Tangled Branches: Cultivated
happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Plant Tip from Mme. de Lacaussade
The spouse has been reading Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch. Last evening, as I was preparing dinner, he asked "Do you have time to read one paragraph?". "Sure", I replied. It was this:
There are flowers, shrubs, trees, vines, and abundant vegetation all around the U-shaped chateau, with a pretty little garden in the central courtyard. During one tasting, Madame de Lacaussade went to the steps outside the main entrance to empty her glass into a flowerpot. She says plants like wine, especially red wine! "Wine is so very rich in nourishment. What I don't use for cooking I feed to my plants." Her plants appear to be abnormally healthy.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
I Grew Ají Dulce, Now What?
Does anybody have a good recipe using these? And should I wait until they're ripe before I pick them, or is green OK?
I added a green one to something I cooked a week or so ago (now I don't remember what it was) and the flavor surprised me. It tasted like a Habanero would taste if you could taste it without the heat. Not at all like a sweet green pepper of the Bell or New Mexico or Poblano type. I Googled Ají Dulce and Caribbean Seasoning Pepper, but still don't feel as though I understand how to cook with them.
While I'm on this theme, I'm also looking for suggestions for a good Caribbean cookbook. I like the type of cookbook that places the food in context of culture, history, personal stories, that sort of thing - not necessarily just a recipe book.
I understand the Ají Dulce peppers are also used in Peruvian cooking - another cuisine I know very little about, except for one of the many Peruvian rotisserie chicken places we have in the DC area. And we haven't eaten there for a while come to think of it.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Rain Lilies with No Rain
Apparently it doesn't take much rain to make a rain lily bloom.
A week and a day ago, Tangled Branches North had a surprise afternoon thundershower. Monday, four days later, Zephyranthes 'Labuffarosea' was blooming. According to Yucca Do Nursery, "Labuffarosa is most likely a natural occurring hybrid between the giant prairie lily and an unidentified species with dark rose pink flowers. Labuffarosa can occur in many color variations ranging from pure white to deep rose pink, most being two toned. The size and arrangement of the petals vary tremendously, from 2" to almost 4-1/2" across. All are easily distinguishable from any other rain lily by dense tufts of shiny foliage."
I've had this rain lily for several years now. It seems perfectly hardy in my zone 6b garden, but not completely happy where I put it. And now it's about to be swallowed up by a land-grabbing sedum.
Wednesday, Zephyranthes candida bloomed. I didn't get around to taking a picture yet, but it looks pretty much like last year.
But the weather has been very dry lately. How dry? Anywhere between 0-25% of "normal" rain for the first 3 weeks in August.
This post was originally going to be a belated Bloom Day post for Tangled Branches North, but I was having a hard time finding enough pretty pictures. There are flowers, but they're not at their best just now. For completeness sake and for my own records though, here's what's in bloom, starting with the hummingbird plants:
Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue'
Salvia 'Coral Nymph' (self-sown)
several Buddleias, including 'Black Knight', 'Lochinch', and 'Potter's Purple'
Lantana, plain yellow
Hibiscus syriacus 'Blue Satin' (just a few flowers left)
Hosta 'Krossa Regal'
Cuphea 'Summer Medley' (most self-sown, but not all)
Other plants in bloom:
Aster 'Purple Dome' (just beginning)
Cosmos bipinnatus (self-sown)
Hydrangea 'Pee Gee'
Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam'
One tiny 'Blue Cloud' Larkspur flower
Two Dianthus 'Feuerhexe' ('Firewitch') reblooms
Sedum 'Vera Jameson' (just beginning)
And one last Cuphea:
Cuphea glutinosa is a wispy, trailing plant with small pink-purple flowers. I've not seen any hummingbirds near this one, BTW.
Labels: in bloom
Monday, August 18, 2008
Hanging Out to Dry
Walking through the garden near lunchtime yesterday, we came upon this newly-emerged female Black Swallowtail. Her colors were vibrant and fresh, and she was nearly motionless.
By the time I got back with the camera, she started to move around a bit. That's how I determined that she was a she. If she was a he, there would be a prominent band of yellow spots on the upper surface of the wings. But since she is a she, she wears less yellow and more blue.
I thought she might be ready to fly away at this point, but she wasn't quite ready yet. I left her alone to get used to life as a butterfly.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day
There are lots of flowers in bloom, but with the recent dry weather many of them are looking weary and parched. However. It's hummingbird season here at Tangled Branches! Let's focus on hummingbird favorites for August's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Maybe this will be the year I get a good photo of a hummingbird.
