What’s in your El Niño garden?

babygreensOh, this is the season for leafy greens and root vegetables — and an El Niño year is no exception!

They grow plenty of veggies in English gardens and (although we in So Cal may be unaccustomed to it) that’s the kind of climate we have here this winter.

Just to prove my point, yesterday evening my smartphone weather app had the same forecast for London as for L.A. … rainy, high 40s …

The thing to know about wet winters and gardens (in addition to El Niño flood preparations) is:

‘That lettuce’ Frisee

frisee 300 When it rains in L.A., ‘that lettuce’ comes up all over my yard.  My sister is probably the one who named it, years ago, asking me whether I had any seedlings of ‘that lettuce’ to share.

A mild-flavored green, pretty and frilly, it’s a mainstay of our homegrown salads.  Meanwhile, it’s a dynamite grower, puts up with rugged conditions, and sprouts nearly every month of the year if given a hint of moisture.

‘That lettuce’ is a long-lived annual or a biennial, and it is slow to bolt.  It’s technically a chicory, so when it does eventually flower, it sends up a stalk of pretty blue cornflower-looking blossoms that attract pollinating insects.

Collards ‘L.A. Green Glaze’

collardsKale grabs the media spotlight, but did you know that collards are botanically the same plant?  And they are heat-tolerant and crazy-easy to grow?

When I started growing homegrown collards, it was like I had discovered a new vegetable.  Homegrown collards are nothing like the grocery store vegetable, with none of that bitter aftertaste.  Homegrown collards are sweet-flavored, tender, and delicious.

Evening Primrose ‘Ballona Creek’

IMG_0344You can take part in helping to preserve a very local strain of this California wildflower.  It has quite an amazing story:

It was the year 2000, and I was driving along Lincoln Blvd near Jefferson and LMU when I saw some lovely yellow wildflowers alongside the road.  I stopped my van and hopped out and took a few seedpods home.  Two weeks later, Playa Vista bulldozers obliterated the original patch of wildflowers, together with many other local treasures.

I have been growing the wildflowers — a Los Angeles strain of Evening primrose (Oenothera elata hookeri) — at my home in Westchester ever since.

Amaranth ‘Westchester Red’

amaranthAmaranth is the star of our late summer gardens.  Its dramatic burgundy spires are eye-catching, and never fail to have passers-by asking “what is that!?”  It doesn’t mind the peak intensity of SoCal summer heat, and looks great when all else in the garden is wilting and giving up.

Amaranth is the source of the very tiny “amaranth grain” that you might recognize from healthy-food store crackers.  Its greens are edible, and are a great hot-weather substitute in any recipe that calls for “spinach.”  Many Asian cultures use amaranth greens in their cuisine.