Friday, May 29, 2009

Ssssshhhhh. The secrets of growing tomatoes.

Hush now. I recently spoke with a tomato whisperer and learned all the ins and outs for growing tomatoes here in the Northwest. And lucky you, I wrote about it in my column this week. You can read it here, or it's below for your tomato whispering convenience as well.

is it a pumpkin, or a tomato?

Are Tomatoes Calling Your Name?

Tips from a Tomato Whisperer

Oh sweet, red orb, the tomato, native to the warmer regions of South America and Mexico. Still, we Northwesterners, with our cool, wet seasons, desire to grow you in our gardens. Why do we mob the nurseries every spring to get our hands on you? Why do we invest in Walls of Water and obsess about red mulch, purported to grow tomatoes more successfully and with better flavor?

Dont believe me about this craziness? Try attending a late summer tomato tasting at a local nursery and making your way through the elbow-to-elbow crowd. Its the truth: We love our tomatoes!

There are sound reasons to grow tomatoes. The difference between a mealy, flavorless supermarket tomato and a vine-ripened backyard tomato is like night and day. Summertime meals of sliced heirloom tomatoes in all different colors, basil and fresh mozzarella cheese are a staple in our household. Thanks to farmers markets, many of us are discovering the glories of these flavorful heirloom tomatoes for the very first time, and heck, figure we can grow them ourselves. Heck! We sure can. But its best to know some things first

Its hard to pass up the heirloom tomatoes, with names like Bloody Butcher, Mr. Stripey (growing in my garden this year), Jellybean, Big Zac and Mortgage Lifter. They vary in color, size, striping, meatiness, texture and more. But instead of going for the catchy names, you want tomatoes that are going to produce good fruit.

The Portland areas mellow summer weather is dreamy, but it means we have a brief window for growing tomatoes. When youre choosing plants, stick to the short growing season variety.

Russian heirloom varieties tend to do well in Oregon because their season is relatively short and cool like ours, says expert tomato grower Linda Shively of Farmington Gardens (21815 SW Farmington Road, Beaverton, She recommends Stupice, an early-producing tomato with a salad-sized fruit and great flavor.

Shively says top sellers at Farmington Gardens are Early Girl, Sungold and Sweet Million, and they should know: Throughout the season theyll carry over 100 different varieties of tomatoes for sale. Shively suggests planting a selection of tomatoes, paced to provide fruit throughout the season. Get an Early Girl, but then get a Brandywine and a Cherokeee Purple. This will balance out the harvest over the season, says Shively.

Plant your tomatoes in the hottest spot in your garden. They need full sun and if thats in your front yard, looks like theyre going there. Now is the time to plant your tomatoes! If you planted them a month ago theyre most likely the same size now as then. When planting, youll want to pinch off the lower branches and dig a deep hole, throw in a handful of lime and some organic compost.

The tomato will send out roots along the stemline and have a bigger rootball, thus a more vigorous plant, Shively says. Feed the soil with great compost and youre good.

But what the tomato whisperer told me about clipping back tomatoes was all news to me. Once I have green fruit on mine, Ill snip away foliage shading the fruit, Shively says. Tomato plants put on way more foliage than they need for producing fruit: Cutting some out will help move things along.

Steady water will help them along, but come August, cut back on the watering and the plants will focus on producing and ripening fruit. I foresee scrumptious summer salads of heirloom tomatoes, basil and mozzarella in my future. Plant your tomatoes now, and you will too.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Underneath it all

Today’s Supreme Court ruling in California doesn’t surprise me, but it certainly doesn’t make me happy. It’s not a measurement tool for how liberal or how conservative that state is. And it’s not the final say on gay marriage. It’s one step, of many many steps, along the path for equality for gays and lesbians.

I’m glad the 18,000 couples who were married in California during this window of opportunity will not receive a refund check for their marriage license, the way AdRi and I did several years back. Those 18,000 couples will be able to live married, protected lives in their state, while others will not. How is that fair and equal? And how is it, anyway, that civil rights have ever been an issue for voters to vote on?

