These colorful Four O’Clocks (second year plants, produced from last year’s seeds) are thriving in my garden and they are very prolific in generating seeds. The seeds themselves are quite intriguing, like dark and shiny peppercorns ready to fall out of their green casing at the slightest touch.
Enjoying the flowers is quite a different matter, though. I had to watch the plants for days in order to get the picture above. They seem to open at random times of day, if they feel like it, and they stay open for a few minutes. I don’t understand how they manage to produce seed, but they do.
Four O’Clocks require little care and will quickly cover a patch of dirt if they have enough sunlight (4 to 6 hours a day). The blooms are not fragrant; they sport every hue in the fuchsia, pink, magenta and white range, or combination thereof, and create a bright and cheerful display when open.
If you like the blooms, make sure you take photos: they are not the kind of plants you can proudly present to your fellow gardeners during a stroll through the garden.
I thought I would show them off, so I took my own advice and photographed them.
Refine the task of collecting seeds, especially if you are planning on giving them away to friends and family or participating in seed exchange programs. Making packaging an integral part of seed collection encourages you to be more organized and makes it easier to find what you need in spring.
This is a nice task to give kids, since they are excited about creating little projects. Here are a few photos of packets that my daughter made for seeds harvested this year. The seeds are organized by annuals, biennials and perennials and the packets are easy to open to add some more seeds as they become available.
Make sure to label the packets with the family, species and color of the plant, whether it is annual or perennial, and what color it is, as well as the date the seeds were harvested. This may seem like overkill to some, but everyone who harvested seed heads from purple and pink bee balms, for instance, knows that there is no way to tell the color after the petals fell off. So if you are excited about planting white zinnias, you will not get the “mixed color border of the wrong height” next year.
Besides the advantage of knowing what seeds you have and where they are, the packets make for a nice conversation piece when you give them away, and the kids can turn the seed box into a mini science project to show off at school.
As you get more packets and more plant seeds the information on the labels can be expanded to include the botanical names (which give great insight into what plants are from the same family and therefore have similar needs and qualities), spacing and care requirements, whether the plants like the sun or the shade, and how they performed in your garden the previous years.
Packets with detailed information are especially useful if you like crossing different cultivars to get new plant varieties.
African Violets are extremely easy to propagate from leaf cuttings. I don’t know how I can fill a whole post with details of the process, but all there is to it is cut a leaf and stick it in the ground: it will take care of itself from here.
Of course, it helps if you dip the stem in rooting hormone and keep the dirt moist. For a couple of weeks it looks like it is not doing anything, and then the miracle happens.
Did you know that lupines and beans are first cousins? If you didn’t, the seed pods might give you an inkling. As a part of the Fabaceae family, the lupines grow their offspring in the familiar seed pods, that are to beans what mastodons are to elephants. Spiky, hairy and archaic, the lupine beans look sort of familiar. As all members of the bean family, they can process the nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots as ammonia, thus improving the soil for the surrounding plants. They are also perennials, so you can watch them grow and spread year after year. Lupines are tall, imposing plants that do well against a wall or in the center of the border. They are sun loving plants, so make sure to plant them in a spot that gets plenty of sunshine.
How unearthly does that look! The “Giant Allium” does not only produce the well known beautiful purple globes, but after the flowers fade, it turns into this unbelievable spaceship seed. Don’t get overexcited though, the allium is done blooming mid June, and the seedpods don’t last long enough to provide winter interest. Another downer is that the flowers are either sterile or new plants are not coming true from seed.
That being said, though, it is a must in the perennial garden. The giant alliums come out faithfully year after year and if the conditions are good (at least part-sun and plenty of water), they will spread. You can dig them out and divide them in the fall to get more of these beautiful plats in your garden. They are completely care free, once you planted them and gave them a little bit of food, they will not need anything else. They are not disease prone and will not crowd your other plants. After the seeds are ripened, the plant dies back and will come back next spring.
This perennial grows up to 2 feet in height and about a foot wide and will provide food for the birds, bees and butterflies. Alliums are not scented, but the huge flower balls up to 8 inches in diameter are spectacular. Another plus is that squirrels don’t seem to have an appetite for the bulbs, so if you plant them in the fall, you’ll see them the following spring.
If you decide to try your luck and propagate the plant from seed, just let the seeds dry on the plant and store them in a brown paper bag in a place where they will not be susceptible to mold.
Come spring, plant in peat moss under a plastic or glass cover to contain the moisture. Good luck. If nothing else, you’ll satisfy your curiosity with respect to what can come out of those seeds. If you really, really want more of these beautiful plants, divide the bulbs.
Any healthy, seed free plant material can go in the compost pile. You can also include grass clippings, if you don’t treat your lawn with herbicides. Adding vegetable scraps and eggshells will speed up the process of turning compost into fertile garden soil material, and adding well rotted manure will too. Layering plant material with a matter rich in nitrogen in 6″ layers will provide the optimal compost pile.
