Portland Gardens

One of the fun things about being a writer, and a gardener, is getting to hang out with other gardeners and writers. Our trip this week to Portland, Albany and Corvallis, Oregon, for the annual (and 60th anniversary) of the Garden Writers of America convention illustrates what I mean. Not only did we hang out, we ate out, ate in, cooked, smoozed, cooked and ate some more, all before even getting to the convention! And we visited lots of gardens, as well.

Long time friends, and wholesale customers, Keane and Rose Marie Nichols McGee were our hosts for the pre-conference touring. Their business, Nichols Garden Seed (which you will find listed on our website under the "Looking for Plants & Seed?" button and their blog is listed on my blog list on this page) specializes in herbs and unusual and heirloom vegetables. Rose Marie is the author of The Container Garden, among others, so I posed her with her book. If you're interested in gardening in containers on the patio or deck, this is an excellent resource for you. Their garage apartment was our home base for a couple of days before the conference.

Cathy Barash, author of Edible Flowers and other books, was being hosted by the McGees in their home, as well. Rosalind Creasy, author of a whole bunch of books including The Edible Landscape, photographer for lots of beautiful garden calendars and books, was there visiting, so they both got posed by me with one of their books.

Chef Eddie Chong, who you may recall came from Malaysia and stayed part of the summer with us here at Long Creek Herbs 3 years, flew up from his home in San Francisco. Chef Eddie is making a name for himself in the cooking wilderness of San Francisco. He organized a pot luck, which you may recognize takes guts considering everyone except the McGees had traveled half way across the country to be there. We were 14 people in all, including Betty who maintains the catalogs for Nichols Gardens, garden columnist Nancy Sczerlag, from Detroit (as I recall), Gregg, Chef Eddie's friend and on-line entrepreneur from San Fran, David McGee, who, like me, had a kidney transplant a couple of years ago and is doing fine.

Under Chef Eddie's encouragement, we "shopped" for vegetables in the All American Award Winning demonstration gardens at Nichols Garden Seed Co., then cooked and cooked. Imagine, a housefull of cookbook authors, with all the food they want to play with and an evening with Oregon wines and the cheering of everyone not cooking. A feast was enjoyed by all.

Josh and I arrived home late Tuesday night, I unpacked and repacked and am heading to Asheville, NC tomorrow for a friend's wedding. Hopefully, I'll find some interesting plants and farmer's markets along the way. It will be hard to top visiting Oregon, however, which is a gardener's paradise. Just about everything grows there and it is one of my favorite places to visit.


Growing Gourds

Growing Gourds

I don’t know if anyone has ever actually figured out why people like to grow gourds. In the thousands of years of human culture, the gourd has been not just beneficial but necessary. Big, round gourds served as bowls and storage containers, not unlike the plastic storage boxes we get from discount stores today. Smaller gourds, the kinds with handles, were used as dippers, spoons and ladles. Remains of gourd dishes and tools have been found in archeological sites that date back thousands of years. The gourd accompanied humans around the world as dish, carryall and vegetable.

My parents grew what used to be called, “Guinea beans,” in the seed catalogs. They are long, slender gourds that are harvested when 15 to 18 inches long, sliced, battered and fried much like eggplant, okra or green tomatoes. I grow them every year as well, and it’s one of my favorite summer vegetables. The name comes from their being native to the island of New Guinea, where they are also worn as clothing.

Even now, in West Papua, New Guinea where I traveled a few years back, natives still wear the koteka, or penis sheath, a gourd worn for modesty by men in the interior regions of the island, and it’s the same gourd I grew up with as Guinea bean. (Different tribal groups grow different varieties of gourd; Lagenaria siceria is one, while Nepenthes mirabilis is another; not all varieties are edible). Gourd pieces are carved and beaded for jewelry while others are used for canteens and medicine bottles. While I was in New Guinea I traded for some gourd seed, which I received, packaged in another gourd. (Pictured are men from the Dhani tribe).

