Living Perfumes

Weaving Garden Fragrances

Many years ago, I wrote a book called Fragrance In Bloom, love child of my life-long fascination with floral scents. I was probably (ok, definitely) an odd kid, because I appreciated all kinds of aromas, not just roses and lilies. I loved sniffing plants and found those with complex odors as intriguing as those with straight up sweet ones. I’m still a scent hound, noticing the little shifts of smells at every turn on my daily walks. Right now, my neighborhood is rich with the mingled scents of fallen fruit and turning leaves. As I stroll around the block, the warm, light scent of ripening figs blends with late roses and the last of the summer phlox. The tumbling hearts of browning katsura leave have a milky, caramel perfume that’s echoed in the plump mahogany fruits of Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa), which smell and taste exactly like slightly scorched homemade butterscotch.

In my garden right now, as the strawberry foliage flames red, it releases the sugary scent of summer berries. As I weed between the pots and troughs, I could tell where I am even if blindfolded, since fennel and thyme, rosemary and sage release their distinctive odors even before I brush against them. That sense of place is a lot less challenging in this new tiny yard, where nothing is more than a few feet from anything else. Still, even in such tight quarters, it’s rewarding to arrange sequences of scent by partnering fragrant flowers and brisk foliage, whether buttery gardenias with spicy santolina or heady flowering tobacco with the warm bite of rosemary.

Listening With The Nose

For many of us, designing garden vignettes is all about contrasts of color, texture and form; those are indeed key principles, but adding in the fragrance factor makes any design more memorable. Some very charming gardens are made as much to be fragrant as beautiful; I’ve worked on such gardens for kids as well as for blind or color blind people. Creating symphonies of scent can be a sophisticated undertaking or as simple as edging a path with favorite herbs and flowers. Fragrance gardening is also a very fun way to get kids involved, especially of many of the scented things are edible (it’s definitely way more fun than weeding).

To help get kids started on a perfumed path of their own, I explain that people can learn to “listen” with their noses; that’s just weird enough to get their attention and we can go on to explore the garden with eyes almost closed, following the scent trails. Done at various times of day and night, our noses will lead us to some surprising sources of delicate or potent perfumes. On an early summer morning, we may be greeted by the intensely green smell of dew-spangled lawn, the mild fragrance of opening daylilies, the mellow scent of spearmint touched by trailing fingers. Midday brings out the powerful perfumes of roses and mignonette as well as the sharper odors of pungent santolina or aromatic lavender. Evening-scented stocks and tobaccos arrive with twilight and linger long into the night.

Living Into The Mystery

It shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that humans experience
smells in vastly different ways. Some people love the musty sweetness of privet, while for others it is an annoying allergen. The bitter, biting aroma of chrysanthemums or nasturtiums may be attractive to me, yet repellent to you. The smell of sweet violets might seem swooningly romantic or remind us of cheap perfume. Before making a fragrance garden, it’s vital to explore and chart your personal palette of pleasing smells. Clearly, the best way to go about this is to grow as many plants that are notably fragrant as possible, cherishing our favorites and eliminating those we find distasteful.

Unfortunately, merely cramming in a profusion of aromatic plants can create an overwhelming barrage of smells that can clash or cancel each other out. (Ask me how I know….) To find a fragrant mixture that makes us happy, we have to play around a little. One way to do this is to make small bouquets or tussie-mussies, layering the herbal with the floral, mixing and matching until you develop a clear sense of what floats your boat. Notice how various scents make you feel or what they spark in your memories: Generally speaking, gentle herbal scents encourage stressed bodies to relax. Bracingly aromatic odors invigorate dull moods. Certain perfumes unfailingly entice us to abandon ourselves to enjoyment, while others seem exhilarating or fascinatingly mysterious. Fragrance gardening is per force a deeply personal enterprise because you and your nose are unique.