Underneath it all? I choose to see beauty. This is one step. One setback. But there is beauty in the lives and love of 18,000 couples who now get to experience this on the west coast. For several months, once, AdRi and I experienced it. And while you may find it hard to believe, it was exhilarating.

The founding documents of our country made sure that all people were to be created equal, and that no rights were to be given to one part of the population and not to the other. At the core of our nation are truth, justice and equality. But somewhere along the way prejudice, religious banter and condemnation got in the way and covered it all up.

I was sitting in the train station in Seattle yesterday and I looked up.
A secret beyond an ugly 1970s dropped ceiling revealed
The dropped ceiling tiles were removed along the edge of the ceiling, but beyond, the ceiling went much higher. Light shone in from windows in this secret space, and illuminated the breathtaking beautiful ceiling. The original ceiling. Somewhere along the way, someone had decided to cover up this beautiful art and make it ugly. I'm sure the voters of the time would have voted to cover it up too. But underneath it all, was beauty.
Beneath those ugly ceiling tiles is beauty
The train station is undergoing a renovation that will restore the ceiling to its original grandeur and that ugly dropped ceiling will be a thing of the past. It will be the same with Proposition 8 in California, and Proposition 36 in Oregon, and the many other hateful propositions that have filled our ballots with discrimination under the guise of “protecting marriage.”

The original premises our country were founded upon—including the freedom of religion and the freedom from religion—will ensure we gays and lesbians will be treated equally. Just not today. But don’t lose sight of what’s really there, beneath that ugly ceiling tile. It’s there.
Why would they ever cover this up?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Keeping it local, keeping it in the front yard

There's something completely rewarding to step out front and pick our lunch. Lettuce, chives, herbs are all producing in the garden and landing in the salad bowl. I really should count the amount of steps from kitchen to vegetable bed. I don't think I'd need to carbon offset those steps, would I? Oh sweet sarcasm. Let's do it visually.

Go here:
salad box

Get this:
Salad from the garden
I may or may not have jazzed up that salad with homemade pickled beets, toasted walnuts, cherry tomatoes, and feta after I took that photo. Chive blossoms are spicy and tasty. Throw them in your salad for beauty and bite.

We've been working to maximize our use of space here in El Jardin Encantado. Almost all of the vegetables for our summer season are in. But not quite all. Here's a mini tour...
Front bench
This bench is in the front corner and is the perfect place to take a break, visit with friends, or just rest your eye in a busy space. The barrels on either side are new this year and are to increase our space for edibles. This is a hot, sunny and valuable space, so we're maximizing it as much as possible. In the barrels are columnar apples, along with herbs and lettuce. Plants are tagged in Flickr if you click on the photo. That showstopper in the background covered in purple blooms right now is flowering maple, or abutilon. I thought for sure we had lost it to Snowpocalypse and can't believe how healthy and glorious it's looking right now.

yes, that's corn
We may be crazy, but we're trying corn. Actually, we're growing the Three Sisters trio from native american practice of growing corn, squash and beans together. The beans fix the nitrogen in the soil feeding the corn, the corn serves as a host to the bean as it grows up the stalk, and the squash leaves shade the ground and keep it cool, allowing water to not evaporate so quickly in the hot summer sun. Let's keep our fingers crossed for that hot summer sun, okay?

at the front porch
We're maximizing vertical space, with hopes the cucumber will grow up the trellis. Alongside the cucumber are peas. Other plants in this front-of-the-house bed include tomatillos, peppers and cabbage. I love the look of cabbage in the garden: I think they're the northwest version of the punctuation points you see in California gardens using agaves. We've lined the front beds all with cabbage in hope they'll soon be thick with giant purple and green globes.

Peppers, peppers and peppers=summer salsas!

new outdoor space in the backyard
A sneak peek of the new backyard patio area. We've removed a too-giant tree, filled in a flower bed, and are finishing up a whole new area for outdoor entertaining. This is also known as my summer office. We broke it in with a brunch with friends this weekend and it just makes me so, so happy. And yes, that salad from the garden was on the menu. Salad from the front for a brunch in the back. Here's to sunshine.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A visit to the most romantic garden ever: LoneSomeVille

Originally uploaded by LoneSomeVille

My latest column is out on the streets with this edition of Just Out. I'm cross posting it here, as well. Always a pleasure to visit with my wonderful friends at LoneSomeVille, and even moreso to write about it and share them with others.

