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.