Monday, September 15, 2014

Tomatillos for Twenty

Until now, I’ve never grown tomatillos and have seldom eaten them, yet I decided to buy and plant four varieties earlier this year in my community garden plot. (Click here for how to pronounce tomatillo.) I had no expectations other than hoping that they would grow and provide a few fruit. It’s a good thing I was enthusiastic with my initial purchase, because unbeknownst to me, two or more plants are needed for proper pollination.

My tomatillo experiment is wildly exceeding my initial low expectations. Currently, many are bursting their inedible, paper-like husks, a sign that they are ready to be picked, eaten fresh, or fried, boiled, roasted or steamed before being consumed. An unexpected advantage of tomatillos is that they store well: they will keep refrigerated for several weeks, longer if the husks are removed and they are stored in sealed plastic bags in the refrigerator (one source said up to 3 months). They can also be frozen whole or sliced.

As part of the nightshade family, tomatillos (Physolis ixocarpa and P. philadelphica) are a cousin to tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant. Native to Mexico and domesticated by the Aztecs around 800 BC, tomatillos are an important part of Mexican cuisine and the key ingredient in green sauces. They need full sun, well-drained moderately rich soil and plenty of water. Plant at the same time you set out tomatoes when all danger of frost is past and the soil is warm. The plants are sprawling, growing 3-4 feet tall and wide. I didn’t provide any support for them this year, but will use tomato cages when I plant them next year to minimize the growing space they require.

Many green salsa recipes using tomatillos can be found online. I made an easy refreshing cold soup using mine. Here’s how I did it:

•    Roast/char the tomatillos under the broiler
•    Put them in the food processor with fresh tomatoes from the garden (about a 1:1 mixture), pulsing until little pulp remains
•    Add a little cumin, salt and a wee bit of sugar to taste
•    Serve cold or at room temperature

Monday, September 8, 2014

Finishing Touches in the Garden

Rocks in the garden are the equivalent of mascara for blond eyelashes. (Note: This is the opinion of a strawberry blond that is seldom seen outside her neighborhood without mascara.) Rocks make elements in the garden stand out ... and they add a little magic. Prior to last year, I had two rocks in my garden. Now they define entry points onto paths, define space, add water elements, act as stepping stones in my mushy grass (I can now traverse my garden without muddy feet even in the wettest of weather) and provide seating in the form of a semi-circular rock wall. I dream of lining my gravel paths and beds with them, too. I have books filled with ways to use rocks in the garden, and Pinterest offers lots of inspiration. The use of rocks is virtually limitless in a garden setting. If I had three wishes from a genie, I very likely would use one of them to make rocks weigh less. Moving the darn things is probably the biggest obstacle to using more of them. Do rocks play an important role in your garden?

Three basalt columns. One with still water; the other two with bamboo spouts.
One of my all time favorite fountains.
Rock as an eye-catching mulch.
Perhaps easier than building a short wall? Photo: Pinterest
Mary-Kate Mackey created her own alpine scree where dwarf conifers and Lewisia thrive.
Loose Mexican pebbles (with concrete keystone) add color and stature to the transitional space between driveway and my garden's gate.
Rocks aid in managing stormwater runoff. From a courtyard designed by Steven Koch, FASLA.
Rock as art - painted green and used as sculpture in this case. Michael Schultz designed this garden.
Hosting a miniature fairy house. How adorable is that?!?! Photo: Pinterest

This looks like the fantastic work of Jeffrey Bale. Photo: Pinterest
A magical mix of stones. Photo: Pinterest

Photo: Pinterest

Large stone pavers are beautifully crafted to create a safe, level walkway while stacked rocks define garden beds.

A rock "chair" in the dry stack wall.
The kind of low rock wall I'd love to have in my garden.

Beautiful stone steps. The more rustic coloration works well with the drought tolerant plantings.

The various stones add visual interest and provide a place to stop and enjoy the bubbler.

Same stones, but the path to the front door is mortared while the gaps between stones in less formal patio is not.

Reinforcing the Japanese style in this garden, rocks do it all: create points of entry, establish the edges of raised beds, and lead the eye through the space.
Beautiful rock wall (and garden) designed by Adriana Berry, APLD, of Plant Passion Design LLC. It's a great place to relax and enjoy different views of the garden ... and expands seating for garden parties!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Hardy and Hungry Pitcher Plants

Insects fall prey to these carnivorous plants. Their modified leaves form a deep cavity filled with liquid that entices then traps and drowns insects. The plants are fascinating to children and adults alike. While the culinary habits of their leaves are intriguing and possibly off-putting, the shape of the Sarracenia genus and its many hybrids is undeniably elegant and luscious. According to Wikipedia, the plants derive mineral nutrition from the insects dissolving in the pitcher’s liquid. Known as trumpet pitchers, they look tender yet they are typically hardy in USDA zones 5a-9b. So hardy in fact, that Sarracenia purpurea is the floral emblem for the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I’ve seen pitcher and other carnivorous plants at plant sales and garden shows and have been tempted to give them a try, but so far I’ve resisted. Then recently I saw them in a garden (see photos) and once again I’m tempted. They need a sunny or part sun location and a wet environment during the growing season—May through October. It sounds like they may need some additional attention during their dormant season. That’s a conversation I’ll have to have with a nursery … or perhaps you know the secret to their winter survival?

