Plant Lust – Cerinthe,Pride of Gibralter

Cerinthe

Cerinthe major atropurpurea , featured at Sissinghurst Castle in England, is actually a native of the Greek Islands. This hard to find annual is definitely a much sought after easy to grow annual from seed. Not available as transplants, you can get the seed from Renee’s Garden Seeds.

Cerinthe available at Renees Seeds
Cerinthe available at Renee’s Garden Seeds

An unusually colored flower with indigo-violet drooping flowers that dangle gracefully above gray-green leaves. A great plant for containers or for the border, it is easy to start from seed.

Cerinthe
Cerinthe

Pop in the seeds and a few days later, juicy succulent-like shoots appear above the soil and quickly grow into robust plants for transplanting. Wonderful as cuts for fresh flower arrangements, you can always spot them at Sissinghurst in the UK as their signature plant.

Seen at Sissinghurst
Seen at Sissinghurst

Also known as honeywort, the flowers attract bees and hummingbirds. The one inch long flowers produce honey-flavored nectar, probably leading to its common name. As the plant matures, the bracts change from green to purple to blue. Deadhead to encourage continued bloom. If you wish to use honeywort as a cut flower, the ends of the stem need to be either flamed or dipped in hot water.

Used here as a great edger at Sissinghurst
Used here as a great edger/spiller at Sissinghurst

Cerinthe is a good filler plant, with its blue-green foliage and succulent texture contrasting nicely with other greens in the garden. To bring out the other colors in the bracts, such as golds, yellows, bronzes, interplant cerinthe with plants that have purple or bronze leaves, such as Caramel Heuchera or Euphoriba ‘Chameleon’. Reseeding in my garden happens frequently which I encourage.

Cerinthe changes color as it ages
Cerinthe changes color as it ages

TSTART OUTDOORS

In spring, once all danger of frost is past, sow seed directly where plants are to grow in ordinary well-drained soil in full sun. In mild climates, Cerinthe can also be sown in fall for spring blooms. Poke the large seeds into the soil about 3⁄4 inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart and firm soil gently over them.

About a week old, Cerinthe makes a robust seedling
About a week old, Cerinthe makes a robust seedling

TSTART EARLY INDOORS

Start seeds indoors in 4 inch pots about 4 to 6 weeks before last frost date. Keep moist, but not soggy and provide a strong light source. Once seedlings are 4 to 6 inches tall, acclimate to outdoor conditions and transplant into a sunny spot, in well-drained garden soil. Thin or transplant seedlings 8 to 12 inches apart. Avoid disturbing seedling roots.

GROWING NOTES (from Renee’s Garden Seeds)

Cerinthe prefers full sun, but can take dappled shade, although plants will be more rangy in habit. Be patient; plants are undistinguished until they come into bloom. By late spring, the dramatic blue bracts will turn more purple at the tips, then the clusters of purple bells trimmed with a white edge unfurl. Grow near pastel cleome or cosmos for an exciting color contrast.

Next to a purple flower, Cerinthe shows up best
Next to a purple flower, Cerinthe shows up best

Today, it is not commonly offered commercially in the U.S. The plants are not particularly stunning from a distance unless plant in mass; the enchanting flowers are best appreciated up close as the coloring is subtle. The variety ‘Purpurascens’ is the most commonly available type and was selected for its stronger coloration than the species.

 

 

Plant Lust-Love in a Mist

There is a white and pink variety

Love-in-a-Mist, aka Ragged Lady, or Persian Jewels, is a hardy annual with fine, thread like leaves and intricate 1½ in. flowers at the end of each branch. An excellent cut flower, Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena, forms interesting horned seed capsules  surrounded by ferny mist-like foliage and are beautiful in dried arrangements. Plants grow to 1½ ft. tall and prefer cool weather. If you let the flowers go to seed, they will often self slow and come up the next year without any work on your part.

Seedlings emerge in early spring
Seedlings emerge in early spring
Love in a Mist
Love in a Mist

Aptly named, Love in a Mist, is only available by seeds, and has become one of my favorite cool weather flowers. For more on growing early spring cold loving flowers, go to my post on Cool Flowers.  Direct sow the seeds and press into moist soil in early spring, and you are sure to have a nice clump of Love in a Mist.

The seed pods are as attractive as the flowers
The seed pods are as attractive as the flowers

Blue, mauve, pink, purple, and white blooms clothed in a lacy netting of greenery, this is an old-fashioned heirloom favorite for fresh or dried flowers.

Nigella
Nigella or Love in a Mist

Scattering the seed in a cleared area that has been raked to loosen the soil, is the easiest way to sow the seeds. I walk over the area to press the seeds firmly into the ground so there is good soil contact.

