The 2014 Reviews are In

Every winter, I peruse the seed catalogs, carefully reading the descriptions of all the fruits and vegetables and imagining the feel of summer on my tongue. I’m always up for a taste adventure, so I’m often won over by some new flavor sensation. If I’m lucky, it will be something that actually stands a chance of surviving in my garden.

Tomatoes are a particularly wonderful food to experiment with. It’s interesting to see how the color palette changes from year to year to year to year. The flavors change, too. I have a hard time deciding whether to stick with the varieties that I like or to branch out into new and exciting (though sometimes disappointing) territory.

This year I tried three varieties of the trendy new blue tomatoes that get their color from anthocyanin, the antioxidant that also makes blueberries blue. I ordered them from the source: Wild Boar Farms.

Blue Gold

Attractive with purple/blue on its shoulders. It tasted a little odd until it was super ripe and then it was pretty good but not stellar. Next year, it will probably lose its spot to a new experiment. The plant, like all the rest of the Wild Boar hybrids that I got this year, was not terribly vigorous, but I’ve gotten several tomatoes off of it. P1140662 Dark Galaxy

This was the most delicious tomato of the summer. When ripe, it had a spicy, complex flavor that John and I loved. It was extremely beautiful, too. I think this one will be back next year. Dark Galaxy Blue Chocolate

Like the Blue Gold, these are best eaten very ripe, and even then they weren’t my favorites, though I liked them well enough. These had even darker shoulders than the Blue Gold, which made a beautiful tomato from the time that they are green with black contrast to when they are a deep brick color that fades to black. As pretty as they are, I’ll probably give their place to something new next year. Blue Chocolate And returning again this year after a very successful summer last year:

Orange and Green Zebra

These cherry tomatoes grow and grow and grow and they have a great flavor (light and fruity), though it is hard sometimes to tell whether they are ripe. They get streaks of orange among the green, so they’re very attractive. They are on my all time great tomato list. Next year maybe I’ll take a break from them and rotate in another of my all time greats–or maybe not. Orange and Green Zebra Gypsy

These were my surprise favorites from last year. I’d gotten them as a freebie along with my tomato order and the flavor blew me away. I wasn’t as in love this year, but they did grow well and produced plenty of larger tomatoes. They’re still tasty and attractive and I’d plant them again. Gypsy Pearly Pink

Another great cherry tomato returning from last year. They’re fun and a little different. They have an interesting pearly sheen as they ripen from a pale to a deeper pink. They’re a little crunchy and flavorful and nice as part of a mix of tomatoes on bruschetta. The plants grew really well, despite early problems with aphids. Like the orange and green zebra, I’ll definitely keep them in the rotation of all time best tomatoes. Pearly Pink Garlic

I’d planned to do whole complicated review of the four varieties of garlic that I grew this year, but then I looked back at my review of last year’s garlic. There was one variety that I grew both this year and last, and it turns out that this year I loved it and last year I didn’t much like it at all. So, I guess it doesn’t really matter. It all tastes good. I get the small garden sampler pack from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, so I just plant whatever they send me and never have to decide.

Still, garlic is tasty and I have fun sampling all the complex flavor variations. Duganski Polish White Nootka Rose German Red And finally there is the basil. I’ve mostly stopped experimenting because I’ve discovered the varieties I like and have stuck with them. Of the six varieties I have in my garden this year, only one is new.   Basils Thai Holy Basil

Spicy, gentle, citrus & clove, complex. Perfect for Thai cooking but not as much for bruschetta. Too bad I haven’t done any Thai cooking.

Persian Basil

Lots of licorice, strong, sharp flavor. I like it and have had a lot with my tomatoes.

Corsican Basil

Pretty purple and green leaves. Stronger flavor of licorice, but smoother than the Persian. I’ve eaten a lot of this one this summer.

Genovese Basil

Spicy hot, more minty and not as licorice flavor.

Lime Basil

Extremely citrusy and refreshing. A couple weeks ago we had an amazing sorbet at the River City Food Co-op that was made with frozen strawberries, Earl Grey tea, and lemon basil. This would taste terrific in place of the lemon basil.

Lettuce Leaf Basil

Mild, minty basil flavor. Not spicy. Rich Sweetness And finally, melons. I got to try my second variety of melon back in August. Luckily they ripened before the mildew closed in for the kill. This variety is called Rich Sweetness. Yes, I got it partly because of the name. They are supremely beautiful melons, but I wasn’t blown away by the flavor. Still, they were fun little novelties that could actually succeed in my little space.

Late Summer Harvests and Art!

During our Michigan vacation, I enjoyed shopping for a little garden art. I chose a glass globe from the amazing Gallery Garden that John and I visited, and now it’s joined the orange twist by my hydrangea. And some enameled flowers and a butterfly from another gallery are in the succulent pond with the turtle (hopefully a raccoon doesn’t steal them). And a big wind spinner on the top of my blackberry trellis (it was 25% off, so hopefully that doesn’t mean that it only works 25% of the time).

orange glass

enamel ornaments

the full effect

wind spinner

I also planted a small garden gnome that my friend Jane left in my mailbox at work and said was a gift from the universe. It’s kind of ugly, but is pretty good as a gift from the universe.

Gnomey Gift from the Universe

And the snails have been adding their own ornamentation to my concrete raccoon. I loved the warty look.

Wart Eye

Raccoon Warts

little snail

Meanwhile, my garden produce is looking a little downtrodden by the heat. The tomatoes are a little crispy around the edges and so many have cracked open this year. I’ve got ripe tomatoes, beans, and tomatillos. It’s also the time of year when I really start to notice bugs everywhere. There are cicada shells on the undersides of the mint, a praying mantis by the back gate, huge spider webs popping up everywhere, and tobacco hornworm on my tomatoes.

And the clematis on the fence bloomed, proving that autumn is not far away. It looked wonderful twined behind the sting of bells that hangs above the purple chair.

clematis

 

 

Up North

John and I are just back from a vacation in Northern Michigan. It’s been too long since we were up there last. We had plenty of time to explore favorite haunts and go on new adventures. We also spent plenty of time reading in the solitude of the cottage under big trees near Crooked Lake. This time we had a fuzzy tag-along: we brought our cat who is elderly and in need of thrice weekly fluid treatments. Surprisingly, he seemed to enjoy himself and adjusted to a new window to look out of every day.

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Shamoo

On our first day, we stopped at a farmer’s market on the top of a hill. The vegetables were beautiful and there were several things that I love but just can’t find in Southern Indiana: apricots and red raspberries.

Flower Field on a hill

delicious veggies

There’s a wonderful bike trail near our cottage that’s been finished since our last trip. It’s on an old rail line that cuts through forests and meadows and skirts two lakes on its way to Petoskey. One day we biked to Petoskey and another day we walked to Alanson where there are the best donuts ever at the Dutch Oven Bakery.

In Alanson, there’s also a great little boardwalk on an island. You reach it on a small ferryboat that’s guided by an underwater cable and powered by a wheel that one rider turns by hand.

ferry boat

Crooked River

warning

And one day John and I went to the shores of Lake Michigan.

Followed by a trip to a fantastic garden on the grounds of the Three Pines Studio in Cross Village. The studio sells locally made art, including some garden art. There was an artist’s statement in the garden: “As the greenery grows and surrounds the glass, the art becomes part of the living floral setting, blending the brilliant colors of both the flowers and the glass. Gentle breezes often make the flowers sway and lend kinetic motion to the hanging glass as the birds and butterflies flit in and out.”

I was so envious of the garden. (Click on an image below to enlarge it. Flip through the slide show and see if you see all the faces!)

And then John and I walked through the forest to a bog. The guide book said that carnivorous plants lived in the bog. We didn’t see any of them, but we did find that it was full of wild blueberries! Joy!

We were sad to leave Crooked Lake.

 

Crooked Lake at night

Not-So-Famous Bike Tours of Evansville

I was inspired to go on another oddball neighborhood garden tour last weekend, and I figured that the best way to do it was on my cute 1968 Schwinn Hollywood bicycle.

