Search Result For: pear

  1. Homemade Caramel Apple & Pear Fig Honey Butter Recipes

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    Caramel apple butter is a delicious holiday treat!

    Tart, spicy, fragrant fruit butters are great winter treats that can be canned and shared as holiday gifts. Apples and winter pears are in season, so there are no better fruits for making dessert-quality spreads perfect for spreading on buttery toast, dipping with salty pretzels, or dolloping onto spice cookies. If you have your own apple and pear trees, even better! [Click here to learn how to grow your own winter pears!}

    These butters are simple to make but require some patience. The key to their deliciousness is perfect caramelization and thickness, so be sure they are perfectly cooked before canning! As pre-preparation, be sure to have sterile canning jars on hand. Well-cooked spreads such as these are perfect for those just learning to can at home (canning instructions are below). Place a pretty label on the jar, top it with a bow, and bring a few jars to your next holiday party!

    Caramel Apple Butter

    Tart apples are rounded by the milky sweetness of caramel. Sweet/tart sauce apples like ‘Gravenstein’, ‘Jonathan’, ‘Cortland’ and ‘McIntosh’ make excellent butter. A touch of salt is crucial for flavor. Can this yummy spread for holiday gift giving or personal enjoyment. It’s decadent stuff!

    Ingredients

    • 3 lbs. apples (about 9 medium apples) – peeled, cored and roughly chopped
    • ½ cup water
    • ¾ cups light brown sugar
    • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
    • ½ teaspoon allspice
    • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 15 caramels

    Directions

    1. Add the apples and ½ cup of water to a large, sturdy sauce pan. Cover and simmer until the apples are soft but intact (15–20 minutes).
    2. Allow the apples to cool, and then strain them in a colander to remove any excess liquid.
    3. Transfer the apples into a food processor and puree them until smooth.
    4. Place the apple puree back in the pot and set the stove to medium-low heat. Reduce the heat to low if it starts to bubble.
    5. Add the sugar, caramels, and salt, then simmer, stirring occasionally.
    6. After 3–4 hours the butter should be thick and caramel-colored.
    7. Use the dab test to check if the butter is ready. Dab a bit onto a plate; if no residual liquid oozes from the edge, and the butter remains mounded, it’s ready.
    8. Add the spices  and stir. Keep the butter on low heat until you’re ready to can it.

    This recipe makes around four 4-oz. jars of butter that can be canned or stored in airtight containers for freezing or refrigeration.

    Apple Butter Sm

    Caramel Apple Butter Ingredients

     

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    Start by peeling and roughly chopping the apples

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    Cook the apples are soft but intact (15–20 minutes).

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    Puree the softened apples and then return them to the pot.

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    Add the caramels, brown sugar, and salt, and cook the butter down on low heat for 2-3 hours.

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    Do the dab test. The butter on the right is fully caramelized and ready. The butter on the left is still watery and underdone.

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    Can and label your finished butter using the instructions below.

    Pear Fig Honey Butter

    This decadent fruit butter tastes great on morning toast or dolloped between crisp butter cookies.

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    Honey, Fig, Pear Butter ingredients

    Ingredients

    • 9 soft Bosc or Comice pears – peeled, cored and chopped
    • 1/2 cup raw, wildflower honey
    • 1 cup chopped dried figs
    • the juice of one lemon
    • Pinch of salt to taste

    Directions

    1. Puree pears and figs in a food processor until smooth.
    2. Place the puree in a sturdy, large pot and set the stove to medium-low heat. (Reduce to low if it starts to bubble).
    3. Add the honey and salt, and mix until blended.
    4. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the butter becomes reduced by half. This should take around 2-3 hours (sometimes more).
    5. The finished butter should be fully caramelized, thickened and ready to can.

    This recipe makes around four 4-oz. jars of butter. Enjoy!

    Canning Instructions

    Materials:

    Canning Pot with Jar Rack
    Four 4-oz or two 8-oz jars for canning
    Canning Jar Lifter
    Canning Lids and Screw Bands (new)
    Labels and Permanent Marker
    Ladle
    Wide-mouthed Jar Funnel

    Steps:

    1. Wash your hands and work space before starting.
    1. Sterilize jars by filling a large pot with water to a depth that will cover them. Submerge the jars, screw bands, and lids into the hot water. Bring the water to a rolling boil, and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the hot jars with clean tongs while gently pouring the hot water out before removal. Place the jars upside down on a clean towel. Only touch the jar exteriors (Keep the canning pot with hot lids simmering.)
    1. Using a clean ladle and wide-mouthed funnel, fill the jars with hot, prepared fruit butter. Fill until there is an inch of head space at the top of the jar. Wipe messy jar rims with a clean cloth.
    1. Remove the sterilized lids and screw bands from the hot water and place them on the jars–being sure not to touch the inner lids. Make sure the lids are firmly down and screw bands lightly tightened. Manufacturer’s instructions may vary so follow those on the box.
    1. Place the jars on the jar rack and lower them into the pot of hot canning water, if you have no rack lower the jars in with a canning jar lifter being sure to keep jars from touching. Cover the canning pot and keep at a low boil for 10 minutes.
    1. Remove the jars from the pot and place them on towels to cool. Fully tighten the screw bands. Once cool, dry the outsides thoroughly and apply labels. Include the butter type and date.
    1. After jars have set for 12 hours, check for success.  If the lids are tight, air free and cannot be pressed down, they’re fine. If they pop down, they are improperly sealed, but don’t throw them away. You can either put them in the refrigerator for immediate use or try to re-cap them using steps 4 through 6. As a general rule, canned food is best used in the first year. Store your butters in a cool dry place.

     

  2. Growing Winter Pears

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    ‘Bosc’ is a very old variety with French/Belgian origins.

    Many of the finest pears (Pyrus communis) for growing and eating are harvested to perfection in the winter months. The fruits of the best become juicy, even buttery when fully ripe. Soon they will be showing up at orchard stands and farmers markets for fresh eating and cooking, but the trees are just as easily grown at home if you have the time and space to commit. In just a few years, a good sized tree will begin producing fruits.

    Like most popular tree fruits, such as cherries, apples, peaches and plums, pears are members of the rose family (Rosaceae). They originate from to Eurasia where their fruits have been gathered and cultivated since pre-history times. In fact, they are one of the oldest grown fruits with an estimated 3000-year-old cultivation history. Currently, 3000 cultivated varieties exist—offering fruits of different colors, sizes, flavors and textures, but only a handful are common in cultivation.

    Popular pear varieties are prized for good growth and quality fruit production suited for commercial distribution. And, many are winter pears, producing their best crops from late fall through to midwinter, depending on where they are grown. These popular pears have familiar names, such as ‘Bosc’, ‘Seckle’ and ‘Comice’ (aka. ‘Doyenné du Comice’), to name a few; these and other top winter varieties are easily purchased from quality nursery vendors. The characteristics that make them special are embodied by their fruit.

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    A mix of winter pears

    Bosc is a very old pear variety with French/Belgian origins that was first grown in the US in the early nineteenth century. Also called ‘Buerré Bosc’, its teardrop-shaped russet-brown fruit develops a very buttery texture along with juicy sweetness and heady pear fragrance when ripe. The fruits are popularly grown in the Pacific Northwest were they are harvested from mid fall through to early spring. The trees are known to be very productive.