Attractive seed pods form after flowers are done
Attractive seed pods form after flowers are done
There is a white and pink variety
There is a white and pink variety

Where winters are mild, like USDA zones 8 or 9, seed can be sown in the late winter or fall, and by making successive sowings, you can ensure a continuous supply of cut flowers. Flowers are excellent for cutting, with the horned seed capsules highly decorative in dried arrangements. Deer tend to leave this little beauty alone.

Love in a Mist available at the Monticello Shop

 

The black chunky seeds contained in the seed capsule have a strong aroma and taste, and have notes of onion, oregano, and black pepper, thus are used in cooking. The seeds have many health benefits. They carry antioxidant properties helping with several inflammation issues, especially on the skin.

Use as a cut flower
Use as a cut flower

Love in a Mist seeds also have an antihistamine element and can aid in assisting with sore throats. Used in the traditional Naan bread of Indian cooking, they are also called black cumin. If you aren’t interested in using them in your culinary adventures, save some for sprinkling in the garden in the spring.

Intricate flower of Love in a Mist
Intricate flower of Love in a Mist

Know and Grow: Deer Resistant Vitex

Bees flock to the beautiful spiky flowers

Looking like a butterfly bush on sterioids, Vitex agnus-castus, or Chaste Tree, is enjoying a comeback in gardens with some compact varieties that fit into smaller gardens. It’s easy to grow in well-drained soil and drought-tolerant and disease resistant.

Not the tidiest plant in the garden, the newer varieties, like ‘Shoal Creek’ will top off at 10-12′ tall and wide. But with cutback pruning in the early spring, you can keep it much smaller. I treat it like my butterfly bushes and cut it back to about 2 feet tall in the early spring/late winter. Winter hardy to zone 6, this beautiful large shrub or small tree blooms profusely and for a long period in July and August.  Foliage is very aromatic- compound, palmate, grayish-green leaves with 5-7 lance-shaped leaflets-similar to marijuana!

Bumblebees adore this plant and cover the blossoms and will even spend the night on the flower. Deer resistance adds another attribute to this valuable late season sun-loving plant. Native to China and India, Vitex has been in the U.S. since the 1600’s and has a long history as a medicinal plant.

Available locally in Maryland at Valley View Farms
Available locally in Maryland at Valley View Farms

The common name of ‘chaste tree’ refer to the beliefs that parts of the plant reduce libido. Known as a spectacular, butterfly-attracting plant, the 12″ fragrant flower spikes are a beautiful deep lavender blue and very showy. ‘Shoal Creek’, the cultivar that I am growing, is a deeper more vibrant lavender color than the species and I would advise seeking out this variety.

 

12 Steps for a Spring Jump-Start

Splitting up a hosta plant

The grass is starting to green up and bulbs are peeking through the soil and spring is around the corner. Gardening chores come fast and furious once warm weather hits and sometimes you don’t have time to fit all the tasks in. To jump-start your gardening year, you can hit the ground running early to get a head start. Late winter is my favorite time to get many of the spring jobs done or at least started, to lessen the springtime stress of overload.

