One Potato, Two Potatoes

A few weeks ago mister gardener harvested masses of potatoes from his garden. He doesn’t have to think garden spudstwice about when to dig. He just knows. Out the door he goes each September with two empty bushel baskets and a pitch fork and back he comes several hours later with mountains of spuds, Red Potomac, Yukon Gold and Russet, ready to store in a dark, cool corner of the garage for the winter.

I know that our menus will undergo the annual change from more rice in the summer to more potatoes in the cooler months. You see, mister gardener is not only the official Grower of the Family Vegetables, he is also the Chef de Cuisine.  Like Forest Gump and shrimp, mister cook will spend the winter creating different approaches to preparing this versatile tuber from the soil.  His potatoes will be baked, boiled and sauteed; they’ll be mashed, steamed and french-fried; he will roast them, make potato salad and arrange them in casseroles like scalloped potatoes or au gratin potatoes, all of which I love.

Each day mister cook puts much thought and preparation into his meals but his culinary mastery is most obvious when one tastes his soups. Not only does he grow his own vegetables, he prepares his own stock, he grinds his own meat and he makes his own noodles. Of all his soups, my favorite is his corn chowder made with garden fresh Yukon potatoes.corn chowder The recipe follows:

Corn Chowder with Yukon Potatoes

serves 6

4 strips bacon (can leave out if vegetarian), cooked and crumbled
1 yellow onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 T. butter
2 T. all-purpose flour
2 c. chicken stock
2 c. 2% milk
4 cobs corn, kernels removed
2 t. chopped fresh thyme
2 Yukon potatoes, peeled and diced
salt, pepper, paprika, parsley

Cook bacon over medium heat until crispy, then remove from pan, leaving fat.  Add the onion, celery and carrot and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add red pepper and cook a few minutes more.  Remove from pan.

Melt butter in the same pan over low heat.  Add flour and stir for a few minutes until it takes on a nutty aroma but does not color.  Gradually whisk in chicken stock and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in milk and turn up heat to medium.  Add crumbled bacon, sauteed veggies, corn and thyme.  Add diced potatoes and simmer for about 20  minutes or until potatoes are cooked through.  Taste, season and serve.  Sprinkle with paprika and chopped parsley for color if desired.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Virginia

There’s a Leopard in my Garden!

Leopard LilySometimes I look around my garden and think I must be running an animal preserve.  I see hens and chicks, elephant ears, turtleheads, oxeye daisies, chickweed, lamb’s ear, and the most fearsome animal but loveliest flower of all, the leopard lily, an aggressive animal in the jungle but gentle flower in the garden.  It’s not a lily at all but a member of the iris family.  I have read that it is invasive, that it has established itself in pastures and ditches, that self seeding causes it to sprout everywhere, but in my garden it is a leopard that purrs and behaves itself.  Though not a color I sought for the garden, each deep orange bloom with red spots is heavenly in the heat of the summer and the 6-petaled flowers in clusters of orchid-like blooms are irresistible.  No one can pass by without admiring them.

Flowers appear in mid-summer in sprays that grow on delicate stems that rise above the dried bloomiris-like foliage to a height of three feet.  Each bloom lasts barely one day but is soon followed by new blooms that shine during the heat of the summer months.  After a day, each bloom dries into a tight spiral that is as delectable as the full blooms themselves.  We are rewarded again several weeks later blackberry lily seedsduring fall when the seed pods split open to reveal a cluster of lustrous black seeds looking like giant blackberries, hence the other name for this plant, the blackberry lily.  I have found these can be cut and dried and used successfully in flower arranging.

Interestingly, in the book, Jefferson’s Garden, I read that Thomas Jefferson planted the seeds of this tropical-looking plant in his oval garden in 1807 and today it still self-sows on the property.  Somehow I feel a little bit of fulfillment sowing the same seeds and growing the same perennials enjoyed by fellow Virginia gardener, Thomas Jefferson. All three stages of flower development are simply fabulous and I recommend this plant for Virginia gardens and gardeners.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Argiope, The Beautiful Garden Spider

Like many youngsters, I had a huge fear of spiders as a child, but through the years I’ve gotten braver and learned to appreciate spiders and the benefits of having them in the garden.  I still scream if I run into a web but the neighbors no longer dash to my aid. They all know I simply had another close encounter with a spider.

