I’m not Bob Flowerdew, but tomorrow I get to play him on the radio.
You’ll get that reference if you’re a fan of the British radio gardening show Gardeners’ Question Time. I get the BBC 4 show via podcast, and greatly enjoy the experience of listening, learning and laughing along with their panel of witty experts.
And tomorrow, I get to channel a little bit of Mr. Flowerdew (yes, his actual name) on the KIRO radio show of Ciscoe Morris, Seattle’s own version of a beloved expert radio gardener. Gardening with Ciscoe is on at 11 a.m. every Saturday on 97.3 FM.
Ciscoe’s program can also be heard via podcast, in case you’re not near a radio on Saturday mornings or not within range of KIRO’s towers.
Interestingly, many of the gardening questions posed to Ciscoe and his guests could be lifted (minus the lilting British accents) from GQT. Our Maritime Northwest climate has a lot in common with the mild climes of the British Isles. I often hear advice on that show that is applicable to my own yard–another reason to listen, if I needed one. For example, the British grow familiar vegetables on a similar timetable in their “allotments” as we do in our P-Patches.
GQT has been educating and entertaining gardeners since 1947, inspired by the country’s postwar “Dig for Victory” campaign, similar to the “Victory Garden” program in the U.S. that urged people to grow food as a method of self-sustainability during wartime. Its amazing longevity can be attributed to the British love of gardening, although you could say that it has contributed to their perennial plant fever.
As proof of my GQT fandom, I even have attended a live taping. Amazingly, the GQT’s website provides the proof. Two summers ago, my wife and I took a walking trip in England, and after strolling the farms and gardens of the Cotswolds, we ventured to Wales for a weekend to attend GQT’s Summer Garden Party at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales.
In this photo on their website, you can clearly see me in my green shirt (and Susie next to me) to the left of the sign, waiting for the taping to begin. We were present for the taping of two shows, but alas did not get any of our questions chosen for consideration by the panel.
And what an amazing panel of experts on their stage. Flowerdew, Bunny Guinness (which reminds me, Happy Easter!), Pippa Greenwood (you can’t make these names up!), Toby Buckland, Chris Beardshaw, James Wong and other panelists are certainly pedigreed.
Guinness is a landscape designer who has won six gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show (and is the niece of rose breeder David Austin). Beardshaw is a landscape architect, BBC television garden program host, and was a judge at this year’s Northwest Flower & Garden Show (also presenting some delightful seminars). Wong is a botanist, and Greenwood is a plant pathologist. Buckland heads London’s oldest plant nursery. Flowerdew is one of England’s leading organic gardeners whose family has been farming in East Anglia since the Tudors ruled the land in the 1500s. All of which makes me realize that I should study more and work on my credentials.
Although I can’t hope to match either the panel’s expertise or their wit (a recent edible gardening discussion devolved into testing the soil temperature by getting naked in the garden to decide whether it is warm enough to plant), I will try to pass on my vegetable-growing tips and inject levity where possible in with Ciscoe’s banter. He’s a great host, an expert in just about everything green, and a fun person to chat with, and I always look forward to the show.
So listen if you can, call in if you’d like, and don’t worry about the weeding. As they say on GQT, “you’ll be back to the garden in 45 minutes.”
Here are a few photos from the National Botanic Garden in Wales, which is about an hour north of Swansea. It’s an amazing place you should visit if you ever get the chance.
The garlic has just begun its sun salutations. Bouquets of fava bean leaves are catching the spring rains as they emerge on sturdy stems. The promise of these two early summer delicacies is just coming into leaf, but already it’s blooming in my mind. What awaits is a rich, savory saute of succulent beans and fiery garlic in butter and oil.
So it’s a little early yet, but I’ll share one of my favorite recipes:
Fava Beans in Spring Garlic
4 handfuls of fava bean pods (pick when the pods begin to droop on the plant; use immediately, as the bean’s sugars will turn to starch in 1-2 days)
2 heads spring garlic (pull while tops are fully green and perhaps 12 inches high; choose plants that have ended up overly close to their neighbors, thus enabling the adjacent plant to fully develop its bulb)
3 T olive oil
3 T butter
Shell the beans, and drop the bean seeds all at once into a pan of boiling water (enough to cover). Swirl and cook for a very short time, perhaps 30 seconds, until the beans begin to turn brighter green. Use a sieve to quickly remove the beans and drop them into a bowl of icy water to stop the cooking.
As the beans cool, pluck them from the water and pinch off their rubbery outer skin. It will be loose and easily removed, the bean slippery within. Use a knife to cut a slot in the skin if necessary to pop the bean out. Discard the skins and reserve the beans to dry.
Rinse and trim the garlic. Discard the outer green leaves. The young garlic bulb will not have differentiated cloves, and you will use the entire thing, plus some of the greens. Roughly chop the garlic into half-inch chunks.
