Preserving the fruits and vegetables of summer

fridge pickels

It’s harvest time and I spent most of the past two weeks as my Grandma, preserving tomatoes, peaches, peppers and cucumbers for the winter. I sometimes wonder why I do this, since only two of us live in the house. It must be genetic–my Mom did a lot of preserving, too. Continue reading

Late-summer perennials

Does your garden need a late summer pick-me-up? Try some of the hardy perennials–they grow to Zone 5 or colder–listed below for a dash of colour when the garden blahs hit. Plant them this fall for  good performance next summer.

Aconitum napellus (blue monkshood)
 Tall perennials that don’t need staking, in several varieties that bloom late July to frost. Part shade; all parts are poisonous.

Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssopShrubby wildflower with blue flowers, about three feet tall. Anise fragrance; attracts bees and butterflies. Flowers are edible. Full sun.

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (blue leadwort, also called plumbago)
Low groundcover with blue flowers August through October. Foliage turns maroon in fall. Doesn’t like wet ground in winter; sometimes is late to appear in spring.

Chelone oblique (turtlehead) 
A sturdy little native plant about eight inches high with pink or purple flowers shaped like, well, turtle heads. Sun or partial shade; August through October.

Cimicifuga racemes (bugbane, black cohosh, or snakeroot)
 Ferny foliage and wiry stems with a bottlebrush bloom, four to seven feet tall. Rich, moist soil, sun or partial shade, likes a woodland setting. Early September bloomer. ‘Brunette’ is an attractive cultivar with purply foliage and rosy white flowers. It has a new botanical name: Actaea simplex (Atropurpurea group).

Coreopsis verticillata (thread-leaved coreopsis or tickseed) 
Starts in June or July, but keep deadheading and will flower into September with bright yellow flowers and dainty foliage. Withstands drought and hot sun, about two feet tall and mounding. ‘Moonbeam’ has pale yellow flowers. New cultivars include a pale pink (not as tough as ‘Moonbeam’) and ‘Limerock Ruby’, a deep, rich red.

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ (montbretia) 
Brilliant red, glowing blooms August through September, with gladiolus-like foliage; three feet tall. Needs winter mulch in areas colder than Zone 5.

Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower, echinacea) 
The basic plant is the hardiest and seems to bloom forever, from late July into September. It’s reliable, tough, and copes with heat and dry soil. Grows about three feet high and sometimes taller. Bees and butterflies love it. Good cultivars include ‘Magnus’ (deep pink with dark orange disks), ‘White Swan’ (white with orange-brown disks), ‘Kim’s Mophead’ (like ‘White Swan’ but half the height) and ‘Kim’s Kneehigh’ (purple and half as tall as other varieties). Some of the other cultivars (in yellow, golds, peach, orange, etc) don’t stand up as well, but they’re worth trying out. Also try Echinacea pallida, the pale purple prairie coneflower, which has lovely reflexing petals and languid, ballerina-like stems. Its blooms don’t last as long as purpurea.

Kniphofia hybrids (red hot poker)
 Long, narrow leaves with brilliant yellow, orange or red spikes of bloom; some have all three colours. Grows two to three feet tall, depending on cultivar. Very showy. Attracts hummingbirds. Blooms June to September. Hates wet soil in winter.

Ligularia. A couple of varieties are available. L. dentata has showy dark green rhubarb-like leaves with dark red undersides; its cultivars (‘Othello’, ‘Desdemona’ and others) produce branching stems with bright orange daisy-like flowers. L. stenocephala ‘The Rocket’ has toothed, lighter green leaves and grows spikes of yellow flowers. Both like moist soil in part shade. They’ll take sun but sometimes wilt in the heat of the day. Both upwards of three feet tall.

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian sage) 
Fine-textured gray-green foliage. Flower spikes of lavender blue. Contrasts beautifully with coarse-textured plants and blooms late July to September. About four feet tall, dryish soil. A new, shorter cultivar, ‘Little Spire’, has less tendency to flop.

Phlox paniculata. Phlox is a mainstay of the late summer garden. Many cultivars are available, in various shades of pink, red, orange, mauve-blue, lilac and white. It’s fragrant, grows about four feet tall and likes sun and well-drained soil. Cut off blooms to promote more flowers. Except for the mildew resistant ‘David’ cultivar, plants are prone to powdery mildew–give themsome space for good air circulation.

Solidago rugosa‘Fireworks’ (goldenrod) 
This cultivar of the common wildflower is a clump-forming perennial with horizontal branches of golden yellow flowers that look like exploding fireworks. Blooms late August to October.

Bye-bye garden blahs, hello new life

late summer 1

Suddenly this summer: the hydrangeas puffed out and the phlox bloomed large, the ‘Karl Foerster’ grasses made themselves known and the echinacea took on a strong supporting role, ending my attack of the summer blahs

One thing I like about the garden in late summer is that it signals the end of the mid-summer blahs, that time when everything looks so awful you wonder why you ever took up gardening in the first place.

In late summer something happens. Suddenly the hydrangeas are huge and gorgeous, like massive white–or chartreuse or pink tinged–bowling balls; the Phlox paniculata is in full glory, and the black-eyed Susans are putting out their cheerful yellow faces by the hundreds. I’ve been trying to banish those Susies from my garden for years, but late every summer they redeem themselves by being a bright spot in a sad-looking garden, and so they have managed to stay.

Almost every gardener I know goes though these annual blahs. Partly it’s us–we’ve spent months planning, buying, planting, weeding, mulching, deadheading, and by early August, we (me, anyway; I should speak only for myself) are tired of it all. I can hardly work up the enthusiasm to turn the compost, which is often the only thing in the garden that’s doing well. Continue reading

Plant volunteers: what’s not to love? (Hint: it’s blue)

catchfly on path

Vivid pink catchfly is the big volunteer in my garden this year. It’s getting a little out of hand, to tell the truth, but it looks so good right now I can’t bear to take it out.

My dear departed Mom didn’t love forget-me-nots, which still volunteer to bloom in my garden every year. “They’re invasive weeds. You’ll be sorry if you don’t rip them out,” she’d advise emphatically whenever she saw them showing their little blue faces among my spring bulbs. Continue reading