Saturday, 23 November 2013

Balboa Park, Broadening the Mind and Bletting

I am languishing in that gloriously indulgent state of post-holiday torpor where everything needs doing and nothing gets done. This predicament is not helped by our medlar crop (all one of it) which catches the sunlight far more impressively than a stack of unopened post and entices me outside for a spot of medlar-gazing every time I am in danger of doing something useful.


Travel broadens the mind; or in my case, the mind and the waistline. Having eaten my way around sunny San Diego (with a few L.A. days thrown in for good measure), I have returned to icy Norfolk besotted with a vegetable I grow only because it is sown when I am raring to get outside and prod some seeds into the soil and it crops so quickly that I feel clever in the catch crop department. There has never been any great desire to actually eat it; until now. I refer, of course, to the potentially fiery and rather beautiful radish. Who could have imagined the transformation from compulsory (because we grew it... again) to desirable (we want to grow it again and again) achieved by showing these little beauties a pan? Next year I shall embrace the humble radish, elevate it out of the compost bin and place it proudly atop the pedestal of great veg (I only hope that my culinary skills are sufficient to fulfil this pledge). 


Calotropis gigantea - Balboa Park Botanical House
It would be a long way to travel solely to expand our experience of salad veg, but thankfully California has much more to offer than revelatory radish dishes. Seeing a creature for the first time is a significant event and despite the fact that the internet is brimming with pictures to download, I like to record these moments with my own camera. I would love to share one of my hummingbird photographs with you, but while I was adept at capturing the flower a hummingbird had just left, the hummingbird itself resembled a clod of clay with blurred fins attached. I now have profound respect for anyone who succeeds in photographing hummingbirds; give me a bumble bee any day of the week.


It was while on a visit to Balboa Park in San Diego that the unthinkable happened: I actually heard myself declaring that the botanical house was so beautiful that I wouldn’t mind if it contained no plants (I was clearly driven to distraction by my failure on the photography front). Happily, this building, which is one of the largest lath structures in the world, is home to a couple of thousand plants, so there was no risk of having to eat my words along with a side order of fries and a slab of Monterey Jack cheese. Away from the botanical house, the rose garden was a mass of colour. Roses bloom here from March to December and with 2,500 plants and almost 200 varieties which are clearly labelled, this is more than a great backdrop to wedding photos; it is also a fabulous resource when selecting roses to grow. The adjacent desert garden is impressive; but the extraordinary juxtaposition of the winter-flowering rose garden and the desert garden will live with me long after the holiday weight gain has been worked off (if indeed I ever get round to enough exercise to burn a single calorie). 

Cacti and succulents against a backdrop of roses
One of the joys of blogging is that, like travel, it can broaden the mind. I particularly enjoy reading about gardeners’ experiences of growing plants in different parts of the world and it is always fascinating to discover that a benign plant in my corner of England is a rampaging bully elsewhere on the planet. I was serenading a plant with superlatives in California when I was stopped mid-flow by a local, who explained that the object of my passion was the bane of his borders. A weed? How can anything as attractive as Asparagus densiflorus be dismissed as a weed? 
Asparagus densiflorus
Perhaps I should look more appreciatively at my own weeds as someone, somewhere might be envying those frothy clouds of ground elder flowers or the beautiful twining stems of bindweed. On the other hand, perhaps I should stop dreaming and start weeding. First though, I will pour myself another coffee and spend a few moments pondering bletting my solitary medlar.

53 comments:

  1. It's so nice you enjoyed your visit. Balboa Park is a beautiful place. I hope the hummingbirds got close enough for you to sense them going by.

    A few of our excellent native plants in Texas turn out to behave so badly in Austrailia that they have been banned. We do love to mix our cactus and roses.


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    1. Oh no! I was so busy trying to photograph the hummingbirds that I didn't get to sense them flying. Now I have an excuse to return to beautiful San Diego... as if I need an excuse!

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  2. We have a medlar with quite a few fruits - in fact it will be my subject for Wordless Wednesday next week. We only ever used the fruits once to make medlar jelly - the bletting process is too confusing. We took one in to our greengrocer he other week as he had never seen one before.

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    1. Was the jelly good? I plan to watch my solitary medlar bletting so that I have more of a clue when (or if) a heavier crop arrives. I suppose the bletting process is the reason we rarely, if ever, see medlars for sale. It does seem a little ironic that I have a bowl of rambutan on the kitchen side, but I can't buy medlars!

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    2. The jelly was OK nothing special really. By the way we don't blet our quince and they are delicious - we have Meeches Prolific a pear shaped quince.

