Nous étions à Paris

Just spent almost a week in Paris, where the forsythia was already blooming and we saw carpets of daffodils in the Bagatelle (part of the Bois de Boulogne). And I discovered a new tomato: the deeply ridged Coeur de Boeuf, or oxheart tomato. This was incredibly expensive — almost 10 euros per kilo in the posh market in Neuilly (though I also saw it for under seven euros at the market near Place d’Italie). So my one tomato cost 1.70 euros, or more than $2.25! It was very meaty, few seeds or liquids, and probably mealier than if it was the peak of summer.

My tomato discovery
My tomato discovery

Of course I want to grow some (who could afford to buy many at that price?). When I googled it, I was surprised to find a reference in English. Turns out Mark Bittman, the New York Times’ ‘Minimalist’ food writer, has been in Europe last year and discovered them too. Now to figure out what will get bumped to make room for two Coeur de Boeufs in the raised beds. I really am trying hard to contain them in just two beds (and two containers, I’ve decided, for the silvery fir determinate variety — this way I can boost my total to 20. That’s not really cheating). One friend asks what I will do with all of these tomatoes. Eat them, of course! (And she hopefully will too when she visits in July.) Hopefully I’ll be eating lots of salad with tomatoes, pizza on the grill using garden tomatoes, rice-stuffed tomatoes … and some of course will end up in chutney. Send along your suggestions and favorite recipes! Last season, we left the last of the unripened tomatoes in a bowl in the kitchen and they slowly ripened (no newspapers, no nothing). We ate the last of our garden tomatoes in early January. (After Paris, I saw a cousin in London who told me about a tomato from Sardinia called a camone that is on my list to find for 2010!)

The Brit was happy in the garden stores along the Quai northwest of Notre Dame, where he discovered netting for peas and beans. One less thing he’ll have to make once the planting starts in earnest.

But those garden shops! One store had 10 types of potatoes to plant, and that was just one brand! And then 14 varieties of strawberries! I wondered where the French plant all these things. At their country homes? Then why not just sell the seedlings in the villages? Though had there been any sign that these were USDA-approved, they would have been hard to resist, even though I had said there is no room for potatoes this year.

Of course, the Parisians may be more creative about finding space than I could imagine. I overheard one child point out a fruit tree to his mother. Her response? It’s a big large for the balcony. How about this myrtille (blueberry) instead?

Plotting the vegetable garden

We’ve been a bit slow in getting out the spreadsheet (really high-tech graph paper) and figuring out what will go in each square foot of the raised beds and how many crops we can rotate through each square if we’re really organized and diligent. (I was a bit ambitious last year.) Once again, we’re following the square-foot gardening method, planting more intensively per foot and replacing vegetables with others as they’re harvested. As usual, it’s a bit of a juggling act.

Peas were a big hit in 2008; three rows of them, then, alternating with the beans we also liked. The rest of that bed, which was overflowing with tomatoes last year, will be filled mostly with three types of basil, leeks that we’ve started under the grow lights in the basement and some greens that will get the cold-frame treatment. Can’t talk the Brit out of one square of cucumbers; watch for the glut just from that. Hopefully we can time them with the first tomatoes so a lot of them can be turned into gazpacho.

Another bed will have a mix of greens, beets, coriander, some of that rainbow chard, a couple squares of marigolds and nasturtiums to keep down the unwanted kind of bugs. Okra can get another chance since there are seeds left over from two years ago. The new crop to try will be zucchini. Good thing I have a recipe for chocolate zucchini bread. Even three or four plants could produce plenty of baseball bats if we don’t keep an eye on them.

Tomatoes shouldn’t follow potatoes, which makes it hard to grow any potatoes if two of the five beds will go for tomatoes.  Scratch them, even though we liked last year’s  blue potatoes. Peppers also should be kept away from tomatoes. And they like to hold hands (touch). Put four of the yellow seedlings from our friend among the bed full of strawberries and two rhubarb plants; by the time they really grow, strawberry season will be over.

As for those tomatoes…the big wave of planting will begin around April 1. I’m sure I’ll have a few spares to share.

Spring is really here!!

Last Sunday night it started snowing and we ended up with about four inches of snow. By Saturday it was 60 degrees and just about every last bit of snow was gone. Better yet, the first crocuses bloomed!! (Everyone we’ve told seems envious.) On Sunday, we spotted bees looking for nectar.

A true sign of spring
A true sign of spring

I don’t remember planting them in clumps like these, so I’ve decided they must be naturalizing. Excellent!

Besides plenty of pale purple ones, dark purple ones are out (under the lavender — need to move them),  a few white ones by the curb and one yellow one.

Daffodils are pushing up too! And a lenten rose (helleborus) is blooming!

Plants we want (part 1)

Thanks to this blog, we’ve been doing more thinking than usual about what plants to add to the garden. Our area plant sales start in late April so why not start the wish list?

A  Jack-in-the-pulpit
A Jack-in-the-pulpit

No. 1 is Jack-in-the-Pulpit, or Arisaema triphyllum (no, I don’t know how to pronounce it). It’s a perennial that likes shade to part-shade and moist soil, blooms in the spring and produces red berries in late summer. We ran into the Mercer County horticulturist at the symphony a few weeks ago, and I mentioned that I was looking forward to the Master Gardeners’ plant sale and was hoping to find some Jack-in-the-Pulpit. I just hope she was serious when she suggested that she could provide some of that! So do I look for it in the Js or the As?

Virginia bluebells
Virginia bluebells

No. 2 is Virginia Bluebells, or Merensia virginica. This is another spring flower and one that likes shade and woods. Clearly it has to be deer-resistant to survive! Flowering is from March to May, and it is native to many parts of the eastern U.S. In England, the woods are carpeted with bluebells. Maybe they could go under the forsythia?

Witch Hazel in bloom
Witch Hazel in bloom

No. 3 is a shrub, of all things: witch hazel. It blooms really early, before forsythia. Just what you need when you are tired of winter in February! Most are yellow, which is perhaps a bit too similar to forsythia, but ‘Diane,’ apparently, is red. One concern is their size — eight feet by eight feet or so at maturity. Maybe there is a dwarf variety? And I’d like to know what they look like the rest of the year. I think the flower is funky, but he thinks it’s a bit ugly. So it may not make the cut.

One of many varieties of clematis
One of many varieties of clematis

No. 4 is clematis (kla-MAY-tiss in Brit-speak). We have a white one, courtesy of one sister, but the Brit thinks they’d do great against the deck, with roots in the shade and climbing up into the sun. He says just about any color except white would do.

Any thoughts on any of these plants? Or suggestions for what else should go on the wish list?

Will they grow?

We went to the apartment of friends for dinner Saturday night, and she had more pepper seedlings than she knew what to do with. Turns out that she was cutting a yellow pepper about a month ago and decided to scatter the seeds in an oval-shaped pot on the window sill instead of tossing them in the trash. Her window gets lots of sun, and a month later she had loads of three-inch pepper seedlings. We have scored a dozen of them and will see how many square feet are available to them (or whether we, too, will be sharing the wealth). I’m curious whether they really sprout yellow or are hybrids and end up looking like .. what?
The next day we met someone else who, it turns out, was so impressed with some peach-like tomatoes last summer that he saved the seeds. Let’s see if he comes through with a few of them.
I’ve already come up with a way to squeeze them into the 18 spots reserved in the beds for tomatoes: the silvery fir determinate ones will just have to go in pots instead. And yes, that means I am up to 20 tomato plants. (And we just started a few more seeds too.)