September 2013

Go ahead. Eat your hosta

Hosta shoots, wrapped with proscuitto and placed on a bed of garlic mustard (Allaria petiolata) pesto. © Ellen Zachos

I’m the first to admit that I’m not a particularly adventurous eater, but after reading Ellen Zachos’ new book Backyard Foraging, I might have to give hostas a try.

“Unlike you, I’m a very adventurous eater,” said Zachos, in a phone interview. She lives in New York City and Pennsylvania, but grew up in New Hampshire in a Greek family that traveled widely and devoured local fare. “I’ve always been interested in different foods.”

Author Ellen Zachos holds a bowl filled with foraged food (moving clockwise): wintergreen leaves, hopniss tubers, black walnuts, silverberries (sweet autumn olives) and canna tubers. © Rob Cardillo

She started foraging in Central Park and other semi-wild and wild places throughout the United States for new foods to try. Her book, Backyard Foraging 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (paperback, $16.95), published earlier this year by Storey Publishing, is in its second printing. It also features many recipes. (See below for some recipes.)

Foraging all started with a cheese sandwich. One day, a food-foraging friend suggested Zachos stuff garlic mustard in the sandwich she was having for lunch. In one simple gesture, the cheese sandwich was made delicious, she said.

Backyard Foraging cover copyThroughout her book and in person, Zachos repeatedly cautions “no experimenting. If you are not 100 percent sure of what it is, do not put it in your mouth.”

Deep-fried milkweed pods (Asclepias syriaca). What looks like the creamy filling is actually the melted silks inside the milkweed pods. © Ellen Zachos

Even when eating known food you’ve foraged for the first time, Zachos recommends “starting with small quantities. You could have a food allergy to what you’ve foraged just like you might for a strawberry.” Always make sure the forage has not been tainted with any pesticide, too.

Zachos nourishes her appetite for foraged food by reading anything and everything on the topic. “But it’s much more fun to learn from the experts.”

Among the surprises on the foraging menu are hostas, especially the newly emerged leaves of spring, she said.

She thinks foraging is fueled in part by the local, seasonal food movement. “It leads naturally to foraging. You harvest it when it’s just right, perfect and ready to eat, not picked weeks in advance and shipped across country.”

Spicebush berries start out green and turn bright red as they ripen. They can be eaten whole, or grind them for use in cookies, scones and other baked goods. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Zachos said she not interested in survival food. “I like these things because they are delicious, have a fantastic taste and they taste unusual. You can’t walk into a grocery store and buy spicebush berries, which is one delicious berry. You have to find the female (shrub) out in woods.” Follow Zachos’ adventures in foraging at Down and Dirty Gardening.




While working on this article, I visited the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where you can find just about any plant, including spicebush (Lindera benzoin). So, I tried the spicebush berries and they were pretty good. They had a citrusy, tart, tingly taste. I would eat them again and I think they would give a bright, tangy taste to cookies, scones or biscotti and perk up a salad.


Mugwort Soup


Mugwort soup. (C) Ellen Zachos


1 medium onion, chopped

Olive oil for sautéing

4 cups vegetable broth

1 medium potato, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces

4 cups tender, young mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) leaves, chopped

1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk


  1. Sauté onion in olive oil until softened.
  2. Add vegetable broth, potato pieces, and 2 cups chopped mugwort leaves.
  3. Bring to a boil, and simmer until the potato is soft.
  4. Add 2 more cups of chopped mugwort leaves and the almond milk, then simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from the heat, and let cool, then process until smooth with a food processor or an immersion blender.

The taste is earthy, herbal and green. And if you’re not sure what that means, then why not pick yourself some mugwort and find out.


Spicebush Snickerdoodles


Spicebush snickerdoodles. (C) Ellen Zachos


Preheat oven to 350 degrees


3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup softened butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1 3/8 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt


Rolling mixture

1 tablespoon sugar

1 ½ teaspoon ground spicebush berries (Lindera benzoin)



1. Combine sugar, butter, vanilla and egg and mix well.

2. Stir in flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt.

3. Blend well and roll the dough into a ball.

4. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

5. Use a small melon baller or other tool to scoop out spheres of dough.

6. Roll the balls the mixture of sugar and ground spicebush berries (Lindera benzoin).

7. Place on baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes.

How to feed a planet

What: Hendricks County Master Gardeners Presents Adventures in Gardening: How to Feed a Planet

Where: Hendricks County Fairgrounds Auditorium, Danville, Ind.

