Monday, July 26, 2010

Growing A Greener World Experts Share "Must-Have" Plants

As more Americans embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle these days, the timing couldn’t be better for a new PBS television series called Growing a Greener World, distributed by American Public Television.

Growing a Greener World combines traditional gardening knowledge with a strong focus on sustainability – and provides plenty of cooking and preserving tips for your garden harvests. Each episode tells the story of people making a difference in our world today.

These inspiring stories have ranged from ...  Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory (called “America’s Greenest Public Garden”) to the Edible Schoolyard Project, spearheaded by local-foods advocate Alice Waters at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California.

Must-Have Plants: After traveling around the country and touring these fantastic gardens, what "must-have" plants do the hosts and producers of this national television series recommend? Their answers might surprise you.

Executive Producer and Host - Joe Lamp’l: As one of America’s most recognized names in gardening and sustainability, Joe shares his knowledge on NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America and PBS’ Victory Garden. When he’s not running The joe gardener® Company, Joe writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column, books, podcasts and more. He also hosts the Fresh from the Garden series on DIY Network and GardenSMART on PBS. On Twitter: @JoeGardener.

So, when Joe says a plant is worth buying… you listen. One of his favorites is the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), which he uses around his zone 7 garden, especially when he wants to create focal points.

“Yes, Japanese maple is ubiquitous, but there’s a reason why,” explains Joe. “What other tree does so well with neglect? They’re as happy in containers as they are in the ground. They come in many different varieties and sizes now, with a rainbow of foliage colors. And I love them just as much in winter when they are pruned to give an open airy look.”

To see what Joe means, check out the stunning Japanese maple at the top of this blog post.

The native oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), shown above, is another of Joe’s favorites. Along with the stunning fall foliage, Joe likes the beautiful long panicles of flowers that turn from white to pink, and last from summer well into winter, as the handsome bark is exposed.

“What more could you ask from this four-season performer?” asks Joe. “This is a tough performer that responds well to pruning, has exquisite fall color, grows happily in sun or shade, and looks wonderful in a woodland setting. There are also compact varieties that are perfect for any garden.”

Hellebore or lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) is another plant Joe couldn’t live without – and he encourages folks to forget everything they’ve heard about hellebores being fussy or hard to grow.

“This deer resistant plant thrives on neglect, puts on a show in the shade, blooms in winter, and rewards you with lots of seedlings every year,” says Joe. “Hellebore reseeds prolifically in a myriad of color combinations and their evergreen foliage is a welcome sight in the dead of winter. This is a plant you’ll be happy to pass along to your gardening friends.”

Co-host - Patti Moreno: Also known as “The Garden Girl,” this well-known writer and TV host is an expert in sustainable living for urban environments. She is a contributing editor to Fine Gardening’s GROW magazine, columnist for Organic Gardening Magazine, contributor to Farmer’s Almanac, and host of the PBS series Farmer’s Almanac TV. On Twitter: @pattimoreno  On Web:  

Over the years, Patti has tried hundreds of plants in her zone 6b garden, but she especially loves nasturtium (Tropaeolum minor). “I start them from seed where I want them to grow each spring, “she says. “I never run out of places to sow them. Their edible flowers come in many different varieties, and have a mild peppery flavor. They brighten up salads or fresh-from-the-garden side dishes. Plus, the leaves are edible as well.”

Another plant she loves is sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), which she simply must buy each year. “They mainly come in two colors, a beautiful florescent green and a deep purple,” explains Patti. “Although they may not look like much when first planted, they are truly amazing once they get going and start trailing around in interesting ways.”

Associate Producer - Theresa Loe: Based outside of Los Angeles, Theresa is all about living local, organic and sustainable. This book author and garden writer is an expert in educational school gardens and urban homesteading. She’s also a canning and preserving expert.  On Twitter: @TheresaLoe On Web:

Theresa’s charming cottage garden is zone 10, allowing her to grow many different edibles and cut flowers together. One favorite she likes to grow in containers and hanging baskets is the tender perennial called kent beauty oregano (Origanum rotundifolium 'Kent Beauty'). The plant really lives up to its name, according to this gardening pro.

“Kent beauty oregano is a real charmer,” says Theresa. “The leaves are heart-shaped with strong architectural veins running throughout. It has bracts that combine creamy white with a lovely chartreuse at the base. The flowers make spectacular flower arrangements and the bracts even hold their color well when dried.”

She’s also crazy about a creeping vine called cup and saucer vine (Cobaea scandens). “This profuse bloomer is a fast grower,” explains Theresa. “It quickly covers walls or fences with lovely cup-shaped flowers, yet it does NOT damage walls as other vines can do. In my area, it dies back each winter. The flowers first open as a light green and slowly darken to a deep purple in the sun. It is a real show stopper and perfect for any unsightly area.”

