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Monday, March 31, 2014

Growing a Cutting Garden

Several weeks ago, I went to a free class at Molbak's on starting a cutting garden.  It was taught by Sue Goetz from The Creative Gardener, and had lots of great info about specific flower varieties to choose and how to set up a flower garden that you can cut from all summer.

First, you want to choose a place for you flowers that gets full sun; in my case, it was as close to full sun as I can get! (i.e. The Front Hill)  You want your garden to be in a place that you can cut flowers often, and not be concerned if it looks half empty all the time, for instance, not next to your front door.  You want to have good soil, compost, and drainage- and somewhere that you can water often, because most flowers are not drought tolerant. You can directly seed most of them into the ground, usually after Mother's Day.  Remember that the more you cut the full-grown flowers, the more they'll come back for their second round!

When you are choosing flowers for cutting, you want to get the long-stemmed variety.  I really didn't think about this too much, since I always have short sweet peas, but if you want to arrange them in a vase, long stems are best!  You want to make sure to pick your flowers at the peak time; in the morning, but after the dew dries... about 10 or 11 am.  

Some particularly good flower choices, according to Sue:

Annuals: (flower the first year)

Sweet Peas
Sweet Peas: Plant now! You can add them around the base of topiaries or other things you have in pots that aren't flowering yet.  You can replant them in August for a second crop!  Varieties: Mammoth, White Elegance, Heirloom varieties

Cosmos: Pink ones last longer than other ones.  You should cut them when they are very open, but they go to seed fast. (You could also leave a few to go to seed, saving yourself work next year!)  Varieties: Celebration in Pink, Double Cosmos- Bonbon (almost looks like a peony)

Zinnias: One of the best long cut flowers.  Varieties: Berry Basket or Crayon Mix from Renee's Garden
Bells of Ireland: Likes to be slightly dry, so plant on the edge of your garden.  Smells a bit lemony (and looks really cool!

Poppies: Avoid the single-petal varieties because the petals will fall off right away.  Reseed themselves easily, and you can plant them in the Fall for the following year.  Varieties: "Peony" poppies

Bachelor Buttons: You can "meadow sow" this flower (i.e. sow lots of it in a large area).  It reseeds well.  Varieties: Black Magic, or Tall Blend

Gomphrenia/Globe Amaranth: Kind of like a Strawflower.  Germination rates are pretty low, but it dries well.  Variety: Strawberry Fields

Sunflowers:  They will give you several flowers per season if you cut them.  Try to grow smaller ones that will give you more flowers per stalk than the giant ones grown for seeds.  Protect the seeds from hungry birds by using row cover when you first plant them.  Varieties: Royal Flush or Cinnamon

Calendula
Calendula: I've been seeing this herb around a lot lately; it's medicinal and also just an edible flower.  It blooms all summer and seems like a great choice for your garden.  Variety: Flashback

Snapdragons: Long standing color, very heat tolerant.  Will come back after you cut them.  You want the tops to not be open when you pick them, so that they continue to open inside.  Varieties: Ribbon Series, Tall/Maximum Blend

Nasturtium: Edible, attracts a lot of aphids (but also pollinators).  I like the seeds because they look like brains. :)  Varieties: Alaska hybrid, Cherries Jubilee, Creamsicle

Statice: Looks like Dandelion when it first comes up, so don't pull it!  Likes dry parts of the garden and dries well.

Larkspur: Also referred to as "early Delphinium". You can plant it now, at the end of March.  It has very long flowers and likes to be on the dry side.  Varieties: Sublime Blend, Giant Imperial

Lemon Gem Marigold: Edible, nice fragrance, and long-lasting color. Brings lots of pollinators!

Nigella: Really cool striped seed pods after it is finished flowering.  Some people grow it just for the seed pods.  You can save the seeds for next year's plants, just wait until you hear them rattling around inside the pod.  Variety: Persian Violet (the kind I planted this year)

Perennials: 
(sow this year for flowers next season and continuing for years)

Liatris
Liatris or Gayfeather: Pink bottle-brush flower.  You can meadow sow it.  Really pretty!

