Category Archives: Garden

If there’s rhubarb, it must be Spring!

rhubarb lake

What captures Spring’s sheer will to have sprung any better than those first rhubarb crowns busting through the soil, insisting on their right to be? Nothing speaks life’s stubborn determination to rise out of dormancy any better or signals any more certainly the end of winter’s sometimes over-long grip on the garden, on one’s spirit.

glory rhubarb

Rejoice for a moment. And then get to work. For rhubarb’s bounty will very soon catch you off guard, overwhelm you. And you will be praying for July 4th to hurry up and roll around; that’s the date after which you should cease harvesting rhubarb and let it go to seed and die back until next year. I sometimes think of rhubarb as Spring’s version of zucchini: what to do, what to do, what to do?!

rhubarb stalks

Ported Rhubarb is one of my go-to answers to that question. I found this recipe in a library book, ages ago. I believe it comes from the great Anne Willan. And yes, The Best Recipes: 2002-2003 is still available at IndieBound, and maybe at your public library.

best recipes

Ported Rhubarb

1-1/2 lbs. rhubarb, cut into 2” pieces (on the diagonal)

¾ – 1 C sugar (I like less)

¾ C ruby port (don’t substitute)

Zest of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 350º.  Arrange rhubarb in a baking dish or rimmed sheet pan large enough to hold it in a single layer.  Sprinkle with the sugar to taste.  In a small bowl, mix the port and orange zest and drizzle over the rhubarb.  Bake until the rhubarb is just tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 – 30 minutes.  Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled — over ice cream, angel food cake, or cheese cake. I sometimes crumble gingersnaps on top. I sometimes swirl it into plain yogurt.

rhubarb trifle

Ported rhubarb freezes very well, if you have any left to freeze I mean.  I can’t wait to serve this to my Lit Lunchers on Friday!

“This Year I’m Cutting Back”

Many of you know how much vegetable gardening means to me. How much I’ve loved every stage: from seed starting, to transplanting, to setting out, to mulching, watering, harvesting, putting by, cooking, eating, sharing. Heck, even weeding is okay by me. And oh how I love to be in the garden. I could putter endlessly. And I do. I like to express my  gratitude to the plants and even talk to the critters. The garden is my self-made habitat, and the perfect one for me. Whether my soul is soaring or aching or somewhere in between, the garden is exactly what I need.

garden bench

And yet, every year I say, “this year I will cut back.” Gardening the way I do is a tremendous amount of work, some light, much of it heavy and difficult; and with every passing year I feel a little more unequal to it. As you can imagine, it’s also a huge time commitment, one that lasts from seed starting in late February through harvesting in late September and clean-up in early October. Hence, most of my travel (which is another tip top priority) and all of my extended travel must happen between October and early February. These months aren’t optimal weather-wise, especially for someone who prefers road trips to flying. But I’ve made it work.


Despite my annual pronouncements, however, I never do cut back. Well once, in 2015. In February of that year my husband suffered a terrible stroke. I could easily have lost him. It was February 20th, as a matter of fact, a day that usually heralds my seed starting in earnest. And I can still see the seeds, and seed starting mix and trays lined up on the counter. And then the phone rang. It was a harrowing weekend, followed by a month in a stroke rehabilitation unit (together), followed by many more months of intense rehab and myriad adjustments at home. Gardening as I have always known it wasn’t even close to happening that year. And as it turned out, that wasn’t a bad thing.

The year got worse. On Sunday night July 12th, 2015, an 8-mile wide by 3-mile deep superstorm (with winds in excess of 110 mph) roared across our lake. When it was over, the gardens I would have planted (as well as the yard, the driveway, the house, the garage) were covered, and I mean covered, with 80-year-old cedars, 150-year-old white pines, and ancient oaks 36” or more in circumference.


I learned many, many things in 2015, about how everything can change in an instant and that people who love each other can make it through the worst shit life can throw them. I learned about resilience, buoyancy, what true strength is, how utterly precious is good health, and how to better honor the time you do have by being more present in it.

And this year, 2018, I really am going to cut back in the garden–not out of tragedy this time, but because I want to. And not even these darling artichoke seedlings will persuade me otherwise.


I want more time for writing this year. I want to read more and hit the road from time to time in good weather. But it’s also that my heart just doesn’t seem to be where it usually is this time of year. The long extended winter and the seriously delayed garden year has been tough on the seedlings under lights downstairs and on me too. Most of my plants are failing to thrive for one reason or another. Maybe we’ve all missed some window; maybe the wind’s been let out of all our sails. But gosh, those artichoke seedlings are troopers, aren’t they? Wish me luck.