December 7, 2019

At this time of year I love to peruse cooking magazines in pursuit of fresh takes on holiday side dishes or a new twist for everyday standards. It is amazing how frequently thyme is a primary ingredient. This very versatile herb adds depth to savory dishes and cuts the mouth feel of fatty foods. Be forewarned that fresh thyme turns black in acidic dishes (think tomatoes), so always used dried in those recipes.

There are over 10...

November 30, 2019

The holiday season is officially in full swing.  Many folks may celebrate by popping a cork or two. 

Cork grows on trees. The cork layer covers the bark protecting the trees from heat and fire. But most cork used commercially comes from one kind of tree, the cork oak, which has a thicker cork layer than other trees.

The cork oak is an evergreen, Quercus suber, that is native to the western Mediterranean region. Most cork i...

November 23, 2019

Would  Turkey Day seem complete without  cranberry sauce? Whether we love it or loathe it, most of us will not be without this uniquely American fare come Thursday. 

The cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpan, is native to the acid bogs of eastern North America. Native Americans of the Narraganset tribe used the berries for dye as well as for food. No doubt they introduced the fruit to the Pilgrims. 

Today the United States...

November 16, 2019

Few topics have sparked more discussion among my old garden club buddies than the age-old conundrum: What is the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?

Grocers use both terms when labeling bins of fresh tubers, but I doubt many of us have eaten real yams. Yams, Dioscorea, are a food staple throughout the islands of the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and tropical Africa. There are 600 species of yams. Many of the tubers are...

November 9, 2019

In Flanders fields the poppies blow  

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below….

This poem was written by Canadian John McCrae shortly before he was killed fighting on the western front during World War I. That war ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In Canada, November 11 is a day to remember

the fal...

November 4, 2019

The olive harvest is in full swing. It began in late September as the dark green fruit matured to a light green. All olives will eventually ripen to black or dark red. Picking the ripe olives in December marks the end of the harvest season.

This is a very labor-intensive task in that it is not mechanized. Tarps are spread under the trees. Then the olives are gently dislodged by the pickers. The tarps are carefully emptied into...

October 26, 2019

Many years ago I read a magazine article about a woman who tore out her two-year-old professionally-planned landscape because she had to have nothing but black and green flowers. At the time I thought that she must have more money than sense. The tincture of time has not altered my view of her judgment. That being said, though, there is an amazing selection of black flowers to choose among.

Whether flower, fruit or foliage, the...

October 19, 2019

Does any flower trigger more impulse buying than the tulip? I confess to perusing every colorful catalog that lands in my mailbox. When I lived in Nebraska, I indulged in a personal “tulip mania” every year. When everyone was weary of winter’s ceaseless grip the sight of a mass of mixed orange and purple tulips brought ‘round the after-church sightseers! 

The year I discovered a wholesale source, I went wild buying 500 of the D...

October 12, 2019

No topic leads to enthusiastic discussion at a rose club meeting more than dealing with deer. Both members and visiting speakers share tales of battles with Bambi, what works and what does not. Though deer stay out of my fenced yard, preferring those unenclosed landscapes next to their habitat, I do deal with them at the churchyard rose garden I have cared for for nine years.

I can testify that deer have their favorite roses as...

October 5, 2019

Tomorrow is the last day of Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. The festival began in 1810 as a celebration of the crown prince’s marriage and has continued every year since. In Munich the 17-day event begins in September and ends the first Sunday in October. About six million people attend—making it the world’s largest folk festival—enjoying a carnival atmosphere as well as traditional music, foods and of course beer.

Certainly th...

September 28, 2019

Grafting, or joining parts of two plants so that they grow as one, is a commonly employed technique in the nursery industry. It is a relatively fast way to produce lots of woody plants. It also ensures that the cultivar is true to type. For example, commercially-produced avocados are grown on grafted stock both to ensure the quality of the fruiting part and to quickly create an orchard.

Grafting can also be used to provide for...

September 21, 2019

Each year as we pass through the fabled dog days, I notice the changing angle of the sun in my garden even before the shortening days become evident. I love this anticipation of autumn. We think of spring as a time of renewal when many wildflowers dot the landscape, but Nature also puts on a spectacular show as summer draws to a close.

Unlike the subtle approach of spring, this meadow is resplendent, packed with towering flower...

September 15, 2019

Much of the time when bad things happen in the garden I just accept that we can do nothing about the weather. It is what it is and it is a huge factor in susceptibility to disease. I know we all felt very bad for our May picnic hostess when continuously wet weather led to an attack of botrytis (a.k.a. gray mold) on all of her rose blossoms just in time for the event.

Beyond disease problems, the abundant rain these past few sea...

September 7, 2019

One of the most striking shade-loving plants is mahonia. This family of evergreen shrubs is native to the woodlands of Asia and North and Central America. In the landscape the shrubs are valued for their fascinating foliage, fragrant flowers and decorative fruit. The long leaves resemble stiff, spiked fern fronds. The panicles of yellow flowers, produced in winter or very early spring, are followed by purple, blue or red fruit...

August 31, 2019

Horticultural gardens in Europe began as apothecary gardens. Universities established them on their grounds so that medical students could become familiar with medicinal plants. 

(Photo: Hortus Botanicus at the university of Leiden, the oldest University in the Netherlands. The garden was installed in 1594, and this is from the oldest section of the garden.)

During the Age of Exploration exotic plants were pouring into Europe f...

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