    The firm-fleshed ‘Concorde’ is shaped like a ‘Bosc’ but has green skin and distinctly sweet flesh that resists browning. Its firmer flesh makes it perfect for baking and poaching. A popular pear produced from fall to mid-winter, it is a newer hybrid cross of two classic pear varieties, ‘Conference’ and ‘Comice’. The disease-resistant trees are recommended for growers wishing to grow organically.

    The classic ‘Comice’ pear is an old French variety known for its sweet, melting flavor and texture when ripe. This stout, fleshy pear has green skin flushed with red and its white flesh is very soft and juicy when ripe. It is best reserved for fresh eating and first becomes available in early fall, though it is also considered a favorite holiday pear. The fireblight resistant trees are productive and bear fruit very late in the season.

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    Winter pears are the latest to produce fruit. (photo care of the USDA, ARS)

    A very old variety that originates from Germany, ‘Forelle’ has very sweet fruit with soft, juicy flesh and green fruit with distinctive red speckling (“Forelle” means “trout” and refers to the speckling). The fruits are produced in quantity by the vigorous trees and are great for fresh eating.

    A juicy eating pear with soft flesh and beautiful reddish skin, ‘Magness’ is an American variety developed in the 1960s. The trees are very disease resistant and productive.

    Pear trees may be grafted on dwarf root stock to keep trees smaller in stature, but typically pears trees are moderately sized, upright, pyramidal, deciduous trees that are hardy and native to temperate regions. Unlike some other fruit trees, they are often very long lived. The trees produce white blossoms in spring. Varieties may bloom in early-, late- or mid-season. It is essential to know when yours will bloom because most pears require a pollinizer (another tree for fruit pollination) to produce fruit. The fragrant, white, five-petaled are attractive to bees. Fruits are ready to eat 90 to 200 days after pollination, depending on the type. Fruit may be produced from midsummer to early winter, depending on the variety.

    Natural and Organic

    Before planting a pear tree, amend with compost and add a little extra for top dressing.

    Pears grow fruit best in full sun and require good to average soil with ample drainage. Newly planted trees benefit from soil amendment at planting and the application of mulch around their base. We recommend amending and top dressing with Fafard Compost Blend. When choosing a variety, be sure to choose a disease and pest resistant variety, as many are sensitive to ailments, particularly fireblight.

    The holidays are the best time to enjoy winter pears, whether fresh or cooked. USA Pears has the best collection of pear recipes to be found. For the holiday season, I recommend checking out their Bread Stuffing with Pears, Bacon and Caramelized Onions, Almond Pear Tart (gluten free), Pear and Arugula Pesto Stuffed Chicken, or Mache, Pear, and Wild Mushroom Salad.

    Fall or spring are the best time to plant pear trees. Choosing winter varieties will ensure that you will have something sweet to look forward to in the later months of the season when the harvest is waning and holidays are just around the corner.

  3. The Prettiest Garden Lavenders

    Sweeps of hedge lavender add color and fragrance to a patio garden.

    Wands of fragrant purple blooms dance in the wind, feeding bees, and shining cheerfully on even the hottest summer days. These are the flowers of lavender, a plant beloved for its aroma and ability to grow well in tough Mediterranean climates. This aromatic evergreen perennial has been used in perfumes, poultices and potpourris for centuries, giving it high value in the herb garden. And, many diverse varieties exist, so there’s lavender to satisfy almost every gardener.

    There are nearly 50 lavender species, all with lovely flowers that attract bees and butterflies. One of the dividing factors when choosing lavender for your garden is hardiness. Only a few species are truly hardy, and most fare poorly in areas with dense soils and cold, wet winters. This guide will help you choose the best lavender for your needs and plant it correctly to ensure it will survive and thrive.

    Hardy Lavenders

    The pretty English lavender ‘Munstead’ is compact and blooms heavily in summer. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, 2-4’) is excellent for containers or sunny, raised beds where fragrance and summer color are needed. It is one of the hardiest lavenders surviving in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 8. The shrubby evergreen perennial has a bushy habit and fragrant, linear gray-green leaves that turn fully gray in winter. From early to midsummer, it bears slender stems topped with wands of lavender-blue flowers that are very fragrant.

    White-flowered English lavender is fragrant, and unique. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    The white-flowered variety ‘Alba’ offers a more neutral color option. The compact ‘Munstead’ is also a favorite heavily flowered variety that only reaches 2 to 1.5 feet. And, for seed growers, the 1994 AAS Flower Winner ‘Lady’ is compact English lavender that will bloom first year from seed.

    This lavender is native to Western Europe, so it is more tolerant of moist growing conditions, which is why it is grown in England, but it also thrives in Mediterranean climates. Some stem die back might occur in winter. If this happens, simply prune off the old, haggard stems in spring to keep plants looking nice.

    Hedge lavender is very fragrant, vigorous, and hardy.

    Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia, 2-3’), also called hedge lavender, is a tough plant favored for dry growing areas. It’s very vigorous and will survive in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 to 8, if provided excellent drainage. This popular lavender is a hybrid between hybrid between English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Portuguese spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia). It is slightly less hardy than English lavender but will withstand a little more heat and drought.

    The foliage and habit is much like that of English lavender, and its summer flowers are very dense and richly aromatic. The wealth of slender stems hold dense clusters of lavender-blue flowers, which are sterile, so their seed cannot be collected. After the first flush of flowers, cut them back to encourage further bloom. The exceptional new cultivar ‘Phenomenal’, bred by Peace Tree Farm, is a little hardier, surviving up to zone 5, and produces loads of lavender blue stems and has little winter die back. ‘Grosso’ is another favorite variety prized for its extra-large, extra-fragrant purple blooms.

    Tender Lavenders

    Fringed lavender has upright flower clusters with small plumes of colorful bracts on top.

    Fringed lavender has unique scalloped leaves.

    Fringed lavender (Lavandula dentata, 1.5-2’) is a sea and hillside perennial Mediterranean native that will survive in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 9. It is exceptionally heat and drought tolerant and suited to southerly arid or coastal region. It has delicate green to gray-green leaves with scalloped edges. Unlike the other lavenders mentioned, it has a more mounding, spreading habit and moderately fragrant spikes of fuzzy lavender flowers topped by showy lavender-blue bracts that appear in summer.

    This lavender is perfect for border edges or containers, and will form a spreading mound over time. It also looks great in large containers.

    French lace has long stems for an airy look. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    The everblooming nature of this lavender makes it especially appealing. Airy, fast-growing and aromatic, French lace (Lavandula multifida, 1-2’) is native to the northwestern Mediterranean region where conditions are arid. The open, shrubby perennial is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 9 and becomes woody as it matures. Its fragrant, evergreen leaves are gray-green and ferny and long-stemmed flowers are violet-blue and held high above the leaves.

    If plants become too woody, prune them back in spring to encourage new, denser growth, and a tidier habit.

    Fernleaf lavender has ferny silver leaves and long-stemmed flowers with multiple flower clusters at the top.