I've never seen a hummingbird ignore a Cuphea so I just keep adding more Cupheas. They seem to prefer Cuphea llavea 'Tiny Mice'.
|Cuphea llavea 'Tiny Mice'|
But they visit all the Cupheas.
|Cuphea 'Totally Tempted'|
|Cuphea 'David Verrity'|
|Cuphea 'Summer Medley'|
this is just one of several colors in the mix
Last year I learned that hummingbirds like Coleus flowers, and Blackswamp Girl mentioned that she thinks Coleus flowers look better on dark-colored Coleus. I think she's right.
|The dark-leaved Coleus is 'Palisandra'|
and the chartreuse-leaved one is 'Pineapple Wizard'
I was hoping the hummers would like this Celosia and as of today, I know they do. 'Cramer's Amazon' is indeed an amazon. I planted these in several places to find out where they grow best and the tallest ones are about 6 feet tall. Those get a bit of afternoon shade, but where they're in full sun, they're not quite that tall. The small (for a Celosia) magenta-pink flowers are the hummingbird draw, but the burgundy and green leaves look good while you're waiting for the flowers and the birds.
|These are the tops of the tallest 'Cramer's Amazon' Celosias,|
along with 'Red Shield' Hibiscus.
I liked the combination until the Celosia bloomed.
|Burgundy and green foliage of 'Cramer's Amazon' Celosia|
Other hummingbird plants in bloom at Tangled Branches South are:
Lantana 'Dallas Red'
Lonicera sempervirens 'Leo' (Coral Honeysuckle)
The rest of the Bloom Day list for Tangled Branches South:
Thai Red Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida)
Lavender 'Ellagance Sky Blue' and 'Munstead'
Rudbeckia 'Prairie Sun'
Bronze Fennel (just a few flowers left)
Salvia farinacea 'Evolution' and 'Strata'
Achillea 'Summer Berries' (rebloom)
Variegated Lemon Thyme
English Broadleaf Thyme
Dill 'Vierling' (just a few flowers left)
Rosemary (I didn't think this was its blooming season)
Petunia 'Balcony' and 'Dolce Flambe'
Agastache foeniculum 'Golden Jubilee' (and the plain green-leaved species too)
Verbena hastata 'Pink Spires' (just a few flowers left)
Dianthus 'Rainbow Loveliness' (reblooming after being cut back hard)
Nepeta transcaucasica 'Blue Infinity' (I don't think much of this, but no critters eat it, ever)
and a few straggly Violas
It was pouring down rain (yay!) when I left Tangled Branches North. That list will have to wait until next week.
I wish it would rain here at Tangled Branches South, so I'd have more time to look at all the lovely flowers blooming elsewhere on this Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
B-I-G Ugly Tomatoes
Last year I thought I grew too many varieties of small tomatoes and not enough big slicing tomatoes. This year I think I overcompensated.
Now I grant you that these are ugly tomatoes, but there is still plenty to eat after you cut away the ugly parts. Look at the weight on these things!
This is the biggest one - a 'German Johnson' - and it weighs in at 1 lb. 8.8 oz.
The second biggest one is 'Mortgage Lifter VFN' at 1 lb. 4.2 oz.
The total weight of the 5 tomatoes in the top photo is over 6 pounds.
But how do they taste, you ask? I thought 'Mortgage Lifter VFN' was pretty good until I tasted 'German Johnson'. Thanks to Carol for pointing out what a good tomato this is.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Pick a Peck of Purple Peppers
OK, maybe not quite a peck. Not yet. But they're all purple to some degree.
From left to right, we have:
Bellingrath Gardens Purple
Missing from the photo are the purple bell peppers from a packet of mixed seed. We ate those last night, stuffed with lamb and rice.
All these are new to me, except the Czechoslovakian Black and the Bellingrath Gardens Purple.
Czech Black has a wonderful fruity sweet medium-hot flavor and they're even better when they ripen to a deep dark red. I wondered what else was available that might be similar, so this year I added Royal Black and Black Hungarian. I haven't tasted these side by side, but my impression is that Royal Black are hotter than Czech Black. Black Hungarian? I haven't made up my mind yet, but I think I still prefer Czech Black. Also, Black Hungarian seems to have produced a number of tiny fruit which are now ripening. Don't know why they're so small - maybe poor pollination? As you can see, the fruit of Royal Black, Black Hungarian, and Czech Black are very similar in appearance. That goes for the plants as well.
Purple Cayenne is failing to impress me so far. The walls of the pods are very thin and seem prone to some kind of rot. I'll probably not grow this one again.
Bellingrath Gardens Purple is hot, hot, hot. I've used these in the past to boost the heat level of a dish when the other available peppers weren't hot enough. The plants are very ornamental with dark purple leaves and some occasional green/purple/white variegation at the tips. I accidentally created a nice-looking bed of purple peppers, and purple-flowered and purple-leaved basil. The basil really should be cut back, but I like the look so much I haven't been able to do it. Anyhow, Bellingrath Gardens Purple is the very dark-leaved pepper in about the middle of the bed on the left. I need to get a better picture of the leaf variegation. Last year's plants were less variegated for some reason.
