When I was a kid, my summer backyard always included a vegetable garden. Daddy did the up-front work: the hoeing, planting, weeding, and harvesting; Muth dealt with the results: the washing, cooking, and canning. Not much was expected of us three girls. We sat in the garden among the August tomatoes, kitchen salt shaker in hand, rubbing off the dirt and eating the warm red globes out of hand, but didn’t contribute much to the garden’s success.
Thirty years later when we lived on Vashon, the Sweetie wrangled a big vegetable garden. He rototilled every September, mixing in fallen pears, oak leaves, sheep manure, and kelp, planted a winter cover crop, rototilled again in the spring, planted rows of beets, chard, carrots, green beans, lettuce, tomatillos, basil, zucchini, cucumber, and tomatoes; then usually went on the road to work, leaving the bounty of his labor to Muth and I. One summer when he was home on an extended break, there was such an abundance of beets that he canned fifteen quarts of pickled beets. One year, we turned our rare bumper crop of tomatoes into gleaming jars of spaghetti sauce.
If there is a downside to a successful garden, it shows up in too many baskets of tomatoes on the back porch, armfuls of beets heavy with dirt clods sitting on the kitchen counter, a sinkful of chard leaves, and an oh-no-not-another box of zucchini. Now, you can hardly say that my little chard/beet garden defines overabundance, but still… We have chard in some form every day just to keep up: sautéed greens, chard tart, chard/beet/feta pasta, beans & greens soup—we’ve had it all.
But abundance in a flower garden has no downside. The Sweetie has spent hours on our backyard slope raking, hoeing, adding top soil and compost to the rocks and bad dirt, and eventually sowing three pounds of wildflower seeds—then came the weeding and watering.
Our wildflower season started with drifts of small white flowers, soon little bluebells emerged, followed by splashes of California poppies. Then came the batchelor buttons, pink and red poppies, and lavender snapdragon-like blooms. We’re now in the red, pink, and white cup-like extravaganza supported by cosmos and accented by black-eyed suzies.
Meanwhile in the raised planter, the nasturtiums have taken charge, those tall red-flowered somebodies tower over everyone, the huge variegated-leaf plant with pink carnation-like flowers threatens to explode, and overseeing his domaine—the purple morning glory, Granda Ott. All in all, our garden spot is certainly not restrained but it is entertaining.
Basil, who moped through May, June, and part of July, hit his stride and insists daily on pizza Margherita, caprese salad, or pesto.
Mophead hydrangea, a spoiled two-year old who is quickly outgrowing her pot, decided to wear pink this year.
Our neighbors’ garden is a glorious extension of abundance: wallflowers, lilies, crocosmia, yarrow, and fuchsia blooms that look just like sparklers.
Swiss chard/beet greens
- A couple slices of bacon, cut into batons
- A lump of butter
- Half an onion, diced
- Minced garlic
- Chard/beet stems, diced
- If there are any small beets attached to the beet greens, scrub them, cut them into smaller pieces, and add them along with the onions, and chopped stems.
- About twice as much greens as you think
- Sherry or red wine vinegar
- Olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
Cram as many greens possible in a small microwaveable dish, sprinkle on some olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Microwave for 3 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid.
Sauté bacon in butter until softened, add onion, garlic, chard/beet stems, and any beet pieces. Add a splash of water or reserved greens liquid. Sauté for five minutes or so until onions and stems are soft. Cook briskly at the end to reduce liquid.
Coarse-chop cooked greens and add to onion/bacon/stem mixture. Simmer five minutes.