Columbine: I know for a fact this comes back because I have some that leapt into a pot from my parents' house and returns every year.  Put out in the Fall, sometimes flowers more the first year, but it will self-seed for sure.  Varieties: Black Barlow

Echinacea or Purple Coneflower: Bees love this!  Don't get a hybrid variety of this, because they are not tall enough for cutting.  Varieties: Magnus, Ruby Star

Lupine: Deer-resistant Variety: Russell Blend (I think after 4+ pages of notes here, I was starting to get tired of writing.)

Foxglove: Will grow in the shade, sometimes out of nowhere (and as tall as me!) but poisonous to animals- so take care if you have pets.
Sea Holly

Sea Holly or Eryngium: This was one of the coolest flowers, so I saved it for last.  Thistle-looking plant.  Start it now, it will be best in the second or third year.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

House Projects

We are using some of our tax return money to do some much needed improvements on our house.  John has been working on an electrical project involving lights and ceiling fans in the living room, and I've been thinking about bringing more light into the house with different colors.  Since we moved here almost 5 years ago, I have wanted to paint the bedroom.  I was planning to do two walls light blue and two of them yellow, but now we're going all sunny and yellow!

Before
Before

What I did yesterday
It is a long process!
The "After" is going to take the rest of the week, but I'm pretty excited about it!  Will post updates soon. :)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Spring at My Parents' House!


I think it's safe to say that Spring has hit Washington!


Azalea


Grape Hyacinth


Daffodils


Fun garden art and Hyacinths (I really think I need to get some of these... they smell so good!)

Now on to the overwintered vegetables! (pretty jealous of this)


 Artichokes getting ready for a new season (they actually died back quite a bit, but I think they'll make it!)


Collard Greens


Curly Kale


Sunshine!


Kale bed and Raspberry patch


Broccoli that's gone to seed... these were so huge, one was almost as tall as me!


Raspberries again


Leeks!! I almost stole a couple of these.  :)


Cabbage or Brussels sprouts, I'm not sure.


New Flowering Pear tree!


Happy Spring!!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Black Lentils with Goat Cheese and Herbs

Trader Joe's used to sell black beluga lentils all the time.  My best friend and I would make this delicious lentil soup during our weekly dinner hangout/Office viewings- usually even enough for lunch leftovers.  Then they stopped carrying the lentils, and I haven't seen them anywhere since.  I found some at Whole Foods a couple of weeks ago, and they were calling to me to try out in this recipe from Vegetarian Times.  The original uses French lentils- either brown ones, or those little green Puy ones.  I totally recommend these black ones, if you can find them.

Black Lentils with Goat Cheese and Herbs
adapted from Vegetarian Times

1 c. lentils, rinsed and drained (note the tiny strainer down there)
1 c. brown rice
3 c. vegetable broth
2 medium zucchini, diced
2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 c. loosely packed mint leaves, thinly sliced
zest from 1 lemon
4 oz. crumbled goat cheese

Dressing:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
juice from half of a lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. honey or agave nectar
salt and pepper


In a large pot, rinse your rice until the water runs clear.  I am bad at measuring water to cook rice, so if you are really particular about that, you may want to consult the package for exactly how much water to use.  I covered the rinsed rice with the broth, and added probably another cup of water to the mix.  (I like to have about twice as much liquid as rice, overall.)  Bring the water to a boil, and cook for 20 minutes, then add the rinsed lentils.

In a small bowl, mix together the dressing ingredients.

Chop up the zucchini, and fry it in a small pan with the olive oil.  You could also add some onion here if you wanted to, but I was out!  Add the lemon zest and mint.  Cook for a few minutes, until the zucchini softens and gets some char marks on it.  


When the lentils and rice have finished cooking, stir in the dressing.  (I did it this way so that the garlic would cook a little bit before you eat it.)  Add the zucchini/mint, and stir.  Crumble the goat cheese over the top and fold it in just a little bit. Serve with salt and pepper!