Winter aconites pushing up through the snow
Winter aconites pushing up through the snow
  • Weeding-My top priority in late winter/early spring is keeping weeds under control. Cold weather weeds such as chickweed and mustard are much easier to hand weed when small. Plus, the weeds haven’t gone to seed yet to spread around. Adopt a policy of a little weeding often to reduce your weeding burden.
Weed early before they go to seed
Weed early before they go to seed
  • Soil Test-Everything starts with good soil. Many nurseries or extension offices offer soil testing services. Take advantage of these by finding out what nutrients your soil needs by submitting a soil sample.
  • Fertilize-Fertilize trees and ornamentals with a balanced granular fertilizer when the soil is dry. I use an old coffee can with a plastic lid with perforated holes to sprinkle the recommended amount around the plant and water in. If you are an organic gardener, apply a layer of compost around the plant.
  • Rake-Rake out loose leaves and debris from your gardening beds so that mulch can be applied evenly. Be sure to remove pockets of old leaves that get caught up in twiggy shrubs.
Pockets of leaves stick in twiggy shrubs
Pockets of leaves stick in twiggy shrubs
  • Mulch-Apply an organic mulch about 2 inches thick avoiding the base of trees and shrubs. This will help retain moisture during dry spells, reduce weeds, and improve soil structure. Don’t create mulch volcanoes around your trees as this can invite insect damage and disease.
Don't over mulch!
Don’t over mulch!
  • Lawn-Rake out old thatch and remove weedy patches, seeding bare areas. Scratch the grass seed into the top layer so that seed has good contact with the soil. Spread a pre-emergent to stop weeds from germinating and a “Weed and Feed” to promote strong roots.
  • Prune-With leaves absent, you can easily see damaged and broken limbs that need to be removed. Renewal pruning to renovate older overgrown shrubs should be done now before they put on new growth. Cut back to the ground shrubs such as butterfly bush, spirea, hypericum, and hardy hibiscus. Knock Out Roses should be cut to about 10 inches high to keep these manageable.
Cut back Knock Out Rose
Cut back Knock Out Rose
Cut back your perennials and shrubs and mulch in early spring
Cut back your perennials and shrubs and mulch in early spring
By mid-summer, they will have grown back!
By mid-summer, they will have grown back!
Prune shrubs before leafing out
Prune shrubs before leafing out
  • Container Refresh-Remove the top 3-4 inches of old potting medium from your containers and replace with fresh compost and potting soil. Make sure the drainage holes aren’t clogged with old roots. I use a metal rod to punch through the fibrous roots.
Punch through the drainage hole to ensure good drainage
Punch through the drainage hole to ensure good drainage
Add some fresh soil to your containers
Add some fresh soil to your containers
  • Seed Starting-Start seeds of tomatoes/peppers/eggplants indoors for transplanting in the spring. Outdoors plant seeds of cold tolerant annuals such as snapdragons, larkspur, poppies, and nigella. See my post on Seed Starting for pointers.
I start my seeds in February
I start my seeds in February
Seedlings ready to be transplanted into the garden
Seedlings ready to be transplanted into the garden

 

  • Perennial Dividing-Now is the perfect time to split up and divide overgrown perennials such as iris and hosta and move them around. Waiting later in the season to divide a fully-grown plant can be cumbersome and hard work. Plus, the perennials have a longer time to root in to produce more prolific flowers. I like to divide when the first stems with leaves are emerging.
Splitting up a hosta plant
Splitting up a hosta plant
  • Tools-Clean rust and mud off your tools and oil and sharpen them. Organize your potting or tool shed so that you can find things in a hurry.
Easy to see and great for airing out your gloves
Easy to see and great for airing out your gloves
Organize your tool shed
Organize your tool shed
  • Compost-I always clean out my compost pile by spreading the rich loamy material around my ornamentals and in my vegetable garden. If you don’t have a compost pile, now is the time to start one. Using a length of snow fencing attached to metal stakes is the easiest way to start either a large or small one. A gate can even be created with a hinged portion of the snow fence.
My snow fence compost pile with gate
My snow fence compost pile with gate

Winter Aconite-The Bulb That Keeps Giving

Winter aconites pushing up through the snow

 

Sunny yellow blooms fringed with a green ruff green poking through snow is my first sign that spring has sprung. Eranthis hyamalis, in the buttercup family, is a spring ephemeral, which means that it is a short-lived plant above ground with a burst of blooms, then disappears, remaining under ground until next winter.

From a few corms, I have many
From a few corms, I have many

Beaming a golden light in the cloudy winter days, I welcome the appearance of this charming little bulbs that appear in the slightest bit of warmth in winter. Popping up when it is warm(above 40 degrees) with a little bit of sunshine, they retract back in the ground, if cold wintry weather returns, and wait. When everything else surrounding the bulbs looks dead and lifeless, these cheerful little splashes of sunshine appear.

They have lovely frilled foliage surrounding the golden flower
They have lovely frilled foliage surrounding the golden flower; here the flower is finished and the foliage remains for several weeks, before disappearing

Easily Grown in Shade or Sun

The plant takes advantage of the deciduous woodland canopy, flowering at the time of maximum sunlight reaching the forest floor, then completely dying back to its underground tuber after flowering. So, for about eight weeks starting in late February, I see the plant above ground, celebrate its arrival and the bees devour it! Flowering when little else is in bloom, the blossom is a very important nectar and pollen source for my honeybees. On a nice sunny day above 45 degrees in late winter, the bees are darting in and out of the blossoms, quickly taking advantage of the brief show of color.

Winter Aconites have a pretty green ruff surrounding the flower
Winter Aconites have a pretty green ruff surrounding the flower

 

Bees flock to the early offerings of nectar and pollen
Bees flock to the early offerings of nectar and pollen

Starting/Transplanting 

I started my Winter Aconites with tubers which resemble a dried pea by planting them one to two inches deep and waiting to see how many emerged. Only about 25% of the corms sprouted but that was enough to start my stock going for years to come as they will seed in. I have read that the little flowers can become invasive by reseeding in odd places, but I welcome all comers! I also transplant the clumps when in flower or “in green” and separate them and scatter them in my planting beds to make future blankets of yellow.

