Thursday, July 22, 2010

They Say That Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Chaenomeles speciosa 'Texas Scarlet' in flower

I have had a long love/hate relationship with a hedge of Flowering Quince, Chaenomeles speciosa 'Texas Scarlet' shrubs. 

Nearly 15 years ago, our inherited foundation plantings of azaleas sited in full, southern sun had finally cut bait.  Eager, but not well-educated, I went fishing for new plants that could take the blazing sun, yet offer some color and interest.  The cultivar's name alone hooked me and I reeled in three tiny shrubs. 

I spaced them correctly, and followed all of the directions for proper planting and care.  Alas, no flowers the following spring.  Nor the next.  Not until their third year did they reveal any blossoms, but they were almost hidden in the foliage.  Truly, not the spectacular showing that I had envisioned.  I did some research and found that "renewal" pruning - like an almost break-up - would result in better flowering.  No such luck on my part as the hedging looked stubby, then resulted in no better flowering the following year.  Michael Dirr in his most eloquent way has said that while flowering quince "in full flower was beautiful, however, during the rest of the year (50 to 51 weeks) the planting was intolerable (emphasis added) . . . almost unlikeable."  I agreed completely.  But, with other areas upon which to focus my attention, I just left them alone for a number of years. 

Then, this spring, these plants brought forth a new hope, that they had changed and were worth keeping.  Flowers, they made flowers, lots of delicate rich red blossoms along interesting, sculpturally craggy stems.  Lovely, long cut branches were spectacular in a tall vase on the mantel.  Yes, they showed their worthiness of the space in my small garden.

That is, until now.  Obviously, my years of hatred and neglect and then sudden adoration has thus resulted in some sort of backlash.  The quince have produced, of all things, quince!  And not just one or two, but dozens upon dozens.  Quince are not desirable like sweet cherries or small plums or even a crabapple, but bitter and sour.  They are weighing down the branches and falling and rotting on the ground.  I'm not even considering making the effort of cooking and canning quince jam.

Chaenomeles speciosa 'Texas Scarlet' in fruit (foreground)

After all of the on-again, off-again feelings about these plants, I now realize that it's finally time to cut bait and put an end to this relationship and start anew. 

And really, it's me, not them.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Blueberry Crisp

Our dear friends were visiting last weekend and we were hosting ten for dinner.  With rainstorms threatening all afternoon, the planned grilling and dinner outdoors was not a viable option.  Back to the drawing board, I crafted a summer country supper of homemade turkey meatloaf, creamy garlic mashed potatoes, roasted carrots with dill and fresh corn on the cob.  Very cold Budweiser and a light pinot gris were perfect accompaniements.  But this menu just beckoned a scrumptious blueberry crisp - and I dragged out my favorite Maine recipe.  The key is finding wild blueberries - they have less liquid and more flavor so the crisp is never runny and the berries never overpowered by the topping.  Just make sure you make enough for everyone to have second helpings!

Blueberry Crisp

4 cups wild blueberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup flour
1 cup rolled oats

Combine the blueberries, sugar and lemon rind and place in an 8"x8"x2" baking dish.  Mix the flour, brown sugar, rolled oats, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Cut in the butter (like preparing a pie crust) until all ingredients are well blended (will be quite crumbly).  Spread over the blueberries; it does not have to completly cover the berries.

Bake at 325 degrees until the topping is golden and the filling bubbles in the center, approximately 45 minutes.  Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Serves 8 people.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Worms in a Can

"It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organised creatures."  Charles Darwin, The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms, With Observations on Their Habits, 1881.

A proverbial can of worms was opened for me recently, and usually, such an occurence is not a welcome thing, especially when the worms have been tended and nicely packed away in their can for a couple of decades.  But it made me think a little further about how the idiom became commonly used.  The expression, a modern-day version of Pandora's box, is thought to have originiated in America around the 1950s, with fishermen who once opening their cans of worms had difficulty getting them back in the can.  Growing up, we often stopped on our way fishing to buy little styrofoam containers of worms - great for catching sun perch in our little lake in East Texas.  But we fished until all the worms were gone so I don't remember that it took much effort to put worms back into a container.

Worms are not just good for fishing, but amazing friends to have in the garden.  Author Amy Stewart wrote an lovely little book about the marvels of earthworms, The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms, and the important impact they have on the planet.   Gardeners know that if worms are found in the soil, it is often a good indication that the soil is fertile.  Worms convert organic matter into nutrients that plants can use.  They loosen the soil, making it easier for plant roots to grow and to absorb nutrients.  Worms also oxygenate the soil and increase the movement of water through the soil.  Too, they support additional wildlife in the garden as food for birds. 

Perhaps my worms can stay out of the can for a while . . .