Winter Wondering

Winter is a great time to get started with the exploration into fragrance mixing, since there is less competition from lush summer bloomers. Next time you’re at a garden center, take an extra moment to smell every plant that catches your attention. Bring home everything you enjoy (always a good idea) and play around with placement. Start partnering in twos and threes, noticing how a sweet scent is emphasized by a richer, or sharper, or more pungent one. This works indoors too, as anyone who gets fascinated by scented geraniums can attest. Just thinking about the many, many delightful plants that are waiting to meet and mingle makes me smile. Bees and other pollinators will also be overjoyed to share your pleasure in perfumed plants. Onward, right?


Posted in Garden Design, Gardening With Children, Hardy Herbs, Pollination Gardens, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Bread of Life

My Daily Bread

When times are tough, I bake bread. When grief and sorrow keep me awake, I get up and make bread. When outrage and fury send my blood pressure skywards, I make bread. Oh, and knit. But really, the act of making and baking bread, this most basic and noble of foods, is comforting both in the process and in the finished products. It’s also joyful, so when wonderful things are happening, bread is very apt to happen as well. The ancient mystery of water and flour, yeast domestic or wild, never fails to enchant us with its compelling fragrance and its deeply satisfying flavors.

Foolproof and delicious, this sturdy bread I offer below has evolved over the years and is now a family staple. I bake several times a week, keeping my extended family in sandwich loaves and cinnamon or savory rolls. Fresh, it makes great sandwiches and toast as well as French toast; stale, it’s wonderful in bread pudding and savory stuffings. It’s a very easy recipe and never fails as long as you use a timer for each step.

Playful and Imaginative

My grandkids love to play with the dough, forming dragon bread, bread people, cats, spooky ghosts and unicorns. I set them up with a rimmed baking sheet filled with heaps of flour, add blobs of dough and let them do whatever they like. The sensory play with dough and flour keeps them calm and happy for a surprisingly long time and though the dough needs very little working, it withstands an amazing amount of playful manipulation without getting tough. Like a wholesome, edible form of play dough, bread can be made into almost anything, nourishing both body and spirit. This always feels like natural magic at its best.

Daily Oatmeal Bread

Makes 2 loaves

Timing is important for consistency so I use a timer for each step. This all-purpose bread is excellent toasted and makes wonderful French toast as well as sandwiches, bread pudding, stuffing, etc.

Oatmeal Bread

1 cup old fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
2 tablespoons butter or avocado oil
2-3 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
2-1/4 teaspoons or 1 packet dry yeast
5-6 cups bread flour (more or less)
2 oiled or buttered bread pans

In a large bowl, combine oats, butter, molasses and salt with 2-1/2 cups boiling water. Cover bowl with a plate and let stand for 30 minutes. (If house is cool, place in oven with oven light on.) Stir well, sprinkle yeast on top and let stand for 15 minutes in warm place. Stir in 3-4 cups flour to make a soft dough, cover bowl and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. Divide dough in half and knead each piece, adding flour as needed to make a smooth ball (though it rises well even if you only knead for a minute, I usually knead 100 “turns” per loaf, taking about 2-3 minutes). Place in prepared loaf pans, slash tops 3 times and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, put loaves in and bake for 40 minutes. Internal temperature should be 180 degrees F or greater. Cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes before removing loaves from pans. Makes 2 loaves.

Tart Cherry Cinnamon Rolls

1 tablespoon avocado or vegetable oil
1 cup unbleached flour
1/2 batch oatmeal bread (see above)
2-3 tablespoons cinnamon sugar *
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup dried tart cherries (or raisons, currants, etc)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Lightly oil an 8-9 inch square glass baking pan, set aside. Sprinkle some flour on a rimmed baking sheet and pat out dough into a long snake, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Flatten the snake into a 3-4 inch wide strip and rub with remaining oil, leaving bottom half-inch un-oiled. Sprinkle on cinnamon sugar and brown sugar and rub lightly to incorporate oil. Dot on dried fruit and nuts if using and roll up, pressing gently to seal un-oiled section of dough to the top of the roll. Slice into 1-1/2 or 2-inch section and place, cut side down, in the oiled baking pan. Let rise for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and bake for 20-25 minutes (less if you like soft, puffy rolls, longer if you like them firmer). Makes 12-16 rolls. Freeze extras for up to three months and reheat before serving.

