The Edible Landscape: Summer in the Garden 2011

The Edible Landscape: Summer in the Garden 2011

Summer in the Garden

By: Abby Bard

May 26, 2011


In 1993, when I moved to Florence Avenue, my front yard was a wilderness of sickly aspen trees, clumps of grass sticking out of solid clay soil, and snail-infested ivy overrunning the cement retaining wall along the sidewalk. Two overgrown mock orange shrubs hid the house from view and a huge oak tree blocked the rays of the late afternoon sun. The backyard, sloping downward and facing north, had a few rose bushes, a healthy crop of spearmint, two small fruit trees—a cherry and a pear—and another huge oak tree blocking the rays of the sun coming from the east. An old apple tree at the bottom of the lot struggled to find light, as the arc of the sun passed behind the backyard oak and a tall Douglas fir on the south side of the property.

By the time I was able to buy the house in 1999, the aspen trees had keeled over, succumbing to disease and the saturated soil of El Niño rains. The old oak on the east side, its trunk wrapped in giant vines of ivy, also came down with an earth shattering crash just before dawn on New Year’s day 1998 (miraculously without any property damage or human injury). Ivy was rampant everywhere and, ignorant as I was about cultivating a garden, I instinctively knew that the ivy had to go to make way for food. I had no idea at the time what a challenge it would be to have the fruit and vegetable garden of my dreams.

In the spring of the following year, while I was in the front yard digging up ivy (a project that took several months of hard labor and still requires monitoring), I visualized my future vegetable garden. I had the dead aspens hauled off and recruited my teenage son to dig up grass with a rented rototiller. We were getting nowhere fast with the garden project when a group of long-haired angels bearing garden tools and a flyer for Planting Earth Activation (PEA) appeared. They asked me, “Would you like an organic vegetable garden in your yard?” That was EXACTLY what I wanted and I couldn’t believe my luck, or perhaps the power of attraction...

I remember Eric Ohlson, Abby Wing and brothers Craig and Michael Litwin, all smiles and wiry nimble bodies, pulling up sod and putting down compost, and bringing plants they’d grown from seed to nestle in the fresh soil. I remember chard and artichokes (whose descendents still grow in my garden) and kale. I chipped in some money for the compost and they did the work; I’m forever grateful to them for helping me get started.
I still need all the help I can get (as we all do), and I recently became aware of a wonderful resource for gardeners called iGROW. An offshoot of Health Action, a community initiative to work on
improving health and healthcare for all Sonoma County residents, iGROW is all about access to healthy food: creating individual and community gardens, connecting experienced gardeners with beginning growers, and helping people find local sources of
healthy food.

The iGROW website contains a wonderful blog written by gardeners Wendy Krupnick and Sara McCamant, and a wealth of information on all aspects of food growing, harvesting and preserving, in addition to soil building and conserving water resources. You can register your own garden and learn about classes, workshops, volunteer opportunities, plant sales and my personal favorite—garden parties. Get more details at www.igrowsonoma.org.

Wild blackberries are my favorite fruit and I am very fortunate to have them in my garden. I do cut them back each fall, to keep them contained a bit, but in the summer all I need to do is cut back the overreaching shoots and pick the clusters of berries.

I am a stickler for only picking the ones that come off easily in my hand and leaving the ones that resist for another day. During berry season, I’ll wander out in the garden each morning in my PJs with bowl in hand and fill it with enough berries for a breakfast with yogurt or granola or just a splash of milk and brown sugar. When they are in full swing I’ll pick enough for a pie—two quarts will do it.

Blackberry pie is my son’s favorite. Back when we lived in the country, there was a stand of blackberries along the road and as soon as he learned to walk, Joey and I would head down there in the afternoon sunshine and pick berries together. Blackberries were also the first fruit I ever picked as a child. My Aunt Thel lived in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington DC, where I grew up. One summer day, she took me and two of my cousins to a vacant lot near her house to pick blackberries. I must have been seven or eight and that experience was indelibly etched into my brain and taste buds, so having them in my own back yard is such a gift.

After the lush rains and blasts of springtime sunshine, the berries are in their prime. I want to share my mother’s recipe for a simple cake that is the perfect foundation for fresh berries. So pick your berries (raspberries, blackberries or a mixture of both), wash them gently and drain, then sprinkle them with honey or sugar and allow them to release their juices while the cake is baking. Then serve a slice of cake in a bowl with a generous serving of juicy berries and a cloud of whipped cream on top.

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