When: 8 a.m. registration, Saturday, September 28, 2013. Programs 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Registration fee: $45, includes breakfast, lunch and materials. Call Emily (317) 745-9260 to reserve a spot.

About: How do you feed a world of hungry people while maintaining a healthy natural environment? This year’s Hendricks County Master Gardeners daylong seminar focuses on the complex issues of food production.

The basics of growing food to feed a planet are far from basic. Whether industrial, natural, organic or genetically modified, our food comes from many sources near and far, simple and complex.

Speakers will discuss a piece of this complex puzzle of food production. The day ends with a panel discussion of speakers discussing common issues and concerns around food production. Conflicts and controversies, and how various methods of food production can be balanced to feed the world while maintaining a healthy planet will be discussed.

Seminar speakers:

Ken Meter, Crossroads Resource Center, will speak on emerging food systems in Indiana.

Cris G. Hochwender, assistant professor of environmental science and evolutionary ecology, will speak on restoration of native seeds and plant diversity.

David Wyeth, District 5 director of Indiana Farm Bureau, is a fourth-generation farmer whose family has owned land in Hendricks County since 1919.



Which autumn-blooming clematis do you have?

Sweet autumn clematis (C. terniflora). (C)

One of the best flowering plants of late summer and fall has shown up on the radar of the state’s invasive plants group.

Sweet autumn clematis (C. terniflora, sometimes listed as C. paniculata) lives up to its name with its sweet, fragrant white blooms in August and September.

If you’ve grown this hardy, perennial vine from Asia, you know how invasive it can be in the backyard. It self sows like mad. Seedlings seem to sprout about anywhere they land, even great distances from the original plant. It’s one of those that you only need to plant once because it will have dozens of offspring.

Sweet autumn clematis blooms the same time as the native virgin’s bower (C. virginiana) and the two are hard to distinguish. Each blankets neighboring plants and fences with its star-like flowers. They both grow well in sun and shade and are not fussy about soil or water requirements.

“This is a good time to double check to make sure it’s really the native virgin’s bower, and not the invasive sweet autumn clematis,” said Ellen Jacquart, a director of stewardship at the Nature Conservancy and a member of the state’s group that evaluates invasive plants.

The native, fall-blooming clematis leaf (C. virginiana) has uneven, or toothed edges. Photo courtesy USDA NRCS Wetland Science Institute

“The flowers look pretty much the same, so you have to look at the leaves to tell which is which,” she said. The native species has teeth or jagged edges on the leaves, and the Asian variety has smooth-edged leaves.

Already on the list of invasive species in many other states, Clematis terniflora is not detected frequently in Indiana except in the Indianapolis area, where it has shown up in several natural sites, Jacquart said.

The plant has escaped our yards and shown up in natural areas, such as parks and woodlands, she said. “It may be that there are more sites, but people are assuming by the flowers that it is the native clematis.”

Because it heavily self sows, the Asian type can quickly overwhelm and displace native species.

Invasive clematis leaf (C. terniflora) has smooth edges. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

What can you do? Remove the invasive species and replace it with the native one. The latter will be a bit harder to find, but there are online retailers and some garden centers that will have it. Search for it by the species name.


Iron Butterfly ironwood another choice for the late-season garden

Iron butterfly ironweed. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

We see ironweed growing along country roads, where its beautiful bluish-purple flowers compliment perfectly the yellow blossoms of goldenrods this time of year.

A few years ago, Allan Armitage, the perennial plant-breeding guru who retired recently from the University of Georgia, introduced ‘Iron Butterfly’, a garden-worthy cousin of the late-season, roadside bloomer.

This is the first year that ‘Iron Butterfly’ ironweed (Vernonia lettermannii) has bloomed here, probably because until last spring, it was shrouded by a much larger false sunflower, ‘Sunshine Daydream’ (Helianthus x multiflorus), which didn’t know how to contain itself.