Far From Lonely: Finding Beauty at LoneSomeVille

Nestled on a dead-end street in Portland’s Woodstock neighborhood exists a special place of romance, beauty and escape. A lovingly restored 19th-century Queen Anne – along with its original outbuildings, consisting of a foundry and pump house – is engulfed in an abundant, classic cottage garden.

The foundry doors open to the garden, 1930s-era music floats into the air and among the lilies, roses and vintage flowers. “I have a deep faith in ‘grandma taste’ and a strong old-lady aesthetic,” says Danny Hills. LoneSomeVille is inhabited by craftsmen Hills, Wayne Hughes and Todd McCormack, who run LoneSomeVille Pottery and, along with dogs Daisy, Oscar and Minnie, call this oasis home.

Eclectic, old-fashioned, sentimental and serviceable are how they describe their gardens, but it’s the deep love of place that’s apparent. “There wasn’t really a place in society for us, so we made our own,” Hughes says.

The inspiration at LoneSomeVille? Two cultural icons of the 1930s, actors Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. “These two people have had a deep effect on our garden. Their movies are beautiful and romantic,” Hughes says. Hills adds that the ‘37 MacDonald-Eddy vehicle Maytime is “romantically over-the-top and just wonderful. If you don’t cry, you have no heart.”

The garden inspires the art and the art inspires the garden. Their pottery studio uses the same time-honored techniques employed in the great houses of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Roseville and McCoy. Their vases and pottery are carried at Rejuvenation in Portland and Bend Bungalow in Bend, along with the deYoung Museum and The Gamble House in California.

“If you create a beautiful, serene environment that can reduce the noise of the world around you, they feed each other,” Hills says. “We have this ability to make beautiful environments that bring peace to our lives, and I think gay people, especially, try to make places to escape and be safe.”

Gardening at LoneSomeVille is not a chore, but a release, a need and a balance. It’s also a very private place that opens its gates only once a year. LoneSomeVille’s upcoming open garden and pottery sale gives the public an opportunity to tour the gardens and studio firsthand. But most importantly, listen when you visit…to the period music, to the birds, and perhaps you’ll hear something else. “The house sings to you,” Hughes explains. “I will never leave this house.”

After visiting LoneSomeVille, I know why. It’s pure magic.

See photos of this magical place and people here.

Quintessential Plants of LoneSomeVille
Lilies The old fashioned, 3-4 foot tall and extra cold-hardy “Martagon”
Peonies Single-form, woodland Japanese peony Paeonia japonica “Stonegate”
Dame’s Rocket Hesperis matronalis also goes by Sweet Rocket, a classic cottage garden short-lived perennial
Roses Hybrid musk “Erfurt,” shrub roses ‘Sally Holmes,” climbing roses “MME Alfred CarriĆ©re,” “Autumn Sunset”
Clematis Summer-blooming “H.F. Young,” single bell-shaped bloomers Clematis alpina (Hills says, “They’re perfect for wrapping or giving little shawls to your trees.”)

The LoneSomeVille Studio Open Garden and Pottery Sale is 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, May 23 and May 30, 5006 SE Long St., Portland, 503-774-5387

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

St. Johns Parade: some things change, some things stay the same

I've been blogging here at LeLo in NoPo for 4 years, and just about every year, I share a little somethin' from the St. Johns Parade. Here's from 2006 and here's from 2008. The neighborhood parade is a little bit kooky, a little bit old skool, and a little bit hipster now. The hipsters on bikes and community gardening groups are growing, but the steady stream of politicos, dudes in souped up cars, middle school bands, and just those happy to celebrate North Portland, the fifth quadrant out here on the peninsula, keeps goin'.

