Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Purple & White

When I was out in the garden yesterday a smile was brought to my face by some purple blossoms immediately adjacent to some white ones. Those blossoms have so many personal resonances: a bi-annual race, gustatory delight, visual fun & a bit of history. And this year, I am excessively pleased with myself because thinking about those plants led me to a successful guess as to the climate & weather of a distant city I have never had the pleasure of visiting.

Gardening in New England has some distinct challenges, and this year opened up with Mother Nature's nastiest tricks. I actually got some of the seeds for those plants in on time, as soon as the ground thawed, only to watch two successive late spring snowfalls. So my rare early jump was completely defeated.

The need for the jump is clear. Plants which can be seeded early are cool weather crops, and most do very poorly in warm weather. Before you know it, the heat of summer is upon us and those cool weather crops fade in one way or another. Some truly die, but others 'bolt' by launching flower stalks that simultaneously degrade the flavor of the vegetable. We are already experiencing 90 degree (F) days, so the race is on.

The plant in question is visually fun because it sends thin curling tendrils to wrap around anything it encounters. As a kid I loved uncurling them gently and wrapping them around a support.

If you hadn't guessed the plant already, the history & weather bits are a giveaway, as the city I guessed has much cooler summers than Boston is Brno, or Breunn as Brother Gregor would have known it. Those beautiful flowers are on my pea plants, and it occurred to me that while there were probably many considerations in their choice as a model, being able to grow them frequently would be a plus -- and in Boston you can't do much with peas for most of the summer. The second race does begin in mid-to-late summer, if you try to seed a second crop. The other New England weather treachery is the early late frost, usually followed by a long burst of warm autumn to truly twist the pruning knife in your side -- if that killer frost hadn't arrived, another 5-6 weeks of fresh produce would have come in.

Which, of course, is the main reason I do it. I don't grow large quantities of vegetables, but it really is a magic moment when you nearly instantly transfer something you grew from the plant to your mouth and then savor all its sensuous delights. For peas it is sweetness & crunch.

That choice of peas was quite lucky, as pea genetics are relatively straightforward. Many plants have horribly complicated genetics, and indeed one of the then luminaries whom Mendel corresponded with suggested he repeat his experiments in hawkweek, which is one of those many genetic messes.

Of course, later workers would tease apart some of those messes to lead to interesting discoveries, and more are sure to come. But right now, I just want to discover some pods before my peas wilt in the summer heat.

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