Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison
U is for Umbelliferae. Umbelliferae is the family of plants that includes carrots, cilantro/coriander/ dill, lovage, parsley, parsnips and Queen Anne’s Lace. As well as a few others. I hadn’t thought about the range of this family until I read Vegetable Literacy, a wonderfully informative horticultural book – and cook book filled with delicious recipes.
The name Umbelliferae refers to the type of flower form – umbel.
I wrote about Queen Anne’s Lace here and identified it as Daucus carota, or wild carrot. You would understand the wild carrot part if you ever sniffed a Queen Anne’s Lace root. Daucus is a genus within the larger umbelliferae kingdom. The taxonomy rules go from Kindgdom, to Phylum to Class to Series to Family to Genus to Species. There are about 3,700 species in the Umbelliferae Kingdom.
You can see the similarity between the Queen Anne’s Lace Flower and this dill flower starting to go to seed.
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Morning glories in Heath
Annual climbing vines add an important dimension to any garden. We have trees reaching for the sky and flowers and vegetables covering the ground. Climbing vines as simple as scarlet runner beans or morning glories and as elegant as clematis add something very special to our gardens.
I have a friend who made a small arbor for herself in the middle of her garden, where she put a chair to give herself someplace to rest between bouts of weeding. She planted scarlet runner beans all around it to provide shade and brilliant color. Scarlet runner beans need nothing more than sun and ordinary good garden soil. They can be planted indoors three weeks before the last frost, hardened off, and then set out in the garden when frost is no longer a threat. Although they make beautiful shade and attract bees, scarlet runner beans are also good to eat. Keep picking the beans and the flowers will keep blooming.
Trellis for scarlet runner beans
Sweet peas are another colorful and sometimes fragrant annual vine that, like other peas, welcomes the cool spring weather and soil. They can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked. Renee’s Garden seeds offer a large variety of sweet peas including varieties that are suitable for small containers or flower boxes. A trellis to hold these beauties up can be as simple as a wire fence or a handmade twig trellis, or a metal obelisk bought at the garden store.
Morning glories remind me of my grandmother’s garden. I loved the traditional Heavenly Blue, but I usually plant Grandpa Ott, a deep purple morning glory with a wine-red star. This usually reseeds, so although an annual, I rarely have to replant. My Heath Grandpa Ott grew up an arbor post and would bloom well into the fall. One tip for planting morning glories in the ground is to soak the seeds overnight. Make sure no more frost is expected.
The descriptively named cup and saucer vine, Cobea scandens, is a fast growing tropical vine and is an annual in our climate. It will grow up to 20 feet in one season. It must be planted after threats of frost when the soil is a bit warmer. Like morning glory seeds they can benefit from been soaked overnight before planting. The two inch cup-like flowers in blue or white prefer full sun and will bloom all summer.
The lablab bean, sometimes called a hyacinth bean, Lablab purpureus, another tropical fast growing vine, will also grow to 20 feet or more. Even the leaves have a slightly purple cast while the flowers are a rosy purple and the bean pods are an interesting shade of purple. The pods are actually edible, but because they contain high levels of cyanogenic glucosides they must be boiled twice before preparing for a meal. Or you can just enjoy the lush growth and flowers. This is a substantial vine and should be given an equally substantial support to hold it at maturity.
A familiar sight on Greenfield porches is the black-eyed susan vine, Thunbergia grandiflora. I have seen it used in hanging baskets where the vine goes down rather than up, but whether it is planted in a hanging basket or given a trellis in full sun, this is a bright floriferous vine that will bloom all summer long.
Strictly speaking the mandevilla vine is a Brazilian perennial vine, and some people do try to winter it over in the house. My own feeling about many tropical plants like amaryllis, poinsettias and such is that they can be a lot of work to carry over to a new season and I consider them annuals. I do not make any attempt to keep them through the winter. However, if you buy a potted mandevilla at a garden center and decide to try and carry it over the winter the easiest suggestion from the New YorkBotanical Garden is to cut it back hard, to about 12 inches, and put it in your 50 degree basement for the winter. Occasionally give it water. When spring sends out promises that it is coming, bring it out into the sun, water and fertilize it and see if it will start growing and come back for another season.
If you are looking for a really exotic vine for a season you might try the black coral pea, Kennedia nigricans. This exotic is native to Australia, but the mailorder nursery Annies Annuals and Perennials sells potted plants including the dramatic black coral pea. This has handsome green foliage and a true black flower, described as wasp-like, with a bit of gold or ivory at its base. It is not a tall vine, only about three feet and about that wide, but it is suitable for growing in a large pot and a real conversation starter. It does not need especially good soil and requires little watering. This is not a plant for a wet garden.
Vines have many uses in the garden: to make a tall focal point, to make big use of a small area, to provide a privacy screen or to hide some less than lovely area of the garden. Annual vines that grow quickly and lushly can come to the rescue with very little work or financial outlay.
