July 25, 2011

Don’t spill the smoothie!

It’s fun to be a forager. Every July, I look forward to hunting for Rubus occidentalis berries. We have a modest plot of land with a double-wide “cottage” about an hour’s drive north of our home. On that land are enough berries to feed an average family every day through the month of July.

Are these berries ripe?


If you said “yes” you are incorrect. Ripe Rubus occidentalis berries look more like this:


We call them Black Raspberries, but they’re also referred to as black caps, thimbleberries, and various other common names. This entire plot is filled primarily with Black Raspberries:


But that’s just one spot. The place is overloaded with them! When you hunt for Black Raspberries, you might see an obvious patch like this:


Or you might have to hunt a little harder for a patch like this:


Even the damselflies like the canes as landing spots.


They’re so plentiful, in some patches they stretch on and on into the woods.


Black Raspberries are sweet! They’re tasty right off the vine (of course, I’d recommend washing them if you’re going to eat a bunch). But here are two favorite recipes using Black Raspberries:


1. Triple Berry Crisp
1 1/2 C. fresh Black Raspberries
1 1/2 C. fresh Blueberries
1 1/2 C. fresh Mullberries
4 T. white sugar
2 C. all-purpose flour
2 C. rolled oats
1 1/2 C. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 1/2 C. butter

(Berry substitutions work well. Sometimes I use just two kinds of berries, making sure they add up to 4 1/2 C.)
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. In a large bowl, gently toss together all berries and white sugar; set aside.
3. In a separate large bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Cut in butter until crumbly. Press half of mixture in the bottom of a 9X13-inch pan. Cover with berries. Sprinkle remaining crumble mixture over the berries.
4. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until fruit is bubbly and topping is golden brown.
5. Serve with ice cream or whipping cream.



2. Raspberry-Banana Smoothie (no sugar added)
1 C. shaved ice
1 frozen Banana
1 C. fresh Black Raspberries
1/2 C. water

Place ingredients in blender in order shown. Pulse blender several times to mix ingredients, then “frappe” or “blend” for several seconds until mixture reaches desired consistency.

Whatever you do, don’t spill the smoothieBlack Raspberries leave stains! But they taste oh, so sweet and delicious. Enjoy!


July 19, 2011

It’s tropical, all right


Two guests from tropical climates have been surprised by the diversity of plant life in my garden. The first was a visitor from Hawaii who spent a year here as part of a temporary career relocation. Unfortunately, she and her family had to endure the harsh, subzero winter. But when late May rolled around and she stopped by for a visit, she remarked, “Wow, this is every bit as beautiful as Hawaii.”

I remember thinking, “Really?” And, “I suppose but it only lasts a few months.” Instead, I believe I said, “Why, thank you…” and we launched into a discussion about climates and plants and other such comparisons.

The second was a recent guest on a warm afternoon. She looked out into the backyard and said, “Wow, that looks tropical!” Coming from someone who grew up in the Caribbean and travels back there frequently, the comment gave me pause.

I thought about the word “tropical.” Merriam-Webster defines tropical as:
1. Of, typical of, or peculiar to the tropics; or
2. Resembling the tropics, especially in being very hot and humid.

Well, the latter definition definitely fits during our current heat wave. And the Midwest climate is definitely as lush and fertile as the tropics during the fleeting, lovely warm season.

Anyway, I got to thinking about the annuals we grow here—plants that are native to the tropics and that thrive here in the summer but die when the temperatures freeze. It must be nice to have some of these beauties as perennials:


  • Common Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana). Native to East Africa, these bright, summer annuals grow like bushes under the right conditions. Some botanical gardens plant them directly in the ground, although I tend to plant them en masse in pots with other annuals.


  • Skyflower (Duranta erecta ‘aurea’). I recently discovered this plant because I was searching for chartreuse foliage for a potted arrangement. It’s native from Mexico to South America and the Caribbean.


  • Bleeding Heart (annual) (Fuchsia magellanica). How wonderful it would be to walk out into the woods and find this beauty growing in the wild. Native to Central and South America and the Carribean, Fuchsia thrives in summer hanging baskets in warm Midwestern shade gardens.




  • Common Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides). Sometimes Coleus foliage, alone, can be the standout in a potted arrangement. There are so many varieties of Coleus, each striking on its own, but especially vibrant when planted with other varieties. Coleus is native to tropical Africa and Asia.



  • Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas). Another plant with stunning foliage, the ornamental Sweet Potato is available in several colors and forms. The chartreuse variety complements bright pink Impatiens and Bleeding Heart. Sweet Potato is native to tropical North, Central, and South America.

We’re tropical here in the Midwest, all right. At least as long as the summer lasts. I won’t say I look forward to winter, but I’m thankful most of our summer days hover around the 80s. And that we have a chance to appreciate some tropical plants as annual plantings.

July 15, 2011

GBBD: Lilies rule!