There is a fascination in our own culture today for growing gourds even though they are no longer necessary in our everyday life. Gourd conferences in Missouri, Ohio and other states, attract thousands of visitors who come to see objects made from gourds. (See the American Gourd Society for more information). Everything from bird houses to works of art are on display, and generally for sale and there are several gourd societies that offer newsletters and trade gourd seed among it’s members.

Possibly it’s the fact that a gourd is a near permanent object that accounts for the fascination. With a pumpkin, you can carve it or eat it, but otherwise there’s not much else you can do with it. With a gourd, once it’s grown and seasoned, it becomes almost like carved wood and can last for centuries if not broken. When I was a child I had a dipper gourd that had a perfect square knot in its long handle. The owner, my next door neighbor, had trained the gourd into that shape and used the gourd on her back porch as a wren house. When she passed away and her family disposed of her possessions, they threw the gourd birdhouse in the trash where I retrieved it.

Gourds are remarkable in how long the seed remain viable. Three years ago a friend brought some decorative gourds to me that I’d never seen before. These had yellow handles with green bottoms, not warty but more with horns. Odd looking things and I kept them on the dining room table in a bowl for about a year. They wound up on the back porch where they remained for nearly two years, where it’s hot in summer and freezes frequently in winter. This spring when I ran across the gourds, I figured the seed were no longer any good. I tossed the gourds out the back door onto the septic tank mound where there are several kinds of decorative grasses and forgot about them.

To my surprise, a plant sprung up. I’d planted pumpkins in the area in the spring and assumed the additional vine was another pumpkin. But long about mid summer I noticed I had lots of the yellow and green horned gourds hanging off of the quince bush, dangling from the variegated cane and several hung like Christmas ornaments from the dwarf cherry tree. Not only had the seed been good all that time, but the gourds had come true to seed and had not crossed with anything else.

Gourds are just one more of the crops that make gardening fun. Happy gardening!


The Garden is Still Swimming

It's a shame to complain about rain when there are parts of the Southeastern U.S. that could use some. But this week, we had over 5 inches, 3 inches last week, nearly every week the same all season. The peppers have quit even trying to bloom, several have dropped their leaves and just look bewildered. The Bhut jalokias, though, are continuing to produce lots of those hotter than hot peppers. So far, I've found no one who can even remotely eat a piece of one. I will post a video soon of a friend who tried to eat a tiny piece of one!

The Seneca bear beans are blooming well and are worth growing just for the flowers (I've not tasted the beans yet). I bought the seed from a lady from Minnesota last spring when I ran across her at the Rendezvous at Fort des Chartres at Prairie de Rocher, IL. I asked her why they are called Seneca bear beans and she said, "Because we're Seneca, and we cook them with bear." Makes total sense.

Adam, our summer WOOFer/Intern/Friend, went home for a visit with his father this past week before he's off on his next adventure. We'll miss his work and his company. He was fun to watch work because he was always tasting everything in the garden. He sort of "grazed" on green beans, papalo, tomatoes, figs, whatever he passed and looked good to eat. He has been a joy to work with in the kitchen, always trying new ways of cooking garden produce, always inquisitive. We ate really well from the garden this year and hopefully Adam will return next season. His many projects have made the garden even more enjoyable, and he worked hard to improve the soil and new planting beds.

I've been drying things in the food dehydrator this week. Adam had been drying apples and peaches and some stevia and herbs and since the dryer is out, I just continued keeping it running. This week I put in a tray of black sesame pods to dry before shaking out the seeds. And a tray of hot peppers along with a tray of okra, one of tomatoes and a tray of bhut jalokias for seed.

Molly spent the better parts of 2 days digging under the garden shed, then the Herb Shop porch, after some unnamed animal. Most likely it's an armadillo and most likely she'll eventually either get it, or run it off. But the digging took place in, and after, the rain, so she changed from the black and white dog she normally is, to a brown and black one. It doesn't bother her one bit to dig in a mud puddle if there's something to chase or catch on the other side of it, but any other time, she hates to get in the water for any reason at all. Unlike this little dog I saw on Sunday, quite happy to float on its own little raft while people were swimming nearby (in the Buffalo River).