Unfortunately, the entire process doesn’t smell or look good, so you might consider a closed system with a wheel so that you can turn the compost without stirring up the smell. These systems are designed to speed up the process too, so you get compost sooner. Also, be courteous to your neighbors and place the system in a remote enough location where it won’t bother anybody.
How much and when?
Feeding: Some people like to compare the synthetic fertilizers with drugs. They have high potency and feed only the plant, which becomes dependent, not the soil, which in time deteriorates and does not replenish its resources to allow plants to thrive. If you have to use fertilizer, try an organic, slow release product twice a year, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t fertilize in the fall, except for newly planted bulbs. Plants need to adjust to going dormant and eating less. Otherwise, the best option for fertilizing would be your home made compost, which turns all your plant waste into a rich, nourishing material resembling top soil. Quick tip: you can drop plant material in not so visible locations of your flower beds and they will turn to compost without the pile and the smell, enriching the soil in place.
Watering: Some say that watering is a luxury, not a necessity, and the plants, other than the ones in containers, should be able to thrive on the rainwater available that year. I say if the dirt looks dry, water. There is nothing that looks sadder and more neglected than a garden full of wilted plants.
The summer garden has a more tired look than the exuberant garden of spring. It needs a little more care to look its best:
- make sure to water it often enough (if the plants look wilted or the dirt cracks, it has been too long)
- keep the plants deadheaded and remove the dead leaves from plants that go dormant after the spring bloom
- keep the weeds in check, they will sprout out of nowhere and take over if you let them
- feed the plants for a second wave of bloom
- wait for fall to move perennials, especially the larger clumps, heat can be very stressful for a transplanted plant.
INGREDIENTS: (1) bowl of black raspberries, (2) pounds of sugar, (3) cups of water, juice from one lemon.
Wash the raspberries, drain them well and dry them on a paper towel until all remaining water is completely absorbed.
Boil the water and sugar together in a nonstick pot on low heat until the sugar dissolves completely. Turn the heat up and let it boil quickly until it turns to syrup. To check for the right consistency, spill a droplet of syrup on a cold plate. It should look like a little bead and keep its shape. Don’t let the syrup boil for too long, though. When it cools down it will turn too tough to use. Skim the surface foam as it appears until the surface is clean.
When the syrup reached the desired consistency, drop the raspberries in it. Do not stir with a spoon; just shake the pot gently to move the fruit around without crushing it.
Bring the mixture to a boil and set it aside for 15 minutes, so that the raspberries can release their juice. Skim any additional foam off the surface. Add the liquid from one lemon and stir very gently. Boil the preserves again and try the consistency with the method above until droplets keep their shape.
Allow the jam to cool down. Cover the pot with a damp cheese cloth and let the preserves rest till the next day.
Fill glass jars to the brim, seal them with parchment paper and/or lids and boil the jars in at least 2 inches of water for 15 minutes. This process will sterilize the contents and seal the jars. Pull the jars out and let them cool down slowly. Enjoy.
This recipe is for the real hard core foodies out there; it is an old fashioned fruit preserve that successfully graced my grandparents’ pantry year after year when I was a child. It calls for black raspberries, but it will work with any kind of raspberries or blackberries, or even wild mountain strawberries if you have them.
If you never made fruit preserves before, the heavenly fragrance that envelops your home while the fruit and sugar meld their flavors alone is worth the effort. So, put away the fragrant candles and start the pot boiling. You will have a wonderful aroma in your home, a great sweet treat to enjoy, brag about and offer as a gift, and have the satisfaction of creating a product from your garden produce, if you are one of the lucky few whose garden is producing more berries than you can eat.
Local craft stores have an infinite supply of raffia, bows, colorful printed wax paper, old fashioned little jars and labels, so you can package this little product beautifully to decorate the open shelves of your kitchen or offer as a gift. If you want to go old school, don’t put lids on the jars: cut a little cardboard circle to fit the top of the jar perfectly and cover with wax paper or colorful plastic wrapping; tie with raffia or brown string. Make sure to tie it very tightly around the jar neck. If any air gets in after the jars are sterilized, the preserves might get moldy.
INGREDIENTS: (1) bowl of strawberries, (2) pounds of sugar, (3) cups of water, juice from one lemon.
Soak the strawberries in ice water for an hour. Change the water a couple of times so that it stays ice cold. Strain them and drain them on a towel. After they are dry, place them in a heavy non-stick pan in alternating layers with sugar and end with a thick layer of sugar on top. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon on top. Cover the pan with a cheese cloth and let stand over night in a cool place for 10 to 12 hours.
Place the pan on low heat till all the sugar dissolves, mixing very gently as to not crush the fruit, and then turn up the heat and let it come to a boil. Skim the foam as it appears. Add the juice from the other half lemon and let it boil until a bead of syrup will keep its shape when dropped on a cold plate. Do not over boil, it burns and turns very tough quickly.
Pour the preserves in a clean dry pan and cover it with a damp cheese cloth. When the mixture has cooled down, pour it in mason jars and follow the sealing and pasteurizing instructions written in the black raspberry jam recipes.