Pumpkin Eye Candy

Gone are the days when you only had one choice of pumpkins – orange!! Amazed at how many types there are when I shop for pumpkins at either the farmers market or big box store, I love to pick different ones out. The variety that is available is staggering – spotted, bumpy, white, green, and everything in between.

Peanut Pumpkin

 

Peanut Pumpkin

Peanut pumpkin

Take for instance the Peanut Pumpkin, Cucurbita maxima “Galeux d’Eysine”, shown above, which gets its common name from the distinctive peanut-like growths that develop on its shell. When I first saw this pumpkin, it stopped me in my tracks and I had to pick it up and touch it. Thought to be a cross between a Hubbard squash (Cucurbita maxima) and an unknown pumpkin variety, the species originated in the 19th century in the region of Eysine, France. Even though it seems an oddity, its sweet flesh can be used in cooking and is quite good. The fruit’s sugars seeping out and hardening on the surface causes the distinctive beige bumps.

Porcelain Doll

 

Porcelain Doll pumpkin

Porcelain Doll pumpkin

Porcelain Doll is a pumpkin developed to help raise funds for breast cancer research through The Pink Pumpkin Patch foundation. The designation of “pink” is  a stretch! – it is more like coral pink. This worthwhile foundation supports breast cancer organizations through donations made by U.S. growers from a percentage of sales of each Porcelain Doll F1 Pink Pumpkin grown.
Besides, their pretty “pink” exteriors, Porcelain Doll pumpkins have delicious, deep orange interior flesh, perfect for baked goods, soups or casseroles. These big beauties start out beige and then turn a standout coral/pink color as they mature.

Porcelain Doll pumpkin, picture from DP Seeds.com

Porcelain Doll pumpkin, picture from DP Seeds.com

 

Hungarian Gray Pumpkin

Hungarian Gray Pumpkin

 Decorating

Decorating with these pumpkins can really be fun, given the wide variety of colors, textures, and shapes. Go to Pumpkin Treats-Decorating Pumpkins With Succulents, to get some ideas. Succulents are a natural pairing with pumpkins.

Stacking pumpkins

Stacking pumpkins

Cooking With Pumpkins

You can grill, steam, bake, boil, or roast any pumpkin. Pumpkin also can be pureed and baked in bread or cake, or cooked in soup, etc. Pumpkin is a great source of nutrition (pumpkins are typically packed with dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, copper, manganese, vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus), and pumpkin seeds are full of nutrients, too!

Pumpkin Ice Cream with Ginger Creme Cookies

Pumpkin Ice Cream with Ginger Creme Cookies

Here is my recipe for great

Coconut Rum Pumpkin Ice Cream:

1 cup fresh pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

5 egg yolks

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. salt

Pinch of ground nutmeg ( I added more than a pinch, because I love fresh nutmeg!)

1 tbs. or to taste spiced rum with coconut

Directions:

  • Whisk together pumpkin puree and vanilla. Chill in refrigerator.

  • In a heavy 2 quart saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups of the cream and 1/2 cup of the brown sugar. Cook until bubbles form around the edge, 5 minutes.

  • Combine 5 egg yolks, spices, and the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar in a separate bowl. Stir until smooth.

  • Remove cream mixture from heat and gradually whisk 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture until smooth. Pour the egg mixture back into the pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, keeping the custard at a low simmer, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 4 to 6 minutes. Do not allow the custard to boil.

  • Allow the custard to cool and whisk the pumpkin mixture into the custard.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for a few hours.

  • Transfer the custard to an ice cream maker(it will be quite thick), and follow the directions on your ice cream maker. The last couple of minutes of churning, add your bourbon or rum to taste.

  • Freeze until firm, at least 3 hours. Garnish with ginger crème cookies.

  • Makes 1 quart.

 

 

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Fall Pod Basket-Everlasting Decoration

Completed Pod Basket
Completed Pod Basket

What do you do with all those baskets hanging around in your house? And all those pods that you have picked up over the years, because they were interesting? I started fooling around with these, thinking that there was a perfect marriage here somewhere, and  came up with this pod/dried flower-edged basket. Taking only one hour to complete, using up some excess baskets that hang from my basement rafters, and incorporating some beautifully colored botanicals worked out so well that I have a great piece to decorate the Thanksgiving/Christmas table.

DIY

  • Picking out a good basket is key. Choose one with a wide, low rim that has plenty of room to display chunky pieces

Chunky Basket with wide rim

Chunky Basket with wide rim

  • Gather your Pods. For pods I used pinecones, lotus pods, fungi pieces, okra pods, small gourds, pine cone roses(cones sliced horizontally to display a rose-like face), and some other odds and ends that I had knocking around

  • Gather dried botanicals. I used a burgundy colored cockscomb, ‘Pink Zazzle’ Gomphrena(see Pink Zazzle post), preserved magnolia leaves, and different colored reindeer moss

  • Using a hot glue gun, start by attaching the larger pieces to the rim firmly. I started with making groups of 3-4 pods. If you have smaller pieces, group these together so they make a bigger impact

Group your pods on the rim

Group your pods on the rim

  • Start filling in and make sure that you add the pods and botanicals three dimensionally, covering the inside edge as well as the outside edge. Leave the moss and magnolia leaves for last

Add dried botanicals next

Add dried botanicals next

  • Add the magnolia leaves, cutting the stem end flat, so that you can nestle it in better into the pods. I like to array the leaves out facing like an opening flower

  • Fill in any gaps with the reindeer moss

Fill in gaps with moss

Fill in gaps with moss

  • Remove all glue strings carefully

  • Spray with an acrylic satin finish to preserve and give it shine

 

Spray it with a satin gloss acrylic preservative

Spray it with a satin gloss acrylic preservative

 

Care

It is a good idea to keep this inside, out of the sun, in a room temperature house. Don’t keep in a bathroom where it could be too moist, or next to a radiator. It should last until next season where you could refresh it with new dried botanicals that tend to fade over time.

Posted in DIY, Floral Arranging, Gardening crafts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tragic, Moving, and Beautiful – Flight 93 Memorial

Flight 93 Memorial

Flight 93 Memorial

On a recent trip returning to Baltimore from Pittsburgh, I decided to stop at the Flight 93 memorial. I had no idea what to expect and was blown away at the beautiful and peaceful setting that is set amidst rolling hills and meadows. It is a reverent and uplifting space dedicated to the forty victims who died here.

Floral tributes left along the wall

Floral tributes left along the wall

 On our way home on Rt 30, you pass through quaint little towns, reaching the memorial after driving down a newly paved winding road to reach the crash site where the National Park service is building a brand new visitor center and parking lot.

New visitor center going up

New visitor center going up

A black sloping wall extends around the entire crash site field outlining the final resting place of victims. Only family members of the deceased can enter the crash field. A low viewing wall marks the edge of the crash site

History

Because of the huge impact of the plane slamming into the earth, almost everything vaporized. Only eight percent of the human remains were recovered, enough to match up and identify all 40 victims and 4 terrorists on the plane. All unidentified remains were placed in three caskets and buried near a large native sandstone boulder which became the collective headstone for the burial. A small plaque was placed on the back of the boulder that only family members can visit.  Victim’s families have keys to open the gate to enter the field to mourn their family members.

Large boulder marks where the plane ploughed into the ground creating a 50 feet deep crater

Path leading to area where victims remains are buried

Path leading to area where victims remains are buried

 

After gouging a huge hole in the ground, and spinning 180 degrees,  the cockpit and first class cabin broke off, and broke up into millions of fragments that scattered and scorched 8 acres of trees. The main body of the plane continued downward into the soft reclaimed mining soil and created a crater 50 feet deep and came to rest against solid rock below the surface. The black box was recovered 25 feet down in the crater in good condition.