‘Iron Butterfly’ calls to its winged namesakes as they sustain themselves late in the season and as they migrate from here to their winter home.

This cultivar of a native species has finely textured foliage along stems topped with tufts of purple-blue flowers. ‘Iron Butterfly’ gets about 3 feet tall and wide.

Grow ironweed in full sun and average soil. It is quite drought tolerant, yet can withstand an occasional surface flooding, but sopping wet, poorly drained soil would not be good. Cut a few of the blooms for indoor enjoyment. It is winter hardy throughout Indiana.

American Garden Award Winners

Verbena Lanai Candy Cane. Photo courtesy

Verbena Lanai Candy Cane received the most votes from the public in the 2013 American Garden Award. This was the favorite plant of Master Gardener volunteer Thomas Graham, who tends the American Garden Award planting outside the Garfield Park Arts Center. Second place went to Zahara Cherry Zinnia and third (my favorite) was SunPatiens Compact Electric Orange Impatiens.

 2013 Drought

Rain has been sparse since July and more than likely, the landscape is dry.

We can allow the perennials and annuals to go the way of the season. But it would be wise to water evergreens, trees and shrubs throughout fall until the ground freezes. These plants should be well hydrated as the season changes and temperatures drop.

Many larger plants are already stressed from last year’s brutal drought and excessively hot temperatures. The rains this spring and early summer pushed fast new growth, which drains a plant’s reserves. Newly planted trees and shrubs also are at risk. Most plants need at least 1 inch of water a week. An inch is roughly 15 gallons of water.


Smart Pots boost potato production

The 2013 potato production was much greater in Smart Pots. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I tried some new pots to grow potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) this year and the results have been astounding. I switched from Gardman plastic potato tubs to 15-gallon Smart Pots, and boy, was that ever smart.

Last year, I got a handful of fingerlings from the Gardman tubs. This year, I got many more, using the same brand of organic seed potatoes I’ve used before.

About 10 ounces of potatoes were harvested in two Gardman Potato Tubs in 2012. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The real surprise was the 3-½ pounds of Adirondack Blue potatoes. These are purple through and through and, despite their name, have their origin in South America and are considered an heirloom. I’ve already eaten one and yum is a good description.

“Smart Pots are made of polypropylene, specially for us to our specs. It is BPA free and lead free,” said Charles Jackson, vice president of High Caliper Growing Inc., the Oklahoma City company that makes the pots. The cloth is specially designed to control moisture and heat.

I credit my garden-writer colleague C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening for telling me about Smart Pots after seeing my pitiful potato post from last year.

Smart Pots also come in black. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Besides changing the pots, I read more about growing potatoes. As a result, the plants received:

• Mid-day shade. This keeps the leaves from getting sunburned and the plants a bit cooler.

• Regular applications of Espoma Holly-Tone, a natural, acidic fertilizer. Potatoes prefer it more acidic than the alkaline soil Indiana has to offer.

• Water as needed.

Even without pesticides, I had very, very little leaf damage from potato beetles or other critters. The potatoes are firm and unblemished.

I’m done with the fingerlings, but next year, I’ll plant Adirondack Blue and Yukon Gold potatoes in my two pots. Visit to find area retailers that carry them.

If you saw last week’s column about Quebec City, you noticed that Smart Pots are planted with vegetables, edible flowers, herbs and fruit trees throughout the main entryway at the province’s Parliament Building.

Long-term users have said the pots last three to five years or more and that perennial plants, trees and shrubs can be left outdoors in the Smart Pots, even in winter.

These pots would be a boon for urban gardeners with little or no yard, heavily rooted or compacted soil and too little sun because of big trees.

Dozens of varieties of food crops, including vegetables, fruits and herbs, grow in Smart Pots in the main entryway to Quebec's Parliament Building. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp


You Can Grow That! September 2013: Late-blooming perennials

'Raydon's Favorite' aster. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The Midwesterners’ choices for late blooming perennials have taken a giant step past everyday chrysanthemums in the last several years.

