The Cranky Gardener

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The Theme's the Thing

Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a novice, the question that must be answered each season is, 'What shall I plant?' Gardeners collect plants in much the same way that others collect photographs, DVD's or Depression glass. But with plants, the possibilities are virtually endless. How on earth do you pick the perfect plants for your garden?

A visit to a botanical garden is a good way to get ideas. Among the things I especially enjoy about botanical gardens are the theme gardens. Even those theme gardens that have a large number of plants have a unity of design that simplifies selection. Theme gardens also are a showcase for special interests.

There are some themes that have been used often enough to become standard. Historical gardens are among these. One popular choice is a Biblical garden in which all of the plants are mentioned in the Bible. Medieval gardens are popular, as are Shakespearean gardens. Another common theme is the garden for the blind. Plants in these gardens are fragrant and have different textures for people with visual impairments to explore and enjoy.

Just about anything can become a garden theme. You can plant only flowers and shrubs that fit into a favorite colour scheme. I have an example of a colour theme garden around my screened-in porch. The only time I am able to sit there is in the evening, so I filled the beds around it with plants that have either white blooms or silver or variegated foliage. After dark the plants reflect light from a large sodium bulb at the rear of my vegetable plot. The plants, fairly drab during the day, come to life and are truly glorious after dark.

You can design a garden around a plant family. Hosta and dianthus are two popular choices for this type of garden. Rose gardens have always been popular. Butterfly and hummingbird gardens are growing in popularity. A garden featuring medicinal herbs is another common theme.

Vegetable gardens also lend themselves to themes. If you enjoy a certain type of food enough to serve it often, then it makes sense to grow your own ingredients. Italian gardens, for example, would include basil, artichokes, zucchini, plum tomatoes, and chickpeas. A Mexican garden might contain cilantro, jalapeno peppers, (or a similar variety of hot pepper), poblano peppers for stuffing, pinto beans and corn. And how about a snacking garden? You could grow your own popcorn, sunflower seeds and peanuts.

My husband is Portuguese. Over the years, as I learned to prepare the Portuguese dishes he craved, I began to plant more and more fruits and vegetables that are used in this cuisine. I now have, without actually intending it, a Portuguese garden.

Many ingredients in Portuguese dishes are used universally. Garlic, leeks, onions, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, carrots, beans of all kinds, parsley, thyme, spinach, green peas, and potatoes. I also grow pimentos, coriander, fennel, broccoli raab, mint, and kale. To make Portuguese desserts, I grow my own almonds, figs, (that's a challenge in my climate!), cherries, grapes, plums and peaches.

Sometimes you have to make accommodations for your climate and for the availability of seeds. I have learned to substitute spaghetti squash for 'chila' - a type of gourd with similar strands that are candied and used in desserts - and in place of the small pumpkins used by the Portuguese, I use winter squash, usually butternut. My husband doesn't like oregano, so I don't grow it or use it.

Some things are simply impossible in my climate. Pineapple, citrus, and olives have to be purchased.


My mother-in-law was born on Terceira, an island in the Azores. Here is her recipe for pot roast.



  • 4 pound - 1.8kg - rump roast
  • 4 ounces - 100g - lean slab bacon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • 8-10 peppercorns
  • 3-4 whole cloves
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½-1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups dry white wine

In a heavy, ovenproof, Dutch oven1, sauté the bacon in the olive oil until crisp. Remove the bacon and reserve. Brown the rump roast in the pan drippings and set aside. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns and cloves to the Dutch oven. Cook until brown. Add the tomato paste, turn the heat very low, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Put the roast and bacon back into the pot, and turn the roast until coated with the sauce. Add the salt and wine and bring to a simmer. Cover and bake for 2 hours at 400ºF - 200ºC, Gas Mark 6. Uncover, turn the roast over inside the pot, reduce the heat to 325ºF - 170ºC, Gas Mark 3, and bake uncovered another hour until tender. Add water or extra wine if the pot goes dry. To serve, slice thinly.

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04.09.03 Front Page

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1A specialised pan with a centre cone, a dividing grid and a deep lid. I would imagine that a conventional, deep, pot casserole dish would work just as well. ed

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