Warm the olive oil in a saute pan to medium heat and add the garlic to the sizzling oil. Cook the garlic for a minute or so, tossing regularly, until limp and giving off a pungent odor.
Add the fava beans. Add the butter. As the butter melts, stir to coat the favas. Reduce heat if sizzling and cook for up to five minutes, testing the beans for doneness. When the beans have softened and can easily be speared with a fork, remove from heat.
Sprinkle with sea salt and eat immediately. Serves 2 people.
Worth waiting for
I love this recipe for its simplicity, and its fresh taste of spring. In fact, watching these plants develop is one of the joys of the spring season.
Young garlic, pulled before the bulb has had a chance to differentiate into cloves, has an onionlike texture and a flavor that is equal parts spiciness and grassiness.
Fresh fava beans, freed from their tough, grey seed coats, seem to be equal parts sugar and substance. Once cooked, they retain a meaty toothsomeness like the interior of a firm baked potato, but with only a light starchiness.
It’s too soon to be whipping up this recipe, but I mentioned it in my column in the current issue of Edible Seattle. (If you’ve come to this site because of the column, thank you for supporting that fine magazine!) You might not have these two crops growing in your garden right now. Plan to grow them next year, and this spring, look for fresh favas and young garlic at your local farmers market. The dish is worth the wait.
Back from my annual visits to the region’s garden shows, which filled my head with ideas for pathways and fun garden additions. I was also amazed at the materials used for the hardscape and water features, and had a very enjoyable time helping one display garden become reality.
The season starts early for a cool-season gardener. Not just the planting season, but the speaking-at-events season too. I’ll be at nurseries, garden shows and seed swaps in the next month, evangelizing about getting your edible garden underway.
Seed swaps first
This Saturday I’ll be hosting the Great Seattle Seed Swap up on Phinney Ridge. This first one happens on National Seed Swap Day, and is the first of four area swaps — three in Seattle and one in the Snoqualmie Valley.
I’ll also be at the Snoqualmie Valley swap on Feb. 6. At both, I’ll be giving a short talk as well as staffing a table for Q&A and seed research.
The King County Seed Lending Library has received a wonderful donation from the Organic Seed Alliance of Port Townsend. They sent copies of their recent book, The Seed Garden, for each of our locations. What a resource! It’s comprehensive, easy to use for research and a great read. The book was co-published with Seed Savers Exchange, another essential resource.
OSA also sent a generous supply of their locally adapted Abundant Bloomsdale spinach seed and phacalia tancetifolia, which has a flower that’s a pollinator magnet.
Come to the swaps to see the book and get the seed!
Before the swap on this Saturday I’ll give my first nursery presentation of the season, up at Swansons Nursery in northwest Seattle. It will naturally be about starting seeds, but also focus on soil-building at this time of year. And I’ll throw in some ideas about where to get inspiration for this year’s garden.
I’ll do another talk at Swansons on Feb. 27 on special techniques to get the most out of your veggie plot.
In March I begin my annual four-class series at another great Seattle nursery, City People’s Garden Store. I’ll head down to Madison Valley for the first talk on March 12 about starting the early-season garden.
Portland on tap
I’m getting out of town, too, with a pair of talks at the Yard, Garden & Patio Show in Portland. Walking the human-scale display gardens at this show always energizes me to try something new in the garden.
Get a book
At all the talks and shows, I’ll have my two books, Cool Season Gardener and Edible Heirlooms, available for sale, and I will happily personalize your copy with a signature.
I’m doing a special signing at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Find me at the University Book Store booth #211 on Friday, Feb. 19, 3-4 p.m.
Hope to see you at an upcoming event!
It’s all about edibles in my garden. And in my writing. And on this site. So I was delighted to be offered the task of writing a new column for Edible Seattle called (you probably guessed it) The Edible Garden.
Now on newsstands and in subscribers’ hands is the excellent first issue of 2016, which includes the column’s debut, and a lot of other great stories.
My first topic covers something of perennial amazement to me: why our winter vegetables get sweeter after a frost. I dug into this topic during the cold, rainy days of early winter.
I’d love for you to buy the issue–or better yet, subscribe to the magazine–and read the entire thing for yourself. But I’ll give you a hint as to what I found: the plants are making sugar as a defensive mechanism against the cold. There’s a lot more to it than that, and I hope you’ll find it as fascinating as I did.
Only one problem: we haven’t yet had a frost in my garden. It’s been relatively warm and wet. But hope springs eternal. Mind you, I only want a little hoar frost, not the killing deep-freeze kind. But I think that we’re safely beyond that.
If you’re hankering for some photos of frosty vegetables like the one below, see my post from exactly three years ago when we had a nice, sweet cooling spell.
Here’s a warming event to spice up a winter weekend: Edible Seattle and Metropolitan Market are sponsoring a Whiskey and Chowder Festival. Coming to Fremont on Feb. 4, it will showcase 7 local distilleries and 16 restaurants, who promise a variety of chowders and soups, but also other tasty treats. A unique event that looks like a winner.