Monday, June 21, 2010

Sunflowers & Hollyhocks

Somewhere I read a claim that 'gardens do not create themselves; they are a distinctly human artifact.' As I look at our summer 2010 food and flowering plant ensemble, I decided that for some of us, there should be a footnote that says, *And sometimes not even then!* I mean, when you are trying to foster horticultural harmony and productivity the botanical bodies often have other agendas. Before you blink twice, your original plan has been hijacked.

Take, for example, the rows of peas. Last February, it was still "yard." Spring 2009 was the first time we had tried to amend that particular patch and coax anything to grow in it. We had a glorious rowdy line of mixed sunflowers (grown from seeds no less). For our "second season," G put in peas. Then we had out of town visitors for almost a month & during that time a whole flock of sunflower seedlings slipped in. When we finally turned our full attention back to the garden realm, weeding them seem like drowning puppies. We just couldn't bring ourselves to do it.

Maybe it will turn out well. Last week we harvested the last of the peas. Now the blossoms are starting to pop. (It is a fact: the practitioners of industrial agriculture have nothing to fear from the likes of us.) The jolly green giants are gorgeous. And it's fun watching to see what colors / varieties insisted on joining us as holdovers from last year.

Unfortunately, sunflowers aren't the only willful plants in our domain. Also having their own way are the leeks and half the onions. It has been so hot, they have all bolted and flowered. The blossoms are so captivating, we couldn't bring ourselves to hack those off either. AND I spied several tomato seedlings in the raised bed. Last season they completely took over that coveted space. We swore we would never again be taken in by cute, innocent, tiny seedlings! I plucked a couple Sunday morning, but Gloria can't bring herself to cull them. ((Will they cave? How important is that second crop of spinach and lettuce?)) Oh. And lest this seem all too tame, I am not even broaching the subject of our blackberries, peppermint and sun chokes.

About sunflowers:
They were originally used as a food plant in the Americas--in the arid west. Eventually, during the waves of "discovery," they were hauled off to Europe. They spread from Spain north and east, were planted here and there, but did not cause a big stir. That is, NOT until they seized by Russians who wanted some fat to go with their meat and bread on Fridays. According to the article posted on the official sunflower site, in [late 1700s? early 1800s?] the Russian Orthodox Church published a list of prohibited foods. When sunflowers did not appear on the list, enterprising farmers started working feverishly to cultivate and squeeze them--in short, to exploit the loophole. Which they did very successfully. As Russians migrated to the US, they brought these juicy, oily seeds with them. Bringing the plant full circle, now as a big, fat, distant cousin.

Other bits of yard & garden news: we went back to Alameda nursery for a few more zinnias. The new bed that had daffies then irises, has been begging for some summer color. (More sunflowers at the back of the bed. We'll see how they do.) I know, I know. It's hot and late to plant, but we had to try. The hollyhocks are in their glory. Creamy double yellows, single reds & pinks. The grapes are coming along--not sure if the loss of all those hives down the block will mean a smaller crop. Also, our watering routines have been different. G wasn't thrilled with the ditchwater. She's worried that it brought lots of salts and weed seeds with it. So she has been using it less. AND May-June have been very dry. We'll see. May affect the blackberries too. Very happy to say that the Chaste tree seems to have made it through that terrible cold snap last fall. It was starting to bloom the end of last week. >So pretty.

We finally finished the fence along the back. (We're trying to keep the neighbor's weed seeds from infecting our compost piles and from raiding the back side of the garden). It looks great. Funny how inspiring it is when you can actually clean up one of those scary places in your yard. G has a wheelbarrow full of cow manure waiting to be layered up. And we can finally get to the worm trench. (?!!)

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