Succulents: Beautiful, Easy to Grow, and Drought Tolerant

———–

P1080628

———–

One of the pleasures of living in the Bay Area is the seemingly endless number of hidden treasures which await discovery.  Although I’ve lived here some thirty years, only yesterday did I get around to visiting the eye-opening Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek. What makes this garden so relevant is not solely its beauty, but that it displays only drought-tolerant plants, largely succulents. What exactly is a succulent is apparently open to disagreement, but generally, succulents are plants which are able to store moisture in their leaves, stems or roots (all cacti are succulents, for example, but not all succulents are cacti), thus making them great candidates for our gardens of the future when water is likely to be both more scarce and expensive.

All this matters to me because I’m trying to figure out what to do with my yard. Both front and back consist mostly of lawn, something I hope soon to alter.  I have no interest in maintaining the fantasy of a green lawn during our long, dry Mediterranean summers. And so, I went to the Bancroft Garden seeking inspiration for my own garden. And inspiration there was aplenty. I plan to go again in a couple of months when many of the plants will be in bloom and all the protective coverings which are in place to ward off frost will be gone. The three-acre garden, which is open daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m., was begun in 1972 by Ruth Petersson Bancroft, and a docent told us that the 104-year old founder still lives on the grounds. The garden sponsors lectures and demonstrations and offers plants for sale. More photos after the jump…

———–

P1080683

A few succulents are edible, these nopales figure prominently in Mexican cuisine.

P1080632

Continue reading

Advertisements

Travel: 16th Century China Comes Alive In Portland’s Magical Lan Su Garden

———–

———–

Travel is one of the things in life which has brought me a lot of joy. To visit historical and cultural sites can make vivid times and places we’ve only read about–Kyoto’s temples or the old city of Venice, to cite two places I’ve been fortunate to experience. I was reminded of this last week when I visited my friend and fellow foodie, Adele, in Portland, Oregon. As a relatively new city, Portland can’t compete with the glories of  Kyoto or Venice, but as I strolled through its remarkable Chinese Garden, I did feel transported to a far-away world.

Located downtown on the edge of Portland’s small Chinatown, the Lan Su Chinese Garden dates only from 2000, but is a recreation of a wealthy family’s walled garden compound in 16th Century China. Most of the materials, including 500 tons of rock, came from China, and sixty-five artisans from Suzhou spent ten months in Portland completing the project (Suzhou is one of China’s great historic cities, and eight of its gardens are UNESCO world heritage sites). Designed by Kuang Zhen Yan, Lan Su is conceived as a spiritual utopia, a place to leave behind the cares of the harried world, and is laid out as a series of views framed by windows, doors and pavilions. Underlying its design is the Chinese concept of yin and yang, the idea that the world can be seen as a weaving of opposite, but complementary forces, such as light and dark or earthy and ethereal. As calming and relaxing as this garden is,  it is also stimulating because all the senses must be alert to fully observe the layers of intricate detail.

Portland is probably one of America’s under-appreciated cities, and well worth a visit even in winter, and it’s Chinese Garden is a must-visit if you do go. In a future post, I’ll blog about what I was able to observe of Portland’s food culture during my brief visit.

———–

———-

Photos: Top–a view across the pond to the Tower of Cosmic Reflections which is used as a teahouse. Above–the Moon Locking Pavilion from which “on a clear night you can see the reflection of the moon as a shimmering spotlight in the center of the lake, locked in by the pavilions’s shadow.”–Lan Su Chinese Garden guide book. See more photos after the jump (and click on any photo to see an enlarged version).

———–

Continue reading

Paul Schmitt’s ABC’s of Composting (It’s A Great Thing To Do, And Really Not That Hard!)

———–

———–

Editor’s note: I’m not the sort of person who feels guilty about very much. But one thing I do feel guilty about is that my kitchen scraps at home go into the garbage, and hence into a landfill. Not good. I plan to change that when, in the near future, I move from being a renter to home owner. To get me (and maybe you) up to speed on composting, I asked Paul Schmitt, our composting guru in Palo Alto, to do a guest post explaining how he makes compost. Paul not only composts his own kitchen odds and ends, but also everything from our Monday night dinners where he is a prep cook, and sometimes a musician.  In his other life, Paul is a professional gardener who has a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan. Here, in words and photos, Paul shares his composting wisdom:

Composting can be done anywhere, anytime. It’s happening in the wild everywhere, always. Of course, you won’t want to do this when it’s unpleasant to work outside, but the compost will still work. Composting slows down in the winter and speeds up in the summer. It is common for people in snowy locales to build compost piles in the fall, when the trees contribute their leaves, and leave the pile alone until spring, when the air and soil are warm enough to work. In moderate and hot climates, you can build a compost pile any day of the year. Continue reading

