It’s been unusual. A cooler and wetter spring…a pandemic that kept us a home. Our secret garden has been the beneficiary. Here is a bit of a photo essay on the effects of perfect growing conditions and lots of attention in our Naramata, British Columbia, Canada garden on the summer solstice.
“I am sure there is Magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to get hold of it and make it do things for us.” The Secret Garden
The purples seem more purple this year…
The pinks more pink…
And we’ve had time to sit and enjoy it all unfolding.
With our pals who are allowed in from time to time…
Just outside the garden walls is our raspberry farm just days away from harvest.
The farm has never looked so tidy. One hour-long spray with round-up would have dealt with all the grass and weeds that invaded the rows but we don’t spray or use chemicals so it was a 160-hour job completed over four months. On hands and knees with a garden fork… It should be easier to maintain going forward with minor attention. It looks great but more importantly the raspberry roots now have less competition for nutrients, water and space. It’s going to be a bumper crop.
I love English country gardens and my own. Our English relatives John and Ann, indulging me in my passion, always plan a visit to extraordinary gardens when we come and spending time in their own lovely garden with its roses and pond is an enormous pleasure. I bring home inspiration, seeds, garden ornaments, pieces of flint and photos. Here are some of my favourites and how we’ve worked at Canadianizing them.
What does it say about me that my favourite garden plant is deadly? Digitalis, also called Dead Mans Bells, Bloody Fingers and Witches Gloves is toxic but beautiful. A few years ago a US woman poisoned her husband by adding foxglove leaves to his salad. He became violently ill but survived. I guess the guy wasn’t handy.
I prefer to call by them by their more endearing name, Foxglove. Also called Virgin’s Glove, Fairy Caps, Folk’s Glove and Fairy Thimbles, this cottage garden flower is a key reason my secret garden looks magical this morning. I grew all the foxgloves in my collection from seeds in the greenhouse…many of them ordered from Plants of Distinctionin England. Some of my favourites are Candy Mountain Peach (see, not a sinister name at all)…the bells face upwards in this one, Camelot cream with its densely clothed stems of Guernsey cream bells, Elsie Kelsey, with its beautiful snow white bells and a raspberry jam lip and obscura with a nodding red-veined yellow flower from Spain. Heywoodii is of the palest of pinks with heavy freckles with densely packed bells on a dwarf plant. Mertonenisis is also a very fine hybrid reproducing truly from seed with its crushed strawberry bells…I could go on.
They are virtually maintenance free and hardy. It took some patience as most are biennial. I had to nurture my seedlings, harden them off, plant them and wait another whole year to see their bells. They will grow in a number of soil types as long as there is good drainage. Most are hardy to zone 4.
Once your foxgloves are blooming let them for for as long as you can. Your goal is to allow the plant to go to seed and for the seed to dry so it can be scattered around the garden. Yes please. I love the unkempt look of the garden with self-seeders.
Bees love foxgloves and their blooms are entirely dependent of the visits of this insect. The projecting lower lip of the corolla forms an alighting platform for the bee and as he pushes his way up the bell, to get at the honey which lies in a ring around the seed vessel at the top of the flower, he rubs on the pollen. A single foxglove can provide from one to two million seeds. This particular plant is a whopper with beautiful markings towering above my head. They love the dappled shade of my secret garden although they will tolerate full sun.
I love they way their dramatic spikes of tubular flowers with speckled throats add elegance and height to my garden.
Foxgloves are pretty darned handy. They are used to produce the important heart drugs digitoxin, digitalin, digitonin and digitalenin which are extracted from the leaves. The drug increases the activity of all forms of muscle tissue, but more especially that of the heart and arterioles, the all-important property of the drug being its action on the circulation.
The birds know a good thing when they see it. The very minute blueberries are ripe and ready to eat they are on it. If you want to find your thrill on blueberry hill you need some pre-planning. Our berries in our first producing patch are just blueing up nicely so it’s time for The Handyman to work his magic.
