Blowing through the Wild Grasses

Weed or wildflower? Messy or naturalized? Everyone has an opinion, and they often differ distinctly on the same little plant or plot. Part of the pleasure of good company will always be in its variety and the interest that it brings to life. Gardening tastes are very much in that vein.

Digital illustration: Wild Grasses

As a sometime gardener, however amateur, I can think of few styles of landscaping that I don’t find appealing and attractive in their own ways. I admire the near-perfection of elaborate, formal palace gardens and magnificent, fountain-filled parks with their follies and allees. I am fond of a rustic campfire-side bramble patch, punctuated by straggly hydrangeas run wild, down by the lakeside. There is both soul refreshment and eye appeal for me in a delicate Zen garden with bonsai, laceleaf maples and a barely rippling koi pond.

When it comes to my own gardens, I tend to walk just a little farther on the wild side. I hate to fiddle and fuss at length with the hard labor of a garden. I greatly prefer the genteel pleasures of the design of the garden, and perhaps the occasional artistic pruning to shape a rhododendron or sapling tree. But I’m not so wild about back-breaking rock picking and digging; I moved from incredibly rich but equally rocky volcanic glacial till of western Washington to the cement-like red clay of Texas, both places where putting a one-gallon root ball into the ground requires a pickaxe.

My first garden was an exploration of the beauties of cottage style gardening. Washington, temperate and moist, was ideal for a grand assortment of bulbs, flowering shrubs and cutting flowers, so I had profuse blooms and constant green with little effort. The traditional cottage style allowed me to squeeze a massive amount of lively growth into a normal city house lot, and the more I wedged into the ground, the less room there was for volunteer and invasive plants. Weeds had a tough go of it there, so it wasn’t especially hard to keep ahead of them.

There are plants I don’t invite to my parties. Much as I enjoy and admire most, I’m no friend of those pest plants that choke out others, cause massive allergies, or stab at me with cruel thorns, or those that threaten entire ecosystems, mine or others’. Good riddance to misplaced English Ivy, kudzu, poison oak and wild blackberry canes. Conversely, one of my particular favorite garden options is to find ways to encourage native plants to thrive. The more a plant is suited and accustomed to its environs, the more it will grow and be healthy and attractive and weed-proof.

Texas has reinforced that love in my aggressively. It’s a harsher climate than the Pacific Northwest’s in which I now garden, so what I plant and tend must needs be up to surviving and flourishing in those more demanding circumstances—or die. Even desert plants don’t necessarily have what it takes, since north Texas can still get true freezes in winter, and occasional snow, hail and ice. This last winter, a relatively mild one, still killed off a lot of specimen agaves and prickly pears and even cut some mighty oaks down to size.

I’m finding that the area’s status as an extension of the country’s central prairies may be the key to what will survive and grow here long term. When anything will grow, that is. I’m tending to my little wildflower meadow out back, to see if I can’t reintroduce something a little more self-sustaining than those long cultivated but seldom successful hard turf lawns that were popular in our area and surrounded our house when we bought it. Even better than the wildflowers, I’m finding, will be the ‘amber waves of grain’ I seeded in  among the wildflowers, the native prairie grasses.

Prairie grasses have some of the deepest, toughest and most tenacious root systems of any type of plants, and along with the leaves that sway in every breeze, often creating symphonies of susurration, they go to seed in many attractive ways. So I really am enjoying ‘sowing my wild oats.’ And Little Bluestem, Fountain Grass, Weeping Lovegrass, and many more. My backyard creatures will enjoy them, and their varicolored, many-textured attractions will beat any struggling, forced lawn that ever tried to eke out a living where its native cousins once roamed free.

The Wearin’ o’ the Green

There is, of course, one overriding, excellent reason that Ireland should celebrate the remembrance of her patron saint with a vivid display of everything-green. Ireland is the Emerald Isle. I’m not Irish, but I suppose I can pretend to a certain level of affinity on the strength of two excellent reasons of my own, the first being that my Viking ancestors (if any of my Norse forebears were actually so intrepid and aggressive) had a pretty good chance of crossing paths somewhere along the line with their counterparts in the British Isles, Norwegians having gone on various exploratory and marauding forays in that direction. My patronymic (Wold), after all, sounds suspiciously more Anglo than Nordic to me, no matter how many in Norway do share the name.

