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Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Herbs

A Chef's Garden (page 3 of 4)

by Scott Millard

Beating the Heat

Conventional wisdom has it that it's difficult to grow a wide range of vegetables, berries and herbs in a harsh desert climate. With long, hot summers and daytime temperatures over 100oF for months at a time, heat becomes the enemy. But the garden's unique location and microclimate change the rules. Steep ridges on the east and west sides of the narrow garden provide blessed shade, as do the wide-spreading canopies of native trees. Razz also spaces plants closer together than what is usually recommended. The plants shade one another, reducing heat stress and water needs. Tomatoes and peppers in particular respond to this practice, preventing the fruits from becoming sunburned. An irrigation system waters the garden twice a day during summer and once a day in the cooler spring and fall months.

Most people thought the garden would fail, thinking the desert conditions too tough to raise the crops that Razz envisioned. But Razz's philosophy toward gardening (and life) is steadfast; "You have to give it a try. Don't begin anything with limitations."

Reaping the Harvest

Throw out your preconceived notions about what you can (or can't) grow or cook successfully--Razz will open your eyes to the opportunities. He wants people to notice the beauty of their everyday surroundings. "It's all about how you use the things around you," says Razz. "When fall comes, people leave the desert to go to the nearby mountains to enjoy the change of seasons. You have that happening in your garden on a regular basis," he observes. To illustrate his point, he plucks some faded parsley from a nearby planting. The golden yellow sprigs would likely be discarded by most gardeners, but when combined with fresh green sprigs, they make an unusual, striking garnish. Hedoes the same with arugula that is past prime, pausing to admire leaves that have taken on the bronze and gold hues of autumn.

Many times the garden bounty writes the evening menu, so to speak, with Razz deciding on the evening specials during his morning tour. When I visited in late spring, the 'Tricolor Pink' hollyhocks were blooming particularly well, so hollyhock blossoms--stuffed with an herbed cheese mixture, breaded and deep-fried in olive oil--appeared on the evening menu. (I tried them, and they were delicious.) His creations are often hot topics of conversation at dinner. "When the the head waiter comes and tells the customers we've got stuffed hollyhocks with jalapeno pepper sauce, they are excited to try it. And it gives them something to talk about when they go home," Razz notes. It's a point of view on eating and gardening that's worth a second look (and helping).

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