Crazy For Love
Winter’s still lurking but spring is definitely in the air and pretty much every gardener I know is obsessively poring over plant catalogs and making extremely ambitious seed lists. Even I, renting and sharing a very small garden, can’t help but make a few notes. As page follows page of notable and must-have offerings, it starts to become all too clear that some editing needs to occur. As we all know, list pruning is not an easy task. Because who can resist, for example, the idea of draping a smoldering purple passionflower, Passiflora ‘Aphrodite’s Purple Nightie’, over a fence or up a trellis? It’s a vigorous climber, making up to 12 feet of growth in a season, a tender perennial in most of the maritime Northwest, but who knows? With a mild winter, we might get lucky…
I’m also fascinated by ‘Haskap Taka’ and ‘Haskap Pirika’, some of the recently introduced forms of shrubby honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea) that were patiently hybridized over 35 years by Maxine Thompson of Oregon State University. She spent those long years gradually adjusting the dormancy and pollinating periods of these tasty berry plants so West Coast gardeners can grow them. The best selected forms of Haskap taste like a combination of raspberries and wild blueberries, the sweetness balanced by an enticing, fruity tartness. (The worst ones supposedly suggest dirty socks.) Haskap is the traditional Japanese name for this circumpolar honeysuckle, which has been extensively bred for fruiting in Siberia and other extreme northern climates. The fruit look like stretched out blueberries (or ripe fuchsia berries) and start to ripen just before the earliest strawberries. For best fruiting, they need pollinator pals so plant a few fairly close together. Good thing I have a finger in so many other people’s gardens!
Non Stop Sunflowers
A bright light among the newer annuals, the Sunfinity sunflowers are incredibly productive. The compact plants are multi-branching, each stem bearing several blooms that keep on coming all summer and deep into fall. At times, these crazy cool bloomers can bear as many as a hundred blossoms at once, all eagerly visited by bees and other pollinators. The clean yellow flowers are not huge and are airy rather than hefty, lasting long enough to make desirable cut flowers. These bountiful beauties are great for smaller gardens, where a couple of plants can provide color for a whole season, and absolutely knock-out in larger swathes, which sill be alive with busy bees and fluttering butterflies for extra interest.
I’m a fool for zinnias, too, from the stalwart, strapping belles of the classic State Fair Mix to the frilled, delectable confections found in the Cupcake series. While I admire the chartreuse buttons of Zinnia Envy, I can’t stop looking at pictures of ‘Queeny Lime Orange’, with layer after layer of petals that shade from the lime green throat to peach and coral and tangerine. If it’s cuts you’re after (florists take note), the Zinnia Yoga series is definitely amazing, with densely doubled blooms on long, strong stems on plants that can stretch to 3 feet. I also love the shaggy Cactus zinnias with their long, slender petals on ruffled, multi-layered flowers in desert sunset colors. Yes but all of them? Oh, why not!
Last summer I got to try out a new sauce tomato called ‘Saucy Lady’, a cuore di bue type that “melts” into robust sauces when cooked, skins and all. The flavor is just about perfect for a sauce tomato; full bodied and rich with just enough tartness to keep it tasting lively even when cooked and canned. A rather amazing tomato called ‘Get Stuffed!’ has no guts; the stippled red-and-tawny-gold skin covers a sturdy, cup-shaped container for your favorite stuffing mixtures. Slice the top off, fill ‘em up with what have you and bake them until bubbly, or stuff them with salad (pasta or chickpea) for a very pretty brunch dish. As an ardent gardener with very little space these days, I’m especially intrigued by a new category of tomato, the 3-4 foot dwarf indeterminates. Any of this new Super Dwarf series will thrive even in large containers and as we saw last year, they really do continue fruiting well into autumn.
The Grey Lady Of Shallot
A few years ago, an American specialty garlic company, Garlicana, imported what the French call “true shallots”, not the usual Allium cepa but A. oschaninii. Unlike nearly all other kinds of shallots, the French Greys won’t bolt when cold stressed and the ripening seedheads can produce little heads of cloves as multiplying onions do. They are not the longest of keepers, but bulbs dug in July or August will last into the winter holidays if carefully stored. they will definitely enliven winter meals
The flavor is remarkable, making these uncommon shallots highly valued by chefs and fine food fans. The thick skin is hard to clean and can be challenging to peel, but if you slice the pinky-purple fleshed cloves lengthwise, the tough beige skins pop off freely. Saute thin slices or rings in a little oil as the base of a subtle sauce, or let them caramelize in butter until crisp for a memorable garnish for soup or pasta. Freshly harvested cloves have a bright, brisk flavor that accents salads and raw dishes. As the cloves mature, their increasingly bold flavor is enhanced by gentle heat, a mild olive or avocado oil, and a little sea salt.
Sigh. Room! I need more garden room!