Easily transplanted while green is done in early March to increase my stock
Easily transplanted while green is done in early March to increase my stock
Bees bathe in the pollen
Bees bathe in the pollen

Pollinator Friendly

Such a cheerful little flower that is attractive to all pollinators is welcome in my garden anytime. A good companion to Snowdrops, Winter Aconites will live for years without any disturbance. The flowers push up through a stand of Germander and other thick ground covers and stick around for weeks, opening when the sun comes out, and closing when nightfall comes. Even successful under large shade trees, like Sycamores, these little bulbs are tough and resilient once they get going.

Aconites are good companions to snowdrops, photo by Patricia Reynolds

 

Crescent Garden Planters-Best Self Watering Containers on the Market

White and black container in Crescent planter

What planters are light weight, 100% recyclable, will not fade or crack, withstand harsh weather and UV rays, and offer a 10 year warranty?  Drum roll please……… Crescent Garden Planters.  Oh, did I mention they are self watering? Containing a very large reservoir, I never had to water my Crescent Planter last summer,  not once! We did have a lot of rainfall in the summer, but I had to water all my other containers periodically. I have embedded the video explaining how the Trudrop system works below:

Trudrop

Starting the planter in the spring using a white and black color scheme-I called it my tuxedo pot-I enjoyed it on my patio all season long. Adding some granular long-lasting fertilizer like Osmocote to the soil, ensured that I didn’t have to add any additional fertilizer. Or if you prefer, you can add a liquid fertilizer and pour over the plants once a month. It really was my most successful experiment in low maintenance gardening! Having tried many self-watering containers, I had to see and experience it to believe it.

Cross section of a planter
Cross section of a planter
White and black container in Crescent planter
White and black container in Crescent planter

 

These turquoise shapes tell you if the reservoir is full on the container;one of the shapes isn't fully exposed to let you know that it is almost full
These turquoise crescents tell you if the reservoir is full on the container;one of the crescents isn’t fully expressed to let you know that it is almost full

The Crescent Garden Planters have a patented tru-drop self-watering system that is ideal both for indoor and outdoor use. Unlike traditional systems this will autoregulate even with rain water to make sure you have enough water when you need it and not too much when you do not need it. You just pop off the clear cover and insert your hose to fill the reservoir up, which will then be gradually used to water the container as needed.

Water alert system
Water alert system

Perfect if you travel a lot when you have containers outdoors or indoors. The enclosed water supply or reservoir holds enough water to last 6 weeks or more, depending on weather conditions. If used outdoors, there is an overfill drain designed to drain excess rain water.

Double wall construction
Double wall construction

Watering from the bottom up lets your plants take only the amount of water they need and lowers the risk of fungus and disease.

Crescent planters come in a variety of shapes and sizes
Crescent planters come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes

Food safe for edibles is another attribute, and I will try growing some edible plants this summer in my planter. For the winter care, just make sure the container is drained if exposed to freezing temps. Available on Amazon and various local garden centers, I am going to add to my collection every year.

 

Top Five Reasons to Start From Seed

Creating seed pots with newspaper

Seed starting in spring is a rite of passage for me. Fingering all the seed packets, shaking them, and admiring the beautiful covers is all part of the process. If I don’t have at least a hundred seed packets stacked up, I get restless and start browsing more seed catalogs.

Seed starting in egg cartons and milk cartons

It is a lot of work to start them, and it requires some equipment to do it right, but when late winter/early spring rolls around, it is kind of like Christmas with the new shoots poking though. My slow period for my landscape business is the winter, so I have the time to devote to seed starting. Here are the reasons you should be seed starting:

I love looking through all my seed packets
I love looking through all my beautiful seed packets

1. More Choices-At a nursery they might sell 20-25 varieties of tomatoes. From seed you can grow at least a thousand more. The varieties that you can grow are mind boggling, and only a fraction of these are grown and sold at a local nursery. Some flower varieties like Nigella, Love-in-a-mist, or annual Poppies must be started from seed outside to be successful. See my post on Cool Flowers-Early Spring Bloomers. 

You can only grow Nigella from seed outdoors
You can only grow Nigella from seed outdoors
Poppies, here it is "Lauren's Grape", do best direct seeded in the garden
Poppies, here it is “Lauren’s Grape”, do best direct seeded in the garden

2. Save Money

A packet of Zinnias will set you back by $2.50.  If you bought all those packs of annuals at the nursery that one packet can start, you pay that many times over. Plus, if you grow heirlooms, you can save the seeds and regrow every year.