* Cinnamon Sugar

For plain cinnamon sugar, eliminate the other spices or add favorites of your own to taste.

Cinnamon Spice Sugar

1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon coriander (optional)
1/4 teaspoon cardamom (optional)

Combine in a jar, cover and shake well to blend. Store in a tightly sealed jar (I use little spice bottles with shaker-top inserts).

Garlic Butter & Cheese Rolls

There are many ways to make savory versions but this is one of our favorites. Vary by flavoring with a little smoked paprika, chili powder, an Italian herb blend, or minced fresh herbs. You can change up the garlic butter as well (see below) by adding fresh herbs, snipped chives, or minced sweet onions.

Savory Dinner Rolls

1 teaspoon avocado or vegetable oil
1 cup unbleached flour
1/2 batch oatmeal bread (see above)
3-4 tablespoons Garlic Butter **
1 cup grated hard cheese (Romano or Pecorino)

Lightly oil an 8-9 inch square glass baking pan, set aside. Sprinkle some flour on a rimmed baking sheet and pat out dough into a long snake, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Flatten the snake into a 3-4 inch wide strip and spread with softened garlic butter, leaving bottom half-inch un-buttered. Sprinkle on grated cheese and roll up dough, pressing gently to seal un-buttered section of dough to the top of the roll. Slice into 1-1/2 or 2-inch section and place, cut side down, in the oiled baking pan. Let rise for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and bake for 20-25 minutes (less if you like soft, puffy rolls, longer if you like them firmer). Makes 12-16 rolls. Freeze extras for up to three months and reheat before serving.

** Garlic Butter

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

In a shallow bowl, mash butter with a fork, then blend in garlic and salt. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Best Ever Bread Pudding

This is a family favorite breakfast, warm and fragrant with spiced sugar. We like to add a few chocolate chips but it’s also great with a bottom layer of raspberry jam.

4-6 cups stale oatmeal bread in 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 cup tiny chocolate chips (optional)
5-6 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
5-6 cups whole milk
1-2 teaspoons spiced sugar (see above)

Place cubed bread in an 8-9 inch square glass baking pan, sprinkle with chips if using, set aside. In a bowl, beat eggs until foamy. Add sugar and vanilla and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in milk and pour over bread cubes, pushing gently to coat them with the milk. Cover pan and refrigerate overnight. Bake at 350 degrees F for an hour or until well puffed and golden. Makes 6-8 servings.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Green Tomatoes Galore

Midnight Snack Cherry tomatoes still taste fabulous

Summer Garden’s Last Gasp

Though the autumn days continue mild here, the nights are getting nippy. My lovely lemon tree has happily taken to life in my bathroom, where the fruit continues to fatten. While choosing a plump yellow lemon for our tea, my three-year-old granddaughter said, “Granny, you even have a garden in your bathtub!” Why not? Being surrounded by plants, indoors and out, is definitely good for human beings. My cat also appreciates the indoor greenery and enjoys sitting in the midst of the plants that line the tub. All are non-toxic for cats, including a number of spider plants grown especially for kitty noshing.

Outside, the heat lovers finally gave up the ghost and the kiddos and I made our final harvest of peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes! After roasting several batches of red and/or green tomatoes, making green tomato chutney, and having fried green tomatoes for dinner, there were still enough for a couple more dishes. I decided to experiment with a pasta sauce and came up with something delicious that combines tangy-tart green tomatoes and meltingly rich caramelized onions. I used some butter, but if you prefer a vegan sauce, just use more oil and as always, adjust seasoning to your taste. The liquid can be whatever you prefer, including a splash of fruit vinegar diluted in water.

