Dolce Fresca, a 2015 All-America Selections basil, recovers rapidly when harvested and holds its shape well, making it work well in a container on the patio or deck. Photo courtesy All-America Selections
My philosophy is to always try new plants every year and this year, it will be vegetables. A few of these have been available for a few years, but they will be new to me.
Kalettes is a cross between Brussels sprouts and kale to create a new vegetable so special, it has its own website (kalettes.com). I have not grown this yet and so far, I’ve only been able to find it as seed, so that’s what I ordered from Johnny’s Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com). Kalettes supposedly have a sweet nutty flavor, and can be sautéed, roasted, grilled or eaten raw. Since I like Brussels sprouts, I’m hoping Kalettes will make kale taste good.
A brand new vegetable named Kalette is a cross between Brussels sprouts and kale that can be eaten or cooked. Photo courtesy Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Jasper cherry tomato produces sweet, tender fruits during a long production periodPhoto courtesy All-America Selections
Jasper is one of the best producing tomatoes in the Marion County Extension Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. This cherry tomato was a 2013 All-America Selections, praised for its long, productive season, ¾-inch round fruit with good taste. It also is resistant or tolerant of early and late blights and fusarium wilt.
Sandy is the first lettuce to be named an All-America Selections winner since 1985. This 2015 introduction is a loose-head, oakleaf lettuce that is very disease resistant, especially powdery mildew, and slow to go to seed, called bolting. Leaves can be harvested at about any size. It slowness to bolt and size – about 10 inches tall and wide – make this a good selection for a pot or window box.
A 2015 winner, Sandy is the first lettuce to receive the All America Selections moniker since 1985. Photo courtesy All America Selections
For years, I didn’t like cucumbers. But, tastes change and I now find cucumbers add a fresh, bright, crunch to salads. Diva, which has been grown under cover in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden, has earned lots of praise for its productivity. Diva produces fruit even when covered to protect the plants from cucumber beetles and other insects. It also is resistant to downy and powdery mildew. The taste of this seedless cuke is supposed to be sweet, tender, crisp, but not bitter. It is a 2002 All-America Selections winner.
New Ace pepper, introduced by Harris Seeds (harrisseeds.com) is another strong producer that is resistant to fusarium wilt. It’s real claim to fame, though, is that it produces large, well-lobed green fruit earlier than a lot of other peppers, usually maturing in about 65 days. The fruit turns red the longer it stays on the plant.
New Ace sweet pepper matures in about 60 days, making it an early, prolific producer.
Photo courtesy Veseys.com
To go along with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers comes Dolce Fresca basil, another 2015 All-America Selections winner. It out performed other Italian, large-leaf basil while staying bushy and compact.
Diva cucumber produces fruit even when covered to protect from cucumber beetles and other insects. Photo courtesy All-America Selections
Daylight Saving Time makes mornings disappear. And, it messes with our body clocks. Scientists say we never recover.
Here in Indianapolis, the sun sets later than any of the 50 largest metro areas. That’s because we’re on Eastern time instead of Central. If we have to have DST, put me in Central Time.
Current reports say DST may be on the way out. Hope springs eternal.
Green and purple leaf oxalis fill a bowl as a table decoration. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center
We may call those clover-like plants we buy around St. Patrick’s Day shamrocks, but they aren’t. They are oxalis.
St. Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to illustrate the Catholic’s Holy Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as one, although today, the faithful say Holy Spirit. Exactly what his shamrock was is uncertain, but many think it was a clover.
Patrick, whose life we celebrate on March 17, also is credited with ridding Ireland of snakes, when it’s possible they were never on the Emerald Isle or they were wiped out by the Ice Age. So much for the legend of the patron saint of Ireland.
There’s nothing legendary about the plant we embrace as oxalis. It’s a great little plant. We may have them indoors this time of year, but an oxalis is a very good plant for shady areas outside in summer.
Breeders have boosted the size of the leaves on oxalis and hybridized various colors, such as purple and copper. The flowers are white or pink. Oxalis does great in a container or as a flowering border in the front of a garden bed.
Bring the frost tender oxalis indoors at the end of summer to enjoy as a houseplant. It likely will go dormant for several weeks, then perk up and resume its show.
For those of us who love language and getting our hands dirty comes Garden-pedia: An A to Z Guide to Gardening Terms by Pamela Bennett and Maria Zampini (St. Lynn’s Press, 2015, $16.95, paperback).
