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Also called chocolate vine, this twining, deciduous, woody vine is native to Japan, China, and Korea but was introduced into the US in 1845 as an ornamental and is now invasive from Massachusetts to Michigan, south to Georgia and Louisiana. It invades forests and forms dense mats that displace native vegetation or or climbs and smothers small trees and shrubs. The vine grows up to 40’ long and has compound leave up to three inches longs with five oval leaflets. Pendent axillary racemes of wine-red, chocolate scented flowers appear in the spring and give way to sausage-shaped pods up to four inches long. Plants like full sun to part shade and medium moist, well-drained soil but tolerant dense shade and some drought. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8 [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Copper Iris (Iris fulva)

Copper iris is a  rhizomatous perennial and a member of the iris family, Iridaceae, that also includes crocus, gladiolus, and freesia.  It is native to southern and central US from Illinois and Missouri, south to Georgia and Texas where it grows in wet areas such as marshes, swamps, roadside ditches, and drainage canals. Plants typically stand in 6 inches of water but since the draining of wetlands has resulted in habit destruction the iris is considered endangered in some states.  Plants grow 2-3′ tall and have sword-shaped, bright green, 2-3′ long leaves that arch away from the base.  In late spring 2-3′ long stems with 1-2 branches carry 4-6 flowers each.  The lightly fragrant flowers range in color from coppery-red to deep red and bronze and have wide spread petals and sepals.  Although each flower only lasts a few days, the plants remain in bloom for about 2 weeks. Copper iris is an excellent choice for a rain garden or water garden.  The genus name, Iris, is the name of the Greek goddess of the rainbow and refers to the many colors of iris flowers.  the specific epithet, fulva, comes from the Latin word fulvus, meaning reddish, yellow or tawny and refers to the color of the flowers.

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Shakespeare’s Garden: Rye

Rye_Winter_Secale_cereale_DP316Rye, Secale cereale, is an annual grass related to barley and wheat, and grown for grain, and as a forage and cover crop. It can grow three to six feet tall, has flat leaf blades, and has dense flower spikes. Each spike consists of many spikelets bearing two flowers with long awns. Winter rye is sown in fall when it grows well in the cool temperatures . In spring it initiates growth quickly and produces its crop. Rye is hardier and more drought tolerant than wheat and can be grown on marginal land. [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Zigzag Iris (Iris brevicaulis)

Also called short-stemmed iris, this rhizomatous perennial and a member of the iris family, Iridaceae, that also includes crocus, gladiolus, and freesia.  It is native to Ohio southwest to Nebraska, south to Texas, east to Florida and north to Kentucky where it grows in  moist to wet soils in swamps, wet meadows, marshes,  bottomlands, and along streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds.  Habitat destruction has caused the plant to become rare in many places. Plants grow from a shallow branching rhizome and have long sword like leaves  10-20″ long that are glossy, bright green and arching.  In June 3-6 large flowers are carried on a zig-zag 5″ long stem that often lean or lie on the ground.  The flowers are light to dark shades of bluish-purple with white to yellow or pale green markings.  Plants may not bloom every year and even when they do the flowers are usually hidden by the foliage so use is the garden is limited.  The flowers, however, are very attractive in the vase.  The genus name, Iris, is the name of the Greek goddess of the rainbow and refers to the many colors of iris flowers.  The specific epithet, brevicauli, comes from the Latin words brevis meaning brief, and caulis meaning stalk of a plant, and refers to the length of the stem. [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Rosa La Marne

Large loose clusters of 9-20 flowers are produced in continuous flushes throughout the season.   The flowers are 2” across,   single to semidouble, and lack fragrance.   They have ruffled deep pink petals with white centers and yellow stamens. The small vase-shaped bushes are vigorous and have  almost thornless stems and dark green glossy leaves that may get mildew in damp weather but are generally easy to grow. Because of its tolerance of heat, drought, and poor soil, together with its high pest tolerance and outstanding landscape performance, La Marn has been designated as an Earth Kind rose. [click to continue…]

Book Review: Vegetables Illustrated

America’s Test Kitchens cookbook, Vegetables Illustrated, is a treasure trove of recipes that make vegetables the star of the show.  In spite of the title, the book is more about the recipes (700+ of them) and handling the vegetables than about illustrations, although the illustrations are handsome and helpful.  Written for people who love vegetables or just want to eat more of them, it includes recipes with meat, fish and diary so is not intended to be just for vegetarians or vegans. [click to continue…]

Old Time Recipes for Home Made Wines: Birch Wine

The sap of birch trees is probably most familiar in the carbonated drink called birch beer but can also be used to make an alcoholic beer, a wine, and a syrup. Birch sap is said to tast like very fresh water and be savory rather than sweet due to the fact that it contains only 1.5-2% sugar.  The sap of various species of birch can be used and the flavors will vary depending on the species of birch, climate, location, and season.  My paternal grandmother, Helen S. Wright, included a recipe for birch wine in her book, Old Time Recipes for Home Made Wines, and begins with the collecting of the sap.  Grandmother’s recipe is rather vague but more exact ones are available on line. [click to continue…]

Purple loosestrife is a herbaceous perennial and member of the loosestrife family, Lythraceae, that also includes pomegranate and crepe myrtle, but is not related to other plants called loosestrife that are in the primrose family.  It is native to wetlands of Europe and Asia and was introduced into northeastern US in the 1800s for ornamental and medicinal uses but now occurs in all of the 48 contiguous states except Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Arizona. Unfortunately, purple loosestrife has crowded out wetland species in some of the cooler areas of the US and is banned in several states. Growing two to ten feet tall, plants have an upright slightly hairy stem that is reddish purple and somewhat square in cross-section. The lanceolate, willow-like leaves occur in in twos or threes,  clasp the stem, and are grayish green, slightly hairy, and one to four inches long. The 3/4″ wide, purplish pink flowers  have five to seven petals and appear in sessile whorls on slender terminal spikes 6-12″ long throughout most of the summer giving way in the fall to capsules with many small seeds.  Plants spread by underground stems and seed, and a singe plants can produce up to three million seeds in one year. The genus name, Lythrum, comes from the Greek word lythron meaning blood and refers to the color of the flowers.  The specific epithet, salicaria, comes from the Latin word salix, meaning willow and refers to the appearance of the leaves. [click to continue…]

Love lies bleeding

Amaranths are annuals or short term perennials and belong to the Amaranthaceae family that also includes spinach, celosia, and quinoa.  Three species, love lie bleeding (A. caudatus), Joseph’s coat (A.  tricolor ) and prince’s feather (A. hypochondriacus ) are cultivated as garden plants, several are cultivated as “grains”, but most are weeds. The generic name, Amaranthus, is from the Greek words, amarantos meaning unfading and anthos meaning flower, referring to the long lasting nature of the dried flower heads.


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Book Review: Seasonal Flower Arranging

If you feel that the flower bouquets  from supermarkets or FTD are repetitious and boring you might find Ariella Chezar’s book, Seasonal Flower Arranging, a welcome surprise.  With a commitment to the farm to vase movement, Chezar makes use of local plant material to make floral creations that reflect the essence of the season that produces them.  As a professional floral designer the author uses blooms along with branches and foliage to create her distinctive designs in the tradition of English maven Constance Spry and shares detailed instructions for creating 39 of her floral works of art. [click to continue…]