Design Competition

The Flight 93 National Memorial design was selected from over 1,000 entries from 48 states and 27 countries in an international design competition. Originally designed in a crescent pattern, the design was modified to a circle because of an outcry that a crescent too closely resembled the red crescent used in Islamic culture.

The Shanksville site was commemorated in 2002, a national memorial, but lots of work is still going on. There are 40 maple trees planted representing each person that perished from the crash and a wall with the names etched in polished white marble for each victim. These walls align with the final flight path of the plane.

Memorial Wall

Memorial Wall

Field of Honor Plantings

According to the National Park Foundation website, they describe the “FIELD OF HONOR” as: “Measuring one-half mile in diameter and covering over 150 acres immediately adjacent to the Sacred Ground, the bowl-shaped Field of Honor links the entire memorial through sightlines and pathways. Once a surface coal mine, the field will be “rehabilitated” through the sustainable planting of native grasses and a mix of indigenous wildflowers”. The meadows are planted and are thriving.

Meadow plants

Meadow plants

Forty memorial groves of trees will be planted to honor each victim . Each grove is planned to contain 40 trees, such as Sugar Maple, White Oak, and Elm, for a total of 1,600 trees radiating toward the center of the Field of Honor.

Newly planted memorial trees

Newly planted memorial trees

A series of wetlands and ponds will be preserved as natural features in the design and construction of the memorial. One of the “leftovers” from the surface mining activities, the wetlands will be transformed into a self-sustaining natural habitat and aquatic eco-system.

Flight 93 memorial outdoor auditorium

Flight 93 memorial outdoor auditorium

 

The meadows surrounding the entire site were seeded on reclaimed mining land that was comprised of very poor soil and sloping grades. The steep slopes made the process of seeding in meadow grass and flowers difficult but was accomplished before the 2002 commemoration.

Teasels growing in the meadow

Teasels growing in the meadow

Tower of Voices

Also planned is a tower of voices and I will be sure to stop back when this is completed, probably by June 2015. Tall enough to be seen from the highway, the Tower of Voices will mark the entry to and exit from the park. Reaching 93 feet into the sky, the tower will house 40 aluminum wind chimes, which will serve as an audible reminder of the acts of courage of the passengers and crew, many of whose last contact from Flight 93 was through their voices on phone calls.

Tower of Voices

Tower of Voices

Here is a video of the memorial site which explains everything in more detail.

http://www.nps.gov/media/video/view.htm?id=2AB43C21-155D-451F-67BCCC170B08AB44

Wildflower Varieties Used

Goldenrod

Rudbeckia triloba

Cardinal Flower

Gallardia

Chicory

Milkweed

Coreopsis

Joe Pye Weed

Curly Dock

Crown Vetch

Alfalfa

Vipers Bugloss

Oxeye Daisy

Meadow Anemone

White Campion

Wood Aster

Evening Primrose

Thistle

Blue Eyed Grass

Teasel

For eyewitness accounts of the crash, go to https://sites.google.com/site/wtc7lies/flight93page1

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Pumpkin Treats-Decorating with Succulents

Finished succulent pumpkin

Finished succulent pumpkin

A Natural Fit-Pumpkins & Succulents

Who would ever have thought of decorating pumpkins with succulents? Like bacon, succulents go with everything and make it better! The finished product is so different from the traditional carved Jack-O-Lantern, plus you don’t have to fool with the mess of seeds and rotten pumpkins. Unlike cut pumpkins these will last for months, and the succulents actually root in the moss if misted occasionally. This is a great new twist on decorating pumpkins that is easy, no mess, and so creative.

One of my succulent containers that is too large to bring in for the winter

One of my succulent containers that is too large to bring in for the winter

I also got to use lots of my succulents that would be killed by frost in a couple of weeks. The succulents actually root into the moss and you can transplant the cuttings to soil and grow them and set them out in the spring, saving on your start up plant costs.

