My daughter Rowan started a garden a few years ago; a big garden, with the idea that she would have a booth at the local farmer's market. She got a business license and called it "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest." Yes, I know that name is already taken. I told her that - I have the cookbook - but she didn't care. And it doesn't matter, because her business has never actually advanced as far as selling anything. Pretty much all the success has been on the supply side, so far, not so much on the demand side.
One of the consequences of having an actual gardening business, even if it has yet to make a penny, is that you get dozens of seed catalogues in the mail. January is prime seed catalogue season; so far I think we have received somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen or twenty. Rowan and I both love seed catalogues - really, what gardener does not? Such a wealth of possibility, so much fun imagining the ultimate garden that this year - this year! - will be a reality. I'm sure some people get the same satisfaction leafing through Architectural Digest imagining their dream home, or Vogue, imagining their impossible wardrobe. I could care less about clothes or decor - give me plant porn.
While we were in Mexico, Rowan used my garden space and greenhouse, and when we came back she moved her garden to a friend's house. This year, we've decided to both use the garden space and greenhouse here at the house. Lord knows, I don't make full use of it. I'm sure there's enough room for both of us. We have a 10 x 12 greenhouse with shelves and a fenced garden area of about 800 square feet, or enough room for ten or twelve long beds. Last year I used four of the beds. Maybe together we can put the whole space to use.
Rowan and I have differing ideals, as well as differing abilities, when it comes to gardening. I have the time and the money; she has the muscle and the energy. She wants to grow a wide variety of interesting and beautiful, unusual edibles, such as purple pole beans and cheddar-cheese cauliflower. She looks for weird and rare varieties of garden staples, such as the beautiful Peacock Broccoli or the wonderfully named Frizzy Headed Drunken Woman Lettuce. Her main priorities in choosing a plant are beauty, oddness, and "wow factor." I have different ideas.
Seattle recently launched a very cool and innovative vision - the Food Forest . If you haven't heard of it, the idea is to grow a whole bunch of trees and shrubs, bushes and other hardy perennials that can provide food for local gatherers and foragers free of cost. I think this idea may have been a natural one in an area that so amply provides the wonderful hardy (if invasive) perennial the Himalayan Blackberry. Most Seattleites are accustomed to harvesting berries from roadsides and parking lots every August, and some of them (like me when I lived there) are not averse to seeking out neglected apple or plum trees and helping ourselves. I love the idea of the Food Forest and I hope it flourishes.
On my own five acres, I'd like to eventually have something similar. I want to create a habitat for as many edible perennials as I possibly can. Mainly because once established, a perennial garden is WAY less work than an annual garden. So far, I have a pretty good orchard, two healthy rhubarb plants, a nice little strawberry patch, and a thriving if small raspberry patch. And of course there are the wild perennials - blackberries, mushrooms, dandelion, nettle, dock, thistle, and clover. All harvestable edibles which we take advantage of to one degree or another. Here are a few perennials I'm still missing which I'd like to establish:
- an asparagus bed. In one of those catalogues above there is a special deal - 15 asparagus crowns for only $7.00. I have not planted asparagus yet because I don't want to wait three years to start harvesting it - but by that logic I never will. So this is the year. I will give over one of the garden beds to asparagus permanently.
- grapes. I've tried grapes here twice before and they have died each time, but that's because a certain male person who shall remain unnamed repeatedly mowed the vines down with the weedeater. I'm going to try one more time - I'll use a locally adapted variant of the Concord called the Lyn-Blue. It's an eating and juice grape, but I don't much care about the eating quality because my main interest is in the leaves.
- hazelnuts. I have one thriving and beautiful hazelnut bush which flowers abundantly every year but which never produces any nuts. Obviously it needs a pollinator, but that is hard to come by as I don't know what variety my bush is. I'll have to buy two or three separate varieties of hazel and plant them all; that will assure that one of them at least will fertilize my well-grown bush. I hope.
- plums. Similar issue with a lovely Greengage Plum I planted years ago and which flowers every year but which has never set a single plum. I need top look up what the pollinator is and plant one.
I also have a yen for a few non-edibles this year. Looking through the catalogues, there are some great deals on trees - trees which do not produce food but which are still beautiful. We have a severe lack of trees on the property and personally I think it is the civic duty of everyone who has room to plant a few trees for posterity. I'm gong to try a couple of big old fashioned weeping willows and a couple of paper-white birches. And, of course, this year's Christmas Tree.