Pasta With Caramelized Onions & Green Tomatoes

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil
3 large yellow onions, halved and sliced
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup water, broth or dry white wine
6-8 cups chopped green tomatoes
1-2 teaspoons fresh chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon capers, drained
few grinds pepper
1/4 cup slivered green onions

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, combine butter and oil over medium heat. When butter melts (if using), add onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir to coat. Cook slowly over medium low heat for 45-60 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes until onions turn golden, then stirring every few minutes as they continue to brown. Add liquid of choice, green tomatoes, rosemary and capers, stir well and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover pan and simmer until tomatoes are tender while pasta of your choice cooks. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve over hot pasta, garnished with slivered green onions. Makes about 4 cups. Freeze or refrigerate leftovers for up to three days.

Just A Little Bacon-Or Not

This savory end-of-summer pie combines red and green tomatoes with leeks and mushrooms in an open-topped tart. We’ve been delighting in an amazing bounty of chanterelles this year, but portobellos or field mushrooms will also work nicely. A little bacon makes the filling extra rich but the mushrooms provide plenty of umami if you aren’t a bacon fan.

Bacon, Chantrelle & Tomato Tart

1 sheet puff pastry or pie crust
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
4 slices bacon, chopped
3 leeks, thinly sliced (white and palest parts only)
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
4 cups sliced chanterelles or any mushroom
2 cups thickly sliced red tomatoes
2 cups thinly sliced green tomatoes

Spread puff pastry or pie crust on a rimmed baking sheet and brush lightly with oil, set aside. In a heavy bottomed pan, cook bacon over medium heat until barely crisp, then remove to a plate. Add oil and leeks to the bacon pan over medium high heat. Sprinkle leeks with salt and cook for three minutes. Add mushrooms, sprinkle with salt stir to coat and cook, covered, until barely soft (5-7 minutes). Remove mixture to a shallow bowl to cool and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. When mushroom mixture is close to room temperature, spread over center of puff pastry or crust, leaving several inches bare all around the filling. Layer on the tomatoes, sprinkle with bacon bits, fold up edges of pastry or crust to partly cover filling and bake at 400 degrees F until puffed and golden (about 20 minutes for puff pastry, about 30 minutes for pie crust). Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serves about 6.

Autumn Chutney

1 teaspoon each mustard seed and cardamom seed
2 cups chopped green tomatoes
2 cups chopped apples (firm)
2 cups chopped pears (firm)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins or dried currants
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh, peeled ginger root
1 teaspoon each sea salt, cumin, coriander, ginger
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup brown sugar

In a dry frying pan, roast seeds over high heat for a minute or until mustard seeds pop (use a spatter screen to keep them from flying away). In a soup pot, combine everything else and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add seeds, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until fruit is translucent and sauce is thick (40-60 minutes). Pack into boiled canning jars and seal or refrigerate for up to 3 months. Let mellow for a week before using. Makes about 4 cups.


Posted in preserving food, Recipes, Tomatoes, Vegan Recipes | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Planting For Climate Change

Long blooming heat lovers thrive with few inputs

Looking South For New Ideas

I’ve been asked a lot lately about which plants might work best as our climate changes. Clearly, climate change is having enormous impacts on our forests as well as our gardens; firs, hemlocks and cedars are dying throughout the Northwest, as are bigleaf maples, salal, and sword ferns. As our iconic flora struggles, we gardeners are also struggling to understand how best to work with the changing landscape. So far, our foresters and scientists are leaning to drought as the biggest stressor for our noble natives. Stressed plants are always more susceptible to pests and diseases and our beloved woody plants are being attacked by a determined little army of enemies.

Accustomed to cool, damp conditions for much of the year, maritime Northwestern natives suffer when snowmelt and seasonal rains are scanty. Even in hotter, drier regions, increased heat and drought put natives and exotics at risk, especially as water prices rise and watering restrictions are put in place. Though my corner of the world didn’t heat up this summer, heat surely happened elsewhere. Soaring temperatures and altered rain distribution, sudden snow and hellacious hail are hard on gardens. What’s a gardener to do?

