Saturday, August 29, 2009

Summer Garden Visits

I love to visit gardens, especially herb gardens, during the summer. This year I stayed close to home and visited Elm Bank, home of the Horticultural Society of Massachusetts and the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

I love the design of the herb garden at Elm Bank but thought the garden itself looked a bit neglected. It is a beautiful design in a wheel with spokes pattern. Each "spoke" has a different theme such as the dye garden, fragrance garden, etc with herbs fitting the category. There was a good selection of herbs, just needed some tending.

One of the other things I love about Elm Bank is the trial garden. There is always a great variety of new plants to see. One I really liked as Achillea "Apricot Delight", a pretty little yarrow in delightful colors. There were also different varieties of Echinacea and a large selection of scented geraniums including a very fragrant Vanilla scented geranium I will have to go look for. Here is a picture of the achillea.

But I thought the most beautiful garden of the day at Elm Bank was the Childrens Garden. In full bloom with wonderful scents, textures and colors it was a joy to walk through with all kinds of little paths going through the garden and places to just sit and enjoy.

The New York Botanical Garden had a summer exhibit called the Edible Garden, including a culinary herb garden with plantings designed by Martha Stewart, which was the reason I went down there. It was well worth the trip. Sipping on some Martha Stewart herbal iced tea available at the cafe, I spent time in the small but beautifully designed and impeccably maintained herb garden. With beautiful formal boxwood knot gardens filled with sage and cardoon and amazing planters with scented geraniums, rosemary and hops it was a delight.

But along with the herb garden was a wonderful display of edible gardens in a community garden and all through the botanic garden. I particularly liked this display of lettuces as a border.

Of all the beauty in this garden, I think my favorite thing was the flowering lotus in the

courtyard of the conservatory. Having seen lotus flowering in China many years ago, I had forgotten its delicate beauty and the way it rises above the water with those large dramatic leaves.What a treat to see this.

August Garden Progress

Even though we have had a rather cold, rainy summer the new garden has been doing well overall. the tomatoes are still green but I have been overrun with cucumbers and zuchini and the garlic harvest this year was fantastic.
Some highlights...

The nasturiums that were planted around the center circle Hawthorn have been spectacular this month. This was a last minute idea, and I used unsold plants at the store so they are a mix of different kinds and colors. Some looked small and a bit forlorn, but as soon as they were in the ground they were amazing. As seen in the picture left, they have totally filled out the circle. Here are a few closeups of these beautiful, and tasty, flowers.

I used a climbing trellis for the cucumbers for the first time this year (from Gardeners Supply). It worked great, and it is so cool to see the cucumbers hanging off the back of it. It isn't quite tall enough as the cucumbers are vining back down it, off it, around it, anywhere and I think next year I'll get a second one and put them back to back in a teepee like structure. Here's the front and the back view:

I've made pickles, salads, given cucumbers away and they are still coming. Think another batch of pickles is on the agenda soon.

Surprisingly, the peppers did well in August. I had planted a yellow sweet pepper called Banana I think (I lost the tag) and they are so pretty.

And all the herbs have taken well and growing vigorously. The catnip is quite large, the mint was planted in containers and already overflowing them and the tarragon is ready for some tarragon vinegar. Parsley, lovage, oregano, thyme and basil are all quite full and I've been using them in cooking all month. It's time to start drying and freezing them and make some vinegars but I love to see them out in the garden and get rather sad about cutting them all back in anticipation of winter.

One of the special plants I put in this summer was a boneset plant I bought at the International Herb Symposium in June from Zach Woods Herb Farm, an organic herb farm in northern Vermont. Their plants are always wonderful and the boneset is in full bloom and done quite well for its first year. Boneset is a wonderful plant in the back of a garden where its height can really highlight other plantings. And I love to get a plant as a reminder of a special place I've been, it always gives it a special meaning. Medicinally, boneset is used for colds and flus and especially to break fevers by causing perspiration.

I also noticed in the garden this month a large number of butterflies. I'm not great at identification, but this one really loved the dahlias.

Well I guess that's it for now. As the season winds down, I'm starting some plantings of lettuce and spinach for the Fall and starting to think about plans for next year. I just hope those tomatoes ripen - anyone have any good ideas on what to do with lots of green tomatoes?

Harvesting the Hops

Three years ago I planted a small hops plant given to me by a friend at the corner of the store, hoping to train it across the porch railing. The first year it was rather slow growing and I wondered if it would make it. Last year it started growing vigorously and made it about halfway across the porch. Then this year it just took off. It almost made it to the end of the porch and I had a bine filled with beautiful hops.

No that's not a typo, it is a hops bine, not vine. Bines have stout stems with stiff hairs that aid them in climbing while vines use tendrils, suckers or other appendages to attach themselves. Hops are the female flower cones, also known as strobiles.

Hops are most generally known as a flavoring and stability agent used in making beer. Its antibacterial properties also help in beer making by helping the brewers yeast react over other bacterial organisms. Tom's of Maine uses hops in their dedodorant for its antibacterial properties. Hops are also used in a way similar to valerian, as a treatment for anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. A pillow filled with hops is a popular folk remedy for sleeplessness. Hops may be used alone, but more frequently they are combined with other herbs, such as valerian. The relaxing effect of hops is largely due to a specific chemical component, dimethylvinyl carbinol.

I use a dehydrator to dry my hops. Hops are very light and dry even lighter. I started with about 5 ounces of hops, which dried to about 2 ounces. Here's the process I followed:

I pick the hops when they are full, but not opened, and a vibrant green color. Here they are on the vine and just picked.

I don't wash the picked hops, I just brush them off and make sure there is no dirt (or any bugs!) and no brown spots. They are then placed on the dehydrator screens with enough space in between them for air circulation.
As they dry, they fill out a bit and become very light and airy. I try to dry them just until they are totally dry, but not overdried to keep the color and flavor. In my dehydrator, that is about 6 hours on the lowest temperature setting.

Here are the dried hops, you can see the difference...

Hops are a beautiful, hardy plant that go great across a trellis, along a fence, or anywhere that they can climb and have plenty of room. Add one to your garden!