I picked a peck of pickled peaches

IMG_7181Each year I thin our peach tree to assure that, in a month, the squirrel population will access only the largest and most succulent peaches. The other reason to thin a peach tree is that if you don’t it will collapse of its own weight, like those industrial broiler chickens that can’t stand up if you let them live past the eating stage.

But what to do with all those immature peaches? Yes, you can pickle them. This I learned from Kevin West’s bible of food preservation, Saving the Season. In the introduction to his pickled green almond recipe (p. 103) West notes that immature stone fruit such as peaches and nectarines can be pickled in the same way as green almonds (almonds are a stone fruit too).

If you don't thin this branch it will break off.

If you don’t thin this branch it will break off.

I’d share Kevin’s recipe with you but he’s a fellow author and you really should own his book, Saving the Season. It’s the classiest food preservation book out there. Plus Kevin could have me killed and pickled (just kidding). What I can tell you is that this is a quick, vinegar powered refrigerator pickle. Any similar vinegar pickle recipe will work. West’s recipe calls for white wine vinegar. I ran out and substituted the vinegar you clean floors with. Nevertheless, they came out fine and resemble large olives.

Should you want to try pickling green almonds, by the way, you can sometimes find them in Middle Eastern grocery stores and some farmers markets (our local Armenian supermarket Super King sometimes has them if you can survive the infamous parking lot).

080 Lessons From the Theodore Payne 2016 Garden Tour


What’s the good side of our historic drought here in California? Native gardens, of course! In this episode of the podcast Kelly and I share the lessons we learned from a native garden tour put on by the Theodore Payne Foundation. During the podcast we discuss:

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How to Garden With California Natives: Lessons from the 2016 Theodore Payne Garden Tour


First, a rant. The good side of the drought and irregular weather we’re experiencing here in California is that it provides an opportunity to rethink our unimaginative “mow and blow” residential landscaping. On the bad side, opportunistic politicians have used residential watering as a red herring to divert attention from the real water problem here in California: industrial agriculture. The lawn rebate programs and constant messaging to reduce residential watering has resulted in thousands of dead trees and handouts to fly-by-night landscaping companies that installed gravel moonscapes and disappeared as soon as the rebate program ended. What we need is not calls to end landscape irrigation in our yards and parks. What we need is responsible and thoughtful irrigation. We can transition away from water hungry lawns and plantings and towards California natives and other climate-appropriate plants. But we will still need to irrigate to establish those new plantings. And we should continue to irrigate mature trees.

OK, enough with the rant. One of the great benefits of garden tours like the one Kelly and I went on this past weekend, sponsored by the Theodore Payne Foundation, is that they give examples to imitate for people like us who can’t afford the services of landscape architects. Perhaps most importantly, they show how a coastal California landscape can be lush without using much water. Coastal California is not a desert (at least not yet). No need for gravel.

I thought I’d look at some of the lessons I learned on the tour. Please excuse the less than optimal photography. Good garden photos are taken before the sun comes up and the tour was mid-day on an unseasonably warm and bright sunny day.


Again, this may be the single most important message for amateurs planning a residential garden in California: natives look best when grouped and appropriately spaced into a mass that mimics the density of native chaparral. Spacing can be tricky. You have to pay attention to nursery labels and not plant too far apart or too close together. Not that plants always perform predictably. You have to go back and edit: fill gaps in or take stuff out. The best gardens on the tour got the massing right like the Hessing/Bonfigli garden in Altadena shown in the photo above.

Outdoor Rooms

My favorite garden on the tour is the Loxton/Clark garden in Pasadena. It’s a series of seductive outdoor rooms and cute little sheds (she shacks?) built from recycled materials. It invites you to sit down, read a book, relax and maybe take a nap. All spaces are small and divided. These sorts of divided and protected spaces, I think, make us humanoids more comfortable. How inviting, after all, is it to sit in the middle of a football field? We prefer being under a tree, in an outdoor room or sheltered in a cave. One more example of an outdoor room from the same garden:


Most people, I think, at least unconsciously like gardens that hint at a human presence. That could take the form of some bells hanging from a tree as in the Sovich garden in Glendale:


Or one of the alters in the Loxton/Clark garden:


Or one of the many fantastic sheds in the Loxton/Clark garden:

IMG_7120Or this inventive bit of garden art from the Hessing/Bonfigli garden in Altadena:


Kelly and I both have mixed feelings about using found materials in a garden. I think the focus is often too much on telling a kind of visual joke, like when you, say put googly eyes on a old muffler and paint it purple. What works about the found art examples below and above from the Hessing/Bonfigli garden is that they aren’t “one liners”.


Places to sit are also important. It doesn’t take much to make a simple seat like this one from the Johnson/Goldman garden in Silver Lake:


And it’s also important to provide habitat for our bird and insect friends such as this small water basin and perch at the Miller/Coon garden in Atwater:


Just because you have native plants does not meant that you can’t also have vegetables and fruit trees. In fact, edibles benefit from the insect habitat provided by native plants. Over the years we’ve increased our natives and decreased our vegetables. I think we might be getting more veggies now from a smaller space. We also need to remember that many native plants are edible and medicinal such as these strawberries from the LaPlant/D’Auria garden in Sierra Madre:


And the white sage in the background of this garden behind the datura (careful with that stuff!):


While we’re talking about white sage, the same weekend we attended a lecture by Nicholas Hummingbird who runs the fantastic new Hahamongna Nursery. Hummingbird, who is Native American, spoke of how deeply offended he is by the collection of white sage in sensitive habitats to sell smudge sticks. He described it as like breaking into a church and stealing holy water. Grow it in your garden and you can harvest responsibly. Yearly pruning will provide all the smudge sticks you’ll need.