    Fragrant ferny leaves of silver-green are one of fernleaf lavender’s (Lavandula pinnata, 2-3’) greatest appeals.  This native of the Canary Islands and Madeira requires arid growing conditions and survives to USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 11, making it the tenderest of the lavenders mentioned.  It is bushy and becomes woody over time. Like French lace, its small, angular spikes of lavender-blue flowers are long-stemmed and everblooming. Keep spent flowers cut back to encourage keep plants looking tidy.

    French lavender is especially fragrant and showy.

    The highly fragrant French lavender (Lavandula stoechas, 1-3’) has some of the showiest flowers of all the lavenders. The Mediterranean native was grown by the Romans for its exceptional scent, and its ability to thrive in hot and dry conditions. It is a bit hardier, surviving to USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10.

    ‘Anouk’ is a showy French lavender exceptional vigor. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    The shrubby perennial spreads as it ages, forming a considerable mound that should be pruned back in spring to keep it looking its best. It has fine, silvery foliage and bears many thin, upright stems holding oval clusters of very dark purple flowers topped with big plumes of bright purple bracts. There are many varieties that may be pale lavender, pink or white. The compact lavender-pink-flowered ‘Madrid Pink’ is one of the better forms, as is ‘Anouk’, which is vigorous, early blooming, and very showy. New flowers will keep appearing, if you remove the old blooms. French lavender also comes in pinkish shades.

    Growing Lavender

    Lavender looks great in any sunny garden situation where drainage is good.

    Full sun and sharply drained soil are essential for success. Moist winter weather can quickly cause stem and root rot, if soil is not perfectly drained. Lavenders generally grow best in more alkaline soils that are raised and gravelly with added organic matter, such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Newly planted lavenders should be watered regularly for a few weeks, until they become established. Once established they generally can take care of themselves, especially those most adapted to arid climates. They tend to grow well in nutrient-poor soils, but the addition of a slow-release fertilize will support good growth and flowering and encourage fuller growth and flowering.

    Container-grown specimens are best planted in large pots filled with fast-draining soil like Fafard® Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix. In areas with cold or wet winters, you can move the pots to a cool, protected porch to keep them away from excess snow and cold. Just don’t let the pots become completely dry.

    Lavenders are semi-woody, and can look ill-kept over time. In spring, once new foliage has begun to emerge, prune old or dead stems back to encourage new, fresh looking foliage.

    If you want to harvest lavender flowers for dried flower arrangements, sachets, or potpourri, cut stems when flowers are still fresh and hang them upside down in a cool, dry place. Once dry, you can display the stems or pull off the aromatic dried buds for use.

    Plant lavender in areas where their wonderful fragrance can best be enjoyed. They make wonderful patio or walkway edgings and give garden spaces a Mediterranean flair.

    Bees and butterflies are especially attracted to lavender.

     

  4. Patio Peaches

    Bonfire is the most popular patio peach with its maroon-purple leaves, small size, and sweet little peaches.

    Do you want to grow your own peaches, but lack a place for a full-sized peach tree? This is not a problem, thanks to a slew of recently introduced peach tree varieties that mature at a shrubby 4- to 6-feet in height.  Ideal for containers, urban gardens, and patios, these dwarf peaches bring big possibilities to the small (or large) garden.  They’re available from a number of specialty growers, both in their natural shrubby form and as short-trunked, grafted mini-trees.

    Growing Patio Peaches

    Patio peaches – like their full-sized kin – appreciate full sun; fertile, well-drained, moderately moist soil; and shelter from bud-damaging early-spring frosts.  Where they literally break new ground is in their adaptability to containers, which puts them in play in gardens that were formerly too small, too cold, or otherwise ill-suited for home-grown peaches.  Give your dwarf peach a large (10- to 20-gallon) container and coarse, humus-rich potting mix, such as Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Soil, and you’re good to go.  When winter (or a spring cold snap) arrives, simply carry or wheel the container to a cool, frost-free location indoors.  After favorable weather returns, move it back outdoors for an early spring display of showy pink flowers and a summer crop of sweet, juicy peaches.

    Dwarf peaches also makes a first-rate garden plants, where winter-hardy.  If you garden in sandy or clay soil, work several inches of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost into the plant’s future root zone before planting.  The planting hole should be as deep and several times as wide as the root ball.

    Chilling Hours

    Peaches, like all fruit trees from temperate regions, need to remain dormant a certain period of time in winter produce flowers and fruit, so before choosing any peach, you must determine the number of “chilling hours” it needs. Chilling hours are essentially the number of hours between 32-45 degrees Fahrenheit in a winter season (hours exceeding 60 degrees Fahrenheit are subtracted from the chilling hour total). If the chilling hour quota for a tree is not met, it will not yield.

    Patio Peach Varieties

    Many patio peaches bear plentiful sweet fruit.

    Bonanza Peach

    Noted for its productivity and vigor, ‘Bonanza’ yields bumper crops of red-blushed, yellow-fleshed, freestone peaches on dense, 6-foot shrubby plants.  The early-ripening fruits are ready for harvest in late spring or early summer, about 3 months after the pale pink flowers appear.  This peach typically requires 400 chilling hours.

    Bonfire Peach

    If your dwarf peach is the variety Bonfire (also known as ‘Tom Thumb’), you’re also undoubtedly growing it for its maroon leaves suffused with glowing coppery highlights.  The smoldering tones of the bold, lance-shaped foliage make a striking complement to the fiery blooms of crocosmias, rudbeckias, and red salvias, as well as to rosy- and pink-flowered plants such as purple coneflowers and pink mallows.  In addition to its arresting leafage, this 1993 introduction from the University of Arkansas produces tasty, apricot-sized peaches (but watch out for the large pits!).  It’s also among the hardiest dwarf peach varieties, wintering in the ground into USDA Zone 5. (Specimens in containers are considerably less cold-hardy, requiring winter cover as outlined above.)

    Empress Peach

    Most other dwarf peaches are grown primarily for their fruits and flowers (although their bold green leaves are also attractive).  Cultivars for colder areas of the United States include ‘Empress’, whose mid-pink flowers are followed by a midsummer crop of rosy-pink, clingstone peaches with juicy yellow flesh.  Maturing at 5 feet tall and wide, this 1965 introduction is slightly hardier than Bonfire (USDA Zone 5).  It requires at least 850 hours per winter of sub-45-degree temperatures to trigger flower and fruit production.

    Golden Glory Peach

    Introduced a year before ‘Empress’, ‘Golden Glory’ bears deep yellow, pink-tinged, yellow-fleshed peaches on 5-foot plants.  The freestone fruits are preceded by clusters of rich-pink flowers.  Another good candidate for cold-climate gardens, it needs 750 chilling hours and is winter-hardy into USDA Zone 6.

    Flory Peach

    Gardeners in mild-winter areas (Zones 7 and warmer) have numerous garden-hardy dwarf peaches to choose from.  Many descend from ‘Flory’, a 5-foot-tall, heirloom variety introduced to the United States from China in 1939.  One of the showiest peaches in bloom, it’s still well worth growing for its double rose-red flowers and rose-blushed, freestone peaches.  The white flesh is relatively bland.  Chilling requirement is 450 hours.