I mentioned the Fish Pepper in a previous post, but remaining to be discussed are:
Prik Ki Nue Rai
I think that makes 16 varieties in all, or even more if you count the 5 different plants of bell peppers I got from the packet of mixed seed. More fun to come.
Notes on the writing of this post:
- I was wondering just how many peppers would fit in a peck, so naturally I Googled it. Sometimes you find things that are better than what you were looking for. Don't click here if you're offended by profanity. If you're not offended by profanity, read the first comment on that blog post. Even if it isn't true, it's a funny story.
BTW, A peck is defined in the US as 8 dry quarts and in the UK as 1/4 of a imperial bushel.
- I wish I had thought up the title Chill(y)ing Out, so I could use it. Green Thumb is very clever.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Quite a Spectacle
Last evening we went to see one of Nature's greatest shows. Richmond has been a-twitter (sorry) with Purple Martins in the last few weeks. After reading several enthusiastic posts on the VA-Bird email list, I talked the spouse into going to see the Purple Martin Premigratory Roost near the 17th Street Market. More about premigratory roosts later, but let's just talk now about what we saw. I took over 80 photos, but not many of them were usable. This nightly event takes place around sunset and the low light levels made for difficult handheld photography. The edited selection here just gives some sense of the size and motion. All are clickable to larger sizes.
Small groups of birds began to appear high in the sky shortly before 8 PM.
The numbers increase, but still very high in the sky.
They're so high in the sky, the appearance is more of a swarm of insects than a flock of birds.
More and more birds gather.
At some humanly imperceptible signal, they begin to descend, looking at times like black snow falling from the sky and at other times swirling like a bird tornado (I only wish I had gotten a photo of that). Notice the tiny black specks of birds still high in the sky.
Another unknown signal, and they start to stream for the trees. Not all at once, but in several waves.
A group of people gathered to watch in an open space between two buildings and across the street from the Callery pears where the birds roost.
This is directly underneath a flight path. It's as if the trees have become giant bird vacuum cleaners, pulling a stream of birds into them.
And then it's over, except for the din of several thousand birds discussing the day's events and deciding on sleeping arrangements for the night.
I don't know much about Purple Martins, but others do. What would we do without the internet?
- Richmond Audubon Society's background info on the 17th St. roost
- Project Martin Roost: info about roosts in general
- Project Martin Roost: Richmond roost
Saturday, August 09, 2008
Midpoint of Summer
My annual post about the beginning of autumn is past due. I started writing this on Thursday, the astronomical halfway point between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox, and traditionally the start of autumn in Europe and northern Asia. Or is it the midpoint of summer? That's what Wednesday's entry in Baer's Almanac said. I suppose it's a half-empty/half-full sort of judgement.
It's not hard to find signs of autumn, if that's what you're looking for. The black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) trees start to take on their fall colors very early (especially if they're drought-stressed?).
Goldenrod started blooming several weeks ago, but I notice more and more every day.
There are flower buds visible on my 'Purple Dome' asters.
I saw a huge patch of pale pink Lycoris in somebody's yard in central Virginia last weekend.
A gust of wind brought down a shower of green acorns yesterday.
However, since starting vegetable gardening in earnest last year, what's really on my mind at this season is tomatoes and peppers. Especially peppers.
This year the freezer will be well-stocked with enough chile peppers to last until next August.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
You turn your back on the garden for one minute and everything changes. We spent a good part of the weekend weeding, trimming, deadheading, and generally prettying-up the vegetable garden. I picked a semi-ripe tomato before I left for Illinois. The spouse picked a couple of almost-ripe tomatoes while I was gone, and we picked a few more last weekend. The reason I didn't blog about them was that they weren't very pretty - some cracked, some with green shoulders (some varieties are supposed to be that way, but still), some catfaced - and all delicious I might add. But this morning, I read Carol's post asking us to show off our UGLY tomatoes. Hey - I can do that!
I accidentally picked the greenish-yellow one. I was trying to snip off the yellow one, but couldn't quite see where I had the pruners and ... oops. This variety is 'Kellogg's Breakfast', and it seems especially prone to catfacing. There was a pretty one (but green) I also snipped off by accident. It turned into some very tasty fried green tomatoes - perfect meaty slices, just starting to ripen inside. 'Kellogg's Breakfast' has great flavor, very surprising for a yellow tomato (sort of an orangey-yellow), and it has a strong tendency to cling to the vine. If you don't clip off the fruit with pruners, you'll probably end up bruising it.
Some of the other varieties we've had so far are Striped Roman (slightly cracked, some blossom end rot), Piriform (cracked and green shoulders), Black Prince (green shoulders), Black Russian (cracked), and Matt's Wild Cherry (perfect, but cherry tomatoes don't count).
But if you want to see some pretty fruit, look at the peppers. I like tomatoes, but I love chile peppers. These are just a few of the 16? varieties I'm growing this year (most are hot, some not). Look for more posts about chile peppers in the next few weeks.