• Plant Profile: Pachysandra Revisited

    November 27, 2015

    Before I met Pachysandra ‘Windcliff Fragrant,’ I cringed at the idea of adding Pachysandra to most gardens.

    Pachysandra 'Windcliff Fragrant' flower close up

    Pachysandra ‘Windcliff Fragrant’ flowers are tiny but pack a bright, colorful, scented punch autumn through winter in Seattle gardens.

    Old-school Pachysandra terminalis is the one most of us know. It’s kind of a “been there/done that” plant to veteran gardeners. That being said, it is a fairly reliable evergreen ground cover for shade, but it wants regular watering. And its blooms are relatively insignificant. Plus, it can be a thug that out-competes its neighbors, which means somebody has probably offered to dig theirs up to thin their patch. (Or as they put it, get you started with your own free starts.) Free plants aside, it doesn’t offer a very appealing feature combo when you consider all the other fantastic evergreen ground cover plant options out there.

    For instance, P. terminalis’ unusual cousin Pachysandra ‘Windcliff Fragrant.’

    A few years back, Dan Hinkley shared this member of his Monrovia collection at his NW Flower & Garden Show seminar. When I saw his photo, my first thought was, “Oops Dan! That’s the wrong slide for a Pachysandra.” There was no way the ground cover he was showing could be a boring old Pachysandra. Well, obviously Dan knows his stuff, and I learned something new that day.

    Pachysandra in mixed planting

    ‘Windcliff Fragrant’ Pachysandra plays politely with Beesia deltophylla, Arachnoides simplicor ‘Variegata’ fern & autumn-dormant Geranium macrophylla in this shade bed.

    Here’s the deal, this Pachysandra looks entirely different from P. terminalis. It is a low growing, evergreen ground cover that stays under 10″ tall and likes shade. But, in the three or so years I’ve been growing it (in dappled shade, without competition, in good soil and with summer watering), it hasn’t been a thug. In fact, it really did take it about three years until it began to leap and cover the ground. And, every late autumn through early winter, its wiry stems are covered in clusters of tiny, fragrant white flowers highlighted with pink casings. The flowers may be little, but by perfuming the garden with pretty posies after autumn leaves have fallen and much of the garden is bare, these blooms qualify as showy!

    Small garden with Pachysandra 'Windcliff Fragrant'

    By mid-autumn a dwarf Japanese maple has shed its leaves. Pachysandra terminalis immediately takes the spotlight, putting on its fragrant flowers & covering the bed below the maple with its evergreen leaves.

    So, before you write off adding Pachysandra to your garden, take a moment to consider the unique, well mannered P. ‘Windcliff Fragrant.’ It might just be the perfect evergreen winter bloomer to carpet your shady summer ground and add interest in winter when branches above it are bare.

    To learn more about this fantastic plant, see Monrovia’s feature on Pachysandra ‘Windcliff Fragrant.’

  • Amaryllis Advent Redux

    November 20, 2015

    It’s time to pot up your winter Amaryllis garden! If you plant them now, you’ll be enjoying big, bright, colorful blooms even as the days get shorter, darker and consistently grey for winter.

    Merry Christmas Amaryllis flower

    ‘Merry Christmas’ Amaryllis planted in late November bloomed in December & January. Each of three bulbs opened at different times.

    These aren’t bulbs you force to bloom in winter. These beauties naturally put on blossoms in winter. (And, if you move them into the garden come spring, they may even bloom outdoors in summer too. We enjoyed an outdoor ‘Merry Christmas‘ in August!)

    Our tips to get you started with your winter Amaryllis garden…

    Pick pretty pots: Your Amaryllis will need to live in a spot with the best winter sunlight you can offer. And, since you’ll probably be showing them off as part of your holiday decor, make them as pretty as can be! We’ve got a few in our store links that follow. Too, many craft stores and garden centers offer relatively inexpensive decorative containers. Or, visit a second-hand store where you may find something nice for less than a buck. We found a few cheap tins last year, which helped keep our hostess gift costs low & our hostesses very happy!

    Moss-topped Amaryllis pot

    Once your bulbs are planted into gorgeous containers like this ‘antiqued’ terra cotta pot, make sure to top them off with something to hide flaws & make your display pop even before the flowers begin to strut their stuff! Soon that little nub in the center will be a gorgeous ‘Christmas Star’ posy.

    Be sure your container drains: You’ll want to fill a container with luscious potting soil, water it well and let it drain. Many decorative containers aren’t designed to drain. So, either drill them or insert a flexible plastic pot into your decorative pot to line it. Then, plant into the plastic one!

    Trimmed plastic Amaryllis pot

    Recycle old plastic nursery containers to line your decorative pots. If the liners don’t quite fit, trim them to size. Thinner plastics are easiest to cut.

    Plant variety: Amaryllis come in all shapes and sizes. We played it pretty safe last year with a luscious red ‘Merry Christmas’ variety that has a relatively short stalk. This year, we’re mixing it up with miniature green and burgundy ‘Graffitti’, tall ‘Christmas Star’ with red, white and green blooms, and ‘Exotic Star’ in striation of chartreuse and raspberry-red.  Stay tuned for blooming pix via the links at the end of this post!

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    Top it off: Since it may be weeks before your flowers appear, add decorative mosses to the top of your planted containers. This will hide any imperfections like gaps between the pretty pot and the liner, ragged liner edges and anything else you want to sweep under the rug!

    Amaryllis planted in antique planter

    Our antique plant stands spend the winter in south & west facing windows. This one holds three ‘Exotic Star’ bulbs. The stand in the distance holds ‘Christmas Star.’ Bloom pix to come in the weeks ahead!

    Art it up: When you haul out your holiday decorations, nestle some of your ornaments into your mossy nests to add extra bling.

    More plants, please: Spread a few conifer (not sappy pine) branches around the base of centerpiece containers and dapple them with ornamental berries to really make things pop.

    Add some light: Drape a little LED light strand around your containers. Or, add to your centerpiece look by brightening things up with a few candles – just be smart about placement. You don’t want to light anything on fire!

    We’ll be adding art and centerpiece decor a little later in the season and will share pix once we do.

    Want tips to avoid flops? Wondering which varieties our Amaryllis Advent pals Dee and Kylee love best? Read our original Amaryllis Advent post from 2014 here.  Follow the hashtag #AmaryllisAdvent on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook all season long to see how our garden progressed. Yep! Lotsa eye candy ahead!

  • Dandelion Tea Recipe

    November 13, 2015
    Our dandelion tea recipe makes great use of those hard-won dandelions dug fresh from your garden. Roasting the roots brings out a nutty sweetness that mellows the root’s bitterness. It makes a dandy cuppa to replace your afternoon tea or even your morning coffee – sans caffeine.

    Dandelion root tea recipe brew

    Make a tasty cuppa right after whipping up our dandelion root tea recipe!

    Roasted Dandelion Tea RecipePrint Print

    Several large dandelion roots, ideally harvested in late summer to fall (but anytime you can get a good sized root up, save it and use it)

    Freshly harvested dandelion

    Freshly harvested dandelion greens & roots ready to prepare

    Scrub your dandelion roots until completely clean and free of all dirt and grit. Trim off any hairy little bits or anything squishy, rotten or otherwise damaged or questionable. If you’re having trouble getting your roots completely clean, you can use a vegetable peeler to remove the toughest outer layer.

    (If you wish, skip the following step and begin roasting your roots right away.)

    To Dry Your Roots: Chop roots into small pieces no larger than a couple of stacked nickles. Spread in a thin layer on a dehydrator tray. Insert into dehydrator set to 125°F for about an hour. After an hour, check to see if the root bits are completely dried. If not, continue drying in one hour increments until the pieces are hard and woody.

    Dandelion root to dehydrate

    Cleaned & chopped dandelion root ready to dehydrate.

    Once your dandelion harvest has been dried, you can place it in an airtight jar and store it until you are ready to roast for tea.

    To Roast Your Tea: Preheat oven to 325°F. Spread dried or fresh roots in a single layer on a baking sheet. Insert into oven and roast for about 20 minutes, stirring half way through roasting. If you skipped dehydrating your roots, you may need to roast your roots for up to an hour, stirring every 10 minutes until the roots are both dried and slightly browned.

    dried dandelion roots

    Dried dandelion root bits ready to toast in the oven.

    At this point, your roasted roots are ready to steep in hot water for tea. About 1/2 teaspoon to 1 cup boiling water should suffice, but adjust to taste!

    Grinding Your Brew: If you prefer a powdered form that dissolves somewhat like coffee, place your roasted root bits into a dry grinder pitcher of a high powered blender. Turn it on variable/low and begin pulverizing your roasted pieces into a dust, increasing power as needed until all that remains is a pale brown dust without grit.

    toasted & ground dandelion

    Ground & toasted dandelion root ready to steep into a hot cuppa goodness.

    For a Darker Roast: If you like your dandelion tea with a lot of roasted flavor, pour your dust into a preheated cast iron skillet. Stir it gently over low heat until it transforms from a pale brown to a nutty brown. Be very careful to keep the heat low and stir frequently so your hard-won dandelion tea recipe doesn’t turn into burnt dust.

    To Make the Perfect Dandy Cuppa: Fill a kettle with fresh water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, add 1/2-1 teaspoon roasted dandelion root to your tea infuser. Pour boiling water over your dandelion root and allow it to infuse for about 3 minutes, or longer if you like a lot of flavor. (If you created powdered tea, just put it in your cup, pour water over it, stir.)

    Add Some Flavor: If your cuppa dandelion tea is just a bit too bitter, try stirring in a teaspoon of honey, barley malt or pour in some coconut milk for creamy richness.


  • Dandelion: Weed or Feed?