Pumpkin decorated with succulents

Pumpkin decorated with succulents

Material List

  • A pumpkin or large gourd

  • Sheet moss, sphagnum moss, or reindeer moss

  • Assorted cuttings of succulents. I was moving most of my succulents indoors to beat the frost, and this gave me the opportunity to trim the growth back or actually uproot an entire plant, washing off the roots. I simply nipped large pieces of succulent tips from living plants, trying to vary colors, shapes, and textures.

  • Assorted pods, i.e. pine cones, okra pods, lotus pods, milk weed pods, and berries. For my example above, I used nandina berries and foliage which dries quite nicely, and okra pods. Mix it up with whatever you have on hand.

  • Tacky glue or glue gun

  • Spritzer for moistening moss

  • Berries, pods, and foliage to add to the pumpkin

    Berries, pods, and foliage to add to the pumpkin

    Step By Step

  1. Find a wide topped pumpkin and cut the stem off; I used “Cinderella” variety which has a grayish orange color, deep pleats, and a wide roomy top.

  2. Glue moss on top about 1/2 inch thick with a glue gun or tacky glue.

  3. Arrange your succulent cuttings to form a pleasing arrangement, making sure that you use the larger chunkier pieces first. Stick the stems into the moss with glue so that they adhere. Glue will not hurt the succulents.

  4. Add berries, pods, or anything else that goes with the fall theme, gluing in place.

  5. Spritz the moss so that it stays moist

 There are so many unusual pumpkins on the market today that I also tried this arrangement with a Christmas feel using a white pumpkin, adding fresh variegated holly, winterberry, green amaranthus, and dried burgundy cockscomb to add a nice contrast to the white pumpkin.

White pumpkin with decorations

White pumpkin with decorations

Decorated white pumpkin

Decorated white pumpkin

Gourds

Gourds are also a winner for these arrangements and I chose a tall narrow one that fits into a smaller space. I had gathered some orange rose hips on the side of the road and blackberry lily berries and knew I had found the perfect use for them decorating the top of my gourd.

Decorated Gourd

Decorated Gourd

"One Too Many" pumpkin variety has a white background and stippled veins

“One Too Many” pumpkin variety has a white background and stippled veins

My front porch entrance full of decorated pumpkins

My front porch entrance full of decorated pumpkins

Maintenance

It is best to keep the pumpkin inside  in a cool spot, out of direct sunlight.  Pumpkins need cool weather to stay firm through the season. If you want to keep them in an outside location, like I have mine on my front porch, be sure to bring inside when the weather turns colder with hard frosts. A warm house will speed up the inevitable decomposition, so don’t put your pumpkin on top of a radiator or in a sunny window. Last year, my pumpkins lasted into January!

Spritzing the pumpkin

Spritzing the pumpkin

Succulent pumpkin without the berries and pods

Succulent pumpkin without the berries and pods

Posted in Floral Arranging, Gardening crafts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Spinning Honey

Honey coming out of the extractor into a bucket lined with a mesh paint strainer to remove all bee parts

Big Event

It happens every Fall – honey extraction! After babying the bees, feeding, monitoring, re-queening, splitting, and just plain worrying about them, now is the moment of truth.  How much honey did they deposit in the combs for me to rob from them? I won’t leave you in suspense – I extracted 35 pounds from one of my three hives. Two were Nucs and one was a package. Go to A Bee Nuc or Package to see the difference and advantages.

Bee package which includes a queen and 12,000 to 15, 000 bees as a starter

Bee package which includes a queen and 12,000 to 15, 000 bees as a starter

I started out with 3 hives this season – one Nuc swarmed and the other two did fine, humming along with our wet weather bringing on a constant supply of nectar. It is always an anti-climax when we finally remove and extract – kind of like Christmas – lots of build up and anticipation, and then it is over very quickly and we are mopping up the mess.

Installing a package in the spring

Installing a package in the spring

Extracting

After removing the bees, see Robbing the Bees-A Honey of a Day to see how to do this tricky part, we are ready to spin out the honey.

