Thursday, April 28, 2011

Garden Cake

My big brother had a birthday, and so I brought him a cake - my now-standard almond with raspberry filling and buttercream.  As is also becoming my MO, I went out into the garden to see what edible flowers and greenery were available to decorate the cake.  I passed on the asparagus and chives, and settled on strawberry blossoms, violets, mint, and pea shoots.  All the greenery held up to transport and a few hours of waiting around to be eaten, except the pea shoots - those wilted within an hour.  Something else, next time.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

First Figs, Doomed

My two fig trees - a 6-year-old Brown Turkey, and a Celeste I just planted last summer - have set fruit.  This is the so-called "breba" crop, a small first fruit set that is eclipsed by the summer/fall main crop.  I have been reading a bit about the breba crop, and from what I can find it seems to be of lower quality (acidic) than the main crop.  I wouldn't know first hand - I have lost every singe breba crop on my older fig, year after year.  I think they must have been frost killed, but I actually think they are killed by simply cold weather, not just freezing weather.  But this year...the forecast calls for warmth in the next week and a half, and at that point we pass Laurel's last frost date - or at least my own personal global-warming informed last frost date.  So perhaps I will taste a breba fig.  Perhaps.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Lilacs and Longing

One Easter morning, over ten years ago now, I walked to the market in my small town in Turkmenistan to buy vegetables and eggs.  I think I had friends coming for dinner, Americans who would celebrate and commiserate together, and yet I was feeling lonely and sad and far from home.  I remember it was a cool morning, but that it would get brutally hot before noon.  Wandering among the stalls and tarps, I saw a woman sitting on a blanket on the ground, a selling a single jar of flowers in front of her.  Lilacs.

I sank into a squat in front of the woman, put my nose in the flowers, and said "Where did those come from?"  She was a Russian, she said, but had lived most of her life in Turkmenistan.  She had brought the lilac plant from Russia, and had nurtured and pampered it through life in the desert.  "I grow them because they remind me of home," she said.  Tears were running down my cheeks.  "They remind me of home, too."  I bought all she had.

Lilacs for me are wrapped up in that longing for home.  My parents grew a great hedge of them along the side of the house, and when they bloomed my mother would fill the house with them, and of course their scent. When I was a freshman in boarding school, desperately lonely and longing to fit it, my friend Katie brought me a bouquet of lilacs from her parents' house just off campus.  I cried then like I cried in Turkmenistan, the longing for home mixed with gratitude and love.  As, I guess, it always is with lilacs for me - since the longing they provoke is for love, and home, and my unending gratitude that I have always (even when far from either) had both.

I grow lilacs now, and even though I am rooted in love and home the old longing grabs me every time the scent catches me unaware.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sweet Flowers

Candied violets.
 First you wash them...
 ...then paint them with egg white and dust with superfine sugar...
...and then you admire them, and wonder what to do with them?  Noah had two for breakfast.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


The Bradford pears are in bloom.  Everywhere at once, it seems.  I've always thought of them as common trees, side-of-the-highway trees, nothing to get excited about trees.  As we flashed by acres of them along route 32 today, I enjoyed their white bloom, though, and thought: these are lovely.  I've seen them every spring for most of my 38 springs, and never thought about how lovely they are.

These trees, in their commonness, will last for ages.  They are constant and predictable and forever.

And I realized I am not.  Thirty-eight springs.  If the actuaries are right, there are fewer springs ahead of me than behind.  I may have thirty-eight springs left, or twenty, or two.  Maybe I will be like my great-grandmother, and live to be almost one hundred - but still, only sixty springs left!

Spring is the season of life renewed, of hope - but it is also the season of the ephemeral, the delicate flower that appears and passes in a day, the balmy day that turns to cold rain, and the warm weather itself which dissolves into summer's heat much too soon.

It isn't so much a sad thought, to know that I am ephemeral.  But it does make me watch, and urgently - watch the peas as they come up, watch the bliss light my son's face when he hits a baseball, and watch the lowly Bradford pears as they flash by me on the highway, gone before I ever saw them fully. 

Friday, April 8, 2011


As much as I love thinking about my garden all winter long, I am not much of a planner.  Or at least I don't follow through with those plans very well.  Every year since I first planted the camellias beside the house I have had that lovely display of pink, and every year I look at it and think...daffodils.  And bleeding hearts.  Lenten rose. All in a carpet around the camellias, rather than that blah green grass.  It should be a garden, not a couple of stranded shrubs huddled against the house.

Next fall.  I am planning.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Hot and Cold

After a run of cold raw weather, 80 degrees today.  The warmth seems to have energized a nest of wasps, who have decided that their life's mission is to get inside the back door, into my kitchen.  If they continue to pursue this track their life's work will be...short.

The peas popped up yesterday.  I thought they had rotted, but every year I think they have rotted.  Every year I am wrong.

Asparagus is slowly inching out of the ground, with no harvest since those first two ambitious spears.  I am watching 10 or so purple snub noses, though, and with today's warmth am planning asparagus risotto for dinner tomorrow night.

Things happen so quickly at this time of year.  I checked the bleeding hearts over the weekend, and they were small lacy clumps of greenery.  Today, flower spikes are high up above the foliage, and we'll have flowers soon. 

And, alas, the pilewort is back as well.  I never wait for that, I am never surprised by it, and I can say very little good of it, aside from the fact that it is, at least, predictable.