In a few weeks, we can start planting tomatoes and peppers as well as sowing seeds of squash, eggplant, beans and other warm-season vegetables. When you're planning what to grow this summer, think about what you enjoy eating. There are plenty of cooking themes that can make it fun: a salad garden, an herbal tea garden, a pumpkin and squash garden, a Thai garden with lemon grass, Thai basil, hot peppers, and more.
This year, I'm growing a salsa garden with a variety of peppers — some hot, some sweet, along with onions, tomatoes, tomatillos and cilantro. It's inexpensive, fun and I can change the flavor by adding some chopped mango or pineapple. Here's a favorite salsa recipe courtesy of my brother Greg. You can grow several of the ingredients:
Pineapple Mango Salsa
1 large golden pineapple, flesh diced to 1⁄4-inch pieces
4 mangoes, flesh diced to 1⁄4-inch pieces
2 plum tomatoes diced to 1⁄4-inch pieces
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 shallot, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, deseeded and minced
1 serrano pepper (or habanero, if you like it hot), deseeded and minced
1⁄2 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 shots tequila (optional)
Macerate all ingredients together in the tequila and refrigerate at least four hours. Drain (or drink) the liquid and add the juice of one lemon and one lime. Let salsa come to room temp and serve with tortilla chips.
Now, how about some garden-grown pizza ingredients?
Join Chicagoland Gardening writer Nina Koziol in the Grow a Pizza Garden class at The Morton Arboretum on Tuesday, May 21, from 6:30-8:30. Learn how to make your own delicious homemade pizzas with fresh vegetables and herbs from your garden. Just in time to get your tomatoes in the ground, this class will cover how to grow tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions, oregano, basil, cilantro, parsley and other veggies and herbs along with recipes for a variety of pizzas that can be cooked in the oven or on the grill. Call 630-719-2468 to register. ($22 for Arboretum members; $30 for non-members)
Last summer, I had the pleasure of strolling through Cantigny Park in Wheaton, where the floral displays are always spectacular. Some of the loveliest plants there were the dahlias in shades of red, yellow, white and pink, some with burgundy leaves. I realized then that my garden was sorely lacking in these beautiful flowers.
Liz Omura, curator of Cantigny's Idea Garden, provided these photos — 'Mystic Dreamer', 'Fire Mountain Red' and 'Mystic Spirit' dahlias, and assured me that the plants are not that difficult to grow. You can try them out yourself this summer by picking up a few plants when the Southtown Dahlia Club hosts their annual dahlia plant and tuber sale on Sunday, April 28, 2013 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Crestwood Civic Center 14025 S. Kostner in Crestwood. Now’s your chance to speak with the experts on how to grow dahlias in containers and mix them alongside your perennials and other annuals.
“The sale will feature newly rooted dahlia cuttings, sprouted dahlia tuber plants, and packaged tubers selling for $4 to $7 each,” says club member Sue Fitzgerald. “Our plants produce show quality blooms from July through November, and we will provide instructions on how to care for them. Most of these are varieties that you won’t find locally.” The sale will also offer a selection of vegetable, herbs and annuals. For more information contact Sue at 708-307-9198.
Our official National Weather Service rain gauge clocked in with 3.60 inches of rain at 7 a.m. this morning. And more is falling. The daffodil flowers are nodding down toward the mud. The vegetable garden is a pond. There’s nary a robin in sight to feast on the hordes of worms migrating across the driveway in search of dry ground. And it continues to rain. What a difference from this time last year when gardeners were bemoaning the hot weather and how quickly all the spring bulbs flowered and dried up. But that’s ok. This is a good time to sow seeds indoors.
This year, I’m test driving several varieties of nasturtium. Their leaves and flowers are edible, but I’m growing them because they’re disease resistant, the deer don’t seem to bother them and I’m hoping they’ll feed the hummingbirds that are here from May through October.
