Monthly Archives: February 2012

Gathering Thyme

Thyme has quickly become a favorite herb – pair it with mushrooms, lemon and sherry and it is just yummy.

Every spring, when the first potted herbs show up in stores – usually before it is practical to plant them in the ground – I grab half a dozen assorted herbs to put in a pot on the deck outside my kitchen. Thyme is always one of the selection – sometimes more as there are variegated and scented varieties too.

Thyme is easy to go, disease resistant and perennial in zones 2-10; planted in well-drained soil and offered full sun, thyme is an attractive addition to pots or the garden. There are two types – shrubby or creeping. Shrubby is more fragrant and is perfect as an edge plant in a formal herb garden. Creeping thyme spreads easily and can be used to trail over a container’s lip. Brushing against a plant will release its scent. Avoid soggy soil and over-watering to prevent root rot.

Slice 10 oz white button mushrooms. Melt 1 T unsalted butter with 1 T extra virgin olive oil over medium heat in a 10″ saute pan. Add mushrooms to pan with 1 clove garlic, minced; season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Saute until softened. Deglaze pan with 1/4 c cooking sherry. Season with zest of half a lemon and leaves of 3-5 sprigs of thyme. Serve with hamburgers or steaks.


Garden Planning

Another gardening blog I occasionally follow had a post from its fictional garden fairies about the author’s tardiness in ordering seeds for this spring. It got me thinking it is mid-February and I will need to sow my indoor-started seeds in about 4-5 weeks and that I might, AGAIN!, be too late for a few flowers that I fail to start every year for the same reason – slow planning.

The first thing I really need to do is take an inventory of the seeds I have saved and toss any that are too old. Then, I can build an order. Simple, right? No, that is the “not fun” part – I prefer to peruse garden catalogs and dream, and that takes time and is not organized (or disciplined).

So, I can dream for two more nights, then I must do that inventory, tossing and ordering. The ordering part is fun – its shopping. And, done on-line, I’ll then get a present a few days later. So, onward!


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Fennel is one of my new favorites as an ingredient although I have grown it on and off for years. It is very attractive in the border as well. Divided into two types:  Florence Fennel, or Finocchio in Italian, forms a bulb-like base that is crunchy when eaten raw or sautes nicely to a tenderness similar to onion while retaining a slight crispness too. Its flavor is similar to anise or liquorice, but in a much subtler way.

Common Fennel is an ornamental that can be grown as a perennial in zones 6-10; Florence fennel is either an annual sown in the spring or a biennial if sown in the fall. Blanching it with piled up soil around the bulb keeps that part white from lack of sunlight.

Butterflies especially love the flowers, so watch for the green, yellow and black larvae of Swallowtail Butterflies – they may eat foliage but shouldn’t cause real danger. They can be handpicked and moved to another area to mature.

Combine 1/2 c raisins and 1/2 c orange juice – soak 30 minutes. Melt 2 T butter in a saute pan and cook 1/2 thinly sliced red onion until soft but not browned. Add 1 cored, thinly sliced fennel bulb and cook another 5 minutes. Add 1 T butter and the raisin-orange juice mix to the pan. Add 1 t sugar and season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve warm alongside pork.

The French Country Garden by Louisa Jones

In a previous post, I gushed on about my turning point in gardening – a ski trip to Italy.  I know, I know. It was January and we saw no gardens… But on the bus trip from Milan to Bormio, my jet-lagged self struggled to stay awake so I would miss nothing of the views. Lake Como is probably the prettiest place I have ever been and that is something for me to say since I also adore Jackson Hole, Lake Tahoe, and the Canadian Rookies. And, that is before I think of places with beaches…

Despite being tired, I was mesmerized by the tiered gardens that clung to the mountain sides. Bormio is in the high northern edge of Italy just below Switzerland – we are talking serious Alps. I am not usually afraid of heights, but skiing here literally gave me vertigo – like if I were to fall, I would not stop soon.

So, how in the world did a gardener conquer this steppes – by cutting stepped tiers into their side to create level rows running perpendicular to the mountains’ slope. I was fascinated!

I had yet to read “Under A Tuscan Sun”, but I knew I wanted to grow everything I had eaten: arugula, heirloom tomatoes, basil and so much more. I was entranced – a  foodie was born!

Upon returning home, mid-February found me hunting down instruction on how to have, if not exactly an Italian, at least a European-inspired garden. Having already been to England years before, I was also trying to read  Gertrude Jekyll’s and Vita Sackville-West’s originals (difficult).

So, how did I happen upon a book by Louisa Jones? Titled “The Art of French Vegetable Garden” wasn’t the thing – it was the photography. But , this book changed my world, gardening-wise. I still turn to it each winter to get through a grey period.

Leap forward to Tuesday:  I drop by a new local library to grab a stack of gardening books. This is an old habit – I will take home anywhere from 5-20 books to peruse through March. In the pile was “The French Country Garden” – I didn’t make note of the author, but I figured I would enjoy it for the pix alone, if nothing else. Guess who wrote it? Louisa! I have been fooled before into thinking a particular author sounded like her only to check names and be wrong, and disappointed.

So, what is so special? The photography of course, but the lessons on garden design! Experience can teach me what plants will do what when but american vegetable growing is about production and not necessarily beauty. I am happy to have a few less tomatoes if I can have sunflowers too. The look and feel – the inspiration – of my garden is just as, if not more, important. