Category: Gardening

Posts about the garden

Flowers in the garden

Indian Summer has just about made it here and while the rest of the country is preparing for fall, San Francisco is gathering her shorts and tanktops and hoping she won’t see Karl The Fog for longer bouts. The skies are azure and the ocean is a shimmering turquoise with enough golden sunshine pouring over the hills in a manner so abundant, the Mediterranean would be envious.

Our garden flourished through summer and is continuing to thrive. What with all this new-found sunshine, we’ll have basil well into October. There has been heaps of wonderful things coming out of the garden. How much we manage to grow out of just some pots is still cause for general amazement.

This year is one I’m unofficially going to call the year of flowers. The garden has been covered in them; vines and shrubs heaped with beautiful blooms. From early spring and continuing through now, the riot of colour has been phenomenal.

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So you think you can’t plant

(Note: If you’d like to know what plants are included in each photo, please hover your cursor over them.)

Our gardening endeavors started with 6″ high pots on a 5″ window ledge, in a 6′-0″ X 5′-0″ kitchen. That kitchen was also where this blog was born. Friends wondered loud and long how we cooked in that little space, let alone blogged about the food. It was our very first kitchen together; cramped and quirky though it was, we loved it. Any cooking and blogging in there came with the prerequisite of some planning and involved some bickering. Okay, a lot of bickering, and also very many ‘I’m sorry I was mean’ brownies. All in all, nightly dinner took more work than the plants did in a month. They were content in their little heaps of soil with just a little sun and water. We looked at that ledge over the sink and marveled at how the herbs grew, seemingly with little help from us. Sometimes, if we were feeling apocalyptic, we considered the mess they would make if the earth decided to shake things up as it so often does in these parts. That thought did give us pause, but we got past that. What is the nebulous possibility of pottery and soil in your garbage disposal compared to the promise of chillies on your window-sill right now? Plus in the event of the apocalypse, the mess of a potted plant would not qualify as a mess at all.
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Our garden & chilli vinegar

I can remember the first thing I ever planted. I must have been nine. I planted a few mustard seeds in a handful of soil in a small used amrakhand carton. The seeds were from my mum’s spice box and the minimal labour involved was a school project. There are vague memories about it involving monocotyledons and dicotyledons. Much clearer is the remembrance of my being dubious of my mother’s and the science text book’s strong assertion that those tiny black spheres would amount to anything, let alone new plants; but I put the seeds in and smoothed the soil over, just as the textbook said I should. I poked at the mud with a toothpick for the first two days for signs of life. It was impossible to tell; the mustard blended in just perfectly with the soil. It may have been the first time any lesson in patience and faith was brought home to me with any sort of permanence or gravity.

Sure enough, just as they said, little mustard plants grew out of their containers, mud clinging to the dual leaf structure I was supposed to be observing. I was enthralled. There they were, tiny comma shaped flecks of green all woven through the brown soil, little bits of earth clinging to the frail green leaves as they pulled themselves up to face the sun. First there were two leaves, soon there were many more. I scribbled notes and drew hasty diagrams. I remember taking that little pot to school, the little seedlings standing up like so many valiant soldiers in a row. After that, I moved the seedlings to a bigger pot with my mom’s help. Unfortunately they didn’t survive the harsh May sun that year, but the fascination stuck. We hadn’t much room to grow things where I was growing up but my mom did her best with what room she had. I vowed to do the same one day.

Our first grown up apartment was a lunch box, but we still had a few tiny pots on a sliver of window sill. Amey shares my enthusiasm for growing things and has a true green thumb. We grew a few herbs and the chilli namesake of the blog. Our enthusiasm got the better of us with that chilli plant. We found peppers can’t be grown indoors in chilly San Francisco, but how we loved watching that plant grow from seeds and bear many flowers and some hot, meagre fruit. If you like to cook, there is no greater pleasure than snipping a few leaves of fresh rosemary or thyme from your own pot. All one needs to grow something is the desire to do so and the willingness to get their hands dirty from time to time. Or wear gloves if you don’t. I did. Plants require very little from us by way of help. Sunshine, a little water, an occasional smattering of fertilizer and they go out of their way to reward you with cheerful green. Herbs especially are so gosh darn easy to grow. Absolutely anyone with a tiny pot and a sunny ledge can do so.

  The green car at Flora Grubb

One of the features that sold us on our current apartment was ample back yardage. That first year, we started small, a few herbs, more chillies. As those plants thrived, we got bolder, planting flowers and vegetables. At this time, after having harvested onions, kale and peppers, I think we can safely call ourselves successful urban gardeners. It is no unattainable title given how easy it is to be one.