The Handyman used 3/4″ PVC with some t-joints and PVC glue to make the structure, spending about $50 on materials. He measured the width of the blueberry bed and the height. Our box was 8 feet wide and he used two 10-foot sections of PVC to give us a 7-foot clearance at the apex of the hoop. He says you could also add some rebar inside the PVC to make the structure sturdier which he plans to do in the future when we enclose the much larger commercial patch for the berry farm. If you need to make the structure more freestanding, ie. you don’t have a wooden box as your bed to staple the PVC too, you will need to insert a section of rebar into the ends of the PVC to allow you to dig the PVC into the ground. The bird netting was a lucky drive-by find found at the side of the road with a “free” sign on it. Of course, you can purchase netting…
Sweet Dough (makes enough for two 9-inch crusts)
168 grams or 6 ounces of unsalted butter
1.4 grams or 1/4 teaspoon of salt
112 grams or 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
39 grams or 1/3 cup of almond flour
7 grams or 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 extra large egg plus 1 to 2 teaspoons
315 grams or 2 7/8 cup sifted cake flour
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream the butter and sea salt on medium speed for about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and add the confectioners’ sugar and combine with the butter at low speed. Scrape down the bowl and then add almond flour and vanilla and combine at low speed. Add the eggs, one at a time and about a quarter of the cake flour and beat on low until just incorporated. Stop the machine and scrape down the bowl. Gradually add the remaining flour and mix just until the dough comes together. Don’t over mix. Press the dough into a 1/2″ thick rectangle block, wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight or for at least two to three hours.
You could also make the streusel (see below) on day one and or the blueberry filling and refrigerate until ready to assemble and bake.
After it has chilled, remove the dough from the refrigerator, cut it into two equal portions and roll one out in a 1/4 ” thick circle and line a 9-inch tart pan, ring, or heart.
Using a fork, perforate the bottom of the shell making rows of little holes. Place in the refrigerator uncovered for at least an hour. (Freeze the second portion of dough for a future use). Pre-bake the shell in a 325F oven. To do this, line the shell with parchment and add rice, dried beans or pie weights. Bake with this “faux” filling for 15 minutes and then remove the parchment and rice, beans or weights and return the tart shell to the oven for another 5 to 15 minutes until it is golden brown and evenly coloured. Brush with an egg wash (1 beaten egg with 1 tablespoon of water) and return to the oven for five more minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before filling.
280 grams or 2 1/4 cups blueberries. If using frozen, choose wild blueberries
51.5 grams or 1/4 cup granulated sugar
6 grams or 1 1/4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 grams or 1 1/4 teaspoons water
2.5 grams or 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 a vanilla bean
36 grams or 2 yolks plus 1 teaspoon egg yolks
56 grams or 1/4 cup whole milk
56 grams or 1/4 cup heavy cream
In a medium saucepan, combine the blueberries and 1 teaspoon of the sugar and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and boil for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon juice, water and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Gradually stir the mixture into the berries and simmer 1 minute until thickened. If the mixture is too watery, dissolve another 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch into a tablespoon of juice and stir in. Simmer until thickened and then remove from heat.
Using a knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into a medium bowl. Add the egg yolk and remaining sugar and beat together with a whisk. Add the milk and cream and beat together until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the blueberries.
60 grams or 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
88 grams or 1/3 cup turbinado sugar
70 grams or 1/2 cup of cake flour
70 grams or 3/4 cup almond flour
1 gram or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
13 grams or 1 tablespoon Kirschwasser
(This will make more than you need. You can freeze the leftovers and use to make fruit crumbles or top muffins.)
Preheat oven to 325 F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Cut the butter into cubes and place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a mixer and mix on medium for about 2 minutes until crumbly.
Spread on the parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden brown and crisp. Allow to cool.
Sprinkle 17 grams or 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of the streusel in an even layer on the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell. Spread the blueberries on top. Place on a sheet pan and bake 30 to 40 minutes until just set. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar before serving.
I took my camera out for “a few minutes” in the early morning today for a look-around the secret garden and an hour later had to be dragged away. Here’s a Cole’s Notes look at what held me captivate because sometimes, the biggest secrets you can only tell a stranger.
“The best secrets are the most twisted.” Sara Shepard.
“Photography is all about secrets. The secrets we all have and will never tell.” Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.
“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast.” Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden.
“But some secrets are too delicious not to share.” Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay.
“That, my dear, is what makes a character interesting, their secrets.” Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden.
“Secrets are like plants. They can stay buried deep in the earth for a long time, but eventually they’ll send up shoots and give themselves away.” Judy Reene Singer, Still Life with Elephant.
Just like Mary in her Secret Garden, I like the name and the still more the feeling that when its walls shut me in no one knows where I am. The Handyman built my walls five years ago and I’ve been planting and revising ever since. This sheltered spot is maturing nicely and is being discovered by others who see the merit of a trickling brook, pond and shelter from the wind. It’s becoming a mini bird, bee and frog sanctuary. A family of racoons and another of skunks also make frequent visits to the pond, mostly at night luckily.
Here are a few of the plants blooming today:
Another ideal small tree, Japanese stewartia, frames the lady’s head. It gives you lovely peeling bark all season, hot fall colour and it blooms with white June-into-July flowers. It’s a distant relative of the tea family.
Like any good secret, my garden is best revealed in instalments. I’ll post more when new blooms arrive.
“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden.