T-minus just a few days before we leave on our 10 day desert trip and the madness is in full swing around here. I am never again going away on such a long trip at the height of planting season. Lesson learned. Still, I figure I will stop fussing and fretting about my own garden once I am out there in that giant desert garden with so many amazing plants and landscapes surrounding me.
While I have a heightened interest in desert plants in general and probably know more than the average person visiting the American Southwest for the first time, I also know from other trips that stepping into that landscape is going to feel a bit like walking on the moon with alien lifeforms aplenty.
About a month ago I started to prepare by purchasing books related to the plant life of the Southwest. I tried to get a good general plant identification book, but alas the one I wanted, A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona by Anne Orth Epple, was not available. I am hoping to pick up a copy somewhere on the trip. Perhaps the gift shop at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix will have a copy in stock. We specifically decided to make this public garden our first stop of the trip so that we’d have a chance to see Sonoran desert plants in an educational context. After all, I don’t expect to see conveniently located name tags once we’re out in the middle of nowhere!
Last summer I resolved to try and make further use of the plants that I grow by employing them as natural textile dyes. When their season was through, I did a few experiments, dying various fabric scraps with the burgundy leaves and immature blooms of the large false roselle plants I had grown that year. Unfortunately, time quickly slipped through my fingers and the other plans I had in mind did not come to fruition.
This winter I have made a dramatic shift back to embroidery and my brain is consumed with thread. Recently, in preparation for the growing season, I have returned to experimentation, but this time I am dyeing threads rather than fabric.
Dear Margaret: Those two words are how each “letter” in this new series will begin, whenever I write here to my friend Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden. Installments will include a letter from each of us, unplanned and posted simultaneously to our websites. It will be interesting to see how our correspondence develops and what similarities and differences occur between our two gardens: one urban and the other rural.
The first instalment coincides with the launch of Margaret’s new book — giveaway details can be found at the end of this post.
Margaret’s corresponding “Dear Gayla” letter for this week can be seen here.
Attached to my home is a south-facing, unheated porch that I use as a cold greenhouse of sorts. In the winter I store many potted half-hardy plants there with the most tender of the bunch huddled together against the brick of the house where they can benefit from a bit of passive heat. I long to line the windows along the east side in bubble wrap for added insulation, but the porch faces the street and there are already so many off-kilter things about us that sully our reputation locally as-is. Covering the windows in packaging materials may be one step too far. When it comes to the neighborhood sensibility, I generally try to keep my outward appearance on the side of eccentric, avoiding the line that crosses into street weirdo. Our previous neighborhood was full of freaks and weirdoes so we blended in easily.
The other morning I stepped into the greenhouse (I need to find another name for this space as it is not a “real” greenhouse) to check up on my plants and was horrified to discover that winter had well and truly arrived. It was my own fault; I have a bad tendency to push things further than they should go. I’d been half-bragging for months about how well even the most tender Pelargoniums (scented geraniums) were doing out there in the cold. They were flourishing and some were even blooming. I got cocky. Truth be told, we haven’t had a proper, true north winter in years and I was starting to believe that those days were over. I’d become too bold. I didn’t protect things as I should have, telling myself it wasn’t worth the bother. And then I woke up one day to find dozens of potted plants frozen.
Recently, the addition of an island/counter that has suddenly provided me with more counter space than I have ever had before, as well as the well-timed arrival of an indulgent purchase of newly published cookbooks has us spending whole days in the kitchen. I am always drawn to the kitchen in other people’s homes. It’s the room I always seem to migrate to and camp out in for the duration during a party. I can’t express how happy I am now to have a counter that offers me the chance to spread out a little while I cook and can, as well as the space to perch and socialize when Davin is doing the work.
Now, on those books. I’m slowly making my way through the pile, savouring each one. I began first with two that feature South East Asian home cooking: Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid and Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan. The first, “Burma,” is my favourite sort of cookbook, with as much put into telling personal stories and offering a small window into a culture through beautiful images as it is a manual for cooking good food. “Vietnamese Home Cooking” is not a travel journal, but it does have a personable element to it that includes beautiful photographs taken by photographer Eric Wolfinger. I have already used the advice in this book to successfully purchase my first set of cleavers and tightly wrap a proper spring roll.
Emboldened by a cleaver buying guide in the book, “Vietnamese Home Cooking,” I set off to Chinatown on Friday afternoon with the intent to buy a cleaver.
As a teenager, I worked a handful of sweaty kitchen jobs where I was taught proper knife skills and somehow, through the experience of chopping a hell of a lot of produce, developed an interest and appreciation for kitchen knives. Twenty plus years later and I find that I genuinely enjoy chopping vegetables and herbs, and as long as I am not slogging my way through a pile of teary onions, I can chop and chop all day long. It’s a meditation in motion.