It is spring and the garden is all flowers and leaves. I am truly stoked about our motley pot collective this year. We have a grand fifty or so of them, with a variety of plants. Some, like the rosemary and thyme, have been with us since our old tiny North beach apartment but most others are new. We are growing at this point, what seems like every conceivable kind of herb. There are a few vegetables and some gorgeous flowers. I’m thrilled to share our growing garden with you.

The English pea plant. Its snaking tendrils, variegated leaves and bilaterally symmetrical white blooms remind me of the Alien movies for some odd reason. The plant is bursting with flowers right now and visions of pea pulao and pesto are already dancing in my head.
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How does your garden grow? |The Urban Garden Journal

It all began with a few hot little chilli seeds gone to pot two years ago. In that cute green glazed terracotta pot on the shallow ledge of a window sill.

We fell so in love with that pot that we invited two more over so it wouldn’t be lonely.  We planted a little rosemary plant in one and sage in another so that, you know,  they’d feel like they were there for more important reasons. All three of them perched precariously on the window sill of our struggling-to-be-30 sq.ft  kitchen. An earthquake of three-point-niner along the right fault might have sent them tumbling into the sink but fortunately that didn’t come. We loved to watch the shy little chilli raise its leaves to the sun or the rosemary swish in an errant breeze through an open window. its scent pervading through the dish-rack. Amey surreptitiously poured tea water into the plants while I wasn’t looking. (I hate the idea of tea staining my lovely cream-coloured window ledge. Little did I know that stains of all sorts are part of plants-perched-on-your-sill territory.) The plants thrived modestly in the greenhouse type situation that the glass window and sink helped create.

Then a year ago, we moved. We were presented with an unkempt backyard, overgrown with a rambling border of brambles. Awful for plant beds, but just begging for container gardening. Striving for self-control we both lacked, we told ourselves we wouldn’t try anything too ambitious. Just some basil and oregano to go along with the sage, chilli and thyme and a couple of flowering perennials for colour along with a gorgeous fuchsia. Tough, hardy plants that I figured would survive my clumsy attempts at killing them. True enough, all we had to give them was some well-drained soil and water and they were quite happy.

Until the first winter arrived. Based on some loose internet research, we figured all the plants would survive our relatively mild – no frost or snow – NorCal winter. The rain, we assured ourselves, would be a good thing. Turns out there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

The rosemary soldiered on and the sage acknowledged the winter by shedding a few leaves. The fuchsia shed all flowers and became a shade of its former self. The chilli plant with which it all began, however, withered away to a dull, green stem. We fervently hoped it would revive in spring but turns out that it didn’t. By early May this year, we had to agree that it was now just a stick in a pot. By all rights, it had determinedly struggled to have a life in some remarkably adverse conditions. (On an unrelated note, so has this blog, but fortunately its survival is more in my control. I’m doubly determined to hang on to it.)

Fortunately, we’d saved some seeds off its last harvest so we planted those. Come spring, the modest rosemary and sage took off like rockets. Our inner ambitious gardeners had completely taken over by now and manifested in a wondering of what else we could plant. Fortunately, the friendly and knowledgeable plant selling folk at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market had plenty of helpful ideas for novice gardeners. I’m now the proud keeper of a burgeoning garden, which I’m dying to talk about; which is why this is the start of a small series of posts devoted to my garden.

As of early April this year, here’s what was happening in the urban garden
(hover over any of the images below to learn know about the subject)

Rest in peace
Indian Chilli (aka The Cheeky Chilli plant) *sob*

Thriving original residents:
Lemon Thyme

Happy new residents:
St. Pierre tomato
Sweet 100 Cherry Tomato
Cayenne Pepper
Red Bell Pepper (Capsicum)
Habenero pepper
English Thyme
Lemon Verbena
Dill Mint
Tea roses


In the garden but still to join the party:


Stay tuned for further updates from the Urban Garden!



Twice-cooked Potato Bhajji with chillies and tomato

When I started this blog earlier this year, Amey took up a hobby he’s always had a latent interest in.

We’re short on the square footage so all he could have for his first foray into gardening was the little window ledge above our kitchen sink. I like to think my blog naming choice factored into what his first project was. But truth be told, that was decided by some really hot (we’re talking bright lights flashing all over the Scoville scale) chillies we happened to find at the Indian store one day. He carefully saved the seeds from capsaicin riddled beauties and tossed them into a seedling pot with a fervent prayer.

A slow two weeks went by with no results…

After a frantic consultation with the omnipresent gods of instruction on the WWW, we came to the conclusion that (thanks to some quite flawed direction from yours truly) he had put the seeds too deep into the soil. Careful digging unearthed a couple of sprouted seedlings struggling to find daylight. Words of reproach and apology were bandied at large and the seedlings were replanted just barely beneath the surface of the soil.

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