    More Patio Peaches to Try

    Among the many other dwarf peach cultivars requiring approximately 400 chilling hours are ‘Eldorado’, ‘Garden Gold’, ‘Garden Sun’, and ‘Pix Zee’.  Gardeners who can offer only 250 chilling hours also have several varieties to choose from, including ‘Southern Flame’, ‘Southern Rose’, and ‘Southern Sweet’.  They make good choices for areas with especially mild winters –and for containers that spend the winter in relatively mild conditions.

    A couple of large pots, some good mix, and one or two patio peaches will afford even the smallest sunny garden space with fresh peaches. So, try planting a couple this season!

    A Bonfire peach in full flower.

  5. Swallowtail Butterfly Gardening

    Lilacs are one of the many plants on the menu for eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies.

    Gardeners tend to have a thing for swallowtail butterflies.  Likewise, swallowtails tend to have a thing for certain plants – and certain gardens. The more you incorporate their favorites into your garden, the more they will favor you with their flighty visits.

    Adult swallowtails of all species (including the half-dozen or so species native to eastern North America) share similar tastes in nectar.  A border brimming with coneflowers and sages and butterfly weeds and their relatives will have them all aflutter, as will a planting of shrubby favorites such as rhododendrons and buddleias.  Swallowtail caterpillars, on the other hand, are much fussier eaters, with each species following a specialized diet restricted to a narrow menu of plants.  As a result, swallowtails are particularly keen on gardens that include their favorite larval foods.

    Most swallowtail caterpillars confine their munching to species from one or two plant families.  Some swallowtail species thrive on both introduced and indigenous plants, whereas others require natives-only fare to thrive.  Know their preferred larval food sources, and you’ll know what to plant in your yard to transform it into a swallowtail haven.   You’ll also know which plants to examine for the large colorful caterpillars, which in their early stages resemble animated bird droppings.  Some leaf damage may also be noticeable, but it’s a modest price to pay to become the neighborhood’s most desirable swallowtail destination.

    Swallowtail Caterpillar Host Plants

    Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

    Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly feeding on pentas. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Many native and exotic trees and shrubs from the olive, rose, laurel, birch, and magnolia families host the large green caterpillars of tiger swallowtail, which sport two prominent eye-spots.  Before pupating, the caterpillars turn from green to brown. Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), lilacs (Syringa spp.), river birch (Betula nigra), and sassafras (Sassafras albidum) are among the outstanding ornamental plants on the menu, as are:

    Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar before pupation. (Image by Scott Robinson)

    Sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana).  Native to eastern North America, this small, elegant, gray-barked tree has glossy-green, deciduous or evergreen leaves with silvery undersides.  Scatterings of cupped, sweet-scented white flowers sporadically appear from late spring through summer.

    Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus).  Clouds of fragrant, fleecy white flowers veil the spreading branches of this large shrub or small tree in late spring.  Conspicuous blue fruits ripen in late summer on some plants (particularly if a pollenizing companion fringetree is nearby).

    Eastern Black Swallowtail

    Female eastern black swallowtail lays her eggs on plants in the parsley family. (Image

    Showy, yellow-and-black-banded caterpillars feed almost exclusively on plants from the parsley family, including dill (Anethum graveolens), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), carrot (Daucus carota ssp. sativus), and fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) .   Bronze-leaved forms of fennel  are especially effective

    An eastern black swallowtail feeding on fennel. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    ornamentals, their dark, filigreed leaves making a smoky contrast to bright-flowered annuals and perennials.  Also outstanding for foliage effect are the various species of Peucedanum such as giant milk parsley (Peucedanum verticillare).  This short-lived perennial forms large lush hummocks of deeply divided foliage, which give rise to towering, purple-stemmed sprays of lacy white flower clusters.  Most Peucedanum expire soon after flowering, but they usually self-sow (so be sure to leave some seed heads!).

    Spicebush Swallowtail

    Spicebush swallowtail larvae feed just on spicebush. (Image by Magnus Manske)

    A dark-hued butterfly that somewhat resembles black swallowtail, spicebush swallowtail is one of several reasons to grow the shrub after which it’s named.  So, too, are the boldly eye-spotted, green to orange-yellow larvae that browse spicebush’s fruity-scented foliage in summer.   One of the earliest-blooming native plants, spicebush (Lindera benzoin) decks its branches with tufts of acid-yellow flowers

    Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar (Image by Greg Schechter)

    in late winter and early spring, before the leaves emerge.   Bright red fruits and brilliant yellow fall foliage bring the growing season to a colorful close.  Spicebush swallowtail’s other favorite host is sassafras – the only eastern North American representative of the laurel family (Lauraceae) other than Lindera benzoin.

    Pipevine Swallowtail

    The pipevine swallowtail has showy blue lower wings.

    If outlandish black caterpillars with orange spikes and centipede-like “legs” appear on your Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia spp.), you have the honor of a visit from this singular swallowtail species.  With luck you’ll also witness the adults, whose blue, iridescent wings are among the showiest in the butterfly tribe.  The larvae thrive only on North American species of Aristolochia, dwindling away if raised on exotic Dutchman’s pipes such as Aristolochia elegans.  Two twining North American natives – Aristolochia macrophylla and A. tomentosa –make excellent climbers for locations where their

    A pipevine swallowtail caterpillar feeding on pipevine. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    wide-ranging roots have room to spread (both are hardy from USDA zones 5 to 9).  Their rapidly ascending stems with heart-shaped leaves emerge from the ground in spring and lengthen to 20 or 30 feet within a few weeks.  Curious, contorted, tubular flowers with flared tips appear in the leaf axils in early summer.  Most other North American Aristolochia species are lower growing perennials that spread underground to form large clumps.  Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria) functions nicely as a deciduous groundcover for informal garden areas in sun to light shade.

    Eastern Giant Swallowtail

    Citrus are the favorite host plant of eastern giant swallowtail.

    Native or exotic species from the citrus and rue family (Rutaceae) entice this enormous, black, yellow-banded butterfly, whose wingspan can reach 6 inches.  Gardens that are too cold for the likes of lemons (Citrus limon) and oranges (Citrus aurantiaca) can opt instead for one of the several cold-hardy Rutaceae species that host the blotchy, black and white larvae.  These include hop tree (Ptelea trifoliata), a medium to large shrub from central and eastern North America with handsome, three-parted leaves and small, fragrant, late-spring flowers.  Rounded, wafer-like fruits develop in late

    The eastern giant swallowtail caterpillar.

    summer.  Its cultivar ‘Aurea’ – with glossy, chartreuse-yellow leaves – is one of the most striking foliage plants for temperate gardens.   Swallowtail hosts for the perennial border include gas plant (Dictamnus albus), which bears showy spires of white or purple flowers in late spring on bushy, 3-foot-tall mounds of leathery, rich-green foliage.  Native to Eurasia, it lives to 50 years or more in gardens.  Warning: contact with plants in the rue family can trigger severe dermatitis in susceptible individuals, although such cases are rare.

    [Click here to get great butterfly garden designs!]

