Lemon Mint Marigold (Tagetes lemmonii) growing at the Ranch. It is native to Mexico and flowers prolifically for much of the year here in LA. It also smells incredible - it's one of my favourite herbs that we grow and the bees love it! I took this picture in late afternoon when a beautiful golden light comes over the Ranch.
Garfield Park in the aftermath of the Santa Ana winds.

A very sad sight indeed. The Chinese Elm in the middle of our apartment complex came down in the Santa Ana winds last night. This beautiful tree must have been at least 50ft tall. Gusts up to 97 mph, hit the city causing widespread devastation. A Jacaranda fell onto our roof and the Elm toppled, but luckily I don't think anyone was hurt. All around Pasadena, South Pas and San Marino trees were down and roads were blocked. People I spoke to who have lived here all their lives, said they have never seen anything like it. A reminder of the mighty power of mother nature. The Huntington was closed today...thus all the blog posts!

Seeing Orange...Above Top: Persimmons with Helichrysums. Bottom: African Horned Cucumber or Jelly Melon.

Persimmons are another new discovery for me. They just weren't on my radar back in England. I know Mark from Otter Farm (check out his blog by the way...think he just won best horticulture blog of the year 2011) is growing them, and I think Martin Crawford is too in his forest garden on the Dartington estate. I'd be really interested to hear from anyone in the UK who has them. There are two kinds Fuyu and Hachiya. The former you can eat like apples, skin and all. They are crunchy, subtly sweet and delicious. Sorry if I am preaching to the converted, but they are new to me and I can't get enough of them. The Hachiya are bigger, more oval shaped and should be left to ripen until soft and mushy. The pulp can be used for baking with - tarts, cakes, cookies - you name it. I made the mistake of biting into a Hachiya thinking it was a Fuyu and won't make the same mistake twice! Unless they are fully ripe they are horribly astringent and drain your mouth of all moisture. We have a bunch of both kinds growing at the Huntington and they look magical suspended on the branches - like little orange lanterns. They blend beautifully with the turning colours of the trees this time of year, and feel like the embodiment of fall to me.
I grew Helichrysums (common name Straw Flowers) at the Ranch this summer. They performed well in the scorching temperatures. I first learned about them at the Lost Gardens of Heligan where they were harvested (without stems), dried and then strung into garlands to adorn the Christmas tree. I have done the same this season and have them in a little wooden bowl in my living room.
The weird looking orange thing is an African Horned Cucumber or Jelly Melon! We grew it on a trellis at the Ranch, more for novelty than anything else. It took a lot longer to ripen than all our other melons and cucumbers and gradually turns from green to deep orange on the plant. The flesh is green, full of seeds and very gelatinous! It tasted like unripe bananas to me, but I guess it was kind of refreshing in its own way! My boyfriend wasn't a fan of the texture at all. Too slimy. I don't know that we'll be growing it again, but it was fun to try. Also known as Kiwano, it is native to the Kalahari desert. Apparently it is considered to be the ancestor of other cultivated melons so I suppose we have a lot to thank this rather funny looking plant for!

Above top: Roselle, Bottom: Burgundy Okra.

I want to share with you a couple of plants that were new discoveries for me this season. They were also the most talked about things on the Ranch at our open house events this summer! Both in the hibiscus family, they display beautiful foliage and mallow-like flowers. Roselle has various uses - fiber can be extracted from the stem as a substitute for jute, in some cultures the spinach-like leaves are eaten (although I haven't tried this!), it has a list of medicinal properties as long as your arm and the calyces are used as food colouring. It also makes a delicious, brilliant red tea popular in the tropics. This was so easy to make - I harvested about 20 calyces - they should be easy to snap off the plant, otherwise they are not ready. Remove the stem and then peel the outer skin away from the seed inside discarding the seed, boil the skins in a pint of water for about 3 minutes, allow them to steep for a few minutes, strain out the calyces, and you're left with the most vibrant red coloured liquid I have ever seen! I've never come across a natural colour so bright! I then added sugar to taste (I needed a fair bit to sweeten and bring out the flavour), and poured over ice filled glasses. It made a wonderfully refreshing and fragrant summer drink (about 2 full glasses). This plant is native to the old world tropics so I'm not sure how it would fare in the UK, but I am keen to try it in a greenhouse or polytunnel.
Burgundy Okra is equally attractive, producing prolific slender pods with great flavour. It was hard to keep on top of the harvesting as they were coming thick and fast. You don't want to let the pods get too big or they are tough and stringy. I hadn't come across okra until I came to California, and some folk I've talked to aren't too keen as it can be rather gelatinous! I like to cut the pods in half length ways and fry them in breadcrumbs, herbs and spices (dipped in egg first) and lets face it, everything tastes good fried like this!
Both plants are easy to propagate from seed, and seed is easy to save for the following in season.