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Blackberry Orange Waffles

 Because for some reason, this tasted like spring to me.  :) (aside from the fact that the blackberries were frozen from last summer)

Blackberry Orange Waffles
1/2 c. + 2 Tbsp. all purpose flour1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. oatmeal
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 1/2 c. soy milk (I used TJ's coconut milk)
1/2 c. applesauce
3 Tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces

1 1/4 c. blackberries
1 orange's worth of juice and zest

In a large bowl, mix together all of the batter ingredients, except for the butter.  When it is stirred together pretty well, add the butter.  Bust out your hand blender (or a regular blender) and blend it all together.  (*This is a new secret trick that I have discovered, to make your waffles more fluffy and less apt to stick to the waffle iron.  It also makes it all the same consistency with the oaty bits.  Do not skip this step!*) Then add in the orange juice, zest, and carefully fold in the blackberries.  Don't mix too much, or you will have completely purple waffles.  

My blackberries were frozen, so I thawed them a bit by rinsing them with cold water, and letting them sit in the measuring cup for a little while (with water).  Blackberries usually have lots of little hairy leafy bits, so rinsing them a lot is good- when I freeze them, I don't wash them.  You want to keep them as dry as possible when freezing, to avoid freezer burn and other nastiness.  Therefore, RINSE!! (Store bought blackberries may not have this issue.)



Spray your waffle iron with oil of your choosing, and make some waffles!  (or you could make pancakes if you want to.. who am I to stop you?)


Serve with maple syrup and butter, if you so desire.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Homemade Veggie Stock


  How would you like to make your very own homemade vegetable stock FOR FREE? It's incredibly easy!  Inspired by this post by Natalie Creates, I started saving leftover veggie scraps in a bag in my freezer.  Since I have a(n evil) bunny, she gets most of the veggie scraps in my house, but anything she doesn't like was fair game for me-- so lots of onion ends, mushroom stems, and pepper membranes.  I threw in a piece of carrot or kale here and there, but it was largely from the onion family.  I don't mind; we like onions a lot around here!  Whatever you have on hand that you would normally throw out or compost can be saved to make this broth.  I probably wouldn't do a huge pile of cruciferous vegetables though (like broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts) just because that might be a bit stinky.  

When the bag was full (after 3-4 weeks), I filled up a giant pot of water, added the veggie bits, and set it to cook.  I also added a few herbs/spices to the mix: about a teaspoon of peppercorns, some thyme, and a clove of garlic.  Oh, and about a teaspoon of salt (but you can totally do more than that.)

I let it simmer for a couple of hours and basically ignored it.  It came close to boiling over once, but I just turned it down.  The above picture was taken towards the beginning of the cooking process; by the end, everything was pretty much brown and mushy- all good!  

Then comes the storage part.  I didn't want to go through the trouble of canning it (which I'm sure you could do), so I just ladled it into pint-sized jars, and let it cool on the counter.  I used tongs to take out the big pieces of vegetables, and put them into a large colander that was over a plate (to catch any extra broth that came off of the veggies.)  I used a canning funnel to make sure that the broth went into the jars instead of all over my counter, then I popped some tops on them, and froze them after they were at room temperature.  That's it!  I needed a fine strainer when I got to the bottom of the pot, but it was really easy.  You should totally do this, especially if you make as many soups as I do!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

NW Flower and Garden Show: Showcase Gardens


 After lots and lots of stroller time, Zizi needed to run around.  So we found an open space in the corner by a bay door to the outside.


She ran around and around.


And kind of fell.


But she was ok!
Next up are some of the showcase gardens that were out in the skybridge area (note how much light there is!)


Lots of air plants


(these ones were really cool because they were kind of hiding under the bench, and growing upside down!)


Mini gardens





Recycled wine bottle gardening!


Cool patio ideas



I liked this spigot with faux water, and the actual rain gutter sculpture from the Subaru exhibit.




I caught this policeman looking out the window, and I thought it was pretty funny.



Underwater garden? Maybe... 
 (Can you see the fish?)



Using up vertical space with a repurposed mail holder.


And... using a wasp's nest as decor.  Now we've seen it all!


Lots of lovely blues and turquoises in this succulent patio scene.




I especially like the colors here... very beachy!