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May Garden Update

I was in Europe this month, but my garden didn’t wait while I was away! The artichokes have gone crazy, the sunshine here in Malibu stimulating summer-style abundance. So Sue and I are looking forward to an artichoke afternoon together. We’ll pick and preserve their tender hearts in olive oil in the middle of June.

As a gardener, by definition I spend a lot of time on my own. I grow vegetables, process thoughts and acknowledge emotions. I live at the edge of the village, tending the garden’s greenery and talking to the birds and the bees more than the human inhabitants of our community. But there’s nothing more wonderful than these hours of gentle solitude being briefly punctuated by a “Hello!” and a smile with someone nice. And so I have developed some beautiful friendships.

I missed my friends here at The Ranch, especially Alex, Larry, Marc, Luke and Rob, who is our fabulous new chef and therefore my vegetable muse. All of the vegetables that I grow are destined to be transformed by Rob into something delicious, so we discuss seasonal ideas for flavour, colour and texture in his kitchen.

Today I planted Red Russian kale in Rob’s honour, and more tomatoes, including two heirloom varieties (Heatwave and Old German) and four kinds of English tomatoes that I’ll bet are unique to California. Yes! Because my Mum bought three packets of heirloom tomato seeds at my request when I was in London this month, so I’m excited that today I sowed them into five wicker hanging baskets.

They’re particularly suited to hanging baskets, because they make hundreds and thousands of teeny tiny tomatoes on little plants that tumble out of the baskets in a pleasing way. Hopefully they’ll do it for me here in our Southern Californian greenhouse, let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Their names are: Hundreds and Thousands, Red Tumbling Tom, and Yellow Tumbling Tom. I’m particularly excited about Hundreds and Thousands, only recently rediscovered by Suttons Seeds, one of the oldest British seed companies.

Today I planted a lot of seeds, actually, as well as showing my new assistant, Jorge, how to use chicken bed as a nourishing soil mulch, and how to tie up the tomato plants that I planted in early April, which have now grown so big they need support in the form of some sturdy stakes and string.

This week (and every week!) I harvested salad greens (including mizuna, red shiso, roquet, baby Swiss chard, flashback trout, baby beetroot tops, etc) as well as onions, curly kale, the last of the Romanesco broccoli, the last of Spring’s pea tendrils, Scarlet Queen turnips, amethyst radishes, tons of every kind of herb, edible pea flowers, edible nasturtium flowers, and a selection of cut flowers including fragrant sweetpeas, snapdragons, daisies and poppies.

The weeds have been equally (if not more) abundant, of course, so we’ve been pulling them out as we harvest the crops, piling them up and then escorting them to the trash to save the compost pile from weed seed contamination.

We’re getting ready for another photo shoot, this time for Hamptons magazine, a beautiful glossy lifestyle publication from New York State. So we pruned back some of the more rambling foliage around the chicken coop, and generally spruced up the beds and pared down the hedgerows so our East Coast friend will get a great shot.

I sowed Crenshaw and Charentais melon seeds today underneath the apple trees. Their long vines will reach out into the pathway this autumn, softening the edges of the garden with their fairytale leaves and sweet luscious fruit. I also sowed two varieties of gourd seeds, Corsican and bird-cage. I have a special plan for them, let’s see if they bear large enough fruit to fulfill my little dream.

I also sowed everlasting strawflower seeds into the cutting flower bed so we still have something beautiful for our vases even if August’s heat rises beyond the comfort zone for the other flowers.

Oh, and the garden has been a hotbed for wildlife this week, with visits from our bluebird, hummingbird and swallow friends, as well as longing glances from the rabbits and deer just beyond the fence. And this morning, a weasel jumped over the fence, and two gophers were discovered in the pea bed! I’ll admit to squealing like a girl for a second, but quickly regained my composure and got into action with Jorge as we rounded the gophers up with pincer-action teamwork, catching them with our gloved hands, and evicting them from the garden into the surrounding mountain countryside.

The weasel, on the other hand, is still at large, but I don’t mind at all. California weasels are extremely rare and very very cute, and what’s more, they’re carnivores. So they have no interest at all in eating my veggies, but the little weasel may be interested in eating the gophers.

Ah yes, my enemy’s enemy is my friend… and the garden monsters are thwarted again!!!

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