My seed starting set up with a grow light and heat mats
My PVC seed starting set up with a grow light and heat mats

3. It’s Easy

Most vegetables should be started directly into the garden. Planting transplants of cucs, beans, peas, beets, carrots, lettuce……. the list goes on, is expensive and time consuming, and not practical. Starting seed directly into a vegetable garden avoids transplant shock and gives veggies a head start.

Starting from seed
Starting from seed

4. Save the Bees

Many transplants and soils have been treated with insecticides that negatively impact bee visits. Some nurseries are careful and transparent, but some are not, and many times aren’t labeled with the insecticide treatment. Go to my post on Pesticide Free Nurseries. You are controlling your quality of new transplants by starting them yourself.

 

5. It’s Fun !

Reconnect with nature during the dark days of winter and watch your seedlings grow! I love watching the snow pile up outside while my healthy seedlings are growing before my eyes inside.

A breath of fresh air on a winter night
A breath of fresh air on a winter night

Handy Equipment

Light Stand

My most important piece of equipment is a PVC light stand for my grow light. Go to PVC Light Stand for easy to follow, inexpensive directions for a light stand. I put this together myself, so anyone can construct one. Yes, you can use your window sills for light, but a light hung a few inches above seedlings is vastly superior and will make your seedlings fat and happy, not thin and spindly. There are too many cloudy winter days for seedlings to get their required  allotment of light.  I just use a simple LED shop light, available at any hardware store. LED is the key word here, as it gives off a much stronger light than fluorescent.

Heat Mats

Most seedling benefit from bottom heat and will shoot up much quicker. You could use a radiator or other warm surface, but I like the heat mat as it fits exactly under a flat and you can control the temperature. Inexpensive also, heat mats are available on Amazon.

Heating pads are just coils that heat up encased in plastic
Heating pads are just plastic encased coils

Flats are simply low narrow trays that you can fill with soilless medium. Once filled, you nest into another waterproof tray to catch any excess water and you can also use the clear lid to create a moist environment to enhance seed starting. Some trays are divided into cells, so you are growing a seedling in its own contained root run.

Small Fan

How many times have you started seedlings, and found to your horror that they fall over and die? This is the consequence of “damping off”, a far to common occurrence which is a fungal disease that occurs under damp, moist conditions. Right! Your seedlings are damp and moist because you are misting them to encourage them to sprout! So, I use a small fan attached to my light stand to circulate the air to discourage “damping off”. And it works. Simple solution, but effective.

I attach a small fan to move air to avoid "damping off"
I attach a small fan to move air to avoid “damping off”

Watering Can

I like to water with a mister, as it disturbs the seedlings the least. But it requires a lot of time to mist all my seedlings by hand, so I have graduated to a large (6 liter) watering can with a fine mesh “rose”. A “rose” just diffuses the water so it falls gently onto the seedlings and is much more efficient than a mister.

My watering can has a 6 liter capacity with a long watering wand
My watering can has a 6 liter capacity with a long watering wand
My watering can has a 6 liter capacity with a long watering wand
The “rose” is a water diffuser

Additional Lighting Units

The LED grow lights are wonderful, but sometimes every seedling won’t fit under the grow light. So, I supplement with LED spray lights.

Spray LED lights are valuable for lighting
Spray LED lights are valuable for lighting

Soil Medium

You need a source of sterile soilless medium to start your seeds. I use coconut coir, which is a coconut fiber extracted from the husk of coconut. The beauty of coir, which is sold in a compressed form, is that I am not lugging home heavy bags of potting soil. Instead, I buy small compressed blocks of coir, 3″ x 6″, hydrate it in water, and I end up with 8 quarts of potting medium. Much less expensive and more convenient, you can find this online or at Home Depot, or other hardware stores. There is no nutrition in this soil medium, so as soon as your seedlings are up and running, you need to fertilize.

Compressed coconut coir ready to be hydrated
Compressed coconut coir ready to be hydrated
Creating seed pots with newspaper
Creating seed pots with newspaper
Going through my seed packets
Going through my seed packets

Trio of Cauliflower Recipes- A Super Veggie

Broccoli/Cauliflower Salad
Cauliflower at the supermarket
Cauliflower at the supermarket

Cauliflower is in. Kale is out.

Come on….admit it, you are eating way more cauliflower than kale. Searches for cauliflower rice recipes are up 135 percent on pinterest in the last couple of years. I wrote about Cauliflower being an up and coming veggie in 2016 at Gardening Trends for 2016.

