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Shakespeare’s Garden: Hyssop

hyssopus officianalis 2Hyssop belongs to the genus Hyssopus in the mint family, : Lamiaceae. Shakespeare’s hyssop has been identified as Hyssopus officinalis, a compact native Asia and of southern and eastern Europe. The plant grows about two to three feet tall and has many, upright, many-branched stems. The linear, hairless leaves are 1-1 ½ inches long and have a mint-like aroma when crushed. The flowers are carried in whorls of dense spikes at the top of the main stems in summer Each flower is two lipped , up to ½ inch long, and blue or violet. Plants are hardy in USDA ones 4 to 9 and thrive in full sun to part shade, and average, dry to medium, well-drained soil. [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)

This Mediterranean native is a thistle-like tender perennial and  a member of the Aster family, Asteraceae, that also includes daisy, yarrow, and artichoke. Plants form an impressive 3′ tall clump  of deeply-lobed prickly leaves that are silvery-gray and coarsely toothed.  In late summer  6′ tall flowering stalks arise carrying 2″ wide  flowerheads of deep pink to purple flowers subtended by spiny bracts.  Plants are grown for their edible stems and are attractive in borders.  The flowerheads are striking in both fresh and dried arrangements.  The genus name, Cynara, comes from the ancient Greek name of the plants.  The specific epithet, cardunculus, is the diminutive form of the Latin word carduus, meaning thistle, and refers to the appearance of the flower. [click to continue…]

Oxeye daisy is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial native to Europe and Asia but was introduced to North America and is now found throughout the US where it grows  in lawns, vacant lots, pastures, meadows, rangelands,  edges of waterways and along roadsides and railroad tracks.  Growing 1-3 tall from a rhizomatous rootstock, oxeye daisy has a smooth mostly unbranched stem that carries dark green lobed leaves.  The lower leaves have slender petioles, are spoon-shaped and up to 5 inches long while the upper leaves are smaller and clasp the stem.   The flower heads are up to 2″ across and are borne singly on the tips of the stems from mid summer into fall.  Each flower head consists of fifteen to thirty five  white ray flowers surrounding a center of yellow disc flowers and are followed by seed heads of one seeded fruits called achenes.  A single plant can produce up to 26,000 seeds, most of which can remain viable in the soil for up to six years. Plants prefer full sun to partial shade and moist soil in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9 [click to continue…]

Redvein abutilon is a tender evergreen shrub native to southern Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay but has naturalized in Central American and is a popular ornamental in subtropical areas.    It is a member of the mallow family, Malvaceae, that also includes hollyhock, hibiscus, cotton, and okra. Plants grow 3-16′ tall and have 6″ long leaves with 3-5 lobes. From spring to summer 1.6″ long bell-shaped pendant  flowers appear that have 5 yellow to orange-red petals with prominent red veining and are attractive to bees and hummingbirds. Plants can be grown in containers and can be overwintered in the house. The genus name, Abutilon, is the Arabic word for a mallow-like plant. The specific epithet, pictum, is the Latin word meaning painted and refers to the flowers. [click to continue…]

Squash summer assThe summer squash include patty pan, yellow crookneck, and zucchini. These squash will cross pollinate with other summer squash varieties but not with other squash species (for example winter squash like butternut), and will not cross with other genera like cucumbers or melons. To keep strains pure for the purpose of collecting seed, plant varieties 500 feet apart or grow only one variety a year. If crosses do occur the resulting seed will probably produce fruit of lesser quality but it will still be edible. Avoid hybrids and use open pollinated seeds if you want to collect seed for the next year. [click to continue…]

