Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Rose Garden

This weekend I visited the display gardens at Heirloom Roses in St Paul, Oregon.

Acres of their beautiful roses in bloom. Amazingly, I managed to escape without buying one, but I did find some I want to add to my garden someday.

This is Elizabeth of Glamis, named for the Queen Mother. Lovely flower, lovely scent.

This is Colette. Beautiful flower, beautiful scent, beautiful name. How could I resist my favorite French novelist?

An entire bed of my beloved Jude the Obscure. The scent was heavenly. I'm afraid Tess isn't going to pass muster, though. In addition to being red, she has a very little fragrance--a real deal-breaker for me.

One of the test roses under development. They should name this one "Morticia." She would love it.

I need a rose arbor. Need.

"Glowing Peace," a hybrid of the "Peace" rose in Schiapperelli pink. The should have named it "Elsa." How lovely would it be to have a rose named for one? Although it's apparently an honor that can be purchased: There was a "Financial Times 50th Anniversary" rose in the garden. Somehow, that's just not the romantic cultivar I want to bring home. 

Rambler colonizing a tree. Again, I need this to happen in my garden, pronto.

Another gorgeous arbor. Really, is that too much to ask? Altogether, a lovely day. Something to dream of, if not aspire to. Someday, when we have a vineyard and need a rose at the end of every row to act as a canary in the coal mine, I can have one of every rose I love. Someday . . .

Sunday, June 13, 2010

How My Garden Grows

This spring, in a triumph of hope over experience, I planted vegetable seeds in the garden. Cool weather crops for the Oregon spring: peas, spinach, rainbow chard, radishes, and carrots. For my pains, I harvested three tiny radishes, two of then noshed on by slugs, three pods of very petit pois, and enough greens for a salad. One salad. Oh but les fleurs! Like me, my garden is primarily decorative and amusing, not practical or useful.  As my brother says, "Face it, we're Eurotrash. All we can do is dress well and tell amusing anecdotes. Other than that, we have no useful talents." My garden may not be edible, but it is very decorative.

The English roses are in bloom! Oregon has to be the next best place to England for growing roses. They don't call Portland the Rose City for nothing. In the vineyards of the Willamette Valley, roses even serve a practical purpose: they act like canaries in the coal mine, showing signs of fungus or disease before the grapes are affected. Mine have only two purposes: being beautiful and smelling fantastic. Heritage, pictured above, does both. My favorite for fragrance, however, is Jude the Obscure:

Amazing scent: tea rose with touches of peach and lemon. Absolutely heavenly. And the name! I would have bought it for that alone. I'm waiting for another bush to go down with black spot so I can get a companion Tess of the d'Urbervilles rose. I generally don't care for red roses--so trite--but I might make an exception for Tess.

There is a reason why the Peace rose has been a favorite since its introduction after WWII: huge blooms on sturdy canes, dark glossy foliage, and a light fragrance. I don't like "hot" colors (bold yellow or oranges) in the summer garden, but the pale butter yellow tinged with pink at the tips is lovely.

Peonies and calla lilies, two very different but much loved blossoms, are also at the height of their beauty. The lily is perfection in its simplicity, while the peony proves that nothing succeeds like excess.

Shady paths and corners have their own attractions, though more subdued. There is the "vale of violets":

And of course, the cool charm of the cocktail corner, the perfect place to enjoy a G&T after a tough afternoon of deadheading roses and making a list of more strenuous gardening chores for my husband:

So in future, no more pathetic attempts at growing my own vegetables. That's what farmers' markets and CSAs are for. I'll just stick to what I know: being decorative and amusing.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

It's the Jam

Although I am anything but a domestic goddess--I detest most household tasks--I adore making jam. Last summer I found a recipe for basic jam that was not too intimidating and that did not require me to buy strange things like pectin. Faced with a rainy afternoon, a bored 10-year-old and an excess of fresh strawberries, I decided to give it a try. I was hooked immediately: something about those pretty little jars filled with fresh fruity, sugary goodness gave me a ridiculous sense of accomplishment. As the summer wore on, I worked my way through all the berries with which my corner of the world is blessed: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and marionberries. We finished the last jar this week, just as masses of fresh strawberries were appearing at the farmers' market and at road stands. On another rainy, cool June day, I made strawberry jam.

First the fruit is washed, hulled, and macerated with sugar and lemon juice:

While the sugar and juice work their magic, I sterilize the jars in the oven. There is something about the steps and the ritual of the whole process that I enjoy immensely. 

The jam must boil for about 30 minutes. If the foam that forms during this process is not skimmed off the jam will be cloudy. The only thing worse than cloudy jam is cloudy iced tea ::shudder::

 When the jam is ready to be put in the jars, I get to use the jar tongs, canning funnel, and magnetic lid grabber I bought at the farm store. I adore activities that have accessories.

The filled jars have to be be bathed in a pot of boiling water. It was during the simplest part of the entire process--boiling water in the canning pot--that disaster struck. I had turned on the wrong eye (I hate electric stoves) and had destroyed the tea kettle before I realized my mistake.

The delicious scent of strawberries was replaced with the disgusting smell of melted plastic.  R.I.P. , little kettle. You did good service for may years. A moment of silence, please.

I do love carefully lowering the jars into their bath and hearing the metallic "pop" as the lids seal. It's like something out of science class, only it's fun and doesn't set off the fire alarms. 

After a process of several hours that only required about 20 minutes of actual work, I had eight lovely jars of jam to put in the cupboard. We'll enjoy it on toast and scones--as soon as I get a new tea kettle.