A perfect capped frame of honey

A perfect capped frame of honey

To remove the wax coverings, a heated knife is used to melt away the wax and a fork that looks like a hair pick is used to further open up the cells so that the honey can be flung out.

Using an uncapping fork to remove wax covering

Using an uncapping fork to remove wax covering

Think of a large metal trash can with wire shelves inside that spin around and you have an honey extractor.   A motor attached will turn on the merry-go-round inside, flinging the honey deposited in the cells onto the side of the trash can, dripping down to the bottom where it will exit through a gate valve into a mesh sieve for bee parts and then into a collection bucket.

The wax cappings are very tasty and we dive right in and start snacking.  Grabbing a dollop of warm fresh honey comb that is dripping with honey  is luscious!

Wax cappings full of honey

Wax cappings full of honey

 Aftermath

Once the honey is all extracted, I take the frames and set them up in front of the hives so the bees can wring every last drop of honey from them. The bees, once they discover the free honey, go crazy and buzz around the yard.  I am sure to not have guests over when this happens as it can be quite unnerving if you are afraid of bees!

We set up the extractor and all the tools in front of the hives also so the bees can finish cleaning. The wax cappings are set out along with everything else for the bees to clean, and then I take the wax in to process in preparation for making beeswax soap and candles. Go to Beeswax-Honeybee Gift to see how I process and use beeswax.

2 lb block of beeswax

2 lb block of beeswax

 Giving the honey a few days to settle, I start bottling the honey when the weather is still warm, over 75 degrees. If honey gets too cold, it won’t flow properly into my jars.

Bottled honey

Bottled honey

 

 

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Saddlebacks are Back!

Saddleback, picture taken by Gretchen Schmidl

Saddleback, picture taken by Gretchen Schmidl

Watch out for the invasion of the body snatchers! – no really it is just saddleback caterpillars, Sibine stimulea.  I have noticed them in my yard this year and I would rather be stung by a bee than stung by this nasty caterpillar. They look like ugly bizarre clowns or a Scotty dog in a green t-shirt!

Saddleback Caterpillar

Saddleback Caterpillar (Photo credit: cotinis)

Also known as “pack-saddles”, these two inch long caterpillars are very distinctive looking, and are the larvae stage of a brown moth native to eastern North America. They appear at the end of the summer gobbling up as much greenery as possible prior to pupating into a dull brown moth.

Non-descriptive brown moth

Non-descriptive brown moth

Saddleback Caterpillar

Saddleback Caterpillar (Photo credit: noramunro)

Saddlebacks feed on a large variety of plant material and usually are found on the underside of foliage and thus are easy to miss when you are pruning or weeding underneath greenery. My particular caterpillars were feeding on the underside of a weeping beech and I was crawling underneath the tree to prune it.  I felt an intense burning sensation and flinched back, but they had already stung me. The caterpillars have fleshy horns on either end bearing urticating hairs(irritating bristles) that secrete venom.  These are hollow quill-like hairs that have poisonous sacs at the base of them which can excrete a poisonous punch.The venom causes a very painful swelling and can cause nausea and a rash that can last for days.

Sting of a saddleback

Sting of a saddleback

 

The best remedy for the stinging and swelling is the application of ice.  Also, if you use some sticky tape to remove the barbs immediately, you can reduce the amount of poison that is excreted. If you are very allergic to stings, it is best to use an epi pen for a bad reaction. I always see these caterpillars in groups of 2 or 3, so you are likely to be stung by several at once. It just gives me shivers to think about it!

Acharia stimulea Clemens, 1960 Common Name: sa...

Acharia stimulea Clemens, 1960 Common Name: saddleback caterpillar Photographer: Robert L. Anderson, USDA Forest Service, United States Descriptor: Larva(e) Description: urticating hairs Image taken in: United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Lavender Honey Ice Cream

 

Lavender honey ice cream

Lavender honey ice cream

In experimenting with edible flowers, I came across a great recipe which I have tried several times and disappeared quickly in my household. It is really delicious and the best ice cream I have ever had! Lavender is an unlikely candidate for flavoring ice cream but it works. Go to Edible Flower Palette  and Eat Your Flowers!  to see more uses for edible flowers.

