A more familiar sight in New Orleans and Alabama, the Southern Magnolia is a wonderful evergreen tree with broad shiny leaves and huge (up to 30″ in diameter) white fragrant flowers. It is the latest bloomer of all the magnolias in the midwest, it blooms at the end of May, beginning of June, when other trees are long done flowering. The flowers develop into an artichoke shaped fruit, filled with beautiful flaming red seeds that look like corn kernels.
The tree, once established, is unpretentious and resilient, and it successfully withstands negative Fahrenheit temperatures with minimal damage. It changes its leathery leaves all year long, but goes through a major shedding in spring.
Speaking of attractive garden features for the cold season, this tree looks like this picture, minus the flower, in the dead of winter.
Peppers, like all vegetables, like a warm, sunny spot (at least 8 hours of full sun exposure) with good loamy soil and plenty of water. These plants were started indoors in February and transplanted to the garden after April 21, the date of last frost in zone 5. Bell Pepper plants will produce about a dozen fruits on a plant during the growing season. As you probably know, green peppers are just red or yellow peppers that are not yet ripened. So, if you want colorful veggies to grace your dinner table, just wait a little longer.
Bell Peppers, especially the red, yellow and orange ones, are high in fiber and excellent sources of vitamins A and C. Eat them raw during the growing season and can some for the winter. Please check out the “Art of Preserves” section this fall for pepper pickling recipes.
I haven’t had much luck with fuchsias, not for lack of trying, but I can’t help getting them because they are so exquisitely pretty. Take a look at this picture and tell me if you have seen a more sophisticated and imaginative flower. I like them all, the pink stars with purple ruffled skirts, the hot pink rose like blossoms with white bulbous middles, the all pink angled shapes, the waxy red pendulous shapes, I like them all. They are finicky little things with particular tastes that I haven’t yet figured out. They like dappled shade and should do well on a partly shaded terrace, hanging close to you, so you can fully appreciate their intricate form. Fuchsias don’t like wet feet, so don’t over water. I have yet to get one to last through the winter. Maybe this year…
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.
Basil is a special sacred herb, with uses from scenting of holy water and dressing up icons to seasoning tomato sauces and filling fragrant sachets for linen closets. Girls of older times used to place basil flowers under their pillows to dream who they would marry. This sun loving annual plant with its intense incense aroma has been traditionally used to infuse cooking oils, which is a healthy way to spice up your salad, since basil provides excellent benefits for your digestive tract. It is a wonderful companion plant for tomatoes and peppers, plant them together and they will all thrive and become more flavorful. Pick up the flowers before they ripen because after growing and spreading its seed, the plant will die. The highly fragrant basil flowers, which range in color from white to pink to lavender and purple, will spice up a bath sachet or a linen closet and keep moths away. Keep reading the “Fragrant Sachets of Dried Herbs” section for ways to dry and use basil.
Scarlet Runner Beans are not legumes, they are a piece of history. The red and white variety “Painted Lady” was grown in the kitchen gardens as early as 1750. In the beginning people cultivated them for their highly decorative flowers and seed pods, and only later figured out they were good to eat. The flowers are beautiful enough to compete with the sweet peas. They are not fragrant, but they are gorgeous vibrant shades of red, white and purple. The seed pods turn an intense coppery purple in the fall, and inside you will find beans that range from monochrome to calico combinations of purple, red and white.
The plants don’t like the heat and will put off yielding seeds till later in the season, when the weather turns cooler. For some varieties the bean pods grow up to a foot long. The beautiful flowers attract humming birds.
There are many plants that provide winter interest, especially on the backdrop of snow. Holly berries, the beautiful red canes of dogwood, wild rose hips, the echinacea seed pods, fountain grasses all provide color and texture during a season when color is scarce. Make sure to plant some of these plants in your garden so that you have something to enjoy during the long cold winter months.
I will follow up with more examples of plants that provide interest in your garden during all its seasons.
Tomatoes are by far the most cultivated edible and they are fruit, not vegetables. There are two ways to categorize tomatoes. First, they can be determinate (shorter, stockier types that don’t need staking, take a shorter time to bear fruit and produce all the yield more or less at the same time; they are good for tomato sauce and canning), and indeterminate (take about 80 days to produce fruit, they are tall and need to be staked, and produce small yields all summer long. They are sweeter and more flavorful and are great eaten raw). The second way to categorize tomatoes is open pollinated( will produce identical offspring with the parents) and hybrid varieties (the flowers do not consistently produce offspring that maintains the parent qualities).
Without further ado, here are some popular, high yield varieties of tomatoes:
Beefsteak (shown here) – Indeterminate, hybrid. The largest tomatoes, some weigh up to a pound. Perfect slicing tomatoes for sandwiches. Very productive.
Gardener’s delight – Indeterminate, open pollinated cherry tomatoes. Small but very sweet fruits. Children love them. Very productive.
Better Boy – Indeterminate, hybrid. Large, very high yield tasty slicing tomatoes.
Sungold – Indeterminate, hybrid. Orange productive and tasty cherry tomatoes.
Brandywine – Indeterminate, open pollinated. Meaty sandwich tomato, tasty and productive.
Early Girl – Indeterminate, hybrid. Very sweet, prone to cracking in the rain.
INGREDIENTS: (1) cup of infused oil (see instructions below), (1) ounce of beeswax.
To prepare infused oil, fill a glass jar with the dried aromatic plant of choice ( in this case dried calendula petals mixed with dried crushed mint leaves) and pour enough good quality oil in the jar to completely cover them. Place a piece of cheesecloth or an unbleached coffee filter over the mixture, secure it with a rubber band and place the jar in a sunny window for 10 days. Do not put a lid on the jar, or you might need to paint the ceiling sooner than you planned. After 10 days strain out the plant material to recover the oil. Good oils to use are almond oil, coconut oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil.
To prepare the salve, warm but don’t boil the infused oil. Separately melt the wax and pour it into the warmed oil. Pour a drop of the mixture onto a plate and put it in the freezer until it cools completely. After it cooled, try it on your hands for consistency. If it is too thin, add more wax. If it is too thick, add more oil. Pour the warm liquid in small tins or glass jars and allow it to cool down completely before covering. Keep it in the refrigerator for up to a year.
Garden Phlox is a perennial staple for the northern gardens. A resilient, care-free, sun loving plant, it is adorned with bunches of flowers ranging in color from white to bright magenta. Most of the varieties are wonderfully scented. The white variety “David” is exquisitely fragrant. It blooms all summer and the blooms last a long time. Phlox can be propagated by seed, cuttings, and clump division. From my experience, it is quite a prolific self-seeder, so make sure to deadhead the ripened flowers if you don’t want it spreading.
The Garden Phlox is an unpretentious flower, but don’t underestimate it. It is quite spectacular in mass plantings, it fills your garden with its fragrance, and butterflies love it. Don’t plant it in crowded places because it is susceptible to mildew and it needs lots of air movement around its canes to stay healthy. It grows tall and broad, so it is not a candidate for the front row.