Cauliflower, Purple of Sicily
Cauliflower, Purple of Sicily from National Garden Bureau

Flower Power-Cauliflower is the next Kale

Traveling to lots of nurseryman’s and flower shows, cutting edge gardens, and keeping up with my blog, gives me a good handle on what is up and coming in the gardening world. Some of these are trends have been around and are still going strong, like Cauliflower!

According to the National Gardening Bureau who names the ‘plants of the year’, 2017 marked the year of the Brassica. Brassica vegetables, including bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, rutabagas, and turnips are popular around the world today and are enjoying a renaissance.

Growing Cauliflower (taken from the National Gardening Bureau)

Cauliflower

Cauliflower plants prefer to grow without heat stress and do best in fall or in areas with mild summers.   Popular types include the standard white varieties and more exotic colors and shapes also available to home gardeners. In recent years cooked cauliflower has become popular as a replacement for potatoes or flour in many recipes (like mashed potatoes or pizza crust).White types are most often self-blanching- meaning inner leaves cover the curds and protect them from the sun. Varieties include Flamenco F1 (summer production), Toledo F1 (fall production), Snowball, Snowbowl F1, Symphony F1.

Romanesco types are a special type of green cauliflower.  The head is a collection of spiraled florets and will be a great way to teach your kids about the Fibonacci numbers (math during dinner!).  Romanesco is great for roasting – it is a bit drier than regular cauliflower. Varieties include Veronica F1, Romanesco. Another plant that is modeled on the Fibonacci number is the Sunflower.

Romanesco Veronica
Romanesco Veronica from NGB

Novelty Types are also a lot of fun for the garden. Try a purple or orange variety! They have a similar flavor but add an unexpected pop of color to a veggie tray. Varieties include Graffiti F1 (purple head), Cheddar F1 (orange head), and Vitaverde F1 (green head).

Cauliflower Cheddar Seminis  from NGB

 

The rise of cauliflower, a cruciferous vitamin packed veggie, that has a unique ability to absorb flavors from other ingredients, rather like a chameleon, has been a long time coming. From cauliflower grilled steaks to peanut butter brownies, cauliflower has landed on top of the heap for a lot of people. California Pizza Kitchen is even offering a cauliflower crust option on their pizzas. And for people who are on Keto diets or who just want to cut down on carbs, this is a great alternative.

I have grown cauliflower called Purple of Sicily
I have grown cauliflower called Purple of Sicily
Cauliflower peanut butter brownies
Cauliflower peanut butter brownies

Cauliflower Peanut Butter Brownies

I tested making these brownies and they were some of the most flavorful moist brownies that I have ever had! Forget these have cauliflower, they are really good.

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Steamed Cauliflower Florets I steamed these and smashed them into a 2 Cup measuring cup, and place them in the food processor
  • 1 1/4 Cup Dark Chocolate Morsels Melt these in a microwave and stir until creamy
  • 1/2 Cup Cream Cheese, softened
  • 4 Tbsp Peanut Butter, smooth or chunky I only had on hand chunky, but the food processor makes it smooth
  • 1/2 Cup Almond Flour You can use regular flour also
  • 1 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Cup White Chocolate Morsels
  • 1/2 Cup Peanuts (optional) I used unsalted
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Peanut Butter Morsels

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9x13 container

  2. In a food processor, process the 2 cups of  cauliflower until completely smooth – this is important as if it is not smooth; it will result in a grainy textured brownie

  3. Add the cream cheese, peanut butter, eggs and sugar then blend again until smooth
  4. Add the almond flour, baking powder, vanilla, and melted chocolate morsels, and blend well

  5. Spoon ½ the mixture into the container, then scatter the Peanut butter morsels, white chocolate morsels, and peanuts over the layer

  6. Spoon the remaining mixture into the pan spreading to cover all the morsels,  then bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until an inserted fork is clean

Basically, it’s the vegetable for the perfect time. I grow it every year with varying success and I had good luck with the Purple Sicily variety last year.

Cauliflower comes in several colors
Cauliflower comes in several colors

Full of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, this is a power vegetable. The sulfur compounds it contains, which give off that sharp smell when steamed, may prevent some types of cancers and fight other kinds.

A tower of cauliflower
A tower of cauliflower

My next top recipe for Cauliflower is Cauliflower Gnocchi, which is one of Trader Joe’s most popular frozen foods. I wanted to make my own and searched on-line and used a recipe that I found with some revisions. My inspiration was finding riced cauliflower at Sam’s Club. And to simplify, I don’t boil the gnocchi I broil it. With so many people on paleo or keto diets, this one should satisfy that carb craving with very little carbs at all.