The easy, conversational style of the book makes it a handy reference for beginner or experienced gardeners, with just the right mix of information, common sense and fun.
We hear words like “determinate” tomatoes, “thinning” seedlings and the “branch collar” of a tree, but do we know what these terms mean? We do now, with this tome, written with experience. Bennett is the master gardener coordinator and horticulture faculty member at Ohio State University. Zampini, a horticulturist from Madison, Ohio, comes from a long line of plant breeders and nurserymen, and owns UpShoot LLC, a plant marketing firm. Each is well practiced in explaining gardening and horticulture terminology at all levels, from consumers to plant scientists.
At 200 pages, this 6- by 7-inch book is packed with photos, illustrations and all the right words to make you speak like the knowledgeable gardener you are.
‘Mardi Gras’ sneezeweed’s palette of yellowish, orange-red flowers mix well with black-eyed Susan and larkspur in the late summer garden. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Not too long ago, I put together a program about native plants. On the list, of course, were coneflower, black-eyed Susan and aster, common plants we all recognize as native species.
That got me thinking about the native plants that are lesser known and planted. Here are three perennials:
Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) has attracted the attention of plant breeders the last few years, which has resulted in new cultivars on the market. The common name comes from the plant’s crushed, dried leaves’ use as pseudo snuff.
Frequently listed as a later blooming perennial, mine usually starts its show in mid-July and continues into September. Sneezeweed does best in full sun, average soil that is more moist than dry. This is a good plant for rain gardens or swales. It also is deer resistant.
Found throughout the United States, sneezeweed’s daisy-like, scalloped edged flowers raised centers attract butterflies, bees and other pollinating insects. It also is a long-lasting cut flower. Depending on the cultivar, sneezeweed’s height ranges from 18 inches to 4 feet and about 1 foot wide.
Cultivars to consider: Mardi Gras, Moerheim Beauty, Red Jewel and Short ‘n’ Sassy.
Butterflies and bees visit the flowers of ‘Honeysong Purple’ stokes aster. Photo courtesy perennialresource.com
Stokes aster (Stokesia laevis), native to the southeast United States, is another long-bloomer, usually starting in late May and continuing well into July. This low-growing plant is found in wetlands and other moist areas in nature, but once established in the garden, it is drought tolerant. Stokes aster does best in full sun and well-drained soil.
Butterflies and bees like the flowers, but rabbits do not. This is not a strong-stemmed plant and tends to be a bit more prostrate rather than upright. It usually is 12 to 15 inches tall and wide, so plant in the front of the border for a better show. Stokes aster is a lovely cut flower. Cultivars to consider: Colorwheel, Blue Danube, Peachie’s Pick and Honeysong Purple.
‘Hot Lips’ turtlehead thrives in full sun to partly shady wet areas. Photo courtesy Monrovia
Turtlehead (Chelone) can be a problem solver for partly shady areas with wet soil, rich in organic matter. Also tolerant of full sun, turtleheads are found in the eastern United States. The flowers of turtlehead are what give the plant its common name. C. glabra is white; C. obliqua and C. lyonii are red.
Hummingbirds and bumblebees pollinate these plants, which bloom mid- to late summer. They get 1 to 3 feet tall and spread by rhizomes to form a colony up to 20 inches wide. This habit makes turtlehead a good choice for soil retention and use in rain gardens or swales. Turtlehead also can be cut for indoor arrangements. Besides the straight species, the only readily available cultivar is ‘Hot Lips’, reputed to be deer resistant.
Steampunk Amy Mullen is an urban gardener in disguise. Photo supplied by Amy Mullen
Last weekend, urban gardener Amy Mullen traded her jeans for a corset and gown at the Indianapolis Steampunk Society’s Steampunk Through the Looking Glass at the Columbia Club.
Is there a relationship between growing your own food on a small city lot and steampunking? Yes, she said.
“Steampunk is a reaction to mass production, entertainment technology and homogenous design,” said Mullen, 42, who holds degrees in physics and management from DePauw University.
Steampunk celebrates the individual craftsman and appreciates technology you can look at and see how it works. The farm-to-fork movement is one response to outsourcing growing food to industrial agriculture. “With gardening, we recapture the skills we lost. There’s a streak of individualism and creativity that runs through both gardening and steampunking,” Mullen said.
