MYSTERY FLOWER IN THE WILD GARDEN . . . what is its name?

Bel’Occhio’s Wild Flower Garden

The mystery flower.   It flaunts its beauty and seduces the bees, then as the sun sets  tightly folds it blossoms and disappears.

It was the long talk with my friend, Oswald, gentleman rabbit,  that gave me the idea for this garden.  He is a master gardener and is responsible for all things growing.  He voiced his concern about the challenges facing bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  Pesticides, climate change,  and the disappearances of their habitats in rural areas have drastically reduced their population.

We took a third of our vegetable garden and dedicated  it to wild flowers .   I thought I would  have some  dainty flowers growing wild and free in the breeze.   A few bees and butterflies, and the occasional hummingbird doing what they do best.    This outrageous, flamboyant display was a wonderful surprise and I am thrilled beyond belief.  It is my secret garden,  hidden from public viewing in the  quiet privacy of our vegetable garden.

Today I discovered  a brilliant, sapphire blue flower.  It took my breath away.   I searched my garden books but haven’t discovered its name.  I hope someone will know.

The mystery flower.

 

THE SECRET GARDEN OF BEES, BUTTERFLIES AND HUMMINGBIRDS

I have a wild flower garden.   It’s a secret garden.  A garden where bees, butterflies and hummingbirds quietly go about their business in calm privacy.  It is surrounded by hay fields.  Near by are ditches filled with water and grassy thickets and brambles.

This spring I took almost half of our vegetable garden and sowed it with wild flowers.    I filled it with annuals, biennials and perennials.   Bees are especially drawn to  blue, purple and yellow flowers.   

The bees love these single petal flowers.  They hum songs of happiness as they fly from blossom to blossom.  Occasionally makings forays into the vegetable garden for flavours or oregano and mint.  This is their secret magic world.  A garden of earthly delights for bees.

My wild flowers flaunt outrageous colors .  Waving gossamer petals to entice butterflies and hummingbirds to dine on their nectar .

I’ve added extra flower seeds to my wild flower mixture.  Lots of flamboyant poppies and delicious blue and pink bachelor buttons.  Their bright colours catch the attention of hummingbirds and butterflies.

The wild flower garden is rather like  Christmas.  Early in the morning, when the dew still sparkles on the cobwebs in the grass, I stroll out to the garden.  There’s always a new surprise for the contents of the wild flower mixture are not listed.  They are yours to discover one by one.  I never take flowers from the bee garden.  I don’t dead head.  It is their sanctuary.

I’ve close planted the flowers creating   a brilliant  kaleidoscope of colour.  The garden  is in full sun from morning to evening.    It is a garden of joy.    A small thing , this garden for bees, butterflies and hummingbird, but incredibly important to our environment.

It is estimated one out of every three bites of food we take is made possible by bees and other pollinating wild life.  Food and shelter for bees allows them to nest and increase their population in safety.

My secret bee garden.  Oswald, the master gardener would approve.  He understands the need for a rabbit proof fence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TAMING THE PRECOCIOUS AND RELUCTANT PEONY . . . a romantic tale.

 

They flounce in the garden.   Their ball gowns worn  with great aplomb.   Their glorious heads sway and dance to the slightest breeze.   They are the voluptuous, sumptuous darlings of the garden.

Peonies  beguile us with tiny, tight buds and  seduce us unfurling paper thin petals after petals to burst into blooms of staggering beauty.

 

Peonies are rather precocious and sometimes rather petulant when it comes to flower arrangements.  They like to be coaxed  and pampered to flaunt their full blown beauty.  The trick to encouraging these reluctant  little darlings to open faster is to cut their stems a little shorter.  Every time you snip the stem, a peony will open further.    But peonies, having a mind of their own, will also change their shape and colour each time you shorten them.  For example the deep pink may fade to a lighter shade.

So as that delicate light  of twilight  creeps into your home, the intoxicating perfume of peonies  surround you.  Their perfume whispers of romantic waltzes  and  past loves.  It spins a web that connects you to these treasured memories  from the past.    You smile.  You cup the fragrant blossoms in you hand and hold the most wondrous of thoughts close to your heart.

The most precocious of peonies with behave with decorum if you follow a few tips for a longer vase life.  Pick your flowers in the early morning and let them wile a way a few hours in a dark place deeply immersed in a bucket of warm water.

Make your own “plant food” .  To a quart of water add 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 3-4 drops household bleach.  Stir the water throughly before adding the flower.  The bleach and vinegar reduce the chance of bacteria multiplying.  Bacteria cause stems to become slimy and turn the water cloudy.  The sugar acts as food for the flowers.