Ready for the late season spotlight are some, newer yet under used, perennials that delight gardeners in Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and beyond. These are the plants that need the heat of summer to build up their resources to color the landscape well into fall

Here’s a sampler:

‘Raydon’s Favorite’ aster kicks into gear in September and keeps going until October in the upper Midwest or November in the lower Midwest. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 through 8, ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ is a cultivar of the North American native aromatic aster with a newer tongue twister, scientific name Symphyotrichum oblongifolium. It formerly was Aster oblongifolium and may be listed that way on plant tags, in catalogs and other references.

This deer resistant plant can be grown in full- to part sun in average soil. It gets about 2 feet tall with a slightly relaxed habit, has an 12- to 18-inch spread and is drought tolerant. The flowers can be cut for indoor enjoyment. This cultivar is not affected by powdery mildew, a common pest on this species. Introduced in 2000, ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ is readily available at garden centers or through mail order and online retailers. A good alternative is ‘October Skies.’

Consider pairing asters with plants that also have good fall color, such as ornamental grasses, stonecrop (Sedum), Amsonia or shrubs with late blooming flowers like peegee hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) or spectacular foliage like ninebark (Physocarpus) and oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia).

Bugbane, cohosh or snake root is a multi-named native species that also has undergone a scientific name change. Formerly Cimicifuga, it now is Actaea. Regardless, this perennial looks good in its native species form or as one of the purple-leafed cultivars.

Hillside Black Beauty bugbane. Photo courtesy of

‘Black Negligee’, ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ and ‘Brunette’ all get in the 4- to 7-foot tall range with a spread of about half that. They do well in shadier, moist areas of the garden. The long, fragrant white or pinkish-white flowers begin to bloom in August and continue for about six weeks. Place in the back or the middle of the flower bed where shorter plants can enhance the base of the tall bugbanes. It is hardy in USDA Zones 4 through 8. Bugbane is deer resistant and is readily available through mail order and online catalogs. Some garden centers also may carry the plant.

‘Frosty Igloo’ isn’t your average mum. This mum bloomed in Indianapolis from July through November in its first year in trials. Granted, it was a cooler than normal summer; however, the white flowers stayed crisp and clean and the foliage fresh and green the whole time.

Frosty Igloo mum. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Marketed as a hardy mum, the Igloo series was introduced as a Dendranthema, but recently changed its scientific name to Chrysanthemum. Reliably hard to -20 degrees F, the plants get about 12 inches tall and slightly wider. Plant in full sun for the best flowering.

Most gardeners have grown a lot of mums and know that they don’t always come back. This one is very different and quite a performer with a nice rounded shape that is covered with flowers that come in five colors. Introduced by Blooms of Bressingham, it can be difficult to find. It comes in other colors, too, including pink and orange tones.


Two Purdue Master Gardener classes in Indy this fall

Marion County Master Gardeners plant and maintain the All-America Selections Demonstration Garden at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Photo courtesy Steve Mayer

The Purdue Master Gardener Program in Marion County offers 50 hours of classroom instruction on gardening related topics in exchange for a donation of 50 volunteer hours to help teach others what you have learned.

The Marion County classes consist of 18 three-hour sessions on: plant science; soils and fertilizers; pests and pest management (insects, diseases, animals, weeds); plant problem diagnosis; pesticide use and safety; home lawn care; growing vegetables; trees and shrubs; annual and perennial flowers; flowering bulbs and ornamental grasses; home landscape design; growing fruit; landscape planting and maintenance; pruning trees and shrubs; indoor plant care, and information on potential volunteer opportunities.

Participants also learn how to find reliable answers to gardening questions using the Internet and other resources. Most class sessions are in a lecture format with the opportunity to ask questions. The volunteer activities after the program provide additional hands-on learning.

Purdue Master Gardener Class

Daytime classes: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays, Sept. 17 through Nov. 21, 2013.

Nighttime classes: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays, Sept. 17 through Nov. 21, 2013.

Location: Purdue Extension-Marion County Office, 1202 E. 38th St., Discovery Hall, Indiana State Fairgrounds Purdue Master Gardener Class

Registration deadline: Sept. 12.

Cost: $150 materials fee

For more info: (317) 275-9286 or  Complete schedules and registration information for both classes are online.