Since buying her home in Irvington in 2000, Mullen has embraced the role of urban gardener. She has converted her city lot into an urban farm with vegetables and fruit trees in the front yard and two chickens cooped in the back.
Amy Mullen’s front yard is planted with vegetables and fruit trees. She posts signs for neighbors to pick strawberries when the crop is more than she can use. Photo courtesy Amy Mullen
Among the challenges of city gardening: Soil contamination, fighting squirrels, birds and cats and preventing people from traipsing through your garden.
The rewards are more than food on the table, though. “Because I moved my food garden to front of house where sun is best, I have met a lot of neighbors. That builds bonds. I get anonymous thank you notes,” especially for the strawberries she allows people to pick, she said.
For beginners with gardens in town or in the ‘burbs, Mullen recommends “starting small, something every gardener in history has been told. If you are interested in food, one 4-by-4 foot garden can provide salad crops for two adults all season.” She also suggests researching what you want to grow to increase your ability to succeed.
Amy Mullen orders seeds for her urban garden under the supervision of Fiona, her cat. Photo courtesy Ginny Mullen
Her favorite plants are lavender, especially ‘Munstead’, because of the color and fragrance, and ‘Provence’ for its length of wands for crafts.
Gardening occupies Mullen’s day, too, as a designer for Spotts Garden Service, an Irvington company that aligns with her philosophy of organic and sustainable practices.
An Indianapolis native, Mullen comes from a long line of teachers and Spotts has opened up opportunities for her to share information. She teaches about gardening at farmers market and other venues. And, she blogs at fraudulentfarmgirl.com and at spottsgardens.com.
“Just don’t panic. Gardening is not an exact science. There’s a lot of trial and error and fun in the process,” she said.
Native moths and butterflies will be the topic of one of Doug Tallamy’s talks at the Horticultural Symposium at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Feb. 21, 2015. Above is a hummingbird moth visiting a bee balm (Monarda). (C) Bob Judson/bugwood
When you see or hear the words “living landscape,” what do you think? That all the plants are alive? But the term is much broader than just plants, although flora plays a key role.
Indeed, a living landscape teams with insects, birds and other wildlife.
One of the best ways to support a living landscape is with diverse plantings of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees, which provide food and shelter for wildlife and beauty for you.
That’s precisely the topic of the annual symposium by the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Division of Environmental & Historic Preservation.
The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden begins at 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 21 in The Toby at the IMA. Advance registration is required.
Doug Tallamy’s keynote will be about how gardeners can create a biodiverse landscape. He also will speak about the role of moth and butterfly species as pollinators. Tallamy is co-author of The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, published by Timber Press. A professor at the University of Delaware, has been a popular and frequent speaker in Indiana since his award-winning book Bringing Nature Home was published in 2009, also by Timber Press.
Kevin Tungesvick, a restoration ecologist at Spence Restoration Nursery in Anderson, Indiana, will talk about lesser-known native plants that support wildlife. Jim McCormac, an award-winning birder, photographer and author with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, examines the best native plants for feeding the birds.
A lot of gardeners rely on perennials as the native plants in their gardens.
“While many native plant species make good garden plants, certainly not all are ideal,” said Irvin Etienne, horticultural display coordinator at the IMA and a director of the Perennial Plant Association.
“Breeders and plant hunters have come up with many nativars (native plus cultivar equals nativar) that do make excellent garden plants,” said Etienne, who will speak about Nativars – Strangers in a Strange Land.
“Sometimes these are simply selections found out in nature and other times they are planned hybrids. Since these plants are going into ornamental gardens rather than natural areas, their aesthetic qualities become equal to their native heritage. Indeed, sometimes they become strangers in a strange land,” he said.
The last issue of Organic Gardening is on the shelves now. Rodale, the name synonymous with all-things organic, will relaunch Organic Gardening as Organic Living with a May-June issue.
This last issue is an obituary, of sorts, for yet another gardening magazine. The magazine is being rebranded, so it’s not going away completely. The Rodale spin is the new magazine will encompass what’s now become a lifestyle.
“Organic is now about so much more than gardening. It’s about your whole life – your home, your health, and our future together on this beautiful amazing Earth,” wrote Maria Rodale, chairman and chief executive officer of Rodale Inc., and granddaughter of the founder, in the magazine’s farewell letter. Rodale publishes several popular magazines: Men’sHealth, Women’sHealth, Running!, Prevention, Runners and Bicycling, as well as many books.
In some ways, we’ve come a long way since the late J.I. Rodale founded Organic Gardening in May 1942. “One of these fine days, the public is going to wake up and will pay or eggs, meats, vegetables, etc., according to how they were produced,” he wrote.
At the time, J.I. Rodale and his promotion of organic practices bucked the trend toward widespread acceptance of pesticide use in agriculture. Today, his notions of composting, building the soil, avoiding pesticides, eating fresh food and living in a sustainable manner have moved beyond trendy to commonplace.
Many of us are concerned about how our food is grown, how far it has to travel to get to our table, food safety, freshness and the humane treatment of the animals we eat. From Walmart to Whole Foods, grocers promote their organic produce and other selections. Many vendors at farmers markets specialize in organic food. The USDA now has an organic food label for products that meet certain standards.
Of course, there are still issues. Many of us grab the spray of the day for an insect or disease because of aesthetics rather than harm to a plant as we model the perfect flowers, fruit and vegetables we know from the agriculture model. And we want to know what our packaged food is made of. A bill has been introduced again this year in the Indiana General Assembly that would require labeling on food if an ingredient is a genetically modified organism, or GMO.
So, I sadly bid adieu to Organic Gardening, a magazine that has been inspiring me since I started writing this column in 1989. And, I’m proud to continue providing readers information about practical, natural and organic practices for your gardens and landscape.
Bees visit crocus in early spring. (C) Kernel/Dollarphotoclub.com
If you are worried about the decline of bees in your landscape, there are some things you can do to encourage their presence – plant flowers. There are a lot, but here are six of my favorite perennials:
Crocus offers some of the first tastes of nectar and pollen for foraging bees on sunny, warm days. The visitors are bees that wintered over in holes, hives and crevices, and they need early season nourishment to build up their broods. Crocus can be grown in sun or shade, even in the lawn.
Dandelion is another early season plant that help bees get a start on their hives and summer work. (C) Vvoe/Dollarphotoclub.com
I know we all think dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a weed, but it’s another early bloomer that supports bumblebees and honeybees. It won’t hurt to allow a few to bloom. Remove the spent flowers before they go to seed and once other plants are blooming in the garden, remove the dandelions.
Calamint (Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta) is probably one of the longest blooming perennials in the garden. This underused species has fragrant, showy, white to pinkish flowers from June into September. It needs full sun and well-drained soil. Calamint behaves nicely, staying in a tidy clump about 18 inches tall and 24 inches wide. There are cultivars available, including ‘Blue Cloud’. Reported to be deer resistant and, once established, calamint is drought tolerant.
There are several North America native hyssop (Agastache spp.), sometimes called hummingbird mint, which bees and hummingbirds love. The foliage has a minty fragrance. ‘Honey Bee Blue’ and ‘Blue Fortune’ (A. foeniculum) are reliable, long-blooming perennials. My favorites are the slightly less hardy hyssop (A. rupestris), such as ‘Apache Sunset.’ Gardeners frequently grow these hyssops as long-blooming annuals. Plant hyssop in full sun and well-drained soil. Hyssop is deer and drought tolerant, once established.
Calamint in a long-blooming perennials that serves as a bee magnet. (C) Carol Michel/MayDreamsGardens.com
‘T Rex’ sedum and many other sedums are late season food sources for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Tall sedum is a pollinator magnet in late summer and early fall. The popular Autumn Joy (Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’) attracts butterflies, bees and beneficial wasps. The seedheads dry to offer winter interest. Sedum is very drought tolerant. Grow this perennial in full sun and average, but well-drained soi.
Boltonia (B. asteroides), sometimes called false aster, is another native perennial that late-season bees, butterflies and other important insects fly to. ‘Snow Bank’ is a readily available cultivar. Grow boltonia in full sun to part shade. It tolerates wet soil. Surround it with other plants to camouflage this 3-foot tall specimen’s shrubby bottom.
Pansies and violas are the perfect floral complement in a salad of fresh spring greens and feta cheese. ©Wiktory/iStockphoto
As restaurants embrace farm-to-table fare, gardeners need to celebrate their own backyard bounty.