    November 06, 2015

    Remember when you were a kid and dandelion seed heads were the key to making your wishes come true? Then, as you grew, you began seeing the bane of a perfectly manicured garden in those same golden flowers. Now you probably can’t even remember when or why your perspective changed so drastically. Today’s the day to adjust your dandelion outlook again to see the presence of these powerful plants in your garden as a wish come true.

    Taraxacum officinale flower

    Taraxacum officinale or common dandelion bloom is a bright ray of sunshine.

    What’s so great about dandelions?

    1. They’re easy to grow!
    2. The bitter leaves are edible.
    3. The flower buds are edible.
    4. The flowers are pretty & abundant.
    5. The roots loosen soil.
    6. The roots are edible.

    Let’s look at those six points in order, in a little more depth. Plus, harvesting, preserving, tea preparation and more recipes ahead! (more…)

  • Eat a Corpse (Lily)

    October 30, 2015

    It’s usually May when we see social media feeds fill with photos of various deep purple corpse lily flowers. Each comes with questions and comments like “What’s this thing? It stinks so bad!” So, why write about it in October?

    fly on Dracunculus

    Plug your nose when the flies are swarming around any corpse lily. P-U!

    Well, Halloween, of course. And, not just because of the whole creepy, monster factor. More importantly, one of these corpse lilies may help offset blood sugar overload. Yep, you really can eat part of at least one of these plants.

    Let’s begin by looking at one that’s really common in the PacNW – Dracunculus vulgaris. And, to be clear, this one isn’t edible (to our knowledge). It is, however, very easy to cultivate. And, once you have this dragon lily growing, it’s tough to eradicate.

    Dracunculus voodoo lily

    Dracunculus flowering in the garden in mid-May. Also known as the voodoo or dragon lily.

    Plant this towering perennial where you can admire its visual voodoo but not choke on its awful aroma, both of which last only a very few days when its enormous bloom puts on a stink bad enough to make flies fight. By autumn, its pollinated spathe becomes a club-sized knob of bright orange berries just waiting to scatter and take over your entire garden. So, enjoy the color, but compost it before it shoots those tiny little punkins everywhere. It may be cool to look at, but nobody wants an invasive, non-edible stinker taking over.

    Similar in scent but distinctively different than Dracunculus is a fantastically edible corpse flower that’s under-used in the US. In fact, when I began researching Amorphophallus konjac in a quest to grow it for food, I couldn’t find a PacNW supplier of the tubers. Fortunately, plant explorer Tony Avent of Plants Delight Nursery in North Carolina came to my rescue by shipping more than just a couple of baby plants for me to begin cultivating in a quest to grow foods for better blood sugar.

    Amorphophallus flower

    Amorphophallus corpse flower rising from the garden bed in late May.

    Download our free seed-to-fork book with plants and recipes we’ve developed in our quest for homegrown better blood sugar. When you do, you’ll be among the first to learn more about other plants we grow, cook and eat in an effort to control diabetes through homegrown goodness.

    Shirataki corpse lily pasta dish

    Our dairy-free rosemary pesto & veggies pairs great with corpse lily (shirataki) noodles.
    Get our pesto recipe & try it tonight!

    Yep! The root of the Amorphophallus konjac corpse lily is edible and has been eaten for centuries in Asia. Often it is served sliced in a jelly form. We like it as a traditional pasta alternative. Grain-based noodles usually pack a high carbohydrate punch, but konjac noodles are pretty much nothing but fiber — no fat, sugar, carbs, calories, gluten or other ugly ingredients, especially if you grow your own. And, they easily absorb sauces without adding a flavor of their own.

    But, it may take years to cultivate your own harvest, so buying pre-made shirataki noodles may make more sense for your Halloween dinner. All that fiber might help soak up some of the treats your tricksters gobble down rather than piling on more pasta carbs at the dinner table.

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    If you do buy these pre-made shirataki noodles, rinse them well before cooking to get rid of the odd odor. Really, it does go away if you prepare them properly!

    Growing this cousin of the giant Amorphophallus titanum is fairly simple, but A. konjac does require patience. First, it will probably take a few years before your plant will bloom.

    Amorphophallus root

    Mature Amorphophallus konjac tubers like this are harvested to make shirataki (aka yam) noodles.

    Even the mature tubers Tony sent us didn’t bloom the first year, but the foliage itself is striking, so those early years weren’t a bust.  Once ours did begin blooming, their deformed penis flowers didn’t disappoint. And, in fact, they didn’t smell nearly as bad as the nearby European Dracunculus. Sadly, konjacs don’t emerge from the soil in our area until it’s almost summer, and just because they bloom one year doesn’t mean they’ll bloom again the next. Such fickle stinkers, but they’re worth it!

    Want to start your own bed of corpses? Here are the links to buy via Plant Delights, and no, we haven’t received compensation to write this post or share these links. And, while Tony did generously supply us with more mature tubers, we did pay for them.

    Order Amorphophallus konjac via Plant Delights Nursery here.

    Order Dracunculus vulgaris via Plant Delights Nursery here.

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