Pots on pedestals

Kelly observed, “potted plants look best when they’re on pedestals.” Sure enough, most of the gardens on the tour that had potted plants had them on some sort of platform. Chalk this up as one for the “honey do” list.

Speaking of Honey do’s

The expression on Kelly’s face says: Erik you better build me a garden shed like this one at the Loxton/Clark garden. Duly noted.

Lastly, our neighbor Lora (who also went on the tour) came over yesterday and we had a spirited discussion of “neatness” in these gardens as well as how much labor a garden takes to maintain. Sometimes a garden tour brings up more questions than answers. How much gardening skill can we expect from the average homeowner? What is the roll of mow and blow crews? How best to communicate the value of gardens that benefit pollinators? How do we make gardens that appeal to a “neat” aesthetic? These are thorny, so to speak, topics that will have to be dealt with in many more blog posts. I’ll let Kelly tackle those subjects while I get going building that garden shed.

Top Climbing Rose Suggestions

Cecile Brunner rose. Image: Malcolm Manners.

Rosa ‘Cécile Brünner’. Image: Malcolm Manners.

My post last week on our two hardy if unimaginative climbing rose choices, ‘Don Juan’ and ‘Iceberg’, prompted several reader suggestions for other climbing roses. Some backed up both ‘Don Juan’ and ‘Iceberg’ for their reliability. But our readers had great ideas for other vigorous climbing roses:

Rosa ‘Cécile Brünner’
The top suggestion was Rosa ‘Cécile Brünner’. Reader Linda T. says, “The flower is tiny, like a mini rose, and soft pink fading to dusty pink. Ah. But the scent? Peppery-spice rose. Quite unique (my opinion). It flowers in giant clumps. Best feature? It makes divine rose hips for tea. It grows quickly and in my yard, tolerates some shade without loss of either bloom or scent.” Commentor P seconded Cécile Brünner, adding that they are, “nice 10ft tall screens between our yard and the neighbors, are evergreen, have handled numerous fierce windstorms without a hitch, and are currently blooming sweet little pink flowers everywhere.” Rachel adds, “It has the most beautiful little pink flowers (at least they’re little here in Phoenix) and when I open the back door I can smell them from across the yard.”

Rosa ‘Altissimo’ and ‘Mermaid’

Rosa Altissimo. Image: Wikimedia.

Rosa ‘Altissimo’. Image: Wikimedia.


Rosa ‘Mermaid’. Image: Wikimedia.

Ivette S. says, “I have a thing for single roses, so my favorite climbers are Rosa ‘Altissimo’, a gorgeous true red with beautiful yellow stamens in the open center, and Rosa ‘The Mermaid’ – a huge rambling climber that will grow anywhere. Both have their major bloom in the spring, and then a sporadic showing through the year. Such gorgeous plants, with lovely leaves too.”

New Dawn

New Dawn climbing rose. Image: Wikimedia.

Rosa ‘New Dawn’. Image: Wikimedia.

Amanda asked for a suggestion for a rose that will tolerate the wet climate of the Pacific Northwest. Skye responded with Rosa ‘New Dawn’, “My parents live on Galveston Bay and they have a New Dawn climbing rose that is gorgeous and vigorous, it takes wet conditions, hurricane winds, salt spray, humidity and heat and still looks gorgeous.”

Responding to a request for a very long climbing rose, reader Lori B. suggests Rosa ‘Felicite et Perpetue’ but notes that they are hard to find in the U.S. If any reader knows a good source for ‘Felicite et Perpetue’ in the U.S., please leave a comment. And, lastly, in my post last week I forgot to mention that ‘Don Juan’ produces moderate sized hips while ‘Iceberg’ makes tiny ones.

Two Easy to Grow Climbing Roses

rosesHow dare I opine on my two favorite roses? After all, the rose “community” has a level of intellectual fetishism on par with other obsessions like baseball statistics and jam band tape archiving. I’m too much of a generalist to be trusted in the rose world. But I can’t resist.

But let me first, commit rose apostasy. I hate bush roses. Rose leaves, in my opinion, are ugly. When a rose bush is not in bloom I think that the leaves and stems don’t hold much visual interest. There are many other flowering shrubs that are visually interesting year round. But I make an exception for climbing roses. And I like the smell and symbolism of the rose.

Several years ago, when it came to planting two roses to cover the entrance arbor to our house I chose two common varieties that I thought could tolerate our horrible soil and dry conditions:

donjuanDon Juan
This stunning, deep red climbing rose was developed by Michele Malandrone and first sold in 1958. It has an intense, complex scent. I chose it because I heard that it was drought tolerant. It’s also easy to find.

icebergIceberg Climbing Rose
I refer to this rose as the “gas station rose” for its ubiquity. Frankly, it’s an unimaginative choice but the thing is as tough as nails. It laughs at bad soil and low water. The only downside is that, like most climbing roses, it has absolutely no scent at all.

Do you have a favorite climbing rose? Leave a comment!