Gifts of a Naturalized Garden

When we moved to this property over twenty years ago, there were large areas of grass in the back yard and in the side yard. After a couple of years of maintaining these areas, we realized that it didn’t suit our needs in a wide variety of ways. The water waste and mowing activities just felt wrong. We knew that we lived in a time of drought even then, so we preferred to grow edible plants instead of grass.

After removing the grass, we observed the changes in the garden over a period of years. Each spring, new plants appeared. Lovely natives that we would normally see only on walks in open space showed their faces in the yard. Everything from flowering vines to mushrooms, grasses to edibles.

One of our favorite recipes from years past is the Spring Greens Chips, made from the volunteer mallow and mustard plants each year. The recipe for these delicious chips uses the SGK Basil vinegar. Any of our vinegars can be used in it though for a slightly different flavor. We like the Jalpeño Garlic Lime vinegar the best!

The seasonal appearance of these plants has changed over the years. The mustard and mallow started growing in early December and are already large enough to bake. Miner’s lettuce and oxalis normally have slightly different growing cycles. The miner’s lettuce would appear in early February. And the oxalis, though it was around, wouldn’t begin blooming until later. This year, they both arrived in December and have begun their flowering cycle in the past week.

One of our favorite recipes is Salmon and Sorrel – a famous Michelin 3 star restaurant recipe from Restaurant Troisgros in Roanne, France. The sorrel became unhappy in the freezing nights we had recently. So, we wondered if the oxalis would provide the right flavor to the dish. To our delight, we found that a combination of the miner’s lettuce with the oxalis stalk made a beautiful and delicious substitute for sorrel in the dish!

Our pleasure knew no bounds. Not long after, we were planning to make Chicken Bulgogi, a lovely simple Korean style dish. It’s great served with sushi rice and wilted spinach greens. Since the miner’s lettuce had fared so well in the Salmon and Sorrel dish, it seemed likely it would be a good substitute for spinach also. Voila! It turned out to be fantastic!

Now we’re on a roll and making more and more recipes with the miner’s lettuce in place of other greens. It can be added to soups and stews, quiches and omelets, salads and Asian cooking. This is the benefit of allowing the garden to naturalize. Many edibles appear and provide healthy, nutritious foods to enjoy!

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  1. Love the Naturalized Garden — especially your varied use of one of my favorites: miner’s lettuce. Never thought I’d see it growing in December & January…

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