Year of Grace Day 160. First artichokes of the season

Yesterday I harvested the first artichokes of the season – only two, the topmost ones. Cutting them now will enable the lower ones to flourish, as the plant’s energy can now be diverted to them. These baby artichokes I expect to be quite tender and without a choke at this point,  good to briefly braise in white wine and olive oil, garlic, and some herbs. They’ll be perfect as a starter for M and me. I might add a bay leaf or two as well. I’ve got bay plants whose leaves I love to use fresh, snipping them off just before use.

First artichokes 2015_7687

I love it when I can step outside the kitchen door, walk a few steps into the freshness of the garden in early summer — which is now — and pinch between my fingers a few bits from this herb and that, their scents wafting in the air and lingering in my fingers.

There’s no comparing fresh bay leaves from dried — fresh ones have more complex flavours and scents. Bay plants are usually sold several to a pot, and I separated them two years ago, planting one in the ground and the rest in large pots. The one on the ground (thank goodness it has not been devoured by the resident voles) gets more sun as it’s on a southern exposure and has more room to spread its roots. It has now grown to a bush of about a meter, with many side branches.

There’s also marjoram flourishing just outside the kitchen door in a large blue ceramic pot, keeping company with a passionfruit vine that I’m hoping will give more than the one fruit it did last year. I never got to taste its first fruit – doubtless scoffed by a passing magpie – one of three thuggish magpies that hang about. (They bully the blackbirds mercilessly. There’s one in particular that harasses and scolds a female blackbird who likes perching on the yew.)

The other herb that has done well, surviving its first winter, is also in a matching blue pot perched on a ledge on the dining room window – it’s a winter savoury, called Bohnenkraut (‘bean herb’) because it’s commonly added here to bean dishes. Interestingly, the thyme that I thought would be hardy and tolerate winter has not done well. It was in the same pot – a rather large one with holes on its sides — as the marjoram. The holes are deliberate – they’re big enough to insert herbs that like good drainage, or even strawberries. I’ve also stuck in a few sedums and one of them is in bloom – tiny bright yellow stars.

The chives are also in bloom – some are doing rather well around the roses, and I snipped a few yesterday together with its flowers to add to the tuna salad that we had for lunch. I love separating the little mauve chive florets and scattering them as edible decor. It is common wisdom that chives and its relatives (garlic, leek) are good companions for roses as they deter aphids and other pests. It’s the first season since I planted a clump of chives close to each rose bush in the front garden. The interaction must be efficacious, as I don’t see any of the usual pests that mar the rose buds. The rose bushes are also looking much healthier than in previous years – their leaves are shiny and their new shoots plump and robust. The roses that haven’t got chives around them are already harbouring aphids and other unwelcome pests on some buds. I don’t spray however – I just wait for the hoverflies and ladybugs and other predators to come and take care of these pests for me. I do hope they come soon.

Today is a milestone: the 160th post on my grace journal. Writing these has become an early morning ritual for me, and on the days that I cannot post for some reason or other, I feel as though something is not quite right with me.

My original intent was to post something to be grateful for every day. I haven’t been saying thank you repeatedly, as that would make tedious reading. I have hoped that by expressing my wonder and amazement at the simple things that grace my days, it is to be understood that I am, by doing so, expressing my thanks as well. But perhaps every so often, I believe I ought to expressly and explicitly say so.

I am deeply thankful for the beauty of the world around me – the plants and the wildlife that thrive in my garden and the surrounding woods. It is heaven to wake to the cheerful chorus of birds in the early morning just before dawn. I find it a privilege to have birds – especially one cheeky robin — keeping me company as I work in the garden, to listen to the lot of them chattering or twittering to one another at odd moments as they flit in and out among the trees throughout the day. It is lovely to see birds courting in early spring, flying close together, keeping in perfect synchrony with one another, and chirping out to each other companionably in mid-flight. (By the way butterflies do so too, fly close together in synchrony that is, except they don’t do any chirping.) Again at the close of day when there is a tumult of birds perhaps all simultaneously putting their young to bed and telling them bedside stories, it is a joy to be an unwitting audience to such a babble of birdsong.

May I continue to be so blessed to see and to hear and to enjoy with all my senses all of nature’s wonders. This poem which is also a song with a haunting melody, by the Hungarian-Jewish poet Hanna Senesh, expresses my feelings poignantly.

Eli, Eli, Halicha le Kesariya
Eli, Eli she lo yigamer le olam
Ha chol ve ha yam
Rishrush shel ha mayim
Berak ha shamayim
Tefilat ha adam.

My God, My God, A Walk to Caesaria
My God, my God, may these never end:
The sand and the sea
The rustling of water
Lightning in the skies
The prayers of mankind.

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