Thursday, August 28, 2014

Everything is Just Peachy

A tree ripened peach is a lovely thing to behold. It doesn't have to be perfect and look like waxed fruit to be good. It can have some blemishes and imperfections. None of that matters, because what it looks like will be forgotten with the first luscious bite!


Even better than a single peach ripening is a tree full of juicy, homegrown peaches all ripening in the warm spring sunshine.


In February 2013, we planted a home orchard with 6 fruit trees; two peaches, Junegold and La Feliciana; two apples, Ein Shemer and Anna; and two plums, Santa Rosa and Methley. We started with good sized trees in 5 gallon containers, but I think the bunny manure that we used to mulch the area is responsible for the fast rate of growth and our ultimate success.


In late winter 2014, we had an unexpected late freeze, which ruined our chances for a crop of apples and plums. The peaches lost a few blossoms, but by May 2014 the trees were covered in fruit. The heavy foliage kept most of the fruit well hidden. The trees stayed safe from predators until very late in the harvest when most of the peaches were off the trees.


Branches weighted down with peaches nearly touching the ground made me nervous that we would attract the attention of area wildlife. I checked the trees several times a day picking up any fruit drop that might start to rot and smell. I held my breath for almost 2 weeks fretting and waiting for a nighttime raccoon raid which never came.


We felt incredibly blessed with our first successful peach crop. We harvested 204 peaches in all not including spoilage fruits which went to the compost or the chickens.


I sold some of the best peaches at the farmer's market, but that still left a lot of beautiful peaches for home preservation.


When peaches are ripe, there's no time to waste. I kept the peaches in single layers on trays lined and covered with cotton flour sack clothes. I checked them daily and when the aroma and ripeness was at it's peak, I began to process them for the freezer.

The easiest way to slip off the skins is to slide the peaches into a pot of boiling for about a minute. I cut a small 'X' into the bottom of each fruit to assist with peeling.


Look at how nice and easy the skin peels off. Beautiful!



I boiled and soaked peaches in ice water, plus drained and peeled them seemingly simultaneously. Processing peaches is back crunching work and I can see why people like to put up harvests communally. An assembly line style processing methodology would be way more efficient than my haphazard method. I processed as much as my back could stand and saved the rest for the next day and the day after until they were all processed.


I cut up enough peaches to fill two sauce pans each time I processed.


I eventually developed my own rhythm for separating the peach slices from the pit. One thing I grew to appreciate was the important significance of cling vs freestone peaches. June Gold is a cling peach which was more difficult to process than the La Feliciana which is a semi-cling.


I froze some of the peaches in their own juice using citric acid as a preservative, but most of the peaches I converted to cobbler filling using my favorite recipe with plenty of brown sugar and cinnamon.


During peach season everyone ate well. The chickens got their share of peaches and there were plenty of cobblers, crisps and crumbles for the humans.


Even the compost pile ate well. 


Peach season is the best! I can't wait to see what next year brings!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Traveling the Paths of Portland

During my recent visit to Portland, Oregon, I traveled some very amazing paths. I was in Portland for the annual Garden Blogger's Fling. The Fling coordinators kept us busy with 17 stops at various public and private gardens as well as nurseries and a local book publisher.

One of our first stops was to the Lan Su Chinese Garden, where I saw some of the most magnificent paths my feet have ever tread upon.



I overheard a docent saying the garden and surrounding structures are representative of how wealthy Chinese lived in the 16th century. I can imagine the silk slippers of women slowly gliding along this path and over the bridge.



This path must have been for the kiddos. Did Chinese youngsters play hopscotch? 


The paths at the Portland Japanese Garden led to places of incredible beauty and serenity.




As much as I loved the Japanese Garden, the paths that led to the International Rose Test Garden really called to me. This place smelled wonderful!



Along the way, some paths spoke of gardening friendships like the paths that connected the neighboring gardens of Joanne Fuller and Linda Ernst.


Sometimes paths can be tricky, but when in doubt where to begin, it's always best to start at the beginning. I learned that from watching the Wizard of Oz and I think it's pretty sound advice.


Paths that give me paws are my favorite paths. The kangaroo paws at the John Kuzma Garden made me stop and take notice. I've tried to grow these several times over the years without success and here they were looking like they were growing in their native habitat. 


The paths at the Chickadee Gardens performed double duty as edging for the garden beds. The light grey blocks are very striking next to the dark stones and foliage of the rock garden. 


Danger Garden used wide paths and interconnected patios to display dozens and dozens of potted cactus and succulents. Be careful. Some of those cactus may bite.


You can't go wrong starting a path with a magnificent mosaic tile landing like this one at Floramagoria.