P.S.

And when a few petals drift down to adorn your table – let them linger.  Perfection can be boring.

THE CAPTURE AND CARE OF THE FABULOUS FOXGLOVE

They grow wild here on our West Coast.   Flinging themselves with outrageous abandon along side country roads and busy highways.  They cover hillsides with their brilliant colours.   Magnificent  spires of unbelievable beauty.  The fabulous.  The fantastic.   The outrageous too-good-to-be-true   Foxglove.

They grow tame in my garden.  No wild adventure for these towering, glorious foxgloves.  Imperiously they rule my spring garden.   High and haughty  above cornflowers and poppies.  Ignoring purple irises and  pansies.  Tall and slender they weave back and forth waltzing to the slightest breeze.

It’s early morning.  The dew caught like diamonds in spider webs woven across the lawn.  I have a deep bucket filled with warm water.   I cut  and strip the lower leave from the foxgloves,  and immediately dunk them in the bucket.    I let the foxgloves drowse away the morning hours in the cool, dark boot room.  The plants are slightly toxic so I wash my hands after handling them.

A  stunning  bouquet of foxgloves.   A spectacular statement of our connection to all things green and growing   This bringing the outdoors into your home is a simple pleasure.      Isn’t that what life should be about?

DIGITALIS PURPUREA (aka foxgloves)  have a vase life of up to 2 weeks.   Florists supply you with a sachet of plant food.  It is easy to make up your own plant food.

1 quart of water, 2 tablespoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar and three or four drops of bleach.  Give it a stir before adding the flowers.  The bleach and vinegar reduce the chance of bacteria multiplying.  Bacteria cause stems to be become slimy and turn the water cloudy.   The sugar acts food for the flowers.

 

 

THE MAGIC OF OVEN ROASTED TOMATOES . . . Capturing the joy of summer all winter long.

Through the halcyon days of summer I plundered the garden for the fattest, juiciest,  reddest of red tomatoes.  The days shortened.  Marine fog drifted across the fields poking destructive fingers into the garden.    Time to harvest the tomatoes, ripe or green.    The heady fragrance of tomato leaves surrounded me as I  filled my basket with these last jewels of summer.

The green tomatoes were tucked single layer in closed cardboard boxes.  As they changed colour out they came to sit in a bright window.  Taking the sun.    I had already frozen tomatoes for soups and stews.  These tomatoes were to be oven roasted and frozen.

I cut the little cores out.   Sliced the tomatoes in half.  Placed them in parchment lined pans ( saves scrubbing pans ).   The tomatoes were sprinkled with a little coarse sea salt and freshly ground black paper.  Then  with a breeze  of olive oil and graced with whole sprigs of fresh thyme.

Roast the tomatoes at 275F for about five hours.  Then increase the oven temperature to 300F for the last hour.  Watch these little darlings.  The smaller tomatoes will brown faster and should be removed.  You don’t want them to become dry and brittle.  Toss the dried thyme.    Store the tomatoes in plastic freezer containers with layers of parchment papers between the slices.  Five pounds of fresh tomatoes will reduce down to about one pound.

It really is like magic!   Oven roasted tomatoes on pizza are  nothing short of divine.     Tossed in pasta dishes they are brilliant shots of colour and flavour.      Roasted tomatoes in the humblest of sandwiches takes the sandwich to delicious heights.  Or try coarsely chopped roasted tomatoes  and goat cheese on a baguette.

Bon Appetit dear friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE DARK AND DANGEROUS SIDE OF A BEAUTIFUL GARDEN

All is not as it seems in the beautiful garden.  Danger lurks.  Someone has murder on their mind.    In Agatha Christie’s detective fiction,  A Pocket Full of Rye, the dastardly murderer brews up a batch of yew leaves.  Adds it to a pot of marmalade.  And it was toast for the unsuspecting victim.

The yew trees rotten reputation was saved  in the l960s when an extract from the plant was discovered to have tumour-fighting compounds and was developed into cancer medication.

The castor bean is another baddie.  It contains a deadly toxin ricin.  It put an end to the writing and everything else for journalist and communist defector Georgi Markov.  His vitriolic  comments ended when a pellet containing ricin was fired into his leg by  an umbrella wielding  assassin associated  with the Bulgarian Secret Police.

The euphorbia belongs to the same family as the caster bean but it is a more kindly cousin.  It’s not deadly,  just plain irritating.  Its  milky sap can cause rash or welts, and the leaves and flowers can irritate the skin and eyes.