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    3. david lebovitz has a great writeup on his dot com address about bletting medlars. Learned so much! Try googling that...under Medlar Jelly. Have never tried it, but quince jelly is lovely.

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    4. Thank you. David Lebovitz's medlar jelly looks great. I was mildly concerned when I saw the photo of his bletting drawer and hugely relieved when the windowsill worked as a bletting location. it took a lot of medlars to make two and a half jars. Here's hoping our tree starts cropping prolifically soon.

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    5. Sue - good news that quince don't need bletting! I have a memory of a bowl of Chaenomeles in the house - it sat on a table for ages and I loved it because the fruit were so fragrant. Are quince fragrant when ripened indoors too?

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    6. Chaenomeles (an ornamental variety that is edible) is different - our quince is a Cydonia and produced pear sized fruits and it is fragrant. We leave it on the tree for as long as we can and then we cook it as soon afterwards and if we have lots we freeze the stewed fruit for use later. My October post - Final fruits of the season has a photo of ours.

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    7. Beautiful autumnal colour on your medlar tree! I can't wait for ours to colour up. It is reassuring to know that quince has a lovely fragrance too. We grow Chaenomeles and Cydonia here and value them both in very different ways (although we will value the beautiful Cydonia even more highly once they start cropping!) Great to know the fruit freezes well.

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    8. You do need to cook the quinces first though.

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  3. I'm fascinated by this bletting business. Do you blet anything else or is it just medlars? And is it a polite way of saying rot?
    And what do they actually taste like when they are bletted?
    Chloris

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    1. I haven't a clue what a bletted medlar tastes like! I am girding my loins to try one. Bletting involves allowing the fruit to over-ripen to the point of decay and I am trying to convince myself that this isn't quite rotting. The idea is that the fruit should be sweeter because of the bletting process. It is supposed to work for quince too, although our quince trees haven't fruited yet so we will have to wait to try bletting quince.

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  4. Damn I wanted to see those hummingbirds !! We don't get many in Lincolnshire ... or indeed in Norfolk.

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  5. An entertaining post! Far more important to gaze longingly at your medlar than get cracking with the daily grind!

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    1. Thank you! I am delighted that you recognise the value of medlar-gazing!

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  6. Such a beautiful interesting building that botanical house in Balboa Park and Calotropus gigantea, a wonderful plant I have never seen or heard of before.

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    1. I hadn't met Calotropis gigantea before either. It is lovely - even better, it is pollinated by bees!

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  7. This is a lovely time of year for thinking and not doing! Great to hear about Balboa Park.

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    1. It is perfect weather to snooze by the fire... Thinking might involve too much effort.

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  8. That building is spectacularly beautiful, though I am glad for your sake that it was also full of wonderful plants! As for weeds, clearly other countries have better looking ones than we do. Though in fairness bindweed flowers are rather beautiful. Sounds like a rather good holiday.

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    1. It was an excellent holiday, thank you. I suspect that many of our weeds are very attractive, but we don't see their loveliness because we see them too often. Perhaps familiarity really does breed contempt when it comes to weeds.

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  9. Very, very nice place to go on a holiday! Nothing like travel to broaden ones mind and rest the spirit. Your adrenaline is nice and low now after a relaxing time away but you'll soon adjust back here again and find the energy to do some weeding. But for now enjoy the torpor!

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    1. I think I may have enjoyed the post-holiday torpor for far too long!

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  10. I see what you mean about the botanical house - it's quite a structure. Gardening in a climate suitable for hummingbirds and roses in winter sounds very attractive on a cold November day!

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  11. I too am often surprised when plants I struggle to grow here in Lazio are describbed as invasive and I'm made to feel bad about growing them. Actually I try very hard not to grow anything that would be invasive here, nature is a delicate balance and we should always think twice before introducing new plants to our gardens.

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    1. You are absolutely right. It is always worth spending a little time checking up on the behavioural habits of plants - not only because they might hate our conditions, but also because they might love them too much. Both of these extremes make for unhappy gardening and the latter can have massive implications for our neighbours' happiness and for our environment.

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  12. Those hummingbirds are definitely fast, they're really small too. I thought my first sighting of one was a large bee. I managed a photo but unfortunately it was with a little old point and shoot camera twenty five years ago and you can't spot the hummingbird sat in the tree, it was there though, honest.

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    1. They are impossible! I can't even blame my camera - it is far more sophisticated than me.

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  13. we should re-think weeds. Beautiful gardens, always wanted to go there.