I started at my friend Jane’s new garden. Recently, she and her husband have become part of the landed gentry by obtaining a couple lots next to their house that were empty due to the city’s urban blight reduction through empty house demolition. Jane has a great yard aesthetic, and she has applied it to her new yard. My favorite part is that she’s used bouncy balls as garden art. She just tosses them out to ornament her lawn.

Bouncy Balls as Lawn Art

I also like her wild front gardens, especially her bowling ball gazing balls.

Front Right

Front Left

Bowling Gazing Balls

Next on our tour, my friends Phyllis and Anitra who have a great, grass-free lawn out front filled with lots of interesting bits of art and plants including a branch riding a bike. I was sorry I didn’t get better photos of the many points of interest up there, since that was what I’d originally gone to photograph.

Grass-less garden of art

Out back, they have a great little garden space that includes several things that I wish I had in my own garden including okra (if only for the beautiful flowers), fully blue/purple tomatoes, and giant sunflowers. I got some stunning photos of the sunflowers.

Sunny Sunflower

Blue Tomatoes

Sunflower and bee

From there, I stopped to wistfully gaze at an amazing piece of garden art. It’s a huge windspinner that I happened to notice in someone’s lawn. It’s at least 6 feet tall and has all kinds of moving parts. Here it is for you to enjoy:

I was almost at Evansville’s waterfront, by this point, so I detoured there for a photo.

Evansville

Next, I stopped in Patchwork’s garden for some more plants I wish I had growing in my own garden: zinnias. They’re so bright and cheery and the butterflies and goldfinches love them.

From there it was a quick jump over to another of my favorite neighborhood gardens at my friends’ Billy and Tom’s house. Tom’s cultivated a loose, wild garden whose color matches their house.

Yellow sparkles

Jerusalem artichoke

Finally, I stopped by my friend Alan’s house where there are more zinnias and Mexican sunflowers. There is also a great ground cover that squeezes itself into the cracks in his walkway. I tried to transfer some of it to my garden last summer but I was disappointed that it didn’t work.

Desirable crack plants

Mexican SUnflower

mass of flowers

And finally, there is the most amazing tree that can be seen from the alley between Alan’s house and my own. I’ve tried to capture its immense beauty, but so far I haven’t quite done it. It’s a box elder and the trunk has to be 5-6 feet across. It’s knobby and lumpy, it spreads beautifully, and it has a wonderful spirit about it. It’s back behind an empty house.

 

 

In Contrast

Sometimes it’s a challenge to capture with a camera what your eyes are telling you. You see a beautiful moment. A beautiful combination of shapes or colors. Contrasts. Something marvelous and unique. Something touching. Something odd.

But when you try to capture it with a camera, the result looks flat. It may be an exact replica of what is sitting in front of you, but it’s not what is really there. Your eyes and your brain interpret in ways that the camera does not.

So there I was, trying to photograph a very cool new tomato and it just wasn’t working. The golden flecks, the blue shoulders, the bronze streaks. It didn’t translate. So then I turned on the fancy high contrast camera setting and, pop! there it was in all its glory.

It looked so good that I decided to point my camera at other things in my garden, even though I don’t normally do extra camera settings of digital editing. Here’s the result. Click through for a slide show.

 

I Grew Corn!

Over the 4th of July weekend, I finally had a chance to put my feet up and watch the corn grow.

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Knee high by the 4th of July? Well, it turns out that my “Jade Blue” heirloom corn never gets taller than knee high and is now ready to harvest.  With 2″-4″ long ears, it’s a fun novelty. It’s beautiful, tasty, and fun to eat…but not very filling.

 

The cucumber and melons have grown to epic heights. I’ve been enjoying the calligraphy of their tendrils for a while now.

I picked the first melon this weekend. John and I decided it tasted good. Because of the small space I have available, I’m limited to varieties that can climb a trellis and have small fruits. I was surprised at how quickly the fruit had gone from being a little knot on the vine to being ready to harvest. The second variety of melon is still ripening. That plant is loaded with fruit.

And there are other summer harvests just around the corner. The first tomato and the first blackberries are just ripening now.

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And we’ve reached raccoon #20! And on that note, here’s a photo of my concrete raccoon with a baby lizard on its butt.

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