"Mom: I want to march with my chickens." "Are you sure, son?" "I'm sure."
I want to march in the parade with my chickens

This car didn't have a sign, but I like to think they represented teenagers in love, circa 1978.
No sign, just teenage love

This was a threat to all kids in the back seat who don't behave.
If you don't behave I'm going to squish your head in the window

The Beaterville Cafe Queen is always my favorite. Especially since she's atop a Gremlin.
Beaterville Queen was delightful

The fashions among the electeds are always interesting to note.
City Commish

But then there's always the Shriners.
my friend with his flags

And then there's this photo from 2006: looks like this Shriner has a favorite spot to always stand on that truckload of flags. I love it. See? Some things just stay the same.
shriners+flags=st johns parade

More photos from St. Johns Parade 2009 here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Rudy, his azaleas and a very special rhododendron

Rudy loves his azaleas
The rain let up and we went for a walk through the neighborhood. Bright colors of new spring growth treat us at every turn. Old cherry trees bloom, along with tulips, azaleas, and incredibly fragrant lilacs. We stop at Rudy’s and from the sidewalk, can hear his television.

AdRi stays with Wink in the yard while I knock. After a few raps, he comes to the door and his whole face lights up when he sees me. “Are you goin’ for a walk?” he asks. “Yes, Rudy, and we thought we’d stop by to visit.” Before I can finish my greeting he’s turning off the television and preparing to come out and join us.
Rudy with his azalea and rhodie
Rudy’s azaleas are blooming. He’s a fine pruner and has shaped his azaleas just so. While I coo over their lovely purple hue, he’s complaining how they’ll grow “this high” if he doesn’t prune them back. Gardening is exactly like that: the gardener sees the work to be done, the visitor sees the beauty of the moment.

“Oh boy, can you believe that?” Rudy says with wonder as we all admire the neighbor’s wisteria along the shared fence. It’s at least 40-feet long and winding among the chain link. On this temperate May evening, the sweet bubble-gum scent floats through the air. Rudy can’t smell it. At 95 he says his ability to smell “is shot.” AdRi and I inhale deeply and tell him it’s glorious. It is.
wisteria is wonderful
Wink loves the big swaths of grass in Rudy’s yard: she runs off leash to the back. Rudy points out his nice patch of heather and explains he planted it when he and his wife first moved into this North Portland house. And the rhododendron that blooms a delicate white? A gift from her to him, her gardening husband. Rudy’s eyes wander a bit when he speaks of her. “Gosh, I come out here and almost expect her to jump out from behind it,” he says about that rhodie. He loved her so much. He drifts into stories of her hospitalization. It’s good for him to talk about it but I can see his eyes fill with water. The loss of her is palpable in every visit with Rudy. I had noticed her name is still next to his on the front door sticker for the postman and it makes my heart ache a little. I can’t imagine living without AdRi, how much our lives are intertwined. How every plant in our garden has a story and how she’s connected to them, and I to her. Visits with Rudy remind me to love my life right now, my friends, my family, and especially my partner: life changes.

“It feels so good to get out of that darn house” Rudy says. He tells us his neighbor is helping with his laundry and I’m relieved. He needs that help and at 95 with no family to watch out for him, he can’t keep up with everything.

We admire the unfurling of the tight coils in Rudy’s native ferns that grow in long strips in his side yard. Their curled tips are opening up to a new season. As for the huge hot pink rhodie , he’s not cutting it back. It could take years for it to recover from a heavy prune. “I won’t be around to see it come back!” Rudy says. And I change the conversation.
Rudy with his neighbor's lilac

Friday, May 08, 2009

The big day is almost here...

hardcore decor's time for the St. Johns Parade! Oh St. Johns Parade, how I love you. From the days when AdRi and I lived in downtown St. Johns and first watched the parade from our loft windows, to now when we faithfully attend with our dog, neighbors and friends. The St. Johns Parade never lets you down, because it's a place where people march to the beat of their own drum.

Or march to the beat of their own edger. Yes, this guy just walked in the parade with his edger:
everyone walks to their own beat
A fellow master gardener will be selling her plants at the St Johns Bizarre (yes, I spelled that right) and I'm hoping to run into friends I've seen at the parade before. Will you be there? You should. Because it's classic.
santa in may
I'll have my camera. And if you're wearing your Cape of Car Deodorizers, I promise to take your photo...
my cape smells good
Everyone loves a parade, right? Right!