One must  admire this heavenly blue perennial splashing its colour along herbaceous borders each summer.  But beware.  It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  It goes by two names,  monkshood and wolfsbane. The entire plant is very dangerous to touch and to eat.  Its poison (aconitine) was originally used to kill wolves.  It will cause numbness and stop the heart!  Arm yourself.  Wear gloves when handling the plant and keep it out of reach of unsuspecting guests.

Dog lovers beware of the flirty, beguiling cyclamen.  All parts of it cause severe discomfort if ingested by humans, and can bring on convulsions and paralysis in dogs.

Snowdrops.  The little darlings of spring.  So delicate, sweet and assuming.  But one must take great care when planting.  The bulbs may irritate the skin, and cause a mild tummy upset if eaten.  It can happen if  forgetful gardeners drying onions in their sheds confuse the two bulbs.  Yes, it has been known to happen.  Where were their heads?

Without alliums in the kitchen food would be pretty ho hum.   Garlic, onions, chives and leeks are deliciously edible for us but be wary of the ornamental types.  They flaunt their gorgeous heads of colour but they can be nasty and cause skin allergies.  All parts of ALL alliums are poisonous to cats and dogs.  They contain a chemical that causes anemia and is toxic in high doses.

They trumpet their exotic outrageous beauty in the most magnificent manner.  Tall, stately amaryllis command attention .   Beware of these beauties if you are a dog owner.  The sap and bulb are poisonous.  It can cause mild tummy upset in humans.  But they can be fatal for dogs bringing on lethargy, shock and coma.

The list goes on.  Every part of the foxglove is quite poisonous.  The good news is that its properties  are used to make the cardiac drug Digitalis.  The red berries of the  holly we adorn our home with at Christmas are unpleasant. If eaten by dogs can cause tremors, seizures and loss of balance,  and give children a serious tummy ache. Consider yourself warned! There’s more than one hundred dangerous plants growing in gardens and fields.

For a walk on the wild side you can visit a poison garden in Northumberland, England.   The  Duchess of Northumberland took a little trip to Italy.  Instead of a souvenir mini statue of David she brought back the concept of a poison garden.  The Medici Poison Garden in Padua was the inspiration for the”world’s most dangerous garden”,  The Alnwick Garden.    You’ll know you are in the right place when you see the locked gate embellished with skulls and crossbones.  Mind how you go and stay close to the guide.

HIPPEASTRUM (Amaryllis)  ACONITUM (Monkshood, Wolfsbane)  ILEX (Holly )  EUPHORBIA (Spurge)  TAXUS (Yew)  GALANTHUS  (Snowdrop)    CYCLAMEN  (now you know one Latin plant name)  )  ALLIUM (and a second)

 

 

 

 

 

FIERY ROASTED TOMATO SOUP

IMG_2140

 

We live out in the country wedged between the mighty Fraser River a few minutes walk  north of us and the Pacific Ocean a short drive to the west.   This enviable location does come with a problem.  A micro-climate with ground fog rolling across the farm lands and over my tomato plants.

There is a secret to growing tomatoes in this will-of-the-wisp summer.   You plant them in big black plastic nursery pots. Then position these pots against a south wall preferably with a large overhanging roof.  If you are fortunate this will give the tomatoes some protection from the heavy dew and ground fog.

The only supermarket tomatoes I buy are  Campari tomatoes. Eight small tomatoes in a precious plastic box.  They have real,  honest-to- goodness tomato flavour. I harvested seeds from these tomatoes.  Early spring I started them indoors and then transplanted the strongest into pots.    I ended up with six rather straggly plants left over and no more pots. Off to the compost heap with them.  Until my good husband rescued them and planted them in the garden.  They grew.  They grew, and grew and produced tomatoes.   Better tomatoes then the plants coddled in protective pots.

The summer was unique.  We had months and months of nothing but sun.  The plants in the garden loved the heat.  Not so the tomatoes planted in the pots.  Day after day I would harvest the garden grown tomatoes.   A couple of pounds of these dazzling red darlings filling my basket.  The final one day harvesting of the Campari tomato plants netted over forty pounds.  All from six spindly almost thrown-away plants!

This was the summer of enjoying tomatoes every day.  Tomato, bacon and lettuce sandwiches (vegetables from the garden and our own bacon) – divine.  Tomatoes baked in cream with thyme – sublime.  And then tomato soup.  Tomato soup so superb you’ll never go back to your old recipe.    One big roasting pan filled with tomatoes, shallots, garlic, carrots, onion and the zinger – jalapeno chile.  You roast it.  Puree and then eat.  FIERY ROASTED TOMATO SOUP – it just doesn’t get any better.