Theresa grows many different herbs in her garden, but she is particularly fond of Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citriodora).

“This plant is highly prized in the perfume industry for its essential oil,” explains Theresa. “And you need only brush past the foliage on a warm day to see why. One sprig, tucked into a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers will fill the room with sweet lemon fragrance."

“But I also grow this tender herb for its flavor,” she adds. “On any given summer day, you will find a pitcher of lemon verbena water in my refrigerator. To make your own, simply pick a few 6-inch stems, gently bruise the leaves with your fingers to release the essential oils and drop them into a tall pitcher of ice water. So simple and yet so delicious!”

Learn more about Growing a Greener World:
On Twitter: @GGWTV
On Web:
On Facebook:

And if Growing a Greener World isn’t showing on your local PBS station, contact them and find out why. These folks have plenty of great gardening and culinary tips you don’t want to miss…

Thursday, July 22, 2010

17th Century Recipe for Pickled Cucumbers

Photo by David Salafia on Flickr
With canning and preserving foods such big culinary trends these days, it's easy to forget these skills are actually quite old. Canning is centuries old, and preserving foods dates back to ancient times.

One example is this seventeenth-century recipe for pickled cucumbers. Although I strongly recommend you apply only USDA-recommended standards when you preserve foods ... I bet you'll find it interesting to see the similiarities of ingredients with our pickled cucumbers today.

Photo by Lori_NY of Flickr
To Pickle Cucumbers for Winter-Time
from The Compleat Cook, 1671

"Put [cucumbers] in an earthenware vessel: lay first a lay of salt and Dill, then a lay of Cucumbers, and so till they be all laid. Put in some Mace and whole Peppers, and some Fennel-Seed: then fill it up with Malt or Beer-vinegar: and put a clean board and a stone upon it to keep them within the pickle, and so keep them close covered."

Sounds rather delish, don't you think?

For more about canning and preserving, don't miss Nest in Style's podcast interview with Theresa Loe of Growing a Greener World. You can also enter to win a free copy of the book, Canning and Preserving Your Own Harvest.

Meanwhile, how do you like to pickle cucumbers? What else do you like to preserve? Any good recipes? Share your ideas here...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Let Us Celebrate Lettuce!

"Lettuce is like conversation," said the American editor and author Charles Dudley Warner. "It must be fresh and crisp, so sparkling that you scarcely notice the bitter in it."

That pretty much sums up the abundance of lettuce and greens in our garden this year. The unseasonably cool temperatures and wet weather provided ideal growing conditions for these plants. Often the dinner salad fixings were so pretty I'd have to take a picture, which is how I got the one above.

This year, I grew everything from spotted and red romaines to arugula, mustard, tatsoi and kale. Colorful radishes ranged from the striking 'Long Scarlet' to 'Purple Plum' and pastel 'Easter Egg.'

I'll sow seeds for salad greens, wherever I can. Here's a bed where I tossed different seeds together for radicchio, lettuces, kales, mustard greens and more. It's a wild look, which also works well for containers.

Eventually, I let the greens form flowers as the temperatures rise. Then I'll pick the flowers for a vase. So, we can snip off edible, spicy flowers right at the table. And the flowers left in the garden help to self-seed new plants for next year.

Some greens are pretty enough for a prominent position in your ornamental beds. This 'Leonardo' radicchio is a favorite. The leaves add a beautiful, slightly bitter taste to salads. As you can see above, this plant grows nicely next to baby kales and other greens.

Don't have a lot of space? Lots of greens like these butterhead lettuces grow nicely in a small pot. As temperatures rise, move these cool-weather plants into partial shade and water well. Lettuces prefer rich, well-drained soil that has plenty of organic matter.

If I could only pick one green to grow, I'd pick 'Forellenschluss' romaine lettuce ... called "speckled trout" lettuce in English. I sow this Austrian heirloom directly into my raised beds, in neat rows.

This variety handles cool temperatures and heat well. In fact, it's the last salad green to bolt in my gardens. You'll love the way this delicious lettuce holds its shape well with salad dressings, and it's beauty will impress your friends. If you can't find this delightful variety at your local garden center, try Seed Savers Exchange.

Fall Greens: There's still time to plant lettuce for the autumn. Simply, count back from your average first frost date and allow enough time for the lettuce to grow before then. Most varieties take about 30 to 60 days to grow, and you can pick the leaves while they're still small. Some varieties perform well with a little frost, as long as the ground hasn't yet frozen.

With a little effort, you can enjoy all types of greens well into the fall.

Want more information?
Here's lettuce growing tips from Clemson University. Plus, tips for growing radishes. Happy growing.