my hori-hori: Your garden is yours. Stop caring what other people might think.

If you do what you love, whether it’s to create a haven for wildlife, amass a collection of every species of viburnum or daylily, and/or display a gallery of knick-knackery, there will be beauty — maybe not in the eye of every beholder, but in yours. And, in any case, if you love your garden madly deeply, chances are others will be inspired to as well.

Show off

If a garden magazine editor or any fellow gardener ever asks to see your garden, say, “Come on over!” even if it’s a weedy mess. Even if you haven’t watered and the tomatoes are runts, the cardoon has fallen over, and the blue fortune, or whatever the hell that thing is in the front bed that might be a weed (you don’t know), is wilted. Even if the lawn is crispy dormant (except for those weird patches of “weeds”) and your containers look like hell. Because you never know what she might see that you can’t because the weeds, wilt, and hell are in your way.

I think Michelle from Fine Gardening saw (and posted) the only truly cool combination in my garden. But I have to admit that until she enthused about it, I just thought, “oh gawd. It’s all very big and crowded…”

And I’ve been more focused on the pretty almost cool teasel combinations. I’m not sure Michelle even noticed those but then, the dotted mint wasn’t quite blooming yet…

(full disclosure: the day before Michelle’s visit, it rained and nothing in my garden was wilted. Only weedy. And she was very kind about that as most fellow gardeners would be. And that’s why you should never be scared to show your garden off.)

Have you shown off lately?

The uniform

While Haiti lies in ruins and orphans need kin; and the Mass. voters have chosen to be catastrophically unhelpful regarding healthcare reform, I opt to focus on my own ridonculous problems instead. Like the tiny little identity crisis I’ve been having. (Honestly, it’s just easier. But let me say, in my defense, that my $$ has gone where the need truly is.)

I used to be the kind of person who put some thought into getting dressed in the morning – I wasn’t terribly adventurous or avant-garde, just ever so slightly creative. (I wore scarves.) When I was in (art) school, I wore my charcoal handprints and paintsplatters like badges (Hello My Name Is Artiste) of devil-may-bite-me cool. Lately though, because gardening is such dirty work, and I’m not 19 anymore, I have filled my closet, thanks to Savers (that’s Value Village to you west coasties), with chinos and khakis and ugly sweaters because I don’t mind ruining those things.

I realized recently that dressing for work in clothes I hate has made me (unfashionably) lazy and invisible way before my time. I have been known to wear the same exact thing all week because I’ve gotten so out of the habit of giving a shit. I generally don’t even bother anymore with cuteness on the weekends – especially if I’m going to be blowing out my knees in this garden. My inner French-girl weeps and refuses to open the shutters.

Maybe it’s because I’m in a hurry to enjoy the last months of my thirties before my butt drops below my knees; maybe it’s because I have to wear an actual uniform at work; maybe it’s because gardening media seems suddenly infused with excessively hip hipsters like Alys Fowler, Gayle Trail and Patti Moreno The-Garden-Girl, who wear vintage scarves and have tattoos and tromp around their gardens in Jack Purcells or exquisitely expensive Hunter wellies. For whatever combination of reasons, I have become increasingly aware that I don’t like what I’m projecting. I’m not liking that I’m not looking as much like me as I used to.

The only thing I can think to do for it (aside from shopping for new “work” clothes and I’m trying to resist that impulse) is to open up my closet. And truly, since most of it, even the cute stuff, is from Savers anyway, nothing is sacred. And I wonder if stretching my creative muscle this way will make it limber in other ways. (Maybe I’ll paint again?) Meanwhile the true woes of the world worry on…

Do you wear a uniform – in or out of the garden?

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