Huntington creepy crawlies...
Bringing in the harvest.

The Huntington Ranch where I spend most of my days.

Plants in flower at the Huntington Ranch this month. From top to bottom: Bergamot, California native fushia Epilobium sp. with Lavender, Oregano, Chicory and Yarrow.
A native bouquet made by my boyfriend who works at the Theodore Payne Foundation, here in L.A. "Founded in 1960, Theodore Payne Foundation promotes the understanding and preservation of California native flora". Check out their nursery or go to the website: www.theodorepayne.org. This bouquet includes Coral Bells, Sunflowers, Penstemon and Salvia.

I am truly working in a Southern California garden. The California poppy Eschscholzia californica grows alongside Opuntia - the edible nopales cactus - at the Huntington Ranch.
The chalet in the Alan Chadwick Garden at UCSC. We would prepare lunches here with produce straight from the earth. Hansel and Gretel Eggplant (aubergine to us Brits!) went down a treat.

I'm back to blogging after a long spell away from my computer. I spent most of last year in California studying Ecological Horticulture at the University of Santa Cruz. For any aspiring farmers or gardeners I would highly recommend this 6 month programme. Check out some of the photos below...plus more to come. Students live in tent cabins on a picturesque farm at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. It's a pretty communal experience - living, working, eating alongside 40 other people may be a bit too much for more reclusive types, but it is possible to find quiet time away from the throng of the farm centre (a timber framed building which is the hub of the farm where meals are eaten on a terrace overlooking the ocean..not a bad life!) There are 3 sites in which all apprentices spend a number of weeks to gain different farming experiences. A 6 acre farm growing produce for a CSA, a urban style garden and the Alan Chadwick Garden with more apple trees than you can shake a stick at! This site is run by a wonderful, inspiring teacher and man - Orin Martin. He was one of Chadwick's apprentices back in the early 1970s when the idea for a garden was first born. Chadwick was a totally eccentric Englishman with a background in theatre and an innate understanding of the patterns and ways of organic gardening. He wound up in California and created a place of great beauty on a steep and barren hillside at the UCSC campus. It is strange to me that he is not a more celebrated gardener in the UK. His creation of the UCSC garden, and subsequent development of the apprenticeship programme really paved the way for the beginning of the organic farming movement in California. Perhaps it was because he made his life in America and was a proponent of biodynamic growing, which at the time in England would have perhaps been considered too whacky for people to take him seriously. How times change! But there will be more on Chadwick in the months to come. Orin Martin took up the reins when Chadwick left UCSC, and shaped the garden into a magical mix of hundreds of varieties of apples, and vegetables a plenty. Anyone with an interest in fruit trees should listen to Orin speak on the subject. His passion knows no bounds and he is a fantastic speaker sharing his knowledge of just about anything and everything, so that sometimes you forget that you were talking about apples altogether and are transfixed as he digresses to chatting about the Jazz greats! Check out the CASFS website for any work shops or talks he has coming up.
So, after a brief spell in England over the winter, I am back in California doing an internship at the Huntington Ranch near L.A. Check out their website and blog. I will be posting more about my farming and growing experiences in California in the months to come. I was keen to return here due to the diversity of plants that this climate has to offer. As well as the variety of fruit and produce that California boasts, there is also a plethora of native species that make this region of the world hugely important horticulturally. Over and out for now and thanks for bearing with me while I disappeared to farm in Santa Cruz!