Downsizing and Lobster Rolls

This is a summary of today’s post.

  • Check out our first book, The Garden Interior: A Year of Inspired Beauty by clicking here or pasting www.TheGardenInterior.com/Book into your browser.
  • Today we are talking about down-sizing and how to make the best of small gardening spaces. We are featuring caladium. mandevilla, and clematis, among other charmers. Plus, a late July bonus: a mouth-watering recipe for classic lobster rolls. Yum!
  • Also, please check out the new photos posted in “Weekly Garden Photos” (button on right), for some bright new images of the spring garden in the gorgeous garden month of June.
  • And in the “Book Reviews” section (button on right), we are reviewing Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf. It was the great Henry David Thoreau who said, depressingly but tellingly, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Here is a book that, said simply, is about two people who seek to break out of their quiet desperation, and about what happens to them when they do.
  • Meanwhile, I am also telling about a visit to southern Africa at the end of the apartheid era and comparing conditions of life in South Africa and Zimbabwe, in the time before Uber.com was available.  Check it out, under the caption  “Personal Snapshot: Southern Africa” (button on right).

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When you’re a certain venerable age, as I am, it doesn’t take long in your conversations with friends before someone brings up “downsizing.” Kids are off to college and you really don’t want to maintain, and pay for the upkeep of, the big family home. As I drive to work this morning, I’m musing about a friend of ours who is leaving her home, and more importantly her garden, after many years of service and devotion to it.

We are talking about caladium below, but check out this bronze version growing in water. It is lovely, fresh, and cool, yet still very sophisticated

We are talking about caladium below, but check out this similar, bronze colocasia growing in water. It is lovely, fresh, and cool, yet still very sophisticated

She is downsizing to a Federal-style brick townhome, built recently but very like many of the original ones built long ago in the Old Town of Alexandria, Virginia, or in Washington’s Georgetown. It is charming and stylish, but very small. It is called down-sizing, of course, for a reason. And now, sadly, her gardening days are largely over, at least on her own bit of land. This townhome has a tiny piece of ground in front, where the homeowner might plant a very few things, and this friend asked for a selection of our irises for that space. So I went around our garden collecting a sample group and hoping that I got her enough variety because, of course, they all finished blooming over a month ago and are now just foliage. Sort of a lucky dip of irises, as far as the colors go, but we all take our chances in this life, after all.

“But irises are a good enough choice, given that terrible constraint. They will be fully gorgeous in their time, we know…”

“But irises are a good enough choice, given that terrible constraint. They will be fully gorgeous in their time, we know…”

And just think of the agony of having so little space that you have to pick one, just one, thing to grow. Awful, and torture for a serious gardener who, like all of us really, has a zeal for plants that borders on, well, greed. But irises are a good enough choice, given that terrible constraint. They will be fully gorgeous in their time, we know, and their month of beauty will have to last the retiring gardener for the rest of the year. Of course, nothing stops her from raising beautiful plants indoors and cramming her townhome with cut flowers from the supermarket, or from gardening elsewhere, volunteering at the local botanical gardens, traveling to Tahiti and smothering herself with tiare flowers during every Bali Hi sunset, and so on.

Clematis is a fine plant in a small garden where space is a premium. As a lively climber that takes up only a tiny footprint, it provides a lot of interest, a long blooming season, and a lovely array of colors. Always think verticality in a small garden.

Clematis is a fine plant in a small garden where space is a premium. As a lively climber that takes up only a tiny footprint, it provides a lot of interest, a long blooming season, and a lovely array of colors. Always think verticality in a small garden.

This townhome also has a beautiful, but none too large, patio, all brick and with mellow brick walls for privacy. You could make of this a Dumbarton Oaks in extreme miniature perhaps, given fifty years or so and quite a lot of money, neither of which seems to be terribly likely in this case. She did express a wish for one really beautiful pot for this patio, however, and was musing about what she should plant in it. So I decided to surprise her with a house-warming present of one of our venerable urns that we are not presently using, a tall and gracefully sculpted urn that appears to be made of beautifully and classically weathered iron, but is in fact polymer. It is, however, so heavy and solid that even if you rap your knuckles against it, you might be taken in.

Mandevilla is another climber that does well in a small space and provides a lot of interest and charming color, with a strong hint of the tropics.

Mandevilla is another climber that does well in a small space and provides a lot of interest and charming color, with a strong hint of the tropics.

