I woke up to hear it raining last night and breathed a huge sigh of relief. My, did we need that rain! Gardeners usually celebrate rainy days, and in the process tick a lot of people off who have been cheated of picnics and sporting events, but there comes a point when plants just need more water than they can get with any irrigation system. Everything was looking a mite crisp out there, and now we might just get by for a while.
I have to say, however, that I’m glad it didn’t rain yesterday, since I spent the day at Monticello enjoying their Heritage Harvest Festival. More about that later when I have processed all the great talks I heard, but although I skipped veggie gardener Pat Brodowski’s wonderful garden tour this year, I did wander about and look at (and photograph) the plants they’re growing in tribute to Thomas Jefferson’s obsession with acquiring the new and fascinating in horticulture, and bringing the best of food to his table.
The picture above is of a cucuzzi squash (really an edible gourd): at least I’m 97% sure that’s what it is and told a bunch of confused visitors so (the perils of wearing a Grow It Eat It hat and looking like you know what you’re talking about). The presumed cucuzzis were at the end of a sort of allee of hyacinth beans, a beautiful effect.
Everything was laid out well, and intelligently chosen, and healthy despite the nasty summer… well, they do have staff, though thank history not the kind of staff Jefferson had working his garden. I was particularly jealous of the sea kale.
Sea kale (Crambe maritima) is a perennial member of the Brassica family that grows wild on the northwestern coasts of Europe. Traditionally its new spring shoots are blanched by covering with beach shingle or with the kind of pot you see in the photo, and eaten like asparagus. I really want to grow it, and I tried this year, but this is what my plants looked like just before I pulled them out in early September.
They were doing fine (okay, anyway) until I inadvisedly took the row covers off, and then the harlequin bugs descended and destroyed. The Monticello garden had harlequins; they were eating horseradish and ignoring the sea kale and the newly added fall cabbages. At our demo garden they enjoy horseradish too (in fact they covered the plants so thoroughly we had to cut off all the leaves) but they do not leave the other plants alone. We’ve had to encase every fall brassica we have in row cover (will show you that in another post). Maybe I need to plant a lot more horseradish?
I guess I’m destined to attempt sea kale over and over, learning a new lesson each time (which would be fine with most veggie garden annuals but is frustrating with a perennial grown from expensive seeds). I did learn how to germinate it this year, which I totally failed at last year. The secret is to remove or at least make a hole in the corky outer shell of the seed. Then it sprouts as easily as any other cabbage family plant, though it grows more slowly.
Perhaps next year I will manage to protect the plants from insects, and then forget to mulch them enough to survive the winter – as long as it’s a new mistake!