The second and far kindlier tie I feel to Ireland is because I was born in the Emerald City (Seattle’s nickname) in the Evergreen State (Washington’s), surrounded by every known flavor of green and a few yet undiscovered, and I think it was anything but coincidental that on my one visit to Ireland thus far I felt remarkably at home even in the middle of the winter, when the chill and snow still couldn’t entirely subdue the exquisite greenness of the land. It may not have hurt this sense of connection that some of the locals on that trip asked me what part of Ireland I came from, given that my accent apparently wasn’t heard by them as being wildly different from some in the UK. In any event, as green and growing things resonate so deeply in my heart and soul, I can’t help but celebrate the beauty of Green while millions are wearing, spending, planting and drinking it, and otherwise rejoicing in the character seen as protector of the great green land of Eire on this most Irish of days.photoHere in this Emerald Land

Because there is no sapling in the earth

But that springs out when water wakes its seed

And sunlight calls it up in urgent need,

I think the rain and sun of equal worth–

Yet all the riches of a blooming world

No greater shine than that most humble weed

Whose leaf invites the passing deer to feed

Because its banners, sweetly green, unfurled–

No flower can surpass, exotic bloom

Outdo green’s living beauty or exceed

Its life-affirming sweetness when we heed

The subtler potency of its perfume–

And so I bow my head, ecstatic–sing

The joys of every green and living thing.photoMuch as I adore sunshine, I am willing, too, to be showered with the rain, for it slakes the thirsty earth and brings forth all of its green glories.

Foodie Tuesday: *Arroz* by Any Other Name

It is conceivable that by now you have figured out that I am mightily fond of Mexican, Tex-Mex, Mexican American and Mexican influenced foods and flavors. Having grown up in rich farm country where the migrant workers not only settled eventually but brought a veritable second-town of family and friends to join them over time, I was blessed to be fed by a number of eateries in our area run by the fantastic chefs all trained by one little lady in their hometown. By rights, she should have a whole county in Western Washington named after her at the very least, though I might suggest a shrine as more appropriate, because thanks to her a whole lot of us have faithfully eaten exceedingly well on both roots food from her teachings and wonderful inventions and innovations based on them.

Having moved to Texas might even be considered a logical next culinary or at least dietary step in my lifelong love of La Cocina Mexicana.

In any event, I will keep today’s post simple but say that once again I was influenced by that saintly lady’s culinary offspring when I entered the kitchen to begin dinner prep. I had intended to make something with the big gulf shrimp I had tucked into the freezer, but until it was really dinnertime I wasn’t sure but that I’d repeat the recent quick, hot-weather meal of the previous week, where I simply poached the cleaned shrimp and served them as part of a sort of deconstructed Louis or Cobb salad cousin.photo

Which would’ve been fine.

But, you know, I opened the refrigerator and saw a carton of leftover broth-cooked rice and suddenly I got all faint and dreamy-eyed and (cue theremin music and wavy-screen fantasizing-fade here) thought with longing of one of Our Lady of Mexico‘s disciples’ lovely Arroz con Camarones–that beloved combination of rice and shrimp favored by all of the Latin coastal cultures–this one a favorite version I miss from back in Tacoma.

So this day’s shrimp were coarsely chopped and kept on hand with a finely-slivered slice of leftover ham (to add some bacon-y goodness, and to help clear out the fridge) while I sautéed about a scant cup each of julienned carrots, sliced celery and chunky-cut mushrooms in some flavorful bacon fat just until crisp-tender with a little black pepper and some cumin, added the freshly squeezed juice of one big orange and about a cup of slightly drained crushed tomatoes (I used Muir Glen‘s fire-roasted tomatoes, since I like the flavor spike they add) and cooked the vegetables and sauce until slightly thickened, adding the prepared shrimp and ham just long enough to lightly cook the shrimp through. Served over the warmed rice, and with a dollop of whole yogurt to stand in for the absent crema, it was almost as good as I remembered.photo

I did have to add the hovering Abuelita in imagination to complete the effect.