Fresh cut Phenomenal lavender

Lavender has just gotten easier to grow with the new variety, Phenomenal. Go to Lavender Fields Forever-Phenomenal!  to see how to grow this wonderfully fragrant herb. I used the honey from my hives for this, but you can use any mild flavored honey in this recipe, like clover or wildflower.

Lavender ice cream tops peach cake

Lavender ice cream tops peach cake

Lavender Honey Ice Cream

2 Cups Heavy Cream

1 Cup half and half

2/3 cup honey

2 Tablespoons dried edible lavender flowers

2 large eggs

1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

Bring cream, half and half, honey and lavender just to a boil in a 2 quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. Then remove pan from heat. Let steep for 30 minutes.

Pour cream mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and discard lavender. Return mixture to cleaned saucepan and heat over moderate heat until hot, not boiling.

Whisk together eggs and salt in a large bowl, then add 1 cup of the hot cream mixture in a slow stream, whisking. Pour into remaining hot cream mixture in saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly. When mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon and registers 170 to 175 degrees on a thermometer, about 5 minutes (do not let boil), take off heat.

Pour custard into clean bowl and cool completely, stirring occasionally. Chill, covered at least 3 hours.

Freeze in a ice cream maker and keep in freezer for several hours to harden.

Serve on top on peach cake for a great summer treat. Enjoy!

Lavender honey ice cream

Lavender honey ice cream

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Got Milk…….. Weed?

 

 

Painted Lady butterfly on milkweed

Painted Lady butterfly on milkweed

One of the most beautiful flowers, both in flower and seed pod, as well as great importance to wildlife, has been relegated to the roadside for years and virtually ignored. Asclepias syriaca, or common milkweed is struggling and harder to find because wild areas are disappearing and roadsides are  regularly mown. “Familiarity breeds contempt” is a common saying and one that I would apply to this plant. Only when something becomes scarce do we appreciate it, and I can see that happening with milkweed.

One colony of plants connected by underground roots

One colony of plants connected by underground roots

Acknowledged as a primary source for survival of many insects, notably the Monarch,  people are waking up to its integral role in supporting other wildlife. See my post Monarch Waystation on the many reasons to plant milkweed.

Milkweed has a highly complex flower structure and quite beautiful

Milkweed has a highly complex flower structure and is quite beautiful

Milkweed Facts

  • Milkweed is the only plant on which monarch butterflies will lay their eggs, and it is the primary food source for monarch caterpillars

  • It grows in colonies that expand in size every year; each individual in a colony is one side shoot of a large plant and are genetically identical or a clone; one large branching underground rhizome connects the entire colony

Milkweed's leaves are quite large

Milkweed’s leaves are quite large

  • The flowers are extremely fragrant and you can smell a colony long before you see it

  • Although one shoot may have between 300 to 500 flowers that make up the umbels, only a few of these develop into pods

    Pods of tropical milkweed

    Pods of tropical milkweed

     

  • Vegetative and flower growth is rapid, but the pod development is very slow

  • All pods are held vertically to the plant and hold many seeds; germination of these seeds is very sparse; it more likely expands by the underground rhizome than from seed

    Thorny pods of milkweed

    Thorny pods of milkweed

  • The nectar is very high in sugar content, 3% sucrose, and the supply is constantly being renewed over the life of the flower; the flowers produce much more concentrated nectar than the many insects that feed on it could ever remove

  • Milkweed teems with insect life, providing food and microhabitat to hundreds of insect varieties

     

  • At least 10 species of insects feed exclusively on milkweeds, notably the Monarch butterfly caterpillar

    Photo of Monarch Caterpillar by Martin LaBar

    Photo of Monarch Caterpillar by Martin LaBar

  • The adult Monarch lays its eggs on the leaves of common milkweed, the larvae live from its leaves and milky sap, and the adults drink from the flower nectar, although adults will drink from other flowers

  • The latex milky sap from the milkweed is extremely toxic to other wildlife and is concentrated in the tissues of the Monarch which protects it against predators

The milky sap is toxic

The milky sap is toxic

  • The adult Monarch migrates south. East of the Mississippi, they fly as far as 4,800 meters to over winter in Mexico, often to the same tree location

    Fluffy seeds of milkweed

    Fluffy seeds of milkweed

This relationship between the milkweed plant and the monarch butterfly makes the pairing a symbiosis, where they become one entity instead of two separate organisms.  One important fact that I gleaned from my research was that without the presence of the milkweed plant, monarchs would go extinct.

Other Varieties of Milkweed

Asclepias tuberosa, orange-flowered Milkweed below is probably my all time favorite for drawing insects and pollinators to the garden early in the season, around June for me. A long-lasting cut flower, I spot plant it through my borders to brighten up early summer plantings. It comes in an all yellow version called “Hellow Yellow”.

Other varieties of Milkweed or Butterfly Weed are beautiful  also

Other varieties of Milkweed or Butterfly Weed are beautiful also

Another milkweed which is a conversation piece oddity is Asclepias physocarpa, or Balloon plant, Family Jewels, or Hairy Balls. Forming puffy seed balls two to three inches in diameter, the orbs are covered with hairs and are quite bizarre looking. Perfect for flower arranging, the cut branches are quite expensive to buy from a florist, but easy to grow. A favored host of the Monarch butterfly, I always try to grow this plant for the odd looking pods.

Tropical milkweed

Tropical milkweed

Tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, is commonly seen growing in Florida and has bright red-orange and yellow flowers and is also a great nectar source. The leaves are narrower and the plant produces many more seed pods than the common milkweed.

 

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Lavender Fields Forever-Phenomenal!

 

Photographing lavender fields at Westwind Farm Studio in Portland, Oregon Photo courtesy of: Helen Battersby Toronto Gardens http://www.torontogardens.com – 2013 Canadian WebLog Award-Winner, Gardening (2nd) – One of SweetSpot’s Top 10 Canadian garden blogs

 It is a given that most gardeners want to grow lavender for its romance,  beauty, and scent. Unfortunately a lot of people get frustrated with the plant when it dies after a season or two. The main culprit that will kill a lavender plant is heat and humidity. But there is one variety that has been developed that will tolerate and thrive under those conditions – Phenomenal!

 

Happy to pick lavender

Happy to pick Phenomenal lavender!

Phenomenal Lavender

Phenomenal Lavender has hit the market by storm and I have grown it it now for two years. Supposedly more forgiving of heat and humidity which hits me hard in Maryland, this plant was chosen from thousands of lavenders for its amazing performance and resistance to root and foliar problems that tend to hit other lavenders. Patented by Lloyd and Candy Traven of Peacetree Farm, a wholesale greenhouse, Phenomenal is a great new introduction. A high oil content makes this plant an asset in the kitchen and bath. There is even a Facebook page for this variety! It was also named a ‘Must-Grow Perennial’ for 2013 by Better Homes & Gardens. Phenomenal sailed through our record-breaking winter temperatures for me without a hitch.

Fresh cut Phenomenal lavender

Fresh cut Phenomenal lavender

Growing Lavenders

Keep in mind that lavender is native to Mediterranean climates with a dry, rocky, and sunny climate, and you will get some clues on how to treat this versatile perennial. I visited a lavender farm in Oregon and saw beautiful fields of different varieties being grown side by side.

White and purple lavender side by side

White and purple lavender side by side

There are several pointers in keeping your lavender plants healthier and producing those beautiful aromatic wand-like flowers.