There’s 'Empress of India' with its orange-red flowers. And 'Dwarf Cherry Rose' with wavy edged petals folded into semi-double blossoms. There’s Burpee's 'Jewel Mix' and Thompson & Morgan’s 'Orange Troika', 'Whirlybird' and 'Climbing Mixed', which the seed packet touts as “ideas for walls and fences.” But I’m going to try something new — growing them in hanging baskets.
Although you can “nick” the hard seeds with a file or sandpaper, I’ve found it’s much easier to soak the seeds in an inch of water for 6 to 8 hours and then plant them in potting mix. Once they get their second set of leaves, I’ll move them into pots and hanging baskets but they won’t go outdoors until mid-May. Stay tuned for a bloom update.
— Nina Koziol
Back in January 1906, the Gardener's Monthly Magazine featured these women perusing seed catalogs and magazines.
The article that accompanied this photo, "How to Have a Better Garden" touted that "the whole point of a kitchen garden is this: You get better things than money can buy — fresher vegetables, better kinds. As to freshness, the home gardener can beat the grocer every time. Any beginner can do it. But the better kinds — the varieties that stand for quality, not for ability to ship round the word and last forever — that's where study and planning come in."
Things haven't changed much in the past 107 years. We want fresh food that's free from pesticides and herbicides. And food that doesn't sit on a ship or a truck for a few weeks before it winds up on your counter. You can grow some of your own edibles this year, like this ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard, even if you only have a deck or patio with some containers. In spite of last summer’s unrelenting heat, Swiss chard was a knockout performer. I harvested leaves every few days and used them in salads, sautéed them for stir-fry or as a side dish.
In early April, once the soil can be worked, you can start sowing seeds of radishes, peas, kale, kohlrabi, leaf lettuce and onions. And much more. Learn how to grow your own edibles from spring through fall with Chicagoland Gardening writer Nina Koziol in the class, “Growing a Cook's Garden,” on April 6 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Here's a class description:
If you have a spot in your garden, balcony, or deck that receives more than six hours of direct sunlight, you can grow fresh herbs and vegetables. This class will cover how to grow the best essential ingredients for your kitchen: tomatoes, onions, peppers, squash, garlic and leafy greens. You'll learn the basics of soil preparation, planting in pots, plant selection, protecting your harvest from pests, extending the crops from spring through fall and ideas for using your harvest in the kitchen.
The Chicago Flower & Garden Show opened this past Saturday at Navy Pier and I’m here to report that it’s worth the price of admission. The theme this year is “The Art of Gardening,” and the show is certainly artful. From the moment you enter and see the huge vertical panel draped with plants, accented with moving lights and a pair of bubbly fountains, you feel that you’re in for a treat. Vertical wall gardens are becoming a trend, but even if they’re never going to be something that you can do, the point of a flower show is to see new things, things that make you think outside the box and shake your mindset up a bit.
Three very different gardens particularly caught my eye.
Aquascape’s expertly assembled display is a marvel of construction, design and plantsmanship. The fish swimming around are a special treat. Not to be missed.
Rich’s Foxwillow Pines is back for the 20th year with an impressive display of unusual conifers, and Rich and Susan Eyre deserve a special blue ribbon for their faithfulness to the cause. It’s not easy to build a garden at Navy Pier, and when your garden consists of nothing but big heavy trees, well, it makes you tired just to think about it.
And for a newbie garden, LaManda Joy of the Peterson Garden Project did herself proud with a big exhibit of handsome green vegetables growing in a variety of ways. The inspiration for the Peterson Garden Project is the old World War II Victory Garden, but LaManda has taken the concept to another level by adding classes that teach total beginners how to grow food on city vacant lots.
There’s lots more — window boxes designed by several local garden clubs, stunning tablescapes (don’t miss the one by Mariano’s Fresh Market) and for a real splash of color, the raised beds showcasing 50 varieties of tulips, helpfully labeled so you can pick your favorites.
All in all, a jolly good show. Go see it.
When food is scarce, our little feathered friends make a beeline for the feeders. Most of the birds wear drab colors — a protective camouflage — this time of year. Goldfinches, for example, shed their bright yellow plumage in late fall, and by winter, they blend in with the drab tan and grey of tree bark and stems. Others, like blue jays and cardinals, are particularly colorful against snow-covered branches. However, "If you thought cardinals were impressive, check this out," says gardener Jan Lord of Midlothian. In past year, her backyard feeders have attracted a few monk parakeets each winter, but this week, her backyard has become a mini-Margaritaville for these tropical-looking birds. "There were at least 11 or 12 of them at the feeders but there were more in the trees. They seem to like the suet." She emailed the photos to local researchers who were unaware that the birds were attracted to suet.
Although they hail from South America, monk parakeets have managed to adapt to Chicago winters for more than four decades. They were first spotted in Chicago about 1973. Unlike the fluid and lyrical songs sung by some of our beautiful native songsters, monk parakeets let forth high-pitched screams. They're generally found in Chicago's Hyde Park where their nests — made from sticks—can be several feet wide. They've been spotted in many suburbs as well. You can see a distribution map here.
Whether you live in the city, suburbs or a more rural spot, there are plenty of hungry birds that would love to dine at a feeder in your garden. For tips on winter bird feeding, check out the National Bird-Feeding Society's website. Happy Birdwatching.
Nina A. Koziol
Does your garden wear the "layered look?"
"Garden layers are made up of a variety of plants, some with complementary or contrasting colors, others with interesting shapes or textures," writes David Culp, author of a new book, The Layered Garden (Timber Press, $34.95). "Layers are more than just perennials, or annuals or bulbs, or groundcovers — they are more than just the ground layer of plants that are the sole focus of many gardeners."
This is a delightful book on many levels. Rob Cardillo's photography is stunning. The enchanting close-ups of snowdrops and hellebores and bees on an angelica blossom, as well as the views of Culp's garden from the roof of his 18th-Century farmhouse, the picket-fenced vegetable garden and benches tucked along the hillside where dogwoods and daffodils bloom, make me wish I could get outside right now and begin planting.
Photos: Rob Cardillo
This book is a good replacement for all the boring “garden-in-a-box” television shows that illustrate how to get the “instant” garden. Instead, Culp takes us from his journey as a child when his grandmother introduced him to gardening to the fabulous two-acre garden in southeastern Pennsylvania that he has established with his partner, Michael Alderfer over the past two decades.
The book provides a basic lesson in layering — how to choose the right plants for your garden by understanding how they grow and change throughout the seasons, how to design a layered garden, and how to maintain it. An avid plant collector, Culp developed the Brandywine Hybrid strain of hellebores and has almost every strain of snowdrop. So, pick up a copy and sit down with a cup of steaming tea. Winter will be with us for another seven weeks.
—Nina A. Koziol
Purple coneflowers (Echinacea) have been a staple in my garden for 25 years. I’ve grown them from seed, purchased them in pots and have received free cultivars from friends and growers. The flowers provide nectar for butterflies from June through October and the seed heads provide food for goldfinches in winter.
Purple coneflowers became so popular in the 1990s that many gas stations began planting them alongside feather-reed grass and black-eyed Susans. (When gas stations feature trendy perennials, I’m inclined to plant red salvia, marigolds and dusty miller in my own beds and borders.)
Echinacea purpurea is the common purple coneflower found in most gardens, while Echinacea pallida is the pale or pink coneflower with slender pendulous petals. In the wild, E. purpurea is found growing in open woodlands and prairies while E. pallida is a primarily a prairie plant. Both are lovely and highly beneficial plants for our gardens.
Some of my favorite combinations include coneflowers with calamint, salvia (especially the annual blue Salvia guarantica) liatris, prairie dropseed, daylilies and monarda. The large flat petals of E. ‘Magnus’ offer a great landing platform for swallowtails as well as tiny bees. Purple coneflowers bloom for several weeks and they make great cut flowers.
