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.