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    1. They are well worth a visit. I am trying to convince myself that weeds are a state of mind. If we all managed this, no one would look over the garden fence and judge us (although we might eventually lose sight of our front doors).

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  14. Love the images. As it gets colder here, they are only a thing of the past. I cannot wait for summer again.

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    1. Look forward, not back, Lady Lilith BloodCrave! I am planning for summer, so it is summer in my head (pity my body is shrouded in thermals). This should help... http://thegardeningshoe.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/f-hybrid-gardening-contortionists.html

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  15. It sounds as though you had a lovely holiday in California. I loved watching the little hummingbirds abroad but I can imagine they wouldn't be easy to photograph at all (certainly not with my level of skill, anyway!)
    Our young medlar tree had its first real crop this year - so I made some jelly for the first time. Even though the fruit isn't the most attractive, I liked the jelly and will definitely make it again.

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    1. Congratulations on your first meaningful medlar crop! My solitary medlar mysteriously disappeared. I cannot imagine where to - I spent ages furtling around under the tree looking for it. Here's to next year - I am encouraged by your success.

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  16. I haven't eaten a radish in about 40 years! My mother always put them in salads, and I was never fond of them, though I didn't exactly dislike them, either. I have never seen a recipe for eating one any other way. Perhaps I need to broaden my culinary horizon!

    Also, thank you for your kind comment on my last post, and may you have a wonderful thanksgiving!

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    1. 40 years is a long time to avoid radish! I must confess that a few years ago, having avoided them for a while, they were served as nibbles with drinks at a fancy wine bar and I must confess, in the right bowl, with a glass of something lovely, they took on a whole new persona from the salad veg of childhood. Pretend they are olives - it might help... if not, show them a pan!

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  17. I love radish! I have bought them for years, but this year I actually grew them myself, so fun they actually are ready in about 30 days in the summer! I usually eat them raw in salads, but the small ones are great cooked too, taste a bit like cooked onions – and since I can’t eat onions I actually use them as a substitute for onions in most recipes.

    Your holiday seems like a perfect destination, thousands of plants to see and photograph! Thanks for the tour I enjoyed your post :-)

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    1. How interesting - I would never have thought of using them as onion replacements. What a great idea!

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  18. What a delightful visit I've enjoyed in your garden of words. Your radish tale recalls my pitiful efforts at growing food, most of which winds in the compost. Too, I'm with you in looking with camera for bumblebees (and butterflies) instead of the elusive hummingbirds.

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    1. Thank you, Lee. I'm sorry your crops sometimes end up as compost. It happens here at times - usually because I have great intentions when I sow the seeds, but then life takes over and we don't have time to eat everything (or even worse, preserve perfectly good food). We get a little bit better at harvesting/eating every year, but we are by no means perfect.

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  19. That is a great park. Thanks for sharing the photos with me. I have been there and it is a great place. Jack

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    1. It IS a great place, Jack. I only wish I was there now!

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  20. Have a Very Happy Holidays and if you celebrate Christmas, a Very Merry Christmas. Also, have a great New Year

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    1. Thank you KL. I have celebrated all of the above and have taken too long to respond to your good wishes - my apologies. I hope 2014 is a wonderful year for you.

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  21. Looks like you had an excellent holiday. first time seeing a hummingbird - what a treat! They are such amazing little birds, I remember when I first saw them, could not take my eyes away. I've never heard of cooking radishes? but maybe that would improve the taste. I only eat them because they're easy to grow and I'll eat anything that comes out of my garden. I've only ever had them raw though....

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    1. It was a treat! Try cooking radish - it tastes so good and it is nothing like cold radish so you'll be getting two very different meals from the same homegrown crop.

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  22. Glad to read (and see) you had a great holiday over here. San Diego is such a lovely place! Aren't hummingbirds fabulous? My first group is due to fly in approximately February 17th, so it won't be too much longer. They are the first sign of "spring" in my garden. Happy New Year! :-)

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    1. Hello Beth - I am sorry it has taken me an eternity to reply. I guess your hummingbirds are on their way as I type. What a wonderful announcement of spring!

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  23. You might not have been able to catch humming birds but you caught a beautiful place picture with the rose garden and desert garden in front. Use high shutter speed to take a picture of hummingbird picture. As usual, an interesting post.

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    1. Thank you, KL. If I ever see a hummingbird again, I will use a high shutter speed and hope that my own reactions are up to the job. I saw a deer in the field last week. It was staring at me for ages as I rooted around the car looking for my camera... it doesn't bode well for photographing hummingbirds, but then again, I would love to have the opportunity to try!

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