September and October are the perfect months to discover more about the intriguing world of spiders and webs in our gardens.  Step outside in the early morning while dew still covers the Argiope waiting for her mealgrass and be introduced to a silken wonderland of glistening webs festooning the grass, bushes, and trees in a variety of designs from tunnels to chaotic masses, to long threads connecting shrubs and trees, and to the ones that amaze me the most–the giant orb webs.

The spider that spins these magnificent orbs, Argiope aurantia, is said to spin the strongest web in the spider world.  The highly visible female is the largest and most colorful spider in our Tidewater gardens. Her web spirals out from the center and can be 2 feet across with a telltale zigzag line in the center called a stabilimenta, the purpose of which is not completely understood.

The large yellow and black Argiope, aka Writing Spider, hangs head down in the center of her web.  Although fierce looking, she is benign.  If disturbed, she will either drop from her web to escape or she may vibrate her nest vigorously to intimidate, but she poses no threat.   A bite is rare, but should it happen, the reaction will be mild. The best thing for us to do is to leave her alone since she is fast approaching the end of her life cycle.

We fed one argiope moths a few summers ago and she was able to produce 3 egg sacs.

Egg Sacs

At this time of year she will  produce her eggs.  Her abdomen will swell before producing usually one, but up to three, egg sacs containing from 300 to over a thousand young in each, and her life  will end with the first frost. Her babies hatch inside the sac, where they also overwinter  before emerging in the spring looking like miniatures of their parents.

I have witnessed the emergence of the miniature spiders in the spring and it is reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web.  Off they scurry in every direction to begin their own summer journey of life.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

My Garden BFF

I consider every plant in my garden a good friend.  A  select few have become my pets, but I must admit that a particular plant species will always remain my BFF.

Among the most popular plants in my spring garden are the numerous viburnums.  All summer, I hang out with my good friends, the colorful hydrangea; in the fall, I keep company with my ornamental grasses with their showy seed heads; and in colder months, both the birds and I love the Foster Hollies.  These are among my preferred seasonal plants in the garden and each year they vie hard with worthy competitors for my attention.

However, my Best Friend Forever in the garden is an all-season evergreen found bordering my promenade to the garden Poet's Laurelshed. It is the Poet’s Laurel, Danae Racemosa, graceful, arching, elegant and equally as beautiful in the winter as it is in summer. The original plant, started from my mother’s mature hedge that lined her driveway, is now one of ten that line our grassy pathway in the dappled shade of loblollies.

This plant may resemble a shrub but it is an evergreen perennial related to asparagus. Soft bright green shoots develop underground and emerge in spring looking remarkably like asparagus, then gracefully arch to the ground as they mature by summertime.  The shoots are not woody and live only two to three years and are then cut back to the ground.  Marble size orange-red berries in the fall are quite attractive and especially loved by our resident mockingbirds.

What looks like leaves are actually green, glossy modified stems or cladodes that store water during dry weather and capture light as a leaf would.  At the base of the cladodes are the tiny, inconspicuous leaves. Prized by flower arrangers for the long lasting tough green stems, it can be cut brought inside in any season.  Propagation by division with a shovel in the fall or early spring is the best method, and one that my mother used for all of her incredible 4 1/2′ x 4 1/2′ plants.  Poet’s Laurel also spreads very slowly by rhizomes and very slowly by seed.

This wonderful plant is the mainstay of the winter garden and is equally as interesting in the summertime, a must for a Virginia shade garden. And although I have quite enough, if I see one at a nursery, it cries out to me.  I have purchased two at Smithfield Gardens, a very well stocked garden center in Suffolk. To see what’s in stock this fall, click here.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Historic Garden Week: Behind the scenes in Gloucester Gardens

Brent and Becky's hybridizing fields Brent and Becky’s Bulbs was named by The Wall Street Journal as the number one bulb company, but for the citizens of Gloucester, Brent and Becky have always been number one in many ways.  They are incredibly knowledgeable and their generosity is legend, both in Brent’s native Gloucester and far beyond Gloucester to cities and communities across the country.

The Garden Club of Gloucester relies on Brent and Becky for advice for Historic Garden Week bulb plantings.  With their recommendations, we turn our gardens into a sea of colorful daffodils. Gardeners and landscapers look to them for guidance and for the best bulbs available today.  It all makes sense when you know Brent and Becky consider themselves educators first, gardeners second and bulb-sellers third.