St. John's Parade is this weekend. More information about the parade, and information about the bizarre.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Tales from a Portland Gardener: today's post published in The Portland Sentinel

This sweet little article runs today in The Portland Sentinel and can be read in today's print issue on the street, or online here. Thanks to Cornelius for the opportunity to write about community and neighborhood through our adventures in gardening.
so gorgeous these Oregon strawberries
One of the main reasons I wanted a house to call our own was to have a garden. And lucky for us? We found North Portland. Portsmouth, to be exact. 11 years ago my partner and I began gardening in North Portland and we’ve never looked back.

And in the beginning? We began gardening in the back. Privacy. Fence. Separation of church and state—I mean separation of neighbors. This queer couple was moving into a clearly defined, blue collar neighborhood and who knew how we’d be welcomed? Our answer? Party on the side, privacy in the back. Civility all out front.

But the gardening bug took over and the itch to expand took hold, and we moved onto the front of the house and craziness ensued. Out came the standard grass, and in went the vegetable beds, along with flower after flower after shrub. I’m sure this seemed crazy to some of our dear neighbors who “mow’n’blow.” But that’s okay. We love them anyway.

I learned, early on, that the gardeners’ creed is about sharing the abundance of which you have, so today I dig and divide the lambs’ ears gifted to me, to help a new gardener getting her first start on growing.

And I’ve seen how gardening can change your experience in your own neighborhood. One house has removed the bars on its windows and the new residents are tending an herb garden out front. And for us, our front yard is a whole new world. It’s social hour. Happy hour on North Van Houten. We catch up with our neighbors, swap tomato growing tips, share starts of abundant growers. Every spring we dump bags of marbles (hopefully found on clearance at our local Fred Meyer) into our front gravel paths, specifically for kids visiting our garden to discover and enjoy. And enjoy they do. Between the kids and the squirrels, hundreds of marbles disappear every year from our garden. It’s a good thing.

I think about the fellow gardeners in our neighborhood, those I know and don’t know. Gardeners are giving; we share apples, plums, pears, sunchokes left in boxes at the curb. My eye has been trained to find the unpicked fig trees in the neighborhood. And my 95-year old neighbor Rudy and I know the best unpicked apple trees within a mile vicinity: especially those sweet, huge Gravensteins. Visitors pass through our garden, inquiring as to the identity of this flower, sometimes even arguing over its real name. I love that.

Gardening brings neighbors together, creating friends, camaraderie and opportunity for conversation. What are you growing in your neighborhood? I dare you to grow zucchini in your front yard this year. And I triple dog dare you to meet a new neighbor while doing it.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

AdRi has a message for you

At the fort
Happy Cinco de Mayo! Here she is on the steps of the fort at the famous battle on Cinco de Mayo in Puebla, Mexico. For more photos and the story of Cinco de Mayo, visit my post from a few years back here.

And don't miss this photo from Puebla. I love that city.
Iglesia in Puebla

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Campaign for Monday Morning Cuteness: Wink and her mini ball

Wink on her own level
In case you think this is a normal sized tennis ball, it's not. It's a miniature ball and Wink absolutely and completely adores it. In fact, she goes bonkers when this ball appears and it's hard not to laugh out loud while playing with her in the garden. In fact, I'm pretty sure I do everytime we play out there. She takes playing with her mini ball very seriously and runs and jumps and leaps just like she's doing an agility course.
Ball? What ball?
She's enjoying the new woodland path and is sure we built it just for her. We'll just let her continue to think that. Pretty pony that she is.
I'm resting for just a moment

The gnome has been gnamed

Feed me Seymour, feeeeeeeeeeeeed me
Over 65 really fantastic names made it hard to pick, especially with an intuit who actually asked him his name. But we sat down for a chat and his little eyes light up everytime I channel Little Shop of Horrors and say "feeeeeeeeeeeeeed me Seymour, feeeeeeeed me." Thus, Seymour of the Woods is his name.

Thank you for sharing all of your great ideas here, on Facebook and over at Just Out. The lucky winner, "Bobby in Beaverton" gets a gift certificate for Bridges Cafe. Yeah!