Friday, June 24, 2011

Foeniculum Vulgare (Fennel)

We spent the evening with Kim and Deryk and their lovely girls the other night.  Deryk has an amazing garden that he has spent the last several years building up until he finally feels it’s ready for show.  He’s accepted an invitation to have his garden be part of the Garden Tour this summer.  They live in a lovely house that sits on a flood plain, so when they first got there and Deryk dug his shovel into the ground, he was dismayed to find that just below the surface lay a sea of rocks.  Big rocks, little rocks, every kind imaginable.  If he was going to have a garden, he would have to clear his land first.  He also decided to do the French double dig method of amending the soil.  He has more energy, more passion, and more patience than I ever will when it comes to gardening.
But over the years, we’ve shared our ideas and our experience with all aspects of gardening.  My passion is food-related gardening, though I do have a lot of pretty ornamentals—perennials mostly, and native to the region when possible.  He, more than anything, is a rosarian.  I think his daughter, Hannah, my granddaughter, has counted seventy-two roses that she’s responsible for deadheading.
Deryk had asked me for fennel seeds.  I have a giant fennel plant that came up with us from California.  This particular fennel, though I originally thought it was the one which had a lovely bulb for a root, turned out to be the kind that is wild in California. 
Going crazy wild already
I have always adored the fragrance as it travels on the breezes near the ocean.  The seeds are good, as well, and when they are still green, I can harvest them for cooking.  But I’ve always been disappointed that I couldn’t use the root bulb.  I see them in the grocery stores and always resist the temptation to buy because they’re so expensive.
But Deryk went online and found what we were both looking for.  Foeniculum Vulgare is the fennel that is used in French and Italian cooking.  It grows to only about 24” high as opposed to over seven feet for the wild California fennel. 
Competing with Rose--both about nine feet high

Everything about it is edible: flower, seed, delicate frond, and of course, the root bulb.
“How do you cook it?” he asked me.
“The French have a fennel dish called Compotée de fenouil, which is the way I learned to do this from my French father.  The bulb is sliced and braised in white wine and butter and is a lovely accompaniment to fish or poultry dishes.”
“I don’t like the licorice taste it has,” Kim commented.
“When it’s cooked like this, it’s milder…more like a cross between celery and maybe peas…with just a hint of the fennel seed.  You like Italian sausage, don’t you?” I asked her.
“That’s different.  The seed works really well as a flavoring in that way and in spaghetti sauce, and a bunch of other ways.”
“Well, in any case,” Deryk handed me a little packet of seed.  “You can go online to Park City Seeds and get full instructions on how to plant this.  It doesn’t seem to even matter when you plant it—spring, summer, fall.  As long as your soil is well drained and you get plenty of water and sun, it’ll grow.”
“Water we can do.  I’m not so sure about sun!”  I was feeling a little hopeless about our grey days and what that was going to mean for my tomato plants, which no doubt must have thought it was still nighttime (though they do have blossoms now…)
Tomato plants with black Hefty bags to keep them warmer

But I was grateful for Deryk’s thoughtfulness in sharing his seeds with me.  I would start them in an egg carton and meantime prepare the soil for them. 
Foeniculum Vulgare (fennel) nested in egg carton
They would be a lovely border for our walkway, which needs something full and fluffy like the fennel plant to complement the lavender and succulents (of course I've lost the tag, so I have no idea what those plants are--but they're pretty, year-round).  
 Lavender, succulents and Heuchera at front of walkway 

Fennel could go here--once it's weeded and amended and much prepared
My vision is always more grand than the reality.  So, in truth, though I see it as a lovely border for the walkway, it may be that by the time the plants are full grown it will be fall and everything else will look tired and finished for another year.  And in the meantime, I will still be doing battle with the weeds—which of course love our rainy grey days.  Oh, well.  The challenges of the Pacific Northwest can be daunting!

1 comment:

  1. That is the perfect place for it!! I wouldn't have thought of that part of your garden, but it is perfect with the silvery lavender and the Lacey huechera .... It will be a floating close of foliage and bees and loveliness :)

    And I will just have to get used to the licorice taste I guess!