Ware Neck landscaper, Sue Perrin, has her own list of personal favorites from Brent and Becky’s Spring/Fall catalog.  For homeowners on the Historic Garden Tour or bulb lovers statewide, she has listed the bulb name, catalog page number and the reasons behind her choices.

Sue:  “The following are my favorites. They have multiplied and remained strong performers in my garden. I tend to like the miniature and mid-sized bulbs for flower beds. I like to see the large sized ones grouped in the landscape away from the house, at the edge of the woods where the maturing foliage gets at least 4 hours of direct sunlight a day and some dappled light after that. In such an area you can let weeds/grass grow along with maturing foliage and not be bothered with the ‘mess.’ Too often I have seen daffodils planted in too much shade and they decline with time even though they are fertilized. Apply fertilizer in October after the first year. I use “Potato Fertilizer” from Southern States Cooperative. It is their own 3-9-18 and has quintupled in price in the past 2 years. It comes in 40 lb. bags, so you would not be able to use it until you had a large bed but it is still quite a bit cheaper than BulbTone. For just a few daffodils, use BulbTone or whatever Brent and Becky have in their shop. They are making their own brand and it will be excellent.”

* Will bloom for Garden Tour the last week in April.  Brent suggests planting them in late Nov. or early Dec. to make them bloom late.

Miniature and mid-sized Daffodils:

Baby Moon*   p. 29, qty: 20, late bloomer, adorable.

Hawera    p. 31, qty: 20, mid-late, multiplies like crazy.

Jonquilla var. henriquesii   p. 31  20, Golden gold, showy, likes to bake in the summer sun by a walk of rock.

Golden Bells  p.31, qty: 20, teeny tiny but showy.

Minnow p. 32, qty: 20, 5 or more tiny yellow and white flowers per stem, delightful.

Sun Disc* p. 33, qty: 50, reliable, late.

Sweetness p.25, qty: 20, So fragrant, a must.

Golden Echo (!!!) p. 24, qty: 20, Brent and Becky’s own hybrid, great substance, mid-sized, long-blooming, top of my list.

Jetfire p. 22, qty: 20, early (Feb.), reliable.

Ice Wings p. 21, qty: 10, nodding, white, 3 per stem.

Large favorites:

Bravoure  p. 10, Greatest substance, gorgeous.

Pink Silk  p. 11,  I won best-in-show, plus it multiplies like a rabbit.

Lorikeet  p. 11, Unusual color combination, stunning.

Audubon  p. 12, Great substance, reliable.

Ceylon p. 13, One of Brent’s favorites.

Pink Charm  p. 15, Reliable pink and white, lovely.

Stainless* p. 16, Pure white, late.

Other favorite bulbs for here and there:

Hyacinthoides hispanica ‘Excelsior’*  p. 71,  qty: 100, voles like these so protection, old-fashioned, can seed around in time, likes the woodland setting.

Ipheion uniflorum ‘Rolf Fiedler’  p. 74, qty: 50, Grows in the grass, sweet.

Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’* p. 76,  qttL 50, underrated, white, long blooming.

Muscari armeniacum p. 78, qty: 100 (a must !), electric blue complements all other bulbs, esp. daffodils.

Galanthus elwesii  p. 8,  qty: 20 (plant now!), snowdrops are earliest, can take some shade, like a moist but not boggy area. Almost all bulbs require good drainage.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Red Velvet Ant Stops in for Lunch

I stumbled upon my second Red Velvet Ant/Cow Killer of the summer. Recent storms dislodged a hummingbird feeder and the spilled sugar-water fanned out across a wide area.  In the middle of the pattern of nectar were tachinind flies, yellow jackets, a multitude of ants and one solitary Red Velvet Ant.sticky cow killer

Thinking she would quickly scurry away, mister gardener rushed my camera to me.  But we were mistaken.  This gal wasn’t going anywhere.  She was covered in the sticky sugary solution with bits of sand and debris stuck everywhere to her body, a comical sight. When I moved, she would dash under a leaf but she emerged seconds later and continued to wade into the pools of nectar, consuming as she strolled.  If I leaned too close, she would tilt her head sideways to look at me and raise her abdomen in a threatening way.  Around and around she circled, avoiding other insects as she gorged on puddles of hummingbird nectar, occasionally stopping to clean her antennae.

a sticky red velvet ant eyes the camera

A Virginia Tech entomologist recently answered my questions about the insect. After a previous post about the Red Velvet Ant in our Virginia gardens, comments came from Delaware to Georgia, Tennessee and Maryland questioning the increased presence of this wasp.  My 2-part question to the entomologist:  “Why are there more sightings of the Red Velvet Ant/Cow Killer wasp and are they common in northern states, like Delaware?”  His two word answer: “Global Warming.”  He added that the Red Velvet Ant is a tropical insect and more common to Texas.  In recent years, we have not experienced the long hard winter freezes that would kill the insect so their territories are expanding. On BugGuide.net, sightings has been reported as far north as Rhode Island and New Jersey and west to Illinois and Nebraska.