Cauliflower Gnocchi

Not boiled, like other gnocchis which can take a lot of time and mess, these are broiled to make a succulent cheesy bite; they are quite delicious and makes 4 dozen

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 6

Ingredients

  • 3 -12 Ounce Bags Riced Cauliflower Steamed
  • 2 Cups Shredded Cheese, mixed varieties You can use any type you want, I had on hand cheddar and swiss, the recipe called for mozarella
  • 1 Cup Parmesan Cheese, Shredded
  • 1/3 Cup Almond Flour, extra for rolling
  • Kosher Salt, to taste
  • 2 Eggs Lightly beaten

Instructions

  1. Steam riced cauliflower until tender, I used an instant pot on 3 minutes

    After steaming, dump out onto a clean dish towel and squeeze the moisture out
  2. Cool slightly, and dump on a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. This is important to do, so the gnocchi sticks together. Transfer squeezed cauliflower to a large bowl

  3. While the cauliflower is still hot, add 2 Cups of shredded cheese, eggs, almond flour, and  1 Cup of parmesan cheese. Season with salt and mix together with your hands.

  4. Form into four balls and refrigerate until firm on a cookie sheet, about 30 minutes

  5. Roll out each ball into a log abour 9" long and 1" wide on cutting board dusted with more almond flour 

  6. Slice with a sharp knife into 1" pieces and place on greased cookie sheets
  7. Brush with butter and bake for about 10 minutes. Finish up under the broiler for a minute until brown 

  8. Garnish with microgreens or other greens like spinach

Cauliflower gnocchi served with microgreens, avacado and a slab of tilapia makes a complete meal
Cauliflower gnocchi served with fresh spinach, avocado and a slab of tilapia makes a complete meal
Broccoli/Cauliflower Salad
Broccoli/Cauliflower Salad

Broccoli & Cauliflower Salad

A great potluck dish that is beautiful and simple to make. People will be licking the bowl!

Ingredients

  • 6-8 Cups Mixed colors, broccoli and cauliflower, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 1/3 Cup Red onion, minced
  • 1/2 Cup Dried Cranberries
  • 1/4 Cup Sunflower Seeds
  • 2 Cups Shredded Cheese
  • 3 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 1 Cup Mayonnaise Try Wasabi mayo for an added kick!
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Cut up all your broccoli and cauliflower in bite sized pieces

  2. In large bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, vinegar, and sugar and let sit for 15 minutes

  3. Add rest of ingredients and stir to coat.

Next thing I am going to try, is Cauliflower Fried Rice. Instead of using rice, you use riced cauliflower.

Plant Lust-Dove Tree

Dove tree in full bloom
Davidia involucrata, commonly called dove tree, is a tree that I have known about for twenty years, but rarely have seen in the U.S. On my travels through the UK,  I have seen many beautiful specimens and am inspired to plant my own. Now I am ready to get one, if I can find one.
Creamy white flowers flutter in the breeze
Creamy white flowers flutter in the breeze
Native to woodlands in central China, Dove tree is a deciduous tree that typically grows 20-40’ tall with a broad pyramidal habit. Flowering in May, the white fluttery flowers look like handkerchiefs (it is also known as the handkerchief tree or ghost tree), this treasure is sure to draw a lot of attention when it blooms.  Here are the facts from the Missouri Botanical Garden:
Common Name: Dove tree
Type: Tree
Family: Nyssaceae Native Range: Southwestern China
Zone: 6 to 8
Height: 20.00 to 40.00 feet
Spread: 20.00 to 40.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Red (flowers) and white (bracts)
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Shade Tree, Flowering Tree
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Good Fall
Fruit: Showy
Dove tree in full bloom
Dove tree in full bloom at Hidcote

Culture

Grown in organically rich, consistently moist, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade, Davidia can take 10 years to flower from seed, and it may not flower regularly after that. I am sure that is a factor that stops it being more widely used, but there are newer cultivars, namely at Broken Arrow Nursery, that bloom much sooner. Some have variegated foliage, so I am tempted to try one of these.

Flowers litter the ground when finished blooming
Flowers litter the ground when finished blooming

Red-anthered flowers in rounded clusters bloom in April-May. They really show off in a good wind and look exactly like fluttering handkerchiefs!  Look at this video I took at Miserden Gardens in the UK in May.

The creamy white  bracts flutter in the slightest breeze, and, from a distance, look like white doves sitting in the tree, hence the common name. Flowers are followed by round, golf ball-sized fruits on 2-3” hanging stems.

Golf ball sized fruits form on the tree
Golf ball sized fruits form on the tree

Fall color is variable ranging from dull to bright oranges and reds, depending on location. I wouldn’t depend on it for good fall color, as it is worth it alone for the spring flowering.

