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Also called starflower and drumstick scabiosa, this annual is native to southwestern Europe and North Africa and is a member of the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, that also includes weigelia, Centranthus, and valerian.  Plants grow 1-3′ tall and have branched stems covered  bearing alternate lyrate leaves with long terminal lobe.  Both stems and leaves are covered with short hairs.  In summer rounded heads of flowers appear that are pale mauve to off white and give way to very attractive  tan-bronze  seedheads that look like pleated cups with  starry centers.  The flowers and seedheads are valued for arrangements.  The genus name, Scabiosa, comes from the Latin word scabies meaning itch and refers to the leaves that were thought to cure scurvy.  The specific epithet, stellata, is from the Latin word stella meaning star and refers to the star-like structures in the seedpods. [click to continue…]

Book Review: Bazaar

Sabrina Ghayour’s cookbook Bazaar offers recipes for vegetable dishes that are so full of flavor that vegetarians as well as meat eaters would be satisfied and not even miss meat.  The recipes are organized into 9 groups: light bites and sharing plates, eggs and dairy, soups and bowl comfort, pies, breads and pastries, salads, moreish mains, cupboard sustenance, spectacular sides, and sweet treats.  Drawing on her Iranian background, Ghayour uses Middle Eastern flavors like sumac,  tahini, and preserved lemons to enliven traditional and well as newly created recipes. She includes Iranian inspired foods such as kale and cabbage kuku,  aash, and sweet saffron bread as well as exploring  recipes from around the world such as Moroccan roast vegetable bastilla, Japanese inspired cabbage and sesame salad, and French madeleines.   Her leek and celery root soup with za’tar,  and orange, olive and onion salad offer  unique flavor profiles that are sure to please while her corn, potato and cheddar chowder is pure comfort food.  For shear uniqueness, however, the beet halva tart, baby butternut baklava pies, and pomegranate studded cheese ball stand out. [click to continue…]

Also called bladder cherry and strawberry ground cherry, this herbaceous perennial is native to southern Europe and parts of Asia.  It is a member of the nightshade family, Solonaceae, that also includes  petunia, tomato and tobacco.  Plants grow 1-2′ tall from a rhizomatous root system and have opposite arrow-shaped leaves that are spirally arranged and up to 5″ long.  The  1″ wide flowers have a 5 lobed white corolla surrounding yellow stamens and are carried in the axils of the upper leaves in summer. The edible but rarely eaten fruit is small and cherry-like and is surrounded by a papery green husk up to 2″ long that turns bright orange in late summer.  Plants are grown for these attractive lantern like fruit coverings that are beautiful in both live and dried arrangements.  Chinese lantern  selfseeds and spreads so aggressively by rhizomes that it can become invasive and is not suitable for the border. The genus name, Physalis, comes from the Greek word physa meaning bladder and refers to the inflated husk.  The specific epithet, alkekengi, comes from an Arabic word meaning bladder cherry. [click to continue…]

Genus Alchemilla for the Garden

Alchemilla rainAlchemilla is a genus of herbaceous perennials in the rose family (Rosaceae) that also includes cherries, spirea, and hawthorn. Most of the three hundred species of the genus live in cool areas of Europe and Asia with a few in Africa and the Americas. The plants form sprawling clumps of light green to blue green leaves that are palmately lobed or divided, softly hairy and sometimes toothed. They are outstanding for their ability to hold water rain water in droplets after a shower. The ¼ inch wide flowers lack petals, are green to yellow, and are carried in clusters above the foliage in late spring to summer. Alchemilla likes partial shade and consistently moist, well-drained soil. It readily self-seeds but can also be propagated by division in spring before flowering. The generic name, Alchemilla, comes from the fact that the plant was popular with alchemist who believed that they had healing power. [click to continue…]

Hyssop is a small semi-evergreen subshrub up to 24″ tall native to southern Europe, the Middle East, and the area around the Caspian sea but has naturalized in parts of the US.  It is a member of the deadnettle family, Laminaceae, that also includes mint, basil, and beebalm.  Plants have a woody base and a number of  many branched upright square stems carrying shinny, dark green, lanceolate leaves  that are toothed, stalkless, aromatic and up to 1″ long.  The 2-lipped, tubular, fragrant flowers are blue to violet and have protruding stamens.  They and appear in whorls on terminal spikes from mid- to late summer and are attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. For centuries hyssop has been used as a medicinal, culinary and ornamental herb, and its volatile oil is used in some liqueurs including Benedictine and Chartreuse.  Hyssop is an attractive plant for a border, a knotgarden, herb, butterfly, bird, or rock garden.  The genus name, Hyssoppus, is the classical name for this herb adapted from the Semitic  plant name, ezob.  The specific epithet, officinalis, is derived from the Latin word officina meaning workshop and is the usual epithet for medicinal plants. [click to continue…]

