Grapes give out fruit and shade |

Grapes give out fruit and shade

by Karen Dustman

There’s something about grapevines that’s pure magic. The way fresh leaves shine with almost an inner glow. How tendrils coil around any object in their way, including other tendrils. The energy of new shoots stretching happily for the sun, as if they could wind around the air itself and climb all the way to heaven.

There’s something just plain happy about these ancient plants; they’re so clearly excited about living. But what can you do with grapevines, besides wait impatiently for the grapes?

For starters, grapevines make a great garden arbor. Hardy enough to withstand our blustery Sierra zephyrs and cold-tolerant enough (with the right variety) for high desert winters, grapevines can be slow to get started but a joy once established.

If you do start an arbor, be prepared: you’ll find yourself pruning, clipping and sometimes just plain chopping to keep your arbor in shape. It’s tough to be ruthless with something so beautiful. But think kudzu: those vines will take over if you let them.

There’s a plus to all that pruning: cuttings make a wonderful accent for flower arrangements. Brilliantly emerald, graceful vines can make the simplest bouquet snap. Just toss in a few fresh clippings and wait for compliments.

Grape leaves can be a treat in their own right, too. Roll them with rice for a Greek savory called dolmas. Tender leaves can be frozen in spring for cooking all year round. And grape-leaf tea is reputed to have a wide range of properties, from improving circulation to relieving chronic fatigue syndrome. (Just be sure not to pick where plants have been sprayed).

Best of all, this is the time of year when the grapes themselves arrive — a not-to-be-missed harvest. Plucked fresh from the vine, chilled in a salad, or frozen for a cool summer dessert, grapes make a no-guilt treat. All that taste and hardly any calories? Now that’s magic.

Grapevine Growing Tips:

■ Read labels; for Sierra winters, be sure to choose a cold-tolerant variety.

■ Pests love sweet grapes, too, unfortunately. Keep yellow jackets away with a hanging trap or two.

■ Grapes are slow to leaf out in the spring and may be weeks behind other plants in your garden. So don’t give up and yank them out prematurely. Be patient, and they’ll reward you.

Dolmas Recipe:

For a tasty stuffed grape leaf recipe including instructions on how to roll the grape leaves, go to: