San Diego is blessed with a Mediterranean climate which it shares with four other parts of the world--the Mediterranean basin itself, coastal Chile, the tip of South Africa and southwest Australia. This special climate is characterized by 4-5 months of mild, wet weather followed by 7-8 months of warm, dry weather. Frosts are infrequent. By gardening year round, one can 'visit' a different country every night, no passport or traveler's checks required! Travel with me through a year in my garden.
February : Company is, unexpectedly, coming for dinner. I pick French sorrel, arugula, radicchio, mache, oak leaf lettuce and a few sprigs of parsley and chervil. In another of my garden boxes I pick a colander full of sugar snap peas and broccoli florets. Dinner will be an early Spring combination of cream of sorrel soup followed by stir-fried chicken, snow peas and broccoli. A handful of the first Sequoia strawberries to serve over vanilla ice-cream for dessert makes dinner complete.
May: I am late following a meeting with a client but it's mid-May so it's still light at 7:30pm as I open the garden gate. On my way to the back door I collect the last of the peas and broccoli and the first baby garden beans, carrots, and zucchini. A few pinches of basil and parsley and a nutritionally-balanced Pasta Primavera is only a boiling pot of linguini away. I pick a lemon and a few sprigs of lemon thyme to complement two dorado filets, flash frozen after a fishing trip to the Sea of Cortez in April. Dinner should be ready by 8:15.
August 18: Friends invite us to a twilight concert in Seagrove Park and we agree to prepare and bring part of the supper. I picked 20 tomatoes, 5 cucumbers and 2 bright orange 'Arian'Dutch peppers this morning. I make a quick trip to the garden to glean some basil and chives. I dice all of the vegetables and mix with some rosemary-infused balsamic vinegar made by a friend and some good olive oil. Half of this mixture goes into the blender with a cup of tomato juice and is pureed to a smooth first-course gazpacho. The other half is mixed with cubes of yesterday's Ciabatta (a delicious Italian bread) and a cup of basil leaves to make Panzanella. Two Galia melons( a wonderful Israeli variety that manages to ripen even in our cool coastal location),still warm from the sun and deeply perfumed, will complete our share of the picnic.
to top of second column
November 26, Thanksgiving morning: In the garden, a Santa Ana sun has warmed the herbs and their resinous aromas float in a cloud above my perennial bed, hinting at the scents which will emanate from the patio later in the day as the turkey roasts on the barbecue. I snip lavender, sage and oregano from the flower border. I clip a young branch of rosemary spilling over the brick patio wall and stop at the kitchen door to pick Italian parsley from a pot where it grows with Calendulas. I hope dinner is as good as my hands smell after patting a finely-chopped herbal jacket onto the turkey and placing it in the oven. Out in the garden again, I pull a few carrots and snip some dill for one vegetable side dish; the last four acorn squash and a piece of ginger root will make a second. Bell peppers, hanging ripely-red and yellow promise late-fall sweetness when they are roasted. Finally, a large 'Lumina' pumpkin, having waited nearly a month on its withered vine, will make a tasty filling for our pumpkin pie.
How lucky I feel to have lived and worked in the San Diego area for the last twenty years! I have been able to have a garden that feeds all of our senses. The finely-textured leaves of thyme and rosemary tumble together with the somewhat-larger leaves of oregano , sage and lavender in my perennial bed. I can combine their lovely flowers for a casual bouquet or sprinkle them on our dinner. Creeping thyme, chamomile and mints weave soft carpets between the flagstones of our garden path, releasing heady aromas underfoot as they are crushed. A bay laurel tree, kept small by little watering, shades the rabbit's house and gives seasoning to winter stews as well as highly-polished deep green foliage for holiday decorating. Dwarf fruit trees in large containers are ornamental additions to our patios while providing us with their seasonal small crops of fruit. Twenty-year-old 4'x8' redwood boxes in our sunny back yard allow us to follow the seasons and dine deliciously year round.
All of the above-mentioned edible plants, thrive in our warm, summer-dry, winter-wet Mediterranean climate. Many, such as sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, grapes, and figs, are native to other Mediterranean climates and actually prefer our dry weather. Others take more water and must be irrigated--but they take no more water than the non-edible varieties with which we usually fill our gardens.
Happily, we can enjoy this bounty every month of the year as we follow the seasons from our gardens to our kitchens and then onto the table we share with family and friends.