Berkeley Middle Schoolers Cook With Passion In Iron Chef Contest

————

————

You’ve all watched the Food Network’s Iron Chef: two chefs have an hour to prepare five dishes based around a secret ingredient, and three judges award points based on flavor, originality and presentation. Last week I had the privilege of being a judge at an end-of–term Iron Chef contest at Berkeley’s Willard Middle School. Berkeley has the reputation of being a wacky place, but some great things happen in that singular East Bay City. I find it remarkable that, in a program funded mostly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Berkeley students learn healthy cooking and gardening beginning in kindergarten.  I’ve been an Iron Chef judge at Willard before, and I’m always impressed by how much effort and skill these kids bring to the contest.  They take it seriously. In addition to the criteria used on the TV show, Willard students are also judged on teamwork, recipe writing and clean-up. Of course, these are young people with still a lot to learn, but I have to say, the food was done on time, and looked and tasted good.  Among the dishes they made: muffins, stuffed potatoes, strawberry crepes, french fries, sugar cookies, fried veggies and fried rice, latkes, and fruit salad. I so appreciate everyone who contributes to this wonderful program.  We hear a lot about the problem of obesity and poor nutrition among our youth, but in Berkeley they are actually doing something about it, and the kids seem to love it. You’ll find lots more photos after the jump.

————

———–

Photos: Top, the winning table displays their dishes. Above, prepping the secret ingredient: peaches.

Continue reading

Lee Brokaw’s Gardening Secret (Borrowed from the Native Americans)

Indian Moon tomatoes (a Navaho variety) in Lee Brokaw's garden. Other of his favorites: Black Prince, Green Grape and Bloody Butcher, new this year.

By day, Lee Brokaw is a general contractor, in his spare time he pursues his passion for gardening and cooking.  In both, his natural curiosity leads him to try the new and unusual.  While others talk about locally grown food, Lee practices it. He recently brought me a sample of his delicious and spicy quinoa salad made with cucumbers, peppers, red onion, cilantro, garlic and lime juice all grown in his garden.  I kidded him that next year he will have to plant quinoa as well. His backyard gardens in Palo Alto and Santa Cruz are crammed with a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs. Lee credits much of his gardening success to fish heads buried in the soil, a technique Native Americans reportedly taught to European settlers. The fish heads break down, gradually releasing nitrogen and minerals (as evidence that this works, see the controlled experiment in the photo below). Gardeners on line suggest planting them kind of deep so critters (likely racoons) won’t be tempted to dig them up. More photos of Lee’s garden, after the jump. If you garden, I invite you to share pictures of your garden and recipes of dishes you make from home-grown food with readers of MacroChef (email to alindersf@aol.com).

Right front: tomatoes grown with fish heads buried underneath. T0 the left rear, the same tomato variety grown under the same conditions, but without the fish heads.

Continue reading

Celebrating the Bright, Sun-Loving Flowers of Summer

I wonder if we Californians aren’t a bit spoiled by the abundance of flowers, both locally grown and shipped in from distant points, which we enjoy year around.  Things were a bit different when as a kid and avid flower gardener in Minnesota, I looked forward all year for my zinnias, marigolds, asters, cosmos and similar flowers to come into glorious bloom for a brief few weeks. Perhaps that memory is what attracted me to this display at San Francisco’s Ferry Building.  These are so obviously the bright, sun-loving flowers of late summer, zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, Mexican bush marigolds and others I can’t identify–Bay Area grown and intensely colorful. Just seeing them says summer to me, and puts me in a happy mood. I am also reminded that even here in California, summer, and these flowers, will not be with us for long. (Click on these photos to enlarge them, and really get a proper look.)

Your Vote Will Help Build a Community Garden in Vallejo

Site of a future community garden, Mare Island, Vallejo, California (bleak now, but it could be beautiful)

Vallejo, my home city for the past two years, has suffered some setbacks in these difficult economic times, but things here are far from bleak. I’m finding there are lots of people working on projects of real benefit to our city. One of the most exciting is something you can help with. Just take a few moments, click here and vote to help Vallejo get funding from Nature’s Path Organics to establish an organic community garden.  Nature’s Path is offering grants of $25,000 each to two such projects nationwide, and the winner will be determined by which one gets the most votes on line. In Vallejo, land, water and volunteers are in place, but it will take money to see this through. The fruit, produce, herbs and eggs from the garden will be donated to homeless, needy and elderly residents and the garden will be used to teach sustainable growing methods.  Volunteers will come from several community groups as well as the USDA Forest Service which has offices nearby. Teachers from Mare Island Elementary School, across the street, hope to use the garden as a teaching tool as well.  So, please show Vallejo some love, and vote for our community garden before the May 31st deadline.