For several summers now I have watched many of my coneflowers decline. Like humans, plants are subject to a host of viruses, bacteria and fungi. Bacterial leaf spot with dark blotches have disfigured many of my coneflowers. They’ve had “aster yellows,” a disease that turns the flower heads into something resembling a witch’s broom. The petals are sometimes green instead of pink. The leaves are occasionally covered with powdery mildew. And, in the worst case, the entire plant — flowers, stems and leaves — turned brown, dried up and died.
Other culprits that damage or kill coneflowers include several different types of aphids and leafhoppers, which suck plant sap or transmit mycoplasma, a bacteria that causes the aster yellows. So, what’s a gardener to do?
Sanitation — cleaning up and throwing away any garden debris from infected plants — is important. (Note: do not add this debris to your compost.) Many insects and diseases overwinter in dried leaves, stems and soil. Although we often leave coneflowers standing during winter, if they’re diseased, get rid of the debris. You can still do that in winter when we have a few mild days. We can’t control the humidity or rain in summer, but you can try watering the plants at the ground level so the leaves remain dry as much as possible.
Here are some other links that can help you determine what’s bugging your coneflowers and what to do about it.
Tell us—what is YOUR favorite coneflower and have you had problems with them in your garden?
In our neck of the woods, there’s been little snow to speak of, but the temperatures finally dropped into the teens. And while I was tempted to perhaps get a jump on spring (which is 10 weeks away) and cut down the grasses and clean up the perennial beds (which I neglected to do during that fabulously long autumn), I’ve opted recently to stay indoors and stick my nose in a few new garden books.
“The Roots of My Obsession: Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden” is a great little book by Thomas Cooper, the former managing editor of Horticulture magazine. (Timber Press, $14.95, 164 pages.) He has compiled very short essays from 30 garden writers, among them plant explorers, designers, nurserymen, breeders and educators, all of whom explain their obsession with plants and gardens. Now here’s a book you can pick up before you doze off and easily get in one or two chapters. Here are a few of my favorite excerpts:
“A good garden delights more senses than any other art. You can smell it, touch it, listen to it, look at it, eat it.” Anna Pavord
“Gardening is not about instant gratification. It is a process—from seedling to flower (a matter of a few weeks) and from small rooted cutting to a useful shrub (often a few years). This whole process, rather than the ultimate product seems to me half the joy of gardening.” Penelope Hobhouse
“Whatever else might be happening in my day, or in the world, the garden is always there, carrying on its unhurried, miraculous business in the bee-humming, earth-splitting Now. Being in it connects me to that vital present — listening, smelling, belonging to it absolutely, complete. “ Susan Heeger
“The garden was never meant to be either a destination or a profession. It was something much bigger and far more important. It was the setting for a marriage that endured 45 years, a home to friends, students, young family members from abroad, and our beloved pets. So once again, my reason for gardening changed. Today, the garden is becoming simpler and its purposes clearer. I garden for the stillness of a Sunday morning when even the trucks on I-84 seem to take a break. I garden for the swish of the oscillating sprinkler and the glittering silver arcs of water wafting back and forth, the calling of birds, and the spring sun on my back. I garden for the moment.” Sydney Eddison
“I cannot see a French marigold without feeling the presence of my son, who brought one home in a Dixie cup from his preschool. He had started that plant from a seed, which as far as I know, was the only time my garden-averse child ever tried such a thing. His marigold bloomed in our garden and set seed, spawning a race of flowers that endured several years. They are vanished now, as is he. Though in the spring following my son’s death, when I came upon a lone purple crocus blooming in a hayfield, for a minute his free spirit was right there with me. Right there. This is for me the greatest power and attraction of gardening, the transcendence it yields at unexpected moments. “ Thomas Christopher
What makes you garden? Tell us about the roots of your obsession.