But I have seen more ground wasps, too.  It’s possible that our female is simply following her offsprings’ food source, the ground nesting cicada wasp whose painful sting I have experienced.  Without the solitary Red Velvet Ant, perhaps we would have an overabundance of those other stinging insects. I’d like to believe she is helping to balance the wasp and bee population and I’ll allow her to go on her way.

Check out the first Red Velvet Ant I saw.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Change is in the Air

A mist hangs over GloucesterChange is in the air and my thoughts are turning to autumn. Can you feel it? The first signs seem to wait until after Labor Day to allow us our last hurrah with family and friends. Then we feel the seasonal transition. On Wednesday and Thursday, a coastal storm brought a deluge of rain and high winds to Tidewater Virginia and with the storm came brisk temperatures.

Wearing a sweater, I had my coffee on the porch where temperatures hovered around 60 degrees Thursday morning. The sky was dark and overcast and water dripped from the trees and raced through the downspouts. I could count only 8 young hummingbirds this morning dancing from feeder to feeder as the bottles swung to and fro with the wind.  That tells me that thirty plus hummingbirds have begun their journey south. Their internal clocks are set. Now we will begin to see more varieties birds migrating through on their way to warmer temperatures and we will soon welcome the arrival of those birds that spend the winter with us.  Our days are becoming darker earlier and trees are beginning to show the first signs of color and leaves are already falling from the trees.

Early autumn in the garden is a wonderful time.  Before any thoughts of pumpkins, Thanksgiving or frost, gardeners can take pleasure in end-of-season chores out of doors.  We welcome a reprieve from the heat, biting insects, weeds and heavy watering. The humidity improves, the air feels fresh and gardeners spend time taking stock of their gardens, cleaning up, dividing, planting and transplanting old plants and welcoming new friends to the garden.  Mister gardener will be busy cleaning up his summer vegetable garden and will restart the vegetable garden with fall crops.

For some, the first day of autumn is considered to be September 22, the Autumnal Equinox, but for me, my need for a sweater, especially during the evening, tells me when a seasonal change is in the air.  Even though we may have an Indian Summer or Second Summer, the first signs of fall have surely arrived.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Historic Garden Week: Behind the scenes in Gloucester VA gardens.

Some of Virginia’s best gardeners are busy right now preparing their private gardens for the Annual Historic Garden Week tour in April.  Visitors are invited to explore not only the interior of elegant homes across the state, they will be able to leisurely stroll through resplendent outdoor spaces at each site.

A major fund-raiser for the Garden Club of Virginia, Historic Garden Week began in 1929 and has raised over $15 million to restore historic Virginia landscapes and gardens that are regularly open to the public.  If you wonder what gardens have been restored, just think of the historic properties of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Henry, Mason, Lee and Wilson, to name a few.  Many Virginians and visitors from afar have paid visits to these and many other of the 40-plus GCV-restored historic gardens in Virginia.

For the gardens on tour, you might think that homeowners simply need to tidy up their gardens in March or April, weed a bit and make sure grass is mowed and borders are edged when the garden gate opens for visitors.  But this is far from reality.  Now is a time of garden preparation, of upgrades, adding and transplanting, pruning, extending gardens walled kitchen garden - 2010 tourand lots of planting.  A flurry of activity will go on until the first visitor arrives.  Each homeowners wants visitors to feast their eyes on picture a perfect garden setting, one that educates as well as provides magic to inspire the over 30,000 visitors across the state.

Gardens are a big part of the tour in Gloucester. Plans are being fine-tuned by both homeowners and tour chairmen. Wonderful individual landscapes will be open, both educational and distinct in design.River terrace -2010 tour

I know gardens across the state will be enjoyed by many.  Make sure the gardens in Gloucester are on your list.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester