Saturday, November 9, 2013

Is My New Favorite Herb Going to Kill Me?

I discovered an herb called Sorrel this year and boy do I love it. I have two Sorrel plants, which is a perennial herb, although it looks more like a leafy green. The flavor is a combination of sweet, tangy and spicy. One thing I read compares it to the flavor of kiwi fruit and yeh, it kind of is in a way. I have loved having it in salads.

Earlier this week I was enjoying some Sorrel in my salad and decided to look up more info about it online. I read some disturbing things that made me actually STOP eating my salad! I read it can lead to kidney, brain, heart, and liver damage and can be fatal in large amounts! Woah, should I really be eating this stuff????? The problem is it contains oxalic acid. Spinach also has oxalic acid, but I guess maybe not in the same amounts...oxalic acid is also the reason you cannot eat rhubard leaves. The more I read, the more I thought I better stop eating this. One thing I read said you would have to eat pounds and pounds of it for it to be fatal, but that if you have had kidney stones you need to avoid it. My dad had kidney disease, so I certainly don’t want to put myself at risk for that.

Several herb and gardening websites extol the virtues of Sorrel – it is extremely high in Vitamin C and also is a good source of Iron, Potassium, and Vitamin A. I found recipes for Sorrel Soup and lots of references to adding it to salads. So really, it can’t be that bad, right? I really wish I knew an herbalist or someone like that who can tell me if it really is that risky to eat. Maybe I will contact a Master Gardener or my local gardening extension and ask about it. That might put my mind at ease...or make me reconsider putting it in my salad...not sure which.

What is the lesson learned here? Take the time to learn about what you are eating, practice moderation, and don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Will I stop eating Sorrel? Hmmm, no, I think not totally. However, I will eat less of it and not eat it so often...just in case... It sure does add a nice zest to a salad, though!

Longwood Gardens Continues to Impress

Ugh, so sorry for being silent for so long. Can’t seem to keep up with everything lately – too much work and homework!

I was at a concert at Longwood Gardens last night, in the ballroom that is attached to the East Conservatory. Before the concert and during intermission we were able to wander throughout the conservatories. This is always a wonderful experience because it is after-hours and the conservatories become a magical place, all hushed and dimly lit. Currently on display is their annual fall Chrysanthemum Festival. They have trained mums into cascading and topiary forms and have some trained into 13 foot arches. Some noteworthy and impressive accomplishments:

  • Over 100 different varieties of chrysanthemum flowers on one plant. Let me say that again so it sinks in: Over 100 DIFFERENT mum flowers all on ONE PLANT. Can you say, “WOW!?” This is done using a grafting technique that has been around for hundreds of years in China and Japan. Check out their blog post to learn more about the process – the post is from 2012, but it is worth checking out.
  • This year their “Thousand Bloom Mum” has broken a North American record for having 1,416 blooms on it. Again, all on one plant. It takes 17 months to make the Thousand Bloom Chrysanthemum happen each year, and thousands of working hours by staff members. See their blog again to learn more about this process – this post is from 2011, but it gives you an appreciation for all of the work that goes into creating this each year. Definitely watch the little slideshow/video on there. To see this year’s mum, click here and scroll to the bottom. Also, click on the “show more” link to see other interesting photos from this year’s display.

They have some seriously talented people working at Longwood Gardens. “Kudos!” to all of them for a job well done, as always. The Chrysanthemum Festival is on through November 24th.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

October Harvest

Long time no post! That’s what happens when you go on vacation and then go back to work full-time while also taking night classes. Had a FANTASTIC vacation in Maine with my mom and younger sister. It was a trip to celebrate my mom’s retirement and birthday. Good times, good memories. Then it was quickly back to the grind. I did visit a amazing garden in Maine called the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and hope to post about it sometime soon. I also owe a post on how my garden was doing in SEPTEMBER! Oh, time, where do you go?

In the meantime, here is a quick post about the vegetable garden and what I am still harvesting. The tomatoes are FINALLY ripening!!!! Crazy, but true. And let me just say, they are absolutely delicious. The best tomatoes I have eaten all season. It’s Brandy Boy from Burpee. I also harvested a few miniature sweet peppers (I forget the variety), a few Super Sweet 100 Tomatoes (the grape-sized tomatoes), and a nice little bunch of lima beans.

Veggies from the garden in early October.

I forgot to include these in my picture, but I am also harvesting LOTS or Mariachi Hot Peppers. I have been adding hot peppers to just about everything lately!

Monday, September 16, 2013

I Have a Moss Garden

What do you do when something happens by accident? You pretend you planned it that way! This is my Moss Garden. Yep, I planned it that way. Well, not really. Ok, so it’s really what I refer to as my Secret Garden, but it is so shady and has been so damp this year that it has grown a really lovely carpet of moss.

Moss growing in the Secret Garden.

I had often wanted to try to get moss to grow in this area and now it’s happening naturally. I’m liking it. It has spread to the Fairy Garden area by the back yard gate.

Moss growing near the little Fairy Garden.

I have thought about putting some slate stones in these area and that would look nice with the moss growing around them. Maybe someday I’ll get around to doing that....

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Light in the Garden

I love the way the sun casts light and shadows over the garden at different times of the day. This morning the Morning Glory looked like it was about to ignite from the sunlight beaming behind it.

Morning Glory in the morning light.

A few weeks ago I caught the late afternoon sun casting shadows on a Hydrangea and the Beautyberry Bush.

Late afternoon sun on a Hydrangea.

Late afternoon sun on the Beautyberry.

The weather has been gorgeous the past few days – sunny, not too hot, and low humidity. Why can’t every day be like that?!

My First Limas

This is my first year trying lima beans. I counted exactly three this morning. There are several flowers on the vine, though, so I’m hoping for more. These were planted from seed: Burpee’s Best Pole Lima Beans.

Burpee’s Best Pole Lima Beans.

Burpee’s Best Pole Lima Beans.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Different Perspective

I took some shots of the garden while I was up on the roof pruning the wisteria today. I thought it was interesting to get this different perspective. Too bad not as much is blooming in the flower garden right now. I should redo these shots in May and July when my garden is usually at its best. You can’t see the kitchen garden too well in these pictures because of a butterfly bush and hydrangea that are so big they are blocking most of it.

View of the garden from the roof.

View of the garden from the roof.

FINALLY!!!! Time to break out the champagne!

I am still in a state of shock and disbelief. After waiting four years for the neighbor to finish the fence, it is FINALLY DONE!!!!! When I came home from work on Friday, I was standing on the back porch looking out over the garden. I saw a glimmer of white through the garden where I usually see the neighbor’s broken down boat. I exclaimed, “Oh my God, it’s done!” and went running through the yard to take a closer look. I was practically jumping up and down with joy. I know I was talking out loud to myself because my neighbor on the other side caught me. I told her I couldn’t help myself, that after four years of waiting the other neighbor finally finished the fence!

Here’s some shots of the FINISHED fence. Not perfect, but I’ll still take it.

Below is the section that hadn’t been finished for the past year or two. Yeh, there’s about a two foot gap there on the right and I’m not so thrilled about that, but my Crape Myrtle that is in front of it will eventually get big enough to cover that area.

I haven’t gotten that bottle of champagne yet that I had promised myself I would get when the fence was finally finished, but you better believe I will. And it is worth splurging for REAL French champagne! WAHOOOOOO!!!!!

Time to Prune the Wisteria

I usually like to prune the wisteria twice a year, however, this year I hadn’t had time to get to it yet. It is always pretty much an all-day chore. I start with the ladder and work my way pruning around the greenhouse and shed, then I clean up the mess, then I get on the roof and tackle it from above, then clean up that mess. This is what the wisteria looked like before I pruned it today:


This is what it looked like from the roof – I promise you there is a greenhouse under there somewhere:


Ah-ha! There’s the greenhouse:

Wisteria after some pruning.

It is amazing how much more light I get in the greenhouse now. Also, so much more light in the area around the greenhouse and in the corner that I call my “secret garden.”

Let there be light – The Secret Garden area after the wisteria was pruned.

Speaking of wisteria, my tree wisteria has a couple of blooms on it right now. How strange. Not that I’m complaining.

Tree wisteria.

String Beans

The string beans like to play hide-and-go-seek in the vines. I managed to find several today. The variety that I planted this spring are Stringless Blue Lake Pole String Beans, grown from Ferry-Morse seed. I think I will make my favorite string bean dish: Parmesan-Roasted Green Beans.

Stringless Blue Lake Pole String Beans

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Fence Farce Continues

I first mentioned “the fence farce” in a post in May of 2011, but a refresher may be in order. In the spring of 2010, the landlord who owns the house behind us said he was putting up a fence “next week” and wondered if I wanted his friend to help me clear out the overgrown hedge we had back there. His friend gave me a cheap price that I couldn’t turn down and he cleared out most of the hedge, which extended the entire length of our back yard and was probably about 6 feet deep. I spent a greater part of that year digging up roots, like honeysuckle, wisteria, ivy, etc, until it no longer came back. Needless to say, the fence did not go up “next week.” Nor did it go up the next year. It was May of 2012 before we started to see any sign of a fence going up. It was an ugly, white vinyl fence and they did a really shoddy job of putting it in, but hey, at least it kept me from having to look at the tons of cars he had in his driveway that he’s always working on and gave us a bit more privacy. I was ready to rejoice – Hallelujah a fence!...however...he never finished it. They got about 3/4 of it done when they ran into a stump and couldn’t get one of the fence posts in. And there is stalled...and is still stalled. Hence, we still have a LOVELY view of his broken down boat on the right side of the back yard.

Unfinished section of the neighbor’s fence.

I had a fence farce scare the other day. When I came home from work on Friday, Brian said, “You’re not going to be happy. Take a long out back.” This is what I saw:

A gap in the neighbor’s fence.

Imagine my horror as I saw a missing panel from the fence that I have been waiting four years for. While I was working in the kitchen garden on Saturday, the neighbor said that his father-in-law was helping him reinstall the fence properly, so that it was more straight and looked better. However, he made no indication of any plans to finish it. He said there is still the stump issue and they also ran out of the metal brackets that hold the fencing to the posts and those are $7.95 a piece. Sigh...always an obstacle. Will that bloody fence ever be finished?! If or when it does get finished, you better believe I will be celebrating. It might be the one and only time you see a picture of me on this blog. It will be a picture of me drinking a big bottle of champagne while hugging that (expletive) fence.

Monday, August 26, 2013

How Did That Get There?

While I was working in the garden this weekend, I spotted this lone, renegade pink phlox in the middle of the purple coneflowers.

Mysterious Pink Phlox.

I haven’t had pink phlox in my garden for years. I had tried it once and it didn’t survive. So how in the world did this get there? I peaked in my neighbors’ yards to see if they had pink phlox and I didn’t see any. Interesting. I think I’ll leave it there and see if it comes back next year.

Fairy-sized Eggplant

I know this is called Fairy Tale Eggplant, but this is a bit ridiculous. These eggplants are only about an inch and a half, two inches at the most.

Fairy Tale Eggplant

I planted this in the early spring, so it has had plenty of time (and rain) to grow, but yet it is still fairy-sized. Each eggplant is supposed to be 4-5 inches long. For perspective, here is my pinky finger next to the eggplant.

Fairy-sized Fairy Tale Eggplant

It’s like some kind of joke. I have been watching these for several weeks and I don’t feel like they are getting any bigger. I applied an organic fertilizer this weekend, so we’ll see if that does anything. Silly little eggplants...sheesh. Too bad I don’t have real fairies in the garden to enjoy them.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Recipe from the Garden: Basil Citrus Cooler

Basil Citrus Cooler is a recipe from Martha Stewart’s website. I was intrigued with the idea of basil in a drink and I have PLENTY of sweet basil in the garden. Here is a link to the recipe. I suggest letting it sit for an hour or so in the fridge so that the basil flavor has a chance to develop.

Basil Citrus Cooler, with some white rum added.

This was very refreshing, however, after a long day working in the garden and after squeezing all of those oranges by hand, I felt like I needed an ADULT beverage (or as they say in my favorite old British comedy, Black Adder, something a wee bit more “medicinal”), so I added a wee bit of white rum. In hindsight, I could’ve used Tequila and it might have been a bit margarita-like. I only had six oranges, so I didn’t make as much as the recipe called for. If I feel up to squeezing all of those oranges again, I might try adding club soda instead of water. If you like orange juice and basil, you’ll like this drink. It won’t replace my favorite Mojito, though!

Farm Stand Finds

As I have mentioned before, this has not been a good year for tomatoes in my garden. I have been forced to buy them from local farm stands. At least I’m supporting the local farmers that way!

I was vacationing at Lake Wallenpaupak, PA for part of last week and stopped at our favorite farm stand in that area on the way home. Howell’s is in Greentown, PA on Route 507. We stop there every year because they carry this delicious local cheese called Leraysville. Their Baby Swiss is the best I have ever tasted. Too bad they stopped making my favorite, Portelet. The Udder Delight and Cheddars are excellent, as well. While I was in there, I saw the most gorgeous orange tomatoes – I couldn’t resist buying a couple. They grew them themselves.

Today I stopped at Lew’s farm stand on Lenola Road in Moorestown, NJ. I stop there every now and then. The have produce and a really decent selection of reasonably priced plants – mostly annuals and vegetables, but some perennials, as well. When I was there I saw they had grown their own Chinese White Eggplant. It was so white and beautiful – again, I couldn’t resist.

Orange tomato and white Chinese eggplant from two different farmstands.

Really, aren’t those so perfect?! So even though I grow a lot of my own produce, I still love to see what the farm stands have and support the local farmers.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Neglected Kitchen Garden in August

A little while ago I posted pictures of my neglected flower garden, now it’s the kitchen garden’s turn. I was so focused on my web design classes that I just couldn’t keep up with things in the garden. Now that I have a break in between semesters, I can refocus my attention. However, with the kitchen garden, some irreversible damage has been least to this year’s crop.

Neglect, plus a lot of rain, equals a lot of stuff growing...and some things suffering from TOO much rain.

Rain on the door to the back porch.

As soon as you enter the kitchen garden, you notice things are not as neat and tidy as usual. No, that is not grass growing in my gravel path, it’s garlic chives! My own fault, though, because I did not cut off the seed-heads at the end of last year and they obviously reseeded in the path.

Entrance to the kitchen/vegetable garden.

Vegetable vines and the overgrown Beautyberry bush are taking over one side of the gravel path.

The overgrown kitchen garden.

My Heliopsis Summer Nights, which usually looks so gorgeous all season, is falling over into the path, along with the Beautyberry bush.

Heliopsis and Beautyberry bush taking over a path.

The purple Butterfly Bush is taking over the path on the other side.

Butterfly Bush taking over the other path.

You have to seriously duck to get on the other side of it.

Butterfly Bush taking over.

Hey wait, what’s that on the other side of the Butterfly Bush? It’s the neighbor’s cat enjoying the warmth of the compost bin lid. Instead of a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, it’s a Cat on a Hot Compost Bin. Along with some greens that have gone to seed in the bed in front of him...or her.

Cat on a hot compost bin.

Between this cat and Stubby, the one that looks similar but with a short tail, I almost always run into a cat in the garden.

Cat close-up.

This is the view the cat has of the overgrown kitchen garden.

Kitchen Garden.

There’s that Beautyberry Bush again, this time from the other side.

Overgrown kitchen garden.

The green beans are big and full. They are just starting to show some actual beans.

Parsley, hot peppers, green beans, swiss chard, to name a few.

I was so excited that it looked like I would actually have blackberries this year on the blackberry bush that we have had for years...

Blackberry bush.

...but alas, this is as big as the berries ever got...

Pitiful looking blackberries.

My cucumbers were doing really well there for awhile...


...but then something happened and they took a turn for the worse. I blame all of the rain we have had this year.

Some ugly looking cucumber leaves.

The same thing happened to the squash. It was looking pretty nice there for a bit...


...then it got what looked like a powdery mildew. Again, I blame the extraordinarily wet weather.

Mildew on squash leaves.

My one tomato plant has yet to ripen and my other one, this grape-sized one, looks pretty much dead. Rain, rain, go away, come again another day...or at least a few days later instead of tomorrow yet again.

Sorry-looking grape-sized tomatoes.

This is the first time I have ever tried to grow lima beans. Nothing yet other than green leaves, but at least it is one of the healthier looking plants in the garden.

Pole lima beans.

One thing that doesn’t seem to mind all of this rain is the parsley. I have both curly and flat-leafed parsley. This is the first year I have done the curly variety and it seems to do much better than the flat-leaved kind.

Two different kinds of parsley.

The Sweet Basil and Sorrel are doing well, too.

Sorrel and Sweet Basil.

The succulents on this miniature birdhouse seem to be doing ok, as well.

“Green roof” birdhouse.

The Mariachi Hot Peppers are forming fast. Soon I will have a plethora of ready-to-eat hot peppers.

Mariachi Hot Pepper plant.

Not sure how this Morning Glory vine got in the Garlic Chives. Ah right, it was neglect.

Garlic Chives, with a random Morning Glory vine.

Yes neglect, the theme of this post. Neglect is not such a good thing when it comes to a kitchen garden. At least I have still managed to enjoy some fruits of my bounty.

The kitchen garden.

And if you don’t look TOO closely, it still is kinda pretty.

The kitchen garden looking towards the flower garden.

My plan this weekend is to try to get some of this under control. Wish me luck! Hope I don’t get attacked by the overgrown Beautyberry Bush or the Butterfly Bush!