     

  6. Grow a Mexican Herb Garden

    The delicate white flowers of cilantro develop into coriander seeds. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Several key herbs and peppers create the foundation of Mexican cuisine. Everyone knows and loves cilantro and chile peppers, but have you ever tried epazote, Mexican oregano, or Mexican mint marigold? Add some authenticity and good flavor to your Mexican dishes this season with these herbs and spices!

    Mexican Herbs

    Some of the herbs essential to Mexican cooking originate from the Old World, such are cilantro, cumin and Mexican thyme. But, most are regional natives that have been used to flavor the traditional foods of indigenous peoples for thousands of years.

    Annatto

    Tropical annatto can be grown in containers and overwintered indoors.

    Annatto (Bixa orellana, 20–33 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 10-12), also called lipstick tree or achiote, is a tender tropical tree or shrub, but it can be grown and trained as a container specimen in cold-winter zones. It is native to the tropical Americas where its seeds have been used to impart sweet, peppery flavor and bright orange-red color to food for centuries. Southern Native American tribes also used it to color their skin and hair.

    Gardeners in temperate areas can grow annatto in containers that can be brought outdoors in summer and overwintered in a sunny indoor location. They grow best in slightly acid soil that is evenly moist and fertile. Fafard® Professional Potting Mix is a good potting mix choice. Plant them in a large pot, and keep them well pruned. In a couple of years, the evergreen shrubs will begin producing clusters of pretty, five-petaled pink flowers followed by hairy brownish orange pods. These pods are filled with orange seeds that can be dried and enjoyed for cooking.

    Epazote

    The aromatic leaves of epazote (Dysphania ambrosioides, 2-3 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11) have a distinctive fennel taste when raw and develop a citrusy taste when cooked. The leaves are commonly used in moles and soups. The rangy plants are not attractive, so surround them with prettier herbs, if garden appearance is important to you. The seeds are toxic, so cut back the flower heads to keep plants from setting seed. The leaves can also be a skin irritant for some.

    Cilantro

    The leaves of cilantro taste best in cool weather.

    The flavorful leaves of cilantro (Coriandrum sativum, 18-24 inches) are common in many Mexican dishes and salsas, and the seeds are ground to make the spice, coriander. Cilantro is a cool-season annual herb that grows best in spring and fall. It prefers full sun and well-drained, fertile soil. It’s frilly white flowers set round seed heads that readily self-sow, so don’t be afraid to sprinkle some of its seeds on the ground after it has bolted.

    Cumin

    Cumin leaves are edible and their seeds are ground for spice.

    Cumin (Cuminum cyminum, 12-15 inches) is a warm-season, drought-tolerant annual that has feathery, aromatic leaves that can be added to salads. Its flower heads look like delicate Queen-Anne’s-lace blooms. Once the heads have set seed, collect the seeds and grind them to make the spice, cumin. Grow it as you would cilantro, and give the plants at least three months to produce seed. Cumin is a key component of taco seasoning but also has a place in more traditional Mexican dishes.

    Mexican Oregano

    Mexican oregano is pretty and has a lemony oregano flavor.

    Native to the American Southwest down to Central America, Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens, 2-4 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11) tastes a bit like oregano but has a distinctive lemony flavor. The leaves are used to season meats, beans, and vegetables. Mexican oregano is a small, open shrub that bears clusters of pretty white summer flowers (similar to the blooms of Lantana camara), which are pollinated by butterflies. Its leaves can be used dried or fresh.

    Mexican Thyme

    The succulent leaves of Mexican thyme can be used dried or fresh.

    This semi-succulent African herb was brought to Mexico by the Spanish. Mexican thyme (Plectranthus amboinicus, 12-24 inches, USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11), also called Cuban oregano, has a strong oregano-like flavor and can be used fresh or dried to flavor meats. It grows best in partial sun and produces spikes of pretty lavender flowers during the growing months. This tender herb can be brought indoors in winter as a potted plant and is easy to propagate from cuttings. It likes well-drained potting soil, like OMRI Listed Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Mix.

    Mexican Mint Marigold 

    Mexican marigold (Tagetes lucida, 18-24 inches, USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10) is a native of Mexico and Central America, so it will tolerate high heat and drought. The slender, fragrant leaves of this herbal marigold are used to flavor pork, chicken, and vegetables. The shrubby tender perennial bears pretty yellow flowers in summer that attract bees. Grow it in full sun and average soil with good drainage.

    Mexican Peppers

    Peppers are New World plants native from southern North America to northern South America. Many different varieties are used to flavor food in Mexico, but several are more common in traditional foods.

    Plant all peppers in full sun and provide them with well-drained soil fortified with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. They will also grow better if fed with a tomato and vegetable fertilizer. Their small white flowers are bee pollinated, so be sure to avoid using insecticides on them. Most peppers require staking or caging to support their heavy fruits. (Click here for our video about pepper growing.)  Here are three essential peppers for Mexican cooking.

    Jalapeño

    Jalapeño mature to red but are most often eaten green.

    Favored for spicing up salsas, jalapeño peppers (Capsicum annuum, 24-30 inches) are most commonly harvested green, though they will mature to a deep red color. Like all peppers, they are warm-season veggies that thrive in heat and will tolerate drought. Jalapeños have medium heat (3,500 to 8,000 Scoville Heat Units).

    Poblano (Ancho) Chile

    Poblano peppers are most productive in late summer.

    The poblano chile (Capsicum annuum, 2.5-4 feet) has mild heat (1000-1500 Scoville Heat Units), and its origin is attributed to Puebla, Mexico. The peppers mature to a purplish brown, and when dried are called ancho chiles. The tall plants must be supported with a sturdy cage. These are the classic peppers used for chiles rellenos, and when dried they are used to flavor moles.

    Serrano Chile

    Serrano chiles turn from green to bright red.

    Spicy serrano chiles (Capsicum annuum, 24 feet) are generally harvested red and added to fresh salsas. They are spicy (10,000–23,000 Scoville Heat Units), very flavorful, and sweet when fully mature. One plant will produce a wealth of peppers.

    Any one of these herbs or peppers will spice up your garden and cooking, so consider planting your own Mexican herb garden this season!

     

  7. Four Hardy Fruiting Vines for Edible Landscaping

    Concord grapes are an old-standard hardy grape.

    Hardy fruiting vines bring together two of the hottest trends in horticulture: edible landscaping and vertical gardening.  They are the perfect choice for grow-it-yourself gardeners with limited square footage and a tasty way to clothe a pergola or trellis or provide rapid aerial cover.

    Although many hardy fruiting vines will ramble for 30 feet or more if left untamed, with proper training they will fit (and fruit) quite nicely on a 10-by-10-foot trellis.  A few even make excellent subjects for large containers.  If you’re looking to add something vertical and edible to your garden, consider one of the following winter-hardy vines, all of which thrive in full sun and humus-rich soil.  They also benefit from a spring top-dressing of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost and Garden Manure Blend.

    Maypop

    Maypop fruits turn yellowish orange as they ripen.