It’s a good year for Purple Coneflowers, Liatris, Hydrangeas, and Delphiniums...and so many other plants. But the current stars are the Lilies!


I wish I could include all my friends’ amazing photos of Lilies, but then I’d have to contact everyone and get their permission. So, instead I’ll show the limited, but spectacular selection blooming right here in my garden.

The common Daylilies on the hill add a splash of color that I can see while I sit on the screen porch sipping a glass of wine on a perfect summer evening. Or while I’m at the kitchen sink washing dishes…or just gazing into the woods.



The three varieties of Daylilies planted in this problem area are thriving where no other plants (except Hostas) would grow. Their long foliage extends into a dry section under the eaves that gets hot afternoon sun but no rain unless the wind blows it in. Since the roots are firmly planted beyond the roof line, they get the moisture they need.




A stand of Asiatic Lilies took a few years to establish. But they’re thriving now. The problem in the past was rabbits! They'd eat (and still do if they can reach) the plump flower buds (just before bloom!) and then they’d strip the foliage from the stems. Granted, my fencing wasn’t very substantial, and I do plan to reinforce it. But I think the huge, fake snake and the Scallions planted around the Lilies might be keeping the bunnies away.




Unfortunately, they’re still destroying my Stargazer Lily. I really need to transplant it to a different spot!


This is what it looked like one year when the bunnies didn’t get to it:


Darn rabbits!

(Thanks to May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!)

July 13, 2011

July 08, 2011

Plant of the month:
Cimicifuga (Actaea racemosa)



This one is a conversation-starter! If you want a dramatic addition to your shade garden and have a little patience while it's establishing, Cimicifuga is a good bet.

Bugbane, one of this plants common names and the one I usually remember, towers above most other plants in the garden, at 6 ft. to 8 ft. tall.

The foliage, itself, is noteworthy for its feathery form (here, surrounded by Ferns).



Before flowering, stalks rise up from the center of the plant and form circular flower buds.


When the flowers are in full bloom—from midsummer to fall—they resemble exploding fireworks. And after blooming, seed pods form along the stem, so the plant retains autumn interest.

Here are a few facts about Bugbane from various sources*:

  • Prefers woodland-type, moisture-retentive soil;
  • Thrives in full to partial shade, but tolerates more sun if the soil is moist;
  • Good neighbors: Astilbe, Japanese Anemone, Ferns, and Hydrangeas;
  • Other common names: Cohosh, Snakeroot, Fairy Candles;
  • Grows best in USDA zones three to eight;
  • Best propagated by division in the spring, or from fresh seed;
  • Native to central and eastern U.S.;
  • Repels pests and was used by Native Americans as a snakebite antidote;
  • Rarely bothered by pests.

And here’s what I’ve learned about Bugbane through several years of experience:

  • Transplanting can be a little challenging. I’ve given several friends transplants, with 50/50 results.
  • Planting from seed seems to work as well as transplanting. When the seed pods form in fall, cut a portion of the stalk and plant it upside-down with seed pods in the soil—directly in the ground or in a pot to start.
  • The scent is musky and slightly unpleasant—it’s easy to understand why Bugbane repels pests.
  • It’s a great anchor plant at the back of a perennial bed.
  • It looks ethereal when backlit by the setting sun.



    When Bugbane blooms, I know the heart of the summer has arrived. It’s a stately focal point in the garden, it attracts beneficial pollinators, and it repels the bane of Wisconsin summers—the dreaded mosquito.

    Planted a moderate distance from the house (to avoid the strong scent), it can’t be beat as a unique addition to a multi-level shade plant garden.


    * "Annuals, Bulbs & Perennials," Anness Publishing Ltd., London; "Carefree Plants," Reader's Digest Books, Pleasantville, N.Y.; usda.gov

    July 02, 2011

    Fast forward five days

    Gosh, change is happening fast and furious around here! With plenty of rain, warm temps, and super long days, the plants are taking off! I hadn’t intended to post today, but then I looked at the sunny garden and realized it might be fun to compare plants from my last post only five days ago. Are you ready? It’s dramatic!

    Zinnias…



     Purple Coneflowers…



    Drumstick Allium…



    The changes aren’t as obvious for the tomato plants, so I didn’t take photos of them today. But I think I see a little improvement in the Cucumbers. Cross your fingers. Maybe they’ll take off and surprise us at some point.



    The Onions are a little past Scallion stage, but they should be flavorful. Combined with the chicken wire, they’re keeping the bunnies away. Hurrah!


     I don’t recall the Brown-Eyed Susans even having buds five days ago.


    The new Delphinium I planted this year is spiking.


    And the marsh hay is helping me with that pesky weeding issue.


    (Last month I posted on Hanni's Hope Grows meme about my kitchen garden, so this will be my entry for her July meme. Next month, I'm looking forward to a cool beverage on the screen porch -- looking out into and enjoying the garden.)