  1. Hardy to zone 5, lavender’s worst enemy is wet-think poor drainage, high humidity, and frequent rains

  2. No need to fertilize this plant; Think lean and mean!

  3. Drought resistant yes! But don’t forget to water new transplants until rooted in

  4. Make sure there is plenty of air circulation between plants so that moisture and dampness is not a problem

  5. Apply mulch in areas where the ground freezes and thaws throughout the winter

  6. In spring, a little pruning is in order; Cut back a third of the plant for better form when you see new green growth at the base of the plant

  7. Always, always plant in full sun

White lavender is beautiful but doesn't have the same intense scent as blue lavender

White lavender is beautiful but doesn’t have the same intense scent as purple lavender

 

 Besides being beautiful and aromatic, lavender flowers are also edible. They can be used raw in salads, added to soups and stews, used as a seasoning, baked into cookies and brewed into tea. See my post on Edible Flower Palette  for more ideas on edible flowers.

Pollination Powerhouse

Lavender is one of the top ten flowers for honeybees and other bees. Lavender honey is sublime! Here is a video of the buzzing bees that constantly cover this plant. See my post on Plant These For The Bees on other flowers that bees love.

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Eat Your Flowers!

Edible flowers garnish a green salad
Edible flowers garnish a green salad-Calendula, Nasturtiums, Pansies, Borage

 Edible flowers make everything beautiful to eat. Used in appetizers, salads, entrees, drinks, and desserts, they make food fun to eat. Eye and sensory appeal for food is everything. If the dish is beautiful, colorful, and interesting, people will dive right in. Go to my post Edible Flower Palette for more ideas on uses and suitable flower varieties.

Edible palette of flowers

Edible palette of flowers

There are lots of books on edible flowers, their uses, and recipes, but the most useful one that I have found is Eat Your Roses by Denise Schreiber. 

The book is chock full of luscious recipes and I appreciated that it was printed in a spiral bound hard cover book that was easy to flip through in the kitchen. The pages were glossy thick paper that would be easy to wipe off splatters. No propping a cookbook up and having the pages flip closed while you are cooking!

More Than Just A Pretty Face

I learned in the book that not only are edible flowers attractive but many are chock full of vitamins and other good things.  Lutein, which is used for vitamin formulations for eyesight, is found in Marigolds.

Lutein is found in Marigolds

Lutein is found in Marigolds

Recipes like Nasturtium Bundles-beautifully scalloped nasturtium leaves rolled around a mixture of goats cheese, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, and tied up with chive stems, made me want to get into the kitchen and start working. I think I will try them for an upcoming party as a showpiece appetizer.  And Lemon Verbena Salmon is definitely on my list to try as I have a bumper crop of that pungent citrusy herb growing in my garden.

I tried the Oven Roasted Italian Green Beans with Onion Flowers and was wowed by eating this recipe of green beans after I had grown tired of my harvest of plain steamed green beans. I couldn’t face another green bean after eating them plain for weeks, but when I made this dish, it changed the whole taste and look of green beans. Here is the recipe From Denise’s book:

 the cookie sheet with green beans, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, breadcrumbs and cheese

Loading the cookie sheet with green beans, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, breadcrumbs and cheese

Oven Roasted Italian Green Beans with Onion Flowers from “Eat Your Roses” by Denise Schreiber

1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed

2 Cups Water

3 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup olive oil

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 tablespoon onion flowers, fresh or dried

2 tablespoons bread crumbs

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

In a saucepan, bring water to a boil and cook the beans for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Melt butter and oil together and add garlic. Add pine nuts, breadcrumbs and cheese. Toss with the cooked beans, place on a cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until the beans are a bit crispy but done.

Serves 2 – 3

Variation with Basil Flowers

Onion and Cardinal Basil Flowers

Onion and Cardinal Basil Flowers

I added some chopped up flowers from my Cardinal Basil for extra color and zest. See my post on Cardinal Basil-Striking Beauty to read about this great spicy basil. It is a wonderful cut flower as well as a great ingredient for cooking.

Oven Roasted Green Beans with Onion Flowers and Cardinal Basil Flowers

Oven Roasted Green Beans with Onion Flowers and Cardinal Basil Flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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