If you would like to introduce some razzle-dazzle into your container displays this summer, I would suggest hunting down an unusual South African member of the mint family called Hemizygia ‘Candy Kisses’ (zone 9-11).
In the wild, Hemizygia (syn. Syncolostemon) needs to contend with drought and fire. It does this by producing a woody swollen root crown called a lignotuber. This tuberous crown holds starches to get the plant through times of deprivation and fire while keeping dormant buds intact and ready to grow.
You would never know that this lovely sagebush (Hemizygia) was so embattled by looking at it. It grows to 2 feet tall in this area; has fleshy, variegated foliage with a creamy edge; gaudy dark purple stems; and tall, upright, pinkish-purple blooms.
In flower, ‘Candy Kisses’ is not shy. For the earlier part of the summer you will be enjoying the variegated foliage and it will look akin to a variegated mint. The flowers will appear in late summer. If you grow it in a container, take it inside once the weather cools and it will continue to grow through the winter.
When I feel like going on a culinary adventure, I’ll often travel to the Polish markets in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint. It’s one of the few places that I can find one of my favorite items, a drink or syrup made from chokeberries (Aronia melanocarpa). You simply dilute the syrup with mineral water to create a refreshing beverage with a robust berry flavor reminiscent of black currants—minus the bitter edge.
European markets tend to offer a wealth of products like this, many of them made from herbs and berries that you won’t often find in the mainstream North American marketplace. They herald back to a time when people lived off the land and were more intimately connected with their natural environment.
We often assess native plants in terms of their ornamental value, but rarely view them in terms of their culinary value, even though there is a long and colorful history of foraging and using native species in our kitchens. For the most part, these traditions have since been isolated to local communities and small groups of enthusiasts.
Whether or not you realize it, you have been eating native plants for most of your life. Most of us have enjoyed blueberry muffins or pancakes from a very young age, partaking in one of the northeast’s most commercially successful homegrown natives. But that’s only the most well-known of our local edibles.
If you’re the adventurous type, you may have tried some of the more unusual natives to be found at local farmers markets or high-end grocery stores. The more advanced among you may even have foraged some of your own, though this activity comes with an all-important disclaimer: only do so if you are an expert in plant identification or happen to be accompanied by one. As you will soon see, many of the tastiest native plants have relatives or lookalikes that can be highly poisonous. Having proper identification of these plants in hand will not only help you avoid danger, but keep you from damaging wild populations of protected or threatened plant populations. Further, you should never harvest wild plants unless it’s on your own property or you have explicit permission.
What does a bean with a good imagination look like? If you’ve got the same tastes as Dr. Seuss then the ‘Red Noodle’ Bean or the ‘Yard-Long bean should be right up your alley. We have grown the former for several years in our vegetable garden, and usually just eat it straight off the vine—it’s so sweet and tasty. But it stays crunchier if you cook it, whether stir fried or steamed. Boiling, however, isn’t recommended—these beans get water-logged and tasteless.
‘Red Noodle’ (Vigna unguiculata) is, as the name suggests, a burgundy red color. What is exceptional about the bean (aside from its brilliant color) is that its average size is 18 inches long. It looks more like a jumbo Twizzler than anything you’d normally call a healthy bean. And, like most beans, the smaller, slender ones are the most tender—try to harvest when they are about 12 inches long and still slim.
Last week we discussed different onion varieties and explored several ways to prevent the tears from flowing once these spicy bulbs go under the knife. This week, we’re switching gears to discuss planting techniques and focus on successfully growing our onions this season.
This is the time of year that I start heading down to the farmer’s market in search of onion transplants, which are generally sold in a small, 2-inch pot—all crammed in together. They need to be thinned as well as planted. Once I get into the garden, I take the mass out of the pot and drop it to the ground, letting the root ball shatter and the minuscule transplants separate from each other. With a trowel held like a dagger in one hand and the transplants in the other, I stab the ground and place them 1 – 2 inches deep and an inch apart. In less than a month you will be pulling them up and tossing them into your salad.
I can be very sentimental when it comes to gardening, and the subject of today’s topic always brings a tear to my eyes: onions. My favorite onions are bunching onions (spring or green onions), though they are not the culprits that make me cry. Spring onions are an incredibly versatile delight that can be tossed into a salad or sauce at the last minute. Instead, it’s their pungent cousins that get me, so let’s talk about them.
You will notice that onions are listed as three separate growing types: short-day, intermediate, and long-day varieties. Onions are sensitive not only to temperatures but to the amount of daylight, as well. Short-day onions will start to form their bulbs with 11-12 hours of daylight; intermediate types need between 12 and 18, and long-day onions only form their bulbs after receiving 14 hours or more of sunlight.
Northerners grow long-day onions that are planted in the spring, southerners plant short-day onions grown in the winter, and intermediate types are generally planted in early spring and harvested in summer.
I picked up the Select Seeds catalog and stopped dead in my tracks. Facing me from the second page was a gorgeous intergeneric hybrid called ×Digiplexis ILLUMINATION® ‘Flame’. The name will make sense just as soon as I explain its heritage, and wipe away any thought of ’70s disco dancers you may be entertaining at the moment.
You have heard me use the term intergeneric hybrids before, when I have discussed orchids. Intergeneric hybrids are crosses between closely related genera. A well-known example in the orchid world is ×Laeliocattleya, which is a cross between a Laelia and a Cattleya. In the case of ×Digiplexis, it is a cross between a foxglove (Digitalis) and Isoplexis, which is a shrub-like, short-lived perennial (zone 9 – 11) from the Canary Islands and Madeira.
Isoplexis typically grows up to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It has foot-long upright flower spikes that are densely covered with tubular flowers, each a blend of vermillion, rust, and gold. Its common name, cresta de gallo, alludes to the fact that it is reminiscent of a cockscomb. The plant was originally thought to have been pollinated by sunbirds, having since been replaced by Canary Island Chiffchaffs and other warblers.
For the beauty queen in all of us, there was Color Me Beautiful, a guide that helped you develop your own color personality, providing tips that range from makeup to clothes to camouflaging your figure. In the garden, however, Color Me Tomatoes are the up and coming trend.
I’m still trawling this year’s catalogs in search of delightful new tomatoes hitting the market. In the New York area, I generally plant tomatoes outside one to two weeks after the last frost, which ranges from April 21 to May 7 depending on whom you ask. This means your tomatoes will be planted outside during either the second or third week of May if you are conservative, or the end of April and into the first week of May if you are bold.
This is the time of year when gardeners like to cruise the seed catalogs looking for something new, hoping to create a renewed palette of edibles for their garden in the coming months. For those of you that like to delve into the world of vegetables, there are a few fresh faces on the market representing a favorite of mine that’s as good fried on its own as it is stealing the spotlight from chicken parmesan.
Today I thought I would give you a glimpse into some of the new offerings on the market to whet your appetite for the upcoming gardening season. On the eggplant scene, Johnny’s Select Seeds is offering two new Indian types this year—‘Suraj’ and ‘Raja’.
Both ‘Suraj’ and ‘Raja’ are small eggplants that average 2 ½ – 3 inches long and 2 inches wide. ‘Raja’ is a white eggplant while ‘Suraj’ is a pretty, medium to light purple. The plants are compact and high-yielding. Due to the diminutive size of the eggplants, this new duo is recommended for stuffing.
Continuing from last week’s discussion on growing bananas, I thought I would put together a few recommendations for over-wintering them in our neck of the woods. Just remember that if you are letting your banana go dormant for the winter, you need to cut back on the watering and fertilizing late in the growing season to ensure the plant begins its slow shut down. Towards the end of the season, give it a light pruning to remove some of the foliage.
If the banana is not hardy and has been planted in the ground, you’ll need to dig it up—either before the first frost or after a light frost. Keep the soil around the root ball and drop it into a snug plastic pot, then clean off any dead foliage you find. You can either cut the banana’s pseudostem back to 6 inches or leave the plant alone and let it dry out naturally. If you do the latter, you will be cutting it back in the spring.
Once you’ve got your banana in a pot, store it away in a dark, frost-free space until spring. The goal is to let it go dormant. You’ll also need to keep it on the cool side (below 55 degrees), and leaning toward dry. The banana will rot if it stays too wet. That said, you do not need to water the potted banana; just be sure to check on it occasionally so it doesn’t dry out completely.