Between the Rows April 16, 2016
Troillius europaeus or Globeflower
T is for Troillius europeaneus, or Globeflower on the A to Z Challenge. I bought my Trollius at the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale a few years ago. It is the sunniest, happiest flower I know. Bloom season is the end of May into June.
I did not move it to the new garden in Greenfield, but I just looked up its requirements, and while it prefers a neutral soil, it also doesn’t mind wet or heavy soil. I will start looking for a spot to plant this again. And, as it turns out, maybe I will find it at the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale again – coming right up on May 14, 2016, 9 am to noon. Don’t be late, because when the bell rings to start the sale the rush begins.
Globeflower or Troillius europaeus
Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis
S is for Snowdrop and Snowflake. The snowdrop is a tiny delicate flower, one of the first of the little bulbs to bloom in the spring, often rising through the snow in February or March. One of the most common snowdrops in the catalogs in the Giant or Elwes Snowdrop, Galanthus elwesii, but it just a slightly more robust version of Galanthus nivalis, the 5 or 6 inch tall common snowdrop. G. nivalis has been gracing the early spring gardens ever since 1597 – according to my Old House Gardens catalog.
Old House Gardens specializes in heritage plants and some do indeed go back a long way. I think only the martagon lily is older than the common snowdrop.
I was always confused by the summer snowflake. It looked just like the snowdrop with drooping petals and a tiny green ‘polka dot’. Oh, and it is about a foot tall. And it blooms in April, still very early in the year.
Snowdrop – Snowflake – Both are beautiful.
S is also for Sustainability on this Earth Day. In the garden I am working to include native plants, plants that will attract pollinators, and that will support butterflies through all the phases of their development.
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Q is for Quiet in the garden. The older I get the more I look to the garden for green serenity. Of course the quiet of the garden contains the whisper of breezes, ecstatic birdsong, the patter of falling rain, and perhaps a burbling fountain. Water is considered to be one of the essential elements in a garden
Burbling fountain in Buffalo, NY
Quiet of a Japanese garden
This is a section of the quiet and serene Japanese Garden is located behind the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society in the Olmsted Conservancy’s Delaware Park which I visited in 2010.
Reflecting Pool at Bloedel Reserve
The Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island off Seattle is the epitome of the quiet garden, especially the Japanese Garden and the Moss Garden.
Vista at Bloedel Reserve
The day I visited the Bloedel Reserve in 2011 everything was perfect in this quiet garden. Floating mists and soft showers.
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P is for Peonies. Peonies are fabulous! Peonies are glamorous! Peonies will bloom for generations. Peonies are easy care. In the olden days you had to plant peony roots in the fall, but nowadays you can buy potted plants in the spring – and possibly even get a bloom your first season.
One of my nameless Heath Peonies
- I have bought and planted many peonies, but most of the names have been lost. The Peony Border in Heath had about two dozen varieties. I haven’t yet figured out where to plant them in my new garden.
Most of my peonies were pale pinks a nd white. It is because “Kansas was so different that I was able to remember its name.
Another of my nameless peonies
I have written about my peonies more fully here. For all the information you will ever need about all varieties of peonies click here for the American Peony Society.
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O is for Orchid. I have never kept an orchid alive long enough to bloom again, but giving it another try is on my To Do List. I know it can be done because my daughter Betsy does it all the time. When her work mates get gift orchids they always give them to Betsy after they finish blooming. She keeps them and brings them back into bloom again and again.
Cymbidium ‘King Arthur’
Last year I went to the Orchid Show put on by the Amherst Orchid Society in Northampton and took some photos of the beautiful orchids on display.
Dendrobium sanderae ‘Tunxis Road’
I got to talk to Bill Benner about his orchids. He has over 100 orchids growing on his windowsills. There goes my excuse that you need to have a greenhouse or a fancy set up to grow orchids.
Somehow I lost the name of this orchid, but it was voted best in show. I think these three orchids begin to suggest the many flower forms in the orchid family – which is possibly the largest plant family of all.
For more information about orchids and growing orchids click on the American Orchid Society website.
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Pollinator Friendly Gardening by Rhonda Fleming Hayes
It doesn’t seem so very long ago that no one gave a thought to pollinators. People were afraid of bees and stings, but they never thought about the hundreds of bee species that kept vegetable and fruit farms producing. Perhaps that was because so much of our food came from far off places like California where we were never aware of what farms, farmers and crops needed.
Nowadays, with people we are more sensible of the benefits of local farms and local food. We realize that at least 30% of the world’s food crops need to be pollinated. Happily there are many more bees and insects that do this important job than we ever imagined. Unhappily human civilization continues to encroach on the habitat that pollinators need. Developments of all sorts, housing, business and even agriculture are taking land that was wild, land that provided the plants and living spaces that bees and other pollinators need to thrive.
Pollinator Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies and other Pollinators by Rhonda Fleming Hayes (Voyageur Press $21.99) notes that our awareness of the needs of pollinators has been raised. Hayes has set about showing us how we homeowners can take responsibility for improving pollinator habitat right in our own backyards.
Hayes interviews pollinator experts to talk about the value of native plants versus ‘nativars,’ native plants that have been hybridized; the problems created by GMOs; the need for shelter for pollinators; and the necessity of many other beneficial insects.
She provides plant lists to help us include useful plants for pollinators, plants that bloom throughout the season providing nectar, and food for caterpillars. Once I realized how important dill and parsley were to the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, I never again bemoaned loosing my crop to those caterpillars.
Pollinator Friendly Gardening includes occasional Fun Facts, as well. Did you know that the bees in White House kitchen garden produce enough honey to give as gifts at state dinners and to visiting diplomats? That a single little mason bee does as much pollinating as 100 honeybees? That milkweed seed capsules were collected during WWII so that the fluffy seed material could be used to fill servicemen’s lifejackets?
Hayes, a Master Gardener, has gardened, photographed, and written in various locations and in Minneapolis for the last few years.
Wildflowers of New England by Ted Elliman
Ted Elliman and the New England Wild Flower Society have put together a comprehensive new wildflower guide that has images and information of over 1000 native plants. This book not only has beautiful and helpful images, the introductory section is a veritable course in botany that will help you to identify the plants you find on your nature walks. Since 90% of the wild plants around the world need pollination I can’t help thinking how wildflowers would suffer without pollinators.
Wildflowers of New England (Timber Press $27.95) is very easy to use because it provides a clear road to identitification. You begin with color, but within the color sections plants are organized by petal design and number. For example red Kalmia angustifolia with 5 radial petals is listed after dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) which has 4 radial petals.
With this guide I have hopes of finally differentiating between 11 varieties of aster from 4 different genus: Doellingeria; Oligoneurn; and Symphyotrichum. Of course, the fleabanes (Erigeron) are similar (to my uneducated eye) but I think I stand a fighting chance of knowing one from the other because of the clear photographs and text.
Wildflowers of New England is a substantial little book, in many ways, but the heavy, shiny cover, complete with ruler marking, is tough enough to take on hikes for frequent, on- site referrals.
After all the joyous work of studying pollinators and wildflowers, you might be ready for The Cocktail Hour Garden: Creating Evening Landscapes for Relaxation and Entertaining by C.L. Fornari (St. Lynn’s Press $19.95) who lives out on Cape Cod.
The Cocktail Hour Garden by C. L. Fornari
Fornari suggests we consider our domestic landscape as a party venue, beginning with a quiet cup of coffee in the morning and all kinds of family celebrations that might take place in the garden, to a companionable cocktail hour with a spouse or friends in the evening.
What plants should be included in this garden? Some plants can provide tactile experiences like the soft blades of Mexican feather grass or velvety silver lamb’s ears. Fragrance on the evening air can be supplied by perennials honeysuckle, lavender, oriental lilies. Don’t forget fragrant annuals like Virginia stocks or nicotiana.
Fornari also makes suggestions about lighting, water in many forms, and sound in the garden that can be enjoyed by the gardener, but she also writes about keeping butterflies and birds happy too.
Since this is a cocktail hour garden she is talking about, she also includes cocktail recipes, including non-alcoholic drinks, and the herbs and flowers that can dress up and spike those drinks. Her tone is conversational, a charming invitation to join her for a cocktail and conversation at the end of the day.
Between the Rows April 9, 2016
N is for Nasami Farm, the propagating arm of the New England Wildflower Society which was founded in 1900 and is oldest plant conservation society in the U.S.
I have shopped for many plants at Nasami Farm, last year purchasing several water tolerant if not water loving plants. I planted Buttonbush in the wettest part of our new garden because it can often be growing in a river, not just on its bank. I also bought winterberries, viburnams, culver root, black chokeberry, and Joe Pye Weed. What a selection! All doing well this spring.
The New England Wildflower Society knew the importance of preserving the wild plants of our region. An importance that we are all more aware of as we learn that pollinators need native plants, and do the birds, and insects. All of these plants, birds and insects evolved together over the millenia, dependent on each other to survive. Insects, eat the native plants, leaving damage, but not enough to harm the plant. Birds eat the insects, especially during brooding season when baby birds need the high nutritional value of insects, even if they will grow up to eat mostly seeds.
Nasami Farm will open on the weekends beginning Saturday, April 30 from 10 am – 5 pm through the summer until October 18. You can find a list of usually available plants here.
2014 Nasami Farm Plant Swap
M is for Mirrors in the garden. A tour of Buffalo gardens a few years ago were filled with ideas that were new to me.
Mirrors in the Garden
This mirror was one of several mirrors in the garden with lush plantings that were carefully pruned to keep the mirror mysteriously visible.
I was particularly taken with the function of this mirror in the garden, set as it was in back of a tiki lamp, acting to reflect firelight at an evening gathering.
Mirrors in the Garden
It may have been the misting rain and the romance of this lush garden urban garden complete with pond and waterfall, but when I looked at this planting I was completely confused and disoriented about what I was looking at. I did not recognize the presence of a mirror that was throwing me off balance. It seems so much clearer to me in the photo than it did that rainy day in Buffalo.
I have two walls in my new garden. Will I find a place for mirrors?
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