Book Review: Martha’s Flowers

Martha Stewart and her Executive Design Director Kevin Sharkey, collaborated on this book, Martha’s Flowers, that celebrates home grown flowers and the arrangements that can be made with them..  The book is divided into 3 chapters by season: Signs of Spring, Summer’s Bounty, and Early Autumn each with an introduction that expresses Martha’s feeling about the uniqueness of that season.  The introduction is followed by a feature articles on several flowers that reach their peak during that season.  The entry for each flower includes introductory remarks on Martha’s experiences with the flower followed by  details on growing and arranging it.  Information is provided on USDA Hardiness Zones, soil, light, varieties, planting, watering, pruning, troubleshooting, cutting, arranging and more.  Insets appear throughout the text on topics such as naturalizing daffodils, tulip bloom types, species of clematis.  An especially nice inset is called “A Conversation with Kevin Sharkey’, which gives Sharkey’s view of things.  An abundance of photographs of arrangements with how-to tips round out the offerings.   [click to continue…]

savory winter leavesThere are two kinds of savory: summer savory (Satureja hortensis) and annual, and winter savory (Satureja montana), a wood perennial. They belong to the mint family ( Lamiaceae) and are related to rosemary and thyme. Both savories are native to the Mediterranean region but have naturalized in North America. Summer savory is 1 to 1 ½ feet tall bushy, and has finely hairy stems that bear soft hairless linear leaves that are about an inch long. The leaves are gray green at first but develop purple hues by late summer or early fall. The flowers are white or pale pink and two-lipped. They are ¼ inch long and are produced in clusters of three to six from mid summer to frost. The plant is bushy, highly aromatic with a sweet scent, and has a well-branched root system. Winter savory is only six to twelve inches tall and is woody at the base. It is bushy and compact and has a heavy rather than sweet scent. The dark green leaves, are glossy, lance-shaped and about one inch long. The flowers are white or lilac, with a lower lip spotted with purple. They are one-third inch long and borne from July through mid-September in terminal spikes. Both savories do well in average, well-drained soil and full sun.

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Also known as bat cuphea, this tender evergreen sub-shrub is  native to Mexico but is grown as an annual or houseplant in areas with hard frost.   It is a member of the loosestrife family, Lytharaceae, that also includes crepe myrtle, pomegranate and henna.  Plants grow 1.5-2.5′ tall and have a rounded bushy habit. The stems  are crowded with oval, pointed dark green  leaves that are thick, hairy, and up to 3″ long.  From late spring to early summer,  clusters of 1″ long tubular flowers appear in the leaf axils.  Each flower consists of a hairy purple calyx with 2 upward facing red petals that resemble ears so that the over all appearance of the flower looks like the face of a bat. Four other petals are reduced in the species but fully developed in some cultivars. The flowers are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds and a good choice for a butterfly and wildlife gardens as well as for borders, containers, baskets, and houseplants. Plants moved indoors as house plants in the fall do well in a well lighted area with cool temperatures (60s) and reduced watering. The genus name, Cuphea, comes from the Greek word kyphos meaning curved and refers to the curved seed capsule.  The origin of the specific epithet, llava, is unknown. [click to continue…]

Japanese barberry is a thorny, deciduous shrub growing 3-6’ tall with obvate green leaves that are up to 1 ¼” long and turn yellow to red in the fall. Pendent clusters of pale yellow flowers appear in spring and give way to small red berries that persist into winter and are attractive to birds. Plants are very adaptable and tolerate shade, heat, drought, and urban conditions. They respond well to pruning and are especially useful for barrier hedges. Several cultivars are available that vary most significantly in height and foliage color. Japanese barberry is native to Japan but was introduced into the US in 1875 as an ornamental and as a replacement for common barberry (B. vulgaris) that is a host for black stem rust of wheat. Plants form dense stands that compete with native vegetation in open woods woodland borders, pastures, fields, and disturbed areas such as waste lots, and have become invasive from Maine too Manitoba, south to Georgia and Kansas due to their high reproductive capacity and the fact that they are avoided by browsing wildlife. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8 [click to continue…]

Virginia mountain mint is a herbaceous perennial native to eastern US from Maine and north Dakota, south to Georgia and Oklahoma where it grows in wet prairies, and on stream edges and moist bluffs.  It is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, that also includes rosemary, beebalm, and ajuga.   Plants grow up to 3′ tall from a rhizomateous root system and have a multi-branched green or reddish stem that are square in cross section and have hairs on the edges.  The opposite linear leaves are up to 2.5″ long and are covered with a whitish bloom.  From mid to late summer, terminal flat clusters appear bearing up to 50 small white tubular flowers that are 1/8″ long and are 2-lipped.  The flower clusters are 3/4″ across and may be spotted with purple dots. The flowers are attractive to a variety of bees, wasps and butterflies.   All parts of the plant are fragrant when crushed.  The genus name, Pycnanthemm,  comes from the Greek words pyknos meaning dense and anthos meaning flower and refers to the clusters of densely packed flowers. The specific epithet, virginianum, refers to the geographic location of the plant. [click to continue…]