We already know about tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans and lettuces, but there are more than vegetables to grace your table.
Last spring, I had lunch at Courses restaurant atop the former Stouffer’s Hotel, now home of Ivy Tech’s Corporate College and Culinary Center. Besides the great bird’s-eye view of the city, one of the nice things about the delicious meal was the salad, which featured lettuces, herbs and flowers grown on the grounds of the campus at Fall Creek Parkway and Meridian Street.
Flowers? You, the unadventurous eater, ate flowers, you ask?
Yes, indeed. This time, it was the slightly sweet, slightly crunchy taste of violas and pansies. This was not my first taste of edible flowers. I’ve eaten peppery nasturtium in salads, enjoyed lavender ice cream and shortbread cookies and, in Grenada, imbibed a glass of very sweet sorrel, made from Roselle hibiscus flowers (H. sabdariffa).
“Roselle can also act as a diuretic, so it should be taken in small doses,” wrote Denise Schreiber in her book, Eat Your Roses: Pansies, Lavender and 49 other Delicious Edible Flowers (St. Lynn’s Press, $17.95).
Schreiber’s book provides other cautions, such as you should avoid eating anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), if you are pregnant. At 7 by 6 inches, spiral bound and full or tips on harvesting, uses and recipes, it fits right on the shelf of cookbooks.
Her book reminds us that we actually consume flowers and leaves in teas, such as chamomile, rose hip and jasmine. And then there’s that bean we grind to make our morning elixir.
Edible flowers should always be pesticide free and grown for culinary use. Many edible plants have delicious flowers, worth the sacrifice of a few zucchini and other produce. These include the blooms of squash, onion, radish and just about any herb. Garden pea (Pisum sativum) flowers and shoots are all the rage right now, but don’t confuse these with sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus), which despite its name, is poisonous.
This brings up an important point about eating flowers, leaves and other parts of plants: Know what you are eating. If you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it. Always go by the scientific, not the common, names when looking for edible flowers.
Lots of grocery stores and farmers markets offer edible flowers, if you don’t want to grow your own. Avoid flowers from florists because you don’t know if they’ve been treated with pesticides.
The grasslike ‘Evergold’ sedge is evergreen, too. It was left in this container to add another color and texture to a winter arrangement, it’s third season in a pot. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Say evergreens and most people think pine, spruce or arborvitae. But several perennials fall into this category, including a couple of grass-like plants.
Sure, sedge (Carex spp.) can be a weed, but there’s a whole bunch of these grasses that have been cultivated and made garden worthy. Some are native, too. Not only are many sedges evergreen, they are tolerant of dry, wet, sun and shade.
Probably the most readily available is ‘Ice Dance’ (C. morrowii). The narrow green and white blades perk up containers or perform like a pro as an edging on a garden bed. Sedges also can serve as a ground cover.
A great place to see a large planting of a native sedge is outside the Deer-Zink Pavilion at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. A large bed is planted with Pennsylvania sedge (C. pensylvanica), a shade tolerant beauty that looks great all year.
Sedges bloom, but their flowers, although attractive, are not particularly showy. I don’t cut them off. There are several yellow or gold cultivars, too, including ‘Evergold’ (C. oshimensis). Most sedges range 8 to 15 inch tall.
Along the same ideas as sedge is lilyturf (Liriope spp.), another grass-like ground cover that gets about 12 inches tall. It, too, tolerates sun or shade, but its spike of blue flowers is showy in late summer, followed by black berries.
There are two types of lilyturf, one that spread by underground rhizomes (L. spicata) and one that is a clump grower (L. muscari). To help hold soil on a hillside or to cover a challenging areas, the spreading one would be ideal. The clump grower, a popular one is ‘Big Blue’, works well in many applications, including as a year-round container plant.
I can’t say enough good about coral bells (Heuchera spp.) because the come in so many leaf colors and forms. Found only in North America, coral bells are prized as much for their foliage as they are the blooms.
In fact, as breeders worked on this plant, the foliage got all the attention to the detriment of the flowers. But new introductions, such as ‘Berry Timeless’, have an improved floral show.
Coral bell foliage may change color as it moves through the season, but even in winter, there’s a presence in the landscape, even under snow. Coral bells are very shade tolerant, but prefer well-drained soil.