    Native to the Southeast United States, this hardy passionflower brings a tropical look to the edible garden.  A suckering, herbaceous vine, it returns from the ground in spring and rapidly climbs to 20 feet or more via coiling, clasping tendrils.  Large, showy, lavender-blue flowers appear in summer. Each bloom is fringed with frilly, thread-like segments that surround a central array of large, club-shaped pistils and anthers.   Pale-green, egg-shaped fruits with gloppy, tart-flavored flesh ripen in late summer and early fall. They are best used to make tasty jam or jelly.

    Maypop needs a long growing season to fully ripen its fruits.  It thus requires a warm microclimate or other coddling to bring it to harvest in the northern fringes of its hardiness range (USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 10).  Where the growing season is impossibly short, grow it in a large container (as described below for Actinidia kolomikta).  Move the container from winter protection to a warm sunny frost-free location in April, and place it outside in full sun after the final frost date.

    Hardy Grapes

    A variety of red grape varieties are uncommonly hardy. (Image by Patrick Tregenza)

    Time was when tasty table grapes (Vitis spp.) were a near-impossibility in regions such as the Northeast and Midwest United States.  No longer.  Beyond old-fashioned ‘Concord’ grapes (USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9), numerous outstanding hardy varieties have entered horticulture in the past few decades, including ‘Swenson Red’, whose seeded fruits are large and sweet with hints of strawberry; and ‘Somerset Seedless’, which bears small, juicy, flavorful grapes that ripen orange-red in late summer.  Both are reliably hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8.

    For optimum production (and compact growth), allow your grape vine to develop only one or two main stems, pruning out any other shoots that develop from the base.  Remove all weak, congested, or out-of-bounds side-growth that develops from these main stems, leaving only a well-spaced framework of branches.  This maximizes the space, light, and energy available for flowers and fruits, which are borne on the previous year’s growth on short spurs known as “canes”.

    Hardy Kiwis

    The fruits of hardy kiwi are smooth, green, and delicious.

    Believe it or not, several close relatives of the familiar, but frost tender, supermarket kiwi (Actinidia deliciosa) produce delicious fruits of their own on twining vines that are hardy up to USDA Hardiness Zone 4.  The most widely cultivated of these is hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta), a rambunctious climber that rapidly ascends to 30 feet or more.  The vines are dioecious, meaning vines may be male or female. Female vines produce eye-catching clusters of dime-sized, saucer-shaped white flowers open in spring, followed by inch-long fruits that resemble miniature, smooth-skinned tropical kiwis that are good for fresh eating.  A pollenizing male companion is required for fruit set, except in the case of self-fruitful cultivars such as ‘Issai’.  Hardy kiwi requires either ample room in which to romp, or frequent pruning to keep it in bounds.  Its architecture and pruning regimen is similar to that of grapes, with flowers and fruits occurring on the previous year’s growth.

    ‘Arctic Beauty’ is the most common variegated hardy kiwi vines. (Image by Russell Stafford)

    A better behaved but equally hardy cousin of hardy kiwi is variegated-leaf hardy kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta), which is usually represented in gardens by ornamental male cultivars such as ‘Arctic Beauty’, whose leaves are showily daubed with splashes of pink and silver variegation.  Female selections are drabber in leaf, but compensate by producing a late-summer crop of tasty, spherical, pale-orange fruits (provided a male pollenizer is nearby).  All Actinidia kolomikta cultivars can be grown in large containers, creating all sorts of portable garden possibilities.  A coarse potting mix such as Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix works best.  In USDA Hardiness Zones 5 and below, move containerized actinidias to a cold frame or other protected location for the winter.

    Actinidia polygama fruits have inner orange flesh. (Image by Russell Stafford)

    Showy, edible, pale-orange fruits and silver-variegated leaves (on male plants) are also among the horticulturally significant features of a third hardy kiwi vine, silver kiwi vine (Actinidia polygama).  It ranks somewhere between the above two species in vigor. The exterior of the fruit resembles that of standard kiwi, but the inner flesh is orange.

     

    Chocolate Vine

    Chocolate vine flowers are attractive, but the vines are aggressive. (Image by Jeff Delonge)

    Impossibly invasive (and widely banned) in milder sectors of its hardiness range (USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9), this vigorous , semi-evergreen vine is well worth growing in colder regions such as the American Northeast and Midwest.  Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) will rapidly ascend to 20 feet or more if left unpruned, the twining stems with elegant, hand-shaped leaves are laced with clusters of small, delightfully fragrant, maroon-purple flowers in spring.  White-flowered cultivars (e.g., ‘Shiro Bana’) are also available.  Large, sausage-shaped fruits expand in summer, deepening to purple as they mature.  Fully ripened fruits split open to reveal the seedy, gelatinous flesh, which has a melon- or guava-like flavor when ripe.  Plant two or more cultivars for a good crop.

  8. Favorite Garden Poppies

    Poppies are some of the most beautiful garden flowers! (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Nothing is prettier than a field of red, windblown poppies. The delicate blooms rise from slender stems, and their colorful petals resemble crushed tissue paper—giving these classic garden flowers lasting appeal. Poppies are diverse, and can be grown in practically any garden. Some are long-lived perennials while others are fleeting annuals the bloom spectacularly for a short time before setting seed.

    The best poppies for the garden are effortless and big on color and appeal. Most are cool-season spring bloomers, but a select few will weather through the heat of summer. Here are some of our favorites.

    Annual Poppies

    Breadseed Poppies

    The flowers of breadseed poppies are a favorite of bees. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Some of the showiest annual poppies are breadseed poppies (Papaver somniferum). They bloom in late spring and die back and set their beautiful flower heads by summer. The tall plants reach 2-3 feet and have lush grey-green leaves. Their  large seedheads are filled with edible seeds that are ready for harvest when the heads dry. Their flowers come in shades of white, red, pink, and purple, and are favored by bees.

    The breadseed poppy ‘Pepperbox’ has beautiful flowers of pink, red, and purple and produces loads of seed for baking. The ~1886 heirloom ‘Danish Flag’ is another select variety with frilly cut petals of red and white. All are sure to self-sow.

    Papaver somniferum is also the source of opium, but cultivated forms are bred just for flower color and seeds. Gardeners should not worry about growing these flowers, if they are purchased from legitimate flower seed vendors. The trade and consumption of Papaver somniferum seed within the United States is unregulated, and it is legal to grow them as garden flowers, but it is illegal to grow forms for opiates. The Opium Poppy Control Act of 1942 made any Papaver somniferum cultivation illegal in the United States, but it was repealed in 1970. Still, unauthorized farming and processing of this plant is a felony crime, so be sure to just grow plants sold in flower catalogs for blooms and seed!

    Peony Poppies

    The frilled puffy blooms of peony poppies resemble powder puffs.

    These plumy poppies grow much like breadseed poppies and are most often sold as glorious doubles that resemble powder puffs. Peony poppies (Papaver paeoniflorum) are old-fashioned and add elegance to late spring gardens. Try Feathered Mix with its lush, fluffy flowers in that come in lots of bright colors, including purple, red, white, pink, and lavender.

    Flanders Poppies

    Flanders are Old-World field poppies that add color to naturalistic gardens.

