Monday, January 31, 2011

In the Garden on Sunday

The Autumn Cherry never knows what season it is, but it certainly knows that there is warm sunshine today!
One of the few camellias that didn't get zapped by the Christmas snows. 
Crocus & Leucojem are getting restless 
The pansies jump right back to life after a couple of days of sun 
Edgeworthia ready to burst into bloom near the screened porch.  How can such a homely plant have such incredible fragrance?
Rhododendrons absolutely love this cold winter weather! 
It's raining now and getting cooler, but it still beats the snow and ice of New England!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pork Tenderloin with Red & Yellow Peppers


This is a great recipe from this month's issue (January/February 2011) of Cooking Light magazine.  Followed it almost "to the letter," with the exception of using anchovy paste rather than the actual anchovies.  Really fast, really good, and really healthy!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Seeds, Glorious Seeds!

I get so excited when the seeds start arriving in the mail, like a six-year-old in the days leading up to Christmas.  All of those packages waiting to be opened, knowing that it's just not time yet!  As something of a "temporary fix," Patti planted spinach and a couple of different lettuces in the cool corner of the greenhouse the other day, so we'll be seeing signs of green any day now.

The package that arrived this morning is from Select Seeds, one of my favorite companies for annual flowers.  Here's the list, which will start to get planted soon in the greenhouse:

"Royal Ensign" Dwarf Morning Glory.  It only grows to 12 inches tall, so we're going to use it to border the cutting beds at the Big House.  I adore all of the geraniums as they wander through the other plants, but they fry in the summer heat here, so I'm hoping this flower will fill in some gaps in July and August.
Garden Heliotope (Valeriana officinalis).  This is not the little purple plant, but a huge towering plant that looks a little like Queen Anne's lace.  Doesn't do particularly well in Atlanta heat, but at the beginning of the season, nothing beats that vanilla scent.
Lavatera "Pink Blush".  Another one that might not do so well in Atlanta heat and humidity, but we'll see.  A close look to Hollyhocks, which start to melt from rust the moment they break ground here.
Amaranth "Oeschberg."  Amaranth is another of those that will one day take over the South, but such a fabulous and dramatic plant in the back of the beds!
Mina lobata ("Spanish Flag").  An awesome vine that we'll put into a couple of containers, let climb up and over some other vines that don't flower in summer, and some on trellises.  This is one that Christopher Lloyd had climbing over Eucalyptus at Great Dixter 
  Nicotiana "Woodland."  This is one of my favorite plants, that does really well in the southeast.  Very tall (about 5 feet here), with that overwhelming night time fragrance.
Cleome "White Queen."  Cleome is like a weed here, but I love the white, and want to add it to the White Border.  It's such a distinctive plant when it sprouts, it's easy to pull up all of the volunteers one inevitably finds in the beds.
The box from Johnny's Seeds is waiting for me at the Big House!  Can't wait to see what's in that box!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

This Week in the Garden - Pruning, Seeding, and Cottonseed Mealing

I can't believe it's been a full week since I've logged on here...guess I have some catching up to do!  I'm also a little embarassed that I said I would publish a list of "this week in the garden" every week and it's been two weeks since my one and only post!  I'm sticking with my story that it's just because the snow threw us all for a bit of a loop.  "Shoveling snow and breaking up ice for days on end" is not a regular part of my Atlanta gardening calendar. (Be gentle, dear Yankees.....Atlanta only owns 11 snow plows).

For starters, we're continuing with that same list of pruning that I listed on January 6.  We're about half way through the garden at the Big House with that winter pruning, and three of us will spend a full day doing nothing else tomorrow.  I'm usually somewhat flexible with cutting back all of the grasses (I love their look in the winter sun), but this snow and ice has turned them all into big messes, so "off with their heads" tomorrow!

In addition to the pruning, I'll be doing the annual cottonseed meal dance in the next couple of weeks.  This is a distinctly Southern thing, I think, that makes a HUGE difference in azaleas; I don't remember ever having a surplus of cottonseed meal growing up in New Hampshire. We use about 2 cups of cottonseed meal per bush for azaleas, radican gardenias, and boxwood.  Sprinkle it on the soil over the roots, scratch it in with your foot, on to the next one.  Cottonseed meal is one of those things to buy at an old-timey grain and feed store.  In the fancy garden centers, it's $15 for a one pound box; in the feed and grain stores, about $12 for 50 pounds!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Some More Photos of Snow and Ice

I needed to go to the Big House yesterday to water things in the greenhouse and knock the accumulated snow and ice off the boxwoods.  I was feeling a little like Christopher Lloyd gingerly making my way over the icy steps!  As difficult as it was to get around the garden, "Missus" had managed to get birdseed to all of the feeders while the gardener (me) took a couple of snow days off.  Even in floods and snowstorms, nature's creatures still eat well at the Big House!

This variegated boxwood looks like it has become the perfect little whipped cream conehead!
The view across the woodland garden hardly looks like Atlanta 
Crataegus "Winther King" has been the star of the photo show with all of this winter's snow. 
I always think of Nandina as a Southern plant.  It certainly doesn't look that way in this shot. 
It's hard to imagine that the pond will be filled with tropicals in a couple of months! 
Thuja "Rheingold" is not looking happy!  Something tells me she's going to need some clever corseting with some discrete wires for the spring. 
In the greenhouse, this ancient Rex begonia doesn't care about the snow outside! 
Fresh Thai chili peppers, anyone? 
A little cycad and some "Toe Tickler" grass in pots seems the quintessential greenhouse photo! 

Great Article from The Garden Faerie

Monica from The Garden Faerie has a great article in the Ann Arbor newspaper about global warming.  Definitely worth reading, no matter where you might garden!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Southern Garden with Extra Frosting

My little Pinus flexilis "Aurea" 
Not the word I'm thinking about this weather! 
There will be bright color in this urn soon! 
Hinoki Cypress and "Teddy Bear" Magnolia 
Parrotia "Vanessa" is the star of the snowy show! 
Anyone know what time it is?

Super Easy, Lentil Soup, Good and Good for You!

A photo above from the Associated Press yesterday

Atlanta is completely snowed (iced) in, so there's little to do but clean the house, cook, and join those who find it necessary to update their respective Facebook pages every three minutes.  I've cleaned the house, cooked, and yes, I must admit that I've done a little updating to my own account in the past couple of days, but hopefullly won't reach the point at which I "check in" at Starbucks, Publix, the library, Burger King, etc., etc.  When I start posting that I'm "on the way to the gym, at the gym, sweating at the gym, leaving the gym, home from the gym, (in five separate posts)" please slap me.

Can you tell that I'm a little crazy with this weather???  This is NOT why I moved south from New England!  If the sun doesn't come out again today, I'm going to start putting those big airport runway lights in the Stepchild Garden.

In any case, here's one of the soups I made yesterday to stock the freezer.  It's from an old Mayo Clinic-Williams Sonoma cookbook, so it's even good for you!

Lentil Soup

16 oz. dried lentils
7 cups water
4 c. vegetable broth
4 carrots, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 cup salsa
Fat Free Sour Cream

Pick over the lentils, rinse under cold water, and drain.
In a large pot, bring the lentils, water, broth, veggies and salsa to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and continue to cook for 45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.  If the soup is too thick, add a little more water.

Garnish with the Sour Cream, if you want.

A Note About the Salsa:  The cookbook suggests making your own fresh salsa, which you certainly can do.  Since this is really not the season for great tomatoes, I rely upon Herdez Salsa Casera, which my friend Rafael uses often as a cooking base for soups and sauces.  He is an incredible cook, and is originally from Merida (the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico).  The Herdez products are actually from Stockton, California, and this salsa is usually in small cans in the Hispanic foods section of the supermarket.  It has a depth of flavor without being "burn your face off hot," like many commercial salsas.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I'm Afraid Chuck Might Move Out of the Neighborhood

The Georgia Perennial Plant Association hosts its annual symposium at the Atlanta Botanical Garden this year on Saturday, February 5.  If you're within a couple of hours of Atlanta, it's definitely worth the drive. This year's theme is "The Pleasure Garden."

I have attended the symposium for the past few years, and always come away with some great ideas for both the stepchild garden and the garden at The Big House.  Great new plants, cool combinations that I hadn't considered before, etc.,etc.  All good things.

Here's the problem........
Dan Benarcik from Chanticleer is the first speaker that morning.  Anyone who follows this blog knows that I'm a bit of a Dan Benarcik groupie, and have absolutely no problem telling people that my goal is to have a garden that looks like Chanticleer. 

The last time I became obsessed with something from Chanticleer was the Adirondack chairs that Chuck foolishly agreed to make for me as a birthday present.  (That story is in a post here from late July of last year).  By the time they were finally finished, Chuck almost threw them across the street to my house, and I had to do the painting!

I think I need to start reminding Chuck that his chairs are one of my favorite things in the garden, and remind him that they really weren't all that difficult to make..........if Dan Benarcik has any cool new things in his presentation for me to obsess about (and he will), I'm screwed.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Calendar, continued

Two things I left out of the last post:
1.  I keep this document on my computer as a regular Excel document.  By doing that, I can keep editing and saving, I can cut and paste for things that happen every month, can remove items that die or get "shovel pruned," and add things that are added into the garden.  I'd love to tell you it's a fancy process, but it's not.
2.  The other thing we do during the first week of each month is fertilize everything in the greenhouse (except those few exceptions which go dormant for the winter or have more specific needs) with a weak liquid fertilizer (something suitable for houseplants).  Organic liquid (fish based) fertilizers are great for this, but will often leave a "funky" odor for a few days.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

This Week in the Garden

One of the practices I've developed over the years is the continual use of a "garden calendar" that I've developed over time, which includes the plants in the gardens at the Big House, as well as those in the Stepchild Garden.  Whenever I purchase or install a new plant, I take the time to Google its recommended maintenance schedule for this particular zone, and add those notes into the schedule.  This information is merged with thoughts from local gardeners, experts about particular plant species, etc.  I've found that it's the only way I'm able to keep up with some things that need doing, and over the past few years, it has made a marked difference in the success I've had with particular plants.

As a result, I'm going to start posting "This Week in the Garden" on a weekly basis.  If you're in this same zone (7B to 8, depending upon who you ask), feel free to take any of these things for your own calendar.  If not, take what's helpful, and use it to help yourself develop your own schedule.  The other added bonus is that this list prompts me to visit some out of the way spots in the garden that I don't always pay enough attention to, catching bugs and such before they become a problem.

January Pruning:  Abelia, Bottlebrush Buckeye, Vitex, Clethra, Confederate Rose, arborescens Hydrangeas, Hypericum, Oakleaf Hydrangeas, Gardenia, Osmanthus, Pyracantha*,  Agarista, Arborvitae, Boxwoods, Evergreen Hollies, Crape Myrtles, Figs can be pruned hard in January
Fertilize:  Pansies every two weeks (temps must be below 60 degrees F) with pansy fertilizer, Liquid 10-10-10 on bulbs once two inches of foliage is visible
Miscellaneous: Spray Dormant Oil on Branches of Fruit Trees to Suffocate Dormant Insects

Now, before you get all worked up about this (as only gardeners can), please remember that this is what I do, and it may not be applicable to your particular garden.  A couple of notes, as well....if the pyracantha looks really good and is still covered with berries, I won't prune it until February.Similarly, most of these things listed are fine getting pruned in January or February; with the number of plants I need to prune by hand, and the number of daylight hours in the winter, I need to start now or I'd never get done!

The Greenhouse, Continued

I got several comments via this blog and email about the post I did about the greenhouse, so I thought I would add a couple of other things.

Temperature is a big deal.  We have three thermostats in the greenhouse, which I think is fairly common.  One controls the gas blower heating system (which looks like something you'd see in a warehouse or an old gas station!); the second opens the louvers to allow hot air out when it gets too hot; the third takes that process (cooling) one step further, with a huge exhaust fan.  Everyone thinks about needing to heat the greenhouse in winter, but very few people consider how hot these buildings can get, particularly in warmer months.  We maintain a temperature of around 60 degrees in winter, and tweak that occasionally.  As spring approaches, we gardually open all of the doors and allow the plants to start hardening off in what basically becomes a giant cold frame.

In a similar vein, we do a lot of moving of pots to keep them in their optimal light conditions. Not as big a deal in winter, but in summer, many things will simply fry if they're not shaded.  Before summer comes, we'll be installing some shade cloth panels in various parts of the ceiling to control light more.

The television show is called "Growing a Greener World," and is produced by Blue Ridge Public Television, out of Roanoke, VA.  It's on lots of PBS stations, but (of course) not in Atlanta, so once the episode is edited and ready, it will be available on their website.  I'm guessing that is months away.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Greenhouse

Recently I was interviewed by the producers of a public television gardening show, for an upcoming episode about greenhouses.  All in all it was a fun experience, I discovered that it takes as long to film five minutes of finished programming as it does to grow a zinnia from seed to bloom!

In any case, there were several things we discussed that day that the interviewer felt were worth sharing.  I would guess that many readers of this blog have experience with indoor growing, so it's probably repetitive information; if not, however, feel free to use whatever you might find interesting and helpful in your own gardening adventures!

Many people assume that “a greenhouse is a greenhouse is a greenhouse.” In the same way that plants have different requirements during the outdoor growing season, their needs during the winter vary widely. One of the greatest challenges with the greenhouse is maintenance of differences in light, moisture levels and temperature.

With the possible exception of real tropicals, most plants need a winter dormant period. In the greenhouse, we try to duplicate the winter conditions of the particular plant’s native habitat. One of my first projects upon buying a non-hardy plant is researching the conditions of that plant’s native habitat, so that we can duplicate that as closely as possible.

We do our best to water the greenhouse plants with room-temperature water, though that isn’t always easy. We use a well for irrigation at the Big House, so in winter (even in Georgia), what comes out of the tap is icy cold. That can be a “death sentence” for a tropical plant!

Pests are a real issue in any greenhouse, and need to be handled quickly. If there is any one job that takes the most time in the greenhouse, it is the treatment of pests, with the most gentle (but effective) methods we can employ. We generally start with mild dish soap, then will progress to alcohol, fly paper traps, etc.

Whatever the size of the greenhouse, we always need to look at the cost-effectiveness of overwintering plants. Certain jasmines, for example, are (in my experience) “scale magnets” and something that we just don’t overwinter; some of the tropical hibiscus plants are also just not cost effective to overwinter in many cases. For the amount of space that they require (and their inconsistency in staying attractive), it is often less expensive to buy a great new plant in the spring.

A greenhouse of any size is both fun and challenging for a gardener, and one that I would encourage anyone to try if given the opportunity!