Seeking Southlanders

Answering that will take some thought and experimentation. As the worldwide weather shifts continue, many folks in the horticulture business are rethinking their plant palettes. Everyone, from growers to nursery retailers to garden designers, is looking for more adaptable plants. There’s a growing movement to find tougher replacements for old standards that no longer thrive where they were once were tried and true. Fortunately, skillful folks everywhere are experimenting with plants that historically do best a zone or two south. For instance, growers from Washington, Oregon and California are working to develop a broader palette of garden-worthy Oregon and California natives.

Like what? Like the lovely manzanitas (Arctostaphylos), a family of evergreen shrubs and small trees. Though manzanitas have rarely been successful garden plants in coastal Washington gardens, they’re now are enjoying new popularity up and down the coast. Once a hobby relegated to native plant hunters and native plant enthusiasts, these days, nursery buyers and garden designers alike are seeking out handsome, reliable evergreens that tolerate heat, drought, and winter cold. Like the lovely native madrones, many manzanitas have peeling, ruddy bark and leaves of shimmering blue-grey or deep or silvery green. The clustered, bell shaped flowers (usually pink or white) are highly attractive to native bees, and the subsequent fruit feeds critters galore, from birds to bears.

More Great Choices

Many perennials will thrive in difficult conditions, once well established. Most plants that like it hot are actually fairly thirsty until well established, including many native prairie perennials such as rudbeckias and echinaceas. Though summer rain is rare on most American prairies, prairie plants develop extremely deep root systems that help them survive high heat and dry soils. Sold as drought tolerant (which they are, eventually), they can die for lack of water for the first several years. Like Pacific Northwest natives, most dryland plants do much of their root building in winter. To encourage root production, offer slow, steady organic fertilizers such as compost mulches. To keep those roots on track, avoid using commercial fertilizers from late summer until mid spring.

Among my favorite heat lovers are the Agastaches, called anise hyssop (though related to neither). These long blooming perennials are excellent performers in hotter, drier climes, where they attract all sorts of bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators from midsummer well into autumn. Thriving in open, sandy soils, anise hyssops do far better in large containers than in heavy clay soils, especially if drainage is less than optimal. Among the sturdiest classic varieties are Blue Fortune, with spires of dreaming blue, and Purple Haze, which produces cloudy spikes in thunderhead shades. Many recent hybrids involve high desert species with warm apricot and deep orange tints, notably the Arizona series, in shades of terra cotta, peach, and gold, and the tawnier Summer series, including coppery Summer Sunset and gentle peach Summer Glow.

Great Performers With Stamina

Modern yarrow (Achillea) hybrids are both mannerly and long blooming and take heat and drought in stride. Architectural in form, these deserving newcomers include lemon-ice Moonshine, with grey-green foliage, an especially effective blender for blues and purples. Where pastels are preferred, Appleblossom blooms in gentle shades of pink, from baby ribbon to delicate rose. Spunkier Paprika runs from smoky to sparky shades of red, while Ortel’s Rose creates a complex run from cool lavender to vivid magenta-rose.

The spurge family (Euphorbia) is deer proof, hardy, and handsome, and includes many excellent garden plants as well as a few rogues. I’m a sucker for wood spurges like Euphorbia amygdaloides Ruby Glow, a smoldering beauty with dusky purple foliage set aflame by ember red new growth. It grows happily in shade or sun and seeds itself about in a mild sort of way, never a pest since the plants are fairly short lived. Sculptural E. characias is a noble creature with many fabulous variations, such as Black Pearl, with tall stalks of green blossoms with snapping black eyes. Glacier Blue offer frosty foliage in silver and blue, while Silver Swan is even cooler in soft jade trimmed in ice. E. x martinii Ascot Rainbow makes a delectable, almost shrublike two-foot mound with foliage like frozen fireworks in delicate rainbow shades. Onward!


Posted in Care & Feeding, Climate Change, Easy Care Perennials, Native Plants, Pollination Gardens, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , | Leave a comment