    These are the black-blotched red field poppies (Papaver rhoeas) that dot roadways and meadows across much of the Old-World and are planted to commemorate fallen soldiers of war. Common red forms are easy to find in seed catalogs, but some have been selected with more delicate colors. The best of these are the English Shirley poppies that may be pink, coral, or white. The pale hues of the Shirley poppies in Old Fashioned Mix are subdued, while Falling in Love has semi-double blooms in brighter shades of coral, pink, and clear white.

    Shirley poppies come in shades of pink, coral, and white and can be semi-double.

    All Flanders poppies should be sown early in cool weather and will bloom by early summer. In midsummer, they set seed. Be sure to shake mature seedheads on the ground to encourage seedlings the following year.

    Western Poppies

    Fields of California poppies fill fields and hillsides across the West. (Image by Maureen Gilmer)

    Two poppies worth mentioning are in the poppy family but not the Papaver genus. These are the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and Mexican tulip poppy (Hunnemannia fumariifolia).

    The bright orange California poppy thrives in cool, spring weather in western states. Its low mounds of grey-green, ferny foliage give rise to loads of cup-shaped flowers that set fields and hillsides on fire with color. Lots of cultivated varieties have been developed that may be ivory, pink, rose, or orange-red. Some are even have double petals.

    California poppies are best grown in cool spring or fall weather. They often self-sow to extend the show the following season.

    Golden, bowl-shaped blooms are highlight of Mexican Tulip Poppies. These rare, heat-tolerant poppies are native to California and adjacent Mexico.

    Perennial Poppies

    Spanish Poppy

    ‘Double Tangerine Gem’ a lovely Spanish poppy for summer gardens. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    This pure orange poppy is one of the most heat tolerant of the perennial poppies. Spanish poppy (Papaver rupifragum) has small clumps of ferny foliage that produce slender stems of soft orange flowers. Plants start to bloom in midsummer and will continue until fall if spent flowers are removed before they set seed. Leave a few seedheads at the end of the season to sprinkle on the ground, to encourage new seedlings the following year.

    Give this poppy soil with excellent drainage. It is so waterwise, it is approved for xeric gardening!

    Icelandic Poppy

    Iceland poppies require cool weather to perform well. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    As the common name suggests, these delicate poppies are adapted to cool weather, but surprisingly, they are not from Iceland, as their common name suggests. They are boreal flowers native across the whole of the north from Europe across to North America. Icelandic poppies (Papaver nudicaule) thrive cool spring weather throughout much of the US, and southwestern winters with mild, cool temperatures. They usually survive as short-lived perennials, so expect to plant them again after three years or so. Plants may die in high summer heat.

    The papery flowers of Iceland poppies come in lots of pretty shades of salmon, orange, pink, white, apricot, and yellow. Try Meadow Pastels, a delicate mix with ruffled flowers in almost every color.

    Oriental Poppy

    Old-fashioned oriental poppies are a perennial border staple.

    The large, bowl-shaped blooms of oriental poppies are distinguished by showy clusters of black stamens in the center of each flower. Theses long-lived perennials bloom in early summer, and traditional forms have classic orange-red flowers with ruffled petals. They have been a mainstay in flower gardens for hundreds of years, and though it sounds like they should come from “the Orient” they are native to northern Turkey and Iran, and the Caucasus mountains.

    Their prickly green foliage appears in spring and nearly disappears by summer’s end. Flower stem height depends on the cultivated variety; taller forms can reach 3 feet. There are many varieties with flower colors that may be white, pink, red, orange, lavender, and burgundy. ‘Beauty of Livermere‘ is a classic red that will add elegance to any garden.

    Growing Poppies

    All poppies need full sun and fertile soil with a neutral pH and good drainage. Before planting, be sure to amend the soil with a fertile amendment, like Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Annual and spring perennial poppies will die back, so be sure to plant other garden flowers among them to fill in the spaces they leave behind.

    A nodding bed of poppies will make any gardener or passerby delight in the beauty of these prized flowers. Plant a few this season to add cheer and bright color to your garden.

  9. Favorite Heirloom Garden Flowers from Seed

    Heirloom garden flowers are perfect for informal cottage gardens.

    Imagine a sweeping cottage garden of China pinks, petunias, and marigolds interspersed with a tangle of colorful sweet peas and lacy love-in-a-mist. Old fashioned flowers such as these remain in vogue for the same reason our grandmothers grew them. They are lovely, easily grown from seed, and their seeds can be collected from year to year—making them perfect for gardeners on a budget.

    Choice heirloom flowers are brightly colored, long-blooming, and easy to manage. Quite a few have the added bonus of being highly fragrant, because fragrance was considered an important floral trait from Victorian times to the mid-nineteenth century.

    The majority of these flowers are best started indoors from seed at the beginning of the growing season, but several can be started outdoors. Our favorites will be sure to add value to your flower garden and containers this season.

    Top 10 Heirloom Flowers from Seed

    China pinks (Dianthus chinensis)

    These highly fragrant, short-lived perennials thrive where summers are cool and have frilly blooms in shades of red, white, and pink. Most reach a foot in height and are perfect for sunny border edges. Try the lovely Single Flowered Mix from Select seeds with single flowers in mixed colors. Start seeds indoors in February or March. 

    Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)

    These bushy, sun-loving bedding plants reach 2 to 3 feet and develop broad clusters of small, sweetly fragrant purple, lavender, or white flowers that attract butterflies. Remove old flower heads for repeat bloom all season. The very old variety ‘Amaretto‘ has pale violet flowers that smell of almonds. Start these from seed indoors in February.

     

    Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus)

    Sweet peas are some of the most fragrant cool-season flowers. The delicate, tendriled vines require light trellising. Long-stemmed clusters of sweet-smelling flowers appear by late spring and are perfect for cutting. The antique ‘Perfume Delight’ is especially fragrant and more heat tolerant than most. Start sweet peas indoors from seed in February or March.

     

    Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)

    The ever-blooming nature of this small, fragrant garden annual has made it one of the best for border and container edges. It blooms well in both hot and cool weather with clusters of tiny white, pink, or purple flowers. Try the honey-scented Gulf Winds mix from Renee’s Garden Seeds, which has flowers of light pink, rose, lilac, and white. The seeds are very fine, so be sure not to accidentally plant too many when starting them indoors. Start these no later than March.

    Marigolds (Tagetes hybrids)

    Loads of warm-hued heirloom marigolds are still available to brighten contemporary flower beds. These tough sun lovers shine through the most difficult summers, keeping gardens looking good through the swelter. For garden edges, choose the 1903 heirloom French Marigold ‘Legion of Honor’. Its fragrant flowers are dark orange with gold edges. Small-flowered signet marigolds are also uncommonly showy with their ferny foliage and bushy habits. Plant seeds in March for late-May planting.

    Jasmine-Scented Tobacco (Nicotiana alata)

    The white blooms of jasmine-scented tobacco are most fragrant at night and pollinated by moths. The tubular flowers appear on plants reaching 3 to 4 feet high. This heat tolerant annual will tolerate some shade and will bloom well into fall. High Mowing Organic Seeds sells seeds for this old-fashioned beauty. Cut back the old flower stalks to encourage flowering. Start the seeds indoors no later than March. (Image by Carl E. Lewis)

    Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena)

    Unusual lacy flowers make love-in-a-mist especially charming in the garden. The flowers may be violet-blue, purple, white, or pink. Once they have finished flowering, their dry seed pods are also visually interesting and useful in dried arrangements. They do tend to self-sow, so expect lots of seedlings to appear the following season. They flower best in cool weather and are short-lived, so they can be started both in early spring and late summer for two seasons of bloom.