Native to eastern Australia, this tender perennial (often grown as an annual) is a member of the aster family, Asteraceae, that also includes daisies, sunflowers and lettuce. It self seeds and is naturalized in the US where it can be found along roadsides or in woodlands and grasslands. Growing up to 3′ tall, the snake-like stems are silvery green and winged. The gray green leaves are lanceolate to ovate, are up to 6″ long  and form a basal rosette 12″ across. Appearing is summer, the papery flowerheads are up to 1.5″ across and consist of white ray flowers surrounding yellow disc flowers. Plants  do best in cool  climates and do poorly in high heat and humidity especially combined with afternoon rains.  They are attractive massed in the garden, fresh in the vase, or dried.  The genus name, Ammobium, comes from the Greek words ammos meaning sand and bio meaning live and refers to its native habitat.  The specific epithet, alatus, is the Latin word meaning winged and refers to the appendages on the stems. [click to continue…]

In his book, Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares, mushroom aficionado, Greg Marley, shares his enthusiasm and knowledge of mushrooms in order to spread information and an appreciation for mushrooms to a broader audience.  The book is a series of short essays on a variety of topics regarding mushrooms and begins by trying to dispel the fear of the fungi that many North Americans hold.  Using personal anecdotes, poems, proverbs, and scientific data, he explores their natural history, ecology, edibility, toxicity, role in history, collection, cultivation in the home garden, and more.  Especially rewarding is his presentation of the “Foolproof Four”  (morels, puffballs, sulphur mushrooms/polypore, shaggy mane).  For each group Marley discusses the taxonomy, appearance, look-alikes, ecology, habitat, occurrence, possible problems, edibility, preparation, and preservation with one or more recipes that highlight the flavor and texture.  Other essays give similar information about Chanterelles,  Boletus edulis (aka porcini mushrooms) and Agaricus spp (button mushrooms,) with two or more recipes for each.  Additional essay are devoted to poisonous mushrooms like the death cap and destroying angels, both from the genus Amanita, false morels, and angel wings, while another group of essays treats hallucinogenic fungi.  Final essays consider honey mushrooms, fairy rings, luminescent fungi, truffles, decay in the forest, and growing fungi in the home garden. An appendix provides resources for further study. [click to continue…]

Ginger beer is a super market commodity, but how about ginger wine?  While it may not grace the shelves of the local market, ginger wine has been around since at least 1740 when the London based Finsbury Distillery Company brought it to notice.  The wine was made from a fermented blend of ground ginger root and raisins, often fortified with brandy, and consumed on the rocks, neat, with scotch, or mixed with a variety of non alcoholic beverages.  My paternal grandmother, Helen S. Wright, included a recipe for ginger wine alongside a recipe for ginger beer in her book, Old Time Recipes for Home Made Wines. [click to continue…]

Also known as orache, this annual is a member of the amaranth family, Amaranthaceae, that also includes beets, quinoa, and lamb’s quarters. It is native to Asia and Euroe and widely naturalized in Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand where it is found in disturbed areas, sea beaches and salt marshes. Plants grow 2-6′ tall and have erect branching stems and tall terminal racemes of small deep red or green flowers that resemble those of dock. The oblong to triangluar leaves are up to 6″ long, green or red, and edible. They are eaten as a warm weather alternative to spinach. White leaved varieties are said to have the most tender and sweetest taste. The genus name, Atriplex, is the Greek word for orach, a spinach like plant. The specific epithet, hortensis, is the Latin word meaning grown in a garden and refers to the fact the plant is cultivated. [click to continue…]


Boletus badiusHe bay-brown bolete grows singly or in scattered groups from summer through autumn under coniferous or deciduous trees of Europe and North America. It is especially partial to white pine, spruce, hemlock and beech, and can grow on decaying stumps or in the soil where it may be hidden by vegetation or tree litter. The mushroom stands 3.25 to 6 inches tall with a cap 2-6 inches across. The shiny bay-brown cap goes from convex to flat and has a velvety surface that becomes sticky and greasy-looking in wet weather. The tubes and pores are white to yellowish olive and the pores turn blue or green if touched. The pale brown stem is ½ to 1 ½ inches across with yellow to brown reticulation that create a woody appearance. The spores are olive brown. [click to continue…]