We have been enjoying an unseasonably warm March here in Toronto that has lead into the warmest early April I can recall, ever. Temperatures are supposed to soar this weekend, sending gardeners (including me) into a flurry of activity. I have already sown spinach and mâche into containers on the roof. The chives have been shooting up slowly over the last few weeks, and I am starting to identify lettuce seedlings that have self sown where I let mature plants go to seed last season. I intend to spend this weekend cleaning up, amending the container soil, and getting all of the gardens into shape.
Meanwhile, over at the greenhouse, my little seedlings are go. I started tomatoes and peppers on March 5 and have sown the odd thing here and there since. I’m enjoying the simplicity of this stage of the growing season very much. I’ve been through this stage countless times now and you’d think it would get dull, but it never does. Every year there is something new and even the same old same old haven’t lost their appeal. On a basic level I am amazed by my plants’ progress every time I visit the greenhouse. I am relishing just observing the beauty of new seeds as they come out of the package and discovering the early growth stages of plants I have never grown from seed before. This is a happy time all around.
These are a pansy called ‘Caramel Spice’ from Botanical Interests. It’s a little late to start pansies and violas from seed as they are typically started in January. In fact, I just bought the first pansy cell-packs of the season yesterday. Unfortunately, these seeds came late but I figured I might as well give it a shot anyways. I can always try tucking them into a cooler spot once the summer heat hits and hope they make it to the fall cool-down.
This is cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), one of my fun experiments for the 2010 growing season. Cardoon is a gorgeous, and rather massive plant that looks an awful lot like an artichoke or giant thistle. In fact, they’re related. What’s interesting is that you eat the stems of the plant, not the flower bud as you do with an artichoke. But before you harvest it you’ve got to “blanch” it, much like celery, by covering the stems with a large box or some other cover to keep light out and soften the leaves. Perhaps a bit complicated but my curiosity has got the better of me so here we go. Another fun fact: cardoon is often used as a vegetarian rennet substitute in cheese making.
I like the seedlings at this stage; so perfect.
I was invited to an apartment warming at my brother’s newish place the other night and since I had already treated him to a whole new garden, hereby known as “The Gift That Covers Me Off for Gift Giving Until 2010,” I decided I wanted to bring something but that that something should be simple and not cost money. The great thing about gardening, beyond the thousands of other more important reasons, is that there is always something available last-minute to gift to friends. I can just step outside and find homegrown edibles or flowers in a pinch that just about anyone will appreciate.
After all, who doesn’t like homegrown food or flowers? Granted, I’m sure if we looked hard enough we could find one or two out there in America but still…
As I was saying, a gift was in order. A gift that says, “Congratulations on your new apartment! Here’s something nice and useful to commemorate a meaningful life step but, you know, you’re my brother and dude, until I get a higher paying job or miraculously unearth a winning scratch ticket buried in the street garden… enjoy some quality homegrown herbs and edible delights.” Of course, I’m saying that cynically because in truth a winning scratch ticket would not change my desire to share the homegrown goodness. I’d just wrap it all in fresh, crisp hundred dollar bills.
And that is what I did (minus the cash money). My brother has been speaking highly of his new herb garden and all of the delicious herbed omelets he has been enjoying however I knew his plants were still small and were probably strained by enthusiastic and vigorous picking. My plants on the other hand are all well-established. I am actually over-run this year with sage, oregano and marjoram. I have been making herbal bouquets for myself for some time now and it only made sense to harvest a selection of yummy herbs, tie it up like a floral bouquet and give it as a gift. Flowers are nice but this bouquet keeps on giving. What’s more my bouquet was literally free since the butcher paper and twine was recycled from the packaging used to wrap flowers bought at the market. Yes, I have become my grandmother, holding onto every last scrap of packaging in hope of a possible future use.
The bouquet I made for my brother is not the one depicted. That one included garlic scapes I had picked just that day, as well as a selection of assorted thyme varieties and large sprigs of fresh rosemary. The gift was a surprise hit with party goers wondering about that twisted oddity (garlic scapes) poking out of the bundle. I’m sure if my bouquet had included homegrown herbs of another sort I would have made a lot of new friends fast… however it did not and the love fest lasted a total of 10 minutes.
If you make your own, choose whatever you’ve got on hand or try for herbs that compliment one another. Help the recipient unwrap the package as soon as possible and get the herbs into water so that anything that has wilted can be revived. This is also your chance to talk about the herbs so your friend knows a garlic scape from a frightening alien life form and how they can use them in their next meal.