    Old-Fashioned Petunia (Petunia hybrid)

    Heirloom petunias tend have looser habits that require regular pruning, but they are also charming and free-flowering. One of the most unique of the seed-grown heirlooms is ‘Old-Fashioned Climbing‘. This pretty rambler has highly fragrant flowers in shades of purple, lavender, and white that bloom above the foliage. Start the seeds no later than March for summer enjoyment.

    Scarlet Sage (Salvia spendens)

    Older varieties of scarlet sage are taller and bushier but no less free flowering. The tall and elegant ‘Van Houttei’ is one of the earliest cultivated forms. The bushy 3- to 4-foot variety thrives in heat and becomes covered with spikes of deep red blooms that attract the hummingbirds. Pinch back spent flowering stems to encourage more flowers! Start the seeds in February or March.

     

    Growing Heirlooms from Seed

    Some heirlooms, such as love-in-a-mist, can be directly sown in the ground outdoors, but most are best started indoors. Start your seeds in seed trays fitted with six-pack flats, which give growing flowers enough space for root and shoot growth. Fill the flats with premium OMRI Listed Black Gold Seedling Mix, which holds moisture and drains well.  Moisten the mix before planting for easier watering after planting. If planting your new seedlings in containers, choose Fafard Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed, which feeds flowers for up to 6 months.

    Follow seed packet instructions for planting guidelines and expected germination times. Smaller seeds usually need to be lightly covered with mix while larger seeds require deeper planting. Plant each cell with two to three seeds to make sure you get at least one seedling per cell. You only want one seedling per cell, so pinch out the weakest seedlings that germinate and leave the largest. Seeds often sprout best in temperatures between 68-73º F. Warm-season annuals germinate faster if flats are placed on heat mats.

    Good light is important for strong growth. You can either start your seeds in a sunny, south-facing window of beneath strip shop lights fitted with broad-spectrum bulbs. One shop light will supply light to two trays. Keep trays 4 inches from the grow lights to keep seedlings from getting leggy. Raise the lights as your plants grow. Once seedlings develop new leaves, feed them with half-strength Proven Winners Premium Water Soluble Plant Food.

    Before planting your tender heirloom flower starts outdoors, acclimate them to the natural sunlight and wind by placing them in a protected spot with partial sun for one week. This process of “hardening off” allows indoor-grown starts to toughen up before outdoor planting. After this step, they will be ready to plant in your garden or containers.

  10. The Best Spring Anemones

    Poppy anemone is a late-spring bloomer with spectacular flowers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Winter winds leave an untidy legacy in the early spring garden. Cleaning up those broken branches and dead leaves is a chore, but the job is a lot more pleasant if you have another kind of “wind” tickling the toes of your garden clogs—windflowers or spring anemones. Planted in borders or containers, they emerge just as the garden gets going.

    All anemones are members of the buttercup or Ranunculaceae family.  Several species sprout from fall-planted rhizomes and spread politely when they are happy. The blooms can be demure or relatively showy, with foliage that is most often attractively dissected. Deer tend to leave anemones alone, but early spring pollinators, who use the flowers as a much-needed food source, love them all.

    Greek Delight

    Grecian windflower is short, early flowering, and naturalizes.

    Little Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda) is often the earliest riser among the windflowers, generally appearing in late March or early April. Growing only 6 to 9 inches tall, blanda anemones are so tough that they can even be planted beneath black walnut trees. The flowers look more like daisies than buttercups, with nine to twelve petal-like sepals in shades of violet-blue, pink, or white.  The leaves are almost fern-like in appearance and add a flourish to the flowers.

    Grecian windflowers rhizomes are most often available in mixed assortments, but with a little hunting, you can also buy single colors.  An old favorite variety, ‘White Splendor’, bears clean white sepals that harmonize well with other spring flowers, and the classic Blue Shades mix comes in pretty shades of violet blue. Grecian windflowers are very effective planted in drifts or naturalized in wooded areas and coexist well with other plants.  This is a bonus, given their ephemeral nature.  Once the plant has bloomed and set seed, it fades away completely until the following spring.

    A Different Kind of Snowdrop

    Snowdrop anemone is a European native with delicate white flowers.

    Snowdrop windflower (Anemone sylvestris) is another April bloomer.  The flowers sit atop stems that may reach up to 18 inches tall. Each delicate flower has slightly ruffled white sepals that surround prominent yellow stamens.  The petals are followed up by distinctive, fuzzy white seed heads later on.  Sometimes snowdrop windflowers give an encore performance in the fall.

    With their longer stems and sweet fragrance, these anemones also make good cut flowers.

    Wind in the Woods

    Wood anemone is a woodland native from Europe.

    In April and May, wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) emerges.  The plants are a little taller than Grecian windflowers, with darker green, dissected foliage and erect stems that rise between 6 and 18 inches.  Those dainty petal-like sepals are generally white, at least on the wild form.  Sometimes they are tinged pink or palest blue.  Specialty nurseries carry more unusual forms of wood anemone, including some with blue, pink or even yellow-green flowers.  Double-petaled forms, like ‘Alba Plena’ are only an Internet search away.

    Showy in the Spring

    Poppy anemone is the showiest of all spring-flowering anemones.

    Poppy anemones (Anemone coronaria) are the showiest of the spring bloomers and tend to appear a little later in spring.  Deep blue, red, pink, or white petal-like sepals  surround dramatic black or blue-black centers on flowers that bloom atop stalks up to 18 inches tall.  Because of their bold good looks, poppy anemones have long been favorites of flower arranging.

    Among the most popular poppy anemone varieties are the de Caen types, which bear single flowers and are usually sold in mixed-color assortments.  Other old favorites include the deep blue-purple ‘Mr. Fokker’ and pristine white ‘Mount Everest’, which has semi-double flowers.

    Unlike other spring-blooming anemones, coronaria varieties are only reliably hardy within USDA plant hardiness zones 7-10 (though some cultivars like ‘Mr. Fokker’ are reportedly hardier), so the tubers cannot be planted outside in cold-winter climates.  If you have an unheated sun porch or cold frame, plant them in pots in the fall, place in the frost free spaces, and bring them outside in the spring.  Otherwise, plant in very early spring for late spring or early summer bloom.

    Windflower Culture

    All spring-blooming anemones like rich, well-drained soil.  Wood and snowdrop varieties prefer partially shady situations, while Grecian and poppy anemones relish more sunshine.  If your soil is poor or poorly drained, amend it with a high-quality product like Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost.  Soak the tuberous rhizomes of Grecian, snowdrop, and wood anemones overnight before planting.  If you are planting Grecian windflowers naturalizing, place the rhizomes close together, and they will eventually spread on their own.

    You can find windflowers alongside the tulip and daffodil bulbs on retailers’ shelves starting in early fall.  Poppy anemones are generally available for spring shipment.