I filled this urn, over three feet tall, with good rich soil, then packed it down. She is worried about being bothered by mosquitoes on this patio, so in the middle of the urn, I stuck a sawed-off tiki torch, about four feet tall. For plants, I decided to go with a tropical theme. Not very practical, of course, but summer pot gardening is not about practicality. It is about giving your outdoors a lively, summery feel with unusual plants that create a distinctive mood, so the hell with practicality. I found a beautiful, tall canna lily at a local garden center, in a pale yellow I have always wanted to grow but never gotten around to, and this went into the center of the pot, next to the tiki torch pole.

“Then I chose a carmine mandevilla, which will be a lovely complement to the pale yellow and will wreathe through the canna and climb up the tiki pole, for height and drama.”

“Then I chose a carmine mandevilla, which will be a lovely complement to the pale yellow and will wreathe through the canna and climb up the tiki pole, for height and drama.”

Then I chose a carmine mandevilla, which will be a lovely complement to the pale yellow and will wreathe through the canna and climb up the tiki pole, for height and drama. Because this patio is rather shady and will mostly be used in the evening, I wanted something bright to use up the rest of the tiny space. So around the edges of the pot, I planted some variegated caladium, with their fresh, green and white elephant-ear shapes hanging out over the urn’s edge and waving merrily. The finished product looks like something in the tropical hothouse at the west front of the Capitol. When we worked on Capitol Hill, I would often go to the hothouse in the middle of a bitter, dull winter, just to luxuriate for an hour in the heat, humidity and all the spectacular tropicals growing in the depth of a bitter D.C. winter. I think she is going to like it. Of course, it will have to come inside in winter, but that is the nice thing about a single tropical pot: it’s not too onerous a chore and it will thrive inside and rejoice the household all winter, perhaps even more than it did out of doors in the summer.

Caladium is a great plant for a shady area like many patios, here shown with some green elephant ears. They provide a dash of light color and their large, tropical leaves give just the right tone of fresh and interesting jungle.

Caladium is a great plant for a shady area like many patios, here shown with some green elephant ears. They provide a dash of light color and their large, tropical leaves give just the right tone of fresh and interesting jungle.

At the height of summer, my escapist self fantasizes about cool places one would rather be. Newfoundland should be pretty lovely just about now. Or Maine, at least. The first time we ever went to Maine, it was this time of year. We escaped the heat and humidity of the Mid-Atlantic and stayed a week at Ogunquit, and then drove up the coast, where it just got cooler and more refreshing as we went along. What a luxury to have a chilly night in this hot season. And as we drove along, we would stop whenever we saw a sign advertising lobster rolls. What could be better than a cold, crisp, and creamy lobster sandwich on the Maine coast? That is a luxury that few of us can afford to realize in a given summer, what with the economy being what it is, family and job commitments and so on; but we can take a break and treat ourselves to a lovely summer sandwich. You have to imagine the chilly air, the fog, and the muffled sound of the surf on the rocky coast. Also, lobster meat is rather pricey, so you might try this with crab meat; it’s cheaper and, some think, better (heresy!). Try it both ways and decide for yourself.

Lobster (or Crab) Rolls

lobster rolls

4 pieces of good quality bacon

¼ cup mayonnaise

2 Tbsp. ranch dressing

¼ tsp. Tabasco or other hot sauce

½ Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 lb. cooked lobster meat (or backfin lump crab meat), chopped

½ cup cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced

½ cup celery, diced

3 Tbsp. chives or green onions, diced

1 cup of lettuce, shredded fine

1 cup of cherry tomatoes, diced

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

4 large potato flour hotdog buns or pieces of thick Texas toast

4 Tbsp. butter

Cook the bacon and place on paper towel to drain. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, ranch dressing, hot sauce, and lemon juice. Place the mayonnaise mixture in a larger bowl and toss with the lobster (or crab) meat, the cucumber, the celery, and the chives. Add salt and pepper to taste. Butter the bread on the inside and outside and cook on a griddle until toasted on both sides. Place one piece of bacon and a quarter of the lettuce and a quarter of the diced tomatoes in each bun. Then fill with the lobster (or crab) mixture.

You serve this with old-fashioned potato chips. Yes, I know they are bad for you and we have been avoiding them all year, in our great virtue. This is one of the few times a year when we are allowed to be bad, so make the most of it. And while you are at it, enjoy the rolls with a nice white wine that is not in your usual repertoire, just for the foreignness of it; it underlines what an indulgent luxury this is. I like an Austrian Grüner Veltliner for this purpose; Domäne Wachau is really nice and not expensive. Makes 4 rolls and, even better, makes you think of Maine.

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