Dove tree in the landscape at Miserden Gardens in the UK
Dove tree in the landscape at Miserden Gardens in the UK

To complete this perfect little specimen tree, there are no serious insect or disease problems. I will keep you posted on whether I find a transplant of this tree in my travels.

Dove tree flower
Dove tree flower

 

The Great Backyard Bird Count 2019

The 22nd annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) started Friday, February 15, through Monday, February 18, 2019. Visit the official website at birdcount.org for more information or The Audubon Society but continue here for the event highlights:

I love feeding and observing what happens right outside my window
I love feeding and observing what happens right outside my window

A citizen science event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations, the GBBC is a great activity for kids and adults. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, balcony, or anywhere in the world. Sounds easy… and no stress? Just count your bird sightings for 15 minutes and you have contributed to the backyard bird statistics that scientist use for their research.

Falcon
Falcon

Citizen Science is trendy now for good reason. People feel empowered when they can contribute to the data base that scientists from all over the world can use in their studies of bird migrations. And what better research than backyard bird behaviors and numbers? This part of the natural world is very visible and of interest to many people.

Bird feeding in winter
Bird feeding in winter

Observe Birds that Visit Your Feeders

We are a nation of “bird feeders”! More than 52 million Americans feed wild birds or other wildlife around their homes according to The Bird Watching Daily.  Some statistics:  “Two-thirds are women, and nearly 60 percent were between the ages of 45 and 64. On average, participants had been feeding birds for 18 years”. Wanting to bring nature, therapy, education, and beauty to their backyard, many bird feeders are passionate about birds and spend big bucks on this multi-million industry. Suet, nectar feeding, bird feeders, houses, and baths can be added to this list along with the more mundane birdseed.

Red headed woodpecker in my bird feeder
Red Bellied Woodpecker in my bird feeder

Another important fact on The Bird Watching Daily: “Participation in the wild-bird-feeding hobby” they write, “may be an excellent catalyst for engagement in greater levels of outdoor recreation and greater stewardship of the natural world.” Amen! We need more outdoor appreciation and engagement of our natural world in this digital age. Go to my post on Extreme Weather Strategies for Feeding Birds. I include tips on winter feeding and recipes for suet.

You might be luck enough to spot a snowy owl!
You might be lucky enough to spot a snowy owl!

How to Count The Birds

  • Count birds anywhere you want. Inside observing your bird feeder, or outside on a hike or a park stroll for at least 15 minutes. Keep track of the numbers and species and the time length.
  • Make an estimate of how many birds you saw of each species. Flocks of birds are tough, but use your best guess.
  • Enter your list online at BirdCount.0rg, after first establishing an account. You can start recording your bird sightings at midnight local time on the first day of the count from anywhere in the world.
Turkey vultures are the ugly but necessary scavengers of the animal world
Turkey vultures are the ugly but necessary scavengers of the animal world
  • When you enter your information, you will see a list of birds that could be in your area in February. If the bird you see is unusual, there is a checklist of “rare species” that you can use. Compiled by local bird experts, bird lists should be comprehensive. But if you enter a species of an unusual bird, you get a message asking you to confirm the report and another check box will come up.
    Ducks count too!
    Ducks count too!

    All of these unusual sightings go to a volunteer in the area who reviews these reports and who might even contact you to get more details. Adding photos is especially important for unusual species.

Cardinal
Cardinal

Why?

Bird populations are always shifting and changing and in 2014, Snowy Owl sightings spiked in the northeast and mid-Atlantic, which were recorded on the GBBC. Like a bellwether, climate changes such as warming weather also shows up in these bird counts. More southerly birds are migrating further north, or birds are changing their routes, shortening or completely cancelling their journey as a result of changing temperatures.

Barn Owl
Barn Owl

Some birds, such as winter finches, appear in large numbers during some years but not other species. Scientists can learn from the different patterns exhibited from year to year.

Eastern Screech Owl
Eastern Screech Owl

An estimated 163,763 bird watchers from more than 130 countries participated in the GBBC in 2016, with the U.S. the top participant followed by Canada and India. To see the summary of results for 2016, go to GBBC Summary for 2016 and see the top sighted birds. Even if you can’t identify all your birds that you have observed, if you look at these lists and photos, you are sure to spot your birds. And if you participate, you are adding to the vast trove of data needed to study bird populations around the world.

Not seen in February in my state of Maryland, the ruby throated hummingbird could be seen in California
Not seen in February in my state of Maryland, the ruby-throated hummingbird could be seen in California at this time of year
I love observing and photographing Peacocks, but like chickens, they are a domesticated bird
I love observing and photographing Peacocks, but like chickens, they are a domesticated bird