Fancy is nice, but a simple country path also has it's charms.

Floramagoria Side Veggie Garden
I especially like paths which lead to things that taste or smell yummy.

McMenamins Kennedy School Vegetable Garden

Lavender Field at Westwind Farm Studio
As a garden photographer, I have a growing appreciation for paths that provide an opportunity for that perfect shot.

Fellow Flinger at Rhone Street Garden

Old Germantown Garden
I'm at that age where the best paths offer comfy seating. That's one of the things I loved about the gardens at Bella Madrona. Besides being full of all sorts of interesting garden junk, there was a chair around every corner.




The paths of Bella Madrona beckoned to me and my fling roomie, Laura, from the moment we arrived.


The inhabitant path posers paused while we snapped several pics. I think they've had their picture take before.


Bella Madrona had some of the most interesting paths within their enormous 5 acre garden.



These moss covered steps have had 34 years to develop their patina at Bella Madrona.


These magical arches make the woodlands feel enchanted. I bet fairies live here.


I better stay on the path or I might become mired in the marsh like this donkey who's lost his wagon.



I hope you will agree that the best paths are the ones that lead us home. If you're lucky, you have a wet-nosed pup eagerly waiting at the door like this one at the home of JJ De Sousa. JJ owns a store in Portland called Digs Inside and Out. If you're ever in the area, I hear she has wonderful pieces for the home and garden.


Thanks for traveling along with me. I hope this summer leads you down some interesting paths as well. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Hillside Beauty of the Old Germantown Gardens

On my recent trip to Portland, Oregon to attend the Garden Bloggers Fling, the planning committee lined up some awesome gardens. We saw public gardens, nursery gardens, and the private gardens of local residents. The garden on Old Germantown Road was the first private garden we saw.

It was late in the day when we arrived at this garden and, boy, was it hot. Somehow I didn't expect Portland to be so toasty. The bus parked at the top of the hill or was it the bottom? I don't remember. It was so hot, I felt like I walked up hill both ways. Gosh, that sounds pretty wimpy coming from a Texan. I hope they don't revoke the Jalapeno Pepper Patch I earned in Scouts.

Coming down the driveway all thoughts of the heat evaporated and I started to get excited. This was going to be a special garden. I could feel it!


Throughout the garden, I noticed deep beds and layered plantings. I love this cottage garden look, which I've learned can be achieved by tightly packing your beds with whatever plant palette your climate allows for. I'm still working on my own and someday I hope to achieve this effect of deep layering.


Masses of buttery dahlias with dark greenish, purple foliage created a bit of a photographic traffic jam.


Mixed in with the dahlias were the dried flowers of spring alliums. Alliums don't grow well in Central Texas, which is too bad because I love the interesting sculptural element that they bring to the garden. To get this look in my area, I think I will try planting elephant garlic in the fall. Garlic is a type of allium, so the look is similar. I got the idea from a garden I visited in Hutto and I think it really works.


Here's another idea to keep the look all year round. These adorable metal allium lookalikes are on my garden art wish list.


The Old Germantown Gardens consist of nearly two acres of cottage gardens, sun gardens, woodland gardens and much more. It's really quite spectacular as I found out.


We were told to meander through at our own pace following a path that would lead us back up to the house where we could take in an overview of the garden from the owner's deck.


When we started walking, the pathways were very sunny with bright flowers.


This is the view from the path just before heading down into the woodland garden.


When we descended into the woodlands, the plant palette changed to beautiful hydrangeas, evergreens, and Japanese maples.


Being originally from New Hampshire, the woodlands made me instantly nostalgic. These were the plants of my youth. We used to call the seeds from the maple trees helicopters because of the way they spiral downward when released by the tree. It's amazing how gardens are capable of evoking long forgotten memories.


Beautiful evergreens of every hue surrounded us as we passed through the woodland.


Back into the sun we went. The transition was amazing. Nature couldn't have set the stage any better, yet this garden was created by man. Amazing!



What goes down must go up again. We traveled up the dry hillside and I started to see the familiar sights of cactus, yucca and other sun loving plants.


A little pool at the bottom of another little climb led us to this beautiful hot tub.


The greenhouse behind the hot tub was landscaped lushly with more gorgeous plants. This place was incredible!


Arriving back at the house, our hosts provided us with much appreciated cold beverages. I drank down my orange mango, fruity goodness with gusto and headed to the back deck for the final view.

Back inside, sitting at my host's dining table, I gazed out at this amazing view and I wondered if the owners took it for granted after seeing it everyday for years? Nah! Silly me!

Thanks for sharing your garden with us. This gardener is in awe!