To learn more about Sarrocenia and other pitcher plant genus, check out One local source for Sarracenia is Dancing Oaks Nursery.

Name that Plant

I was strolling through an open garden and shot this image. Can you guess what plant it is? It certainly offers fabulous texture and color!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Topiaries Herald Seasons and Occasions

Created by Lori Vollmer, co-owner of Garden Fever!
The Farwest Trade Show, a wholesale show for the horticulture industry, wrapped up August 23. On the show floor we organized a display of sculpted plants, which we defined as plants that have been sheared or trained into a form. Sculpting plants can turn the mundane and common (think Thuja/arborvitae, juniper, spruce, pine or boxwood) into something strikingly visual and attention-grabbing. Several years ago, I decorated a spiral arborvitae for Christmas and was thrilled with the results. So I asked a landscape designer, a garden center owner and a garden center merchandiser to decorate a sculpted plant in the display. The intention was to spark the creativity of people attending the show and to get them to think about sculpted plants differently. Perhaps it will spark your creativity and get you to take a second look at sculpted plants.

From sentimental to creating a statement for the doorstep or event, the creative possibilities are limitless! Have you decorated a sculpted plant with good results?
Created by Paul Taylor , ONCP Garden Design and Consultation, titled Gardening Through the Ages, it is decorated with well-used gloves, children's garden tools and family photos.

Lori Vollmer from Garden Fever! created this 16-foot tall topiary titled Namaste. Perfect for a bridal event or other celebratory gathering.

A close-up of the bottom ball of Namaste, created by Lori Vollmer from Garden Fever! Luscious!

Celebrate Fall with this or a similar design. Created by Sheressa Dolph from Al's Garden Center in Woodburn using a juniper spiral. Her creation is titled Fashionable Fall Fanfare.

My attempt at decorating an arborvitae spiral with a rainbow of plastic ornaments and twinkling white lights that put me and my neighbors in a festive mood.
PS: I’m throwing in some photos of other sculpted plants, many of which were stunning, including the 16-foot tall Heuchera tree by Garden Gallery Iron Works (the Terra Nova Nurseries plants were grown by Blooming Nursery for the display).

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Shiny Leaves in the Garden

Pachysandra terminalis 'Green Sheen'
Pachysandra terminalis ‘Green Sheen’ started it all. With its incredibly shiny reflective leaves, it’s impossible to stroll by without noticing it. Except for its sheen, it’s a rather unremarkable plant, but in my shady garden, its shiny surface shouts, “Pause and look at me!” So I started looking for other leaves that had the same effect. Ajuga reptans ‘Metallica Crispa’, Osmanthus rotundifolius, Polystichum setiferum (Shield Fern), and Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’ are shiny standouts in my garden, especially ‘Metallica Crispa’. I was curious about other plants that offered shiny foliage, which is especially useful in a shady spot. I happened to be at Portland Nursery for a class, so I took a quick stroll around to see which plants offered intensely shiny foliage and here’s a short list of what I found:
  • Angelica pachycarpa (so incredible I bought one even though I knew nothing about the plant!)
  • Bergenia cordifolia (virtually any cultivar, and its broad dramatic leaves heighten the effect)
  • Cyrtomium falcatum (Japanese Holly Fern)
  • Euonymus japonicas ‘Macrophyllus Butterscotch’
  • Fatsia japonica (I am on the fence about this plant, but its leaves are big and shiny)
  • Heuchera ‘Midnight Ruffles’ or other dark-leaved cultivars
  • Ilex x meservae ‘MonNieves’ PP21941 (Scallywag™ Holly)
  • Quercus robur x bicolor ‘Long’ PP12673 (Regal Prince® Oak)

Do you have a favorite shiny leaved plant?

Ajuga reptans ‘Metallica Crispa’
Osmanthus rotundifolius
Polystichum setiferum (Shield Fern)
Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’
Angelica pachycarpa
Bergenia cordifolia
Cyrtomium falcatum (Japanese Holly Fern)
Euonymus japonicas ‘Macrophyllus Butterscotch’
Fatsia japonica
Heuchera ‘Midnight Ruffles’
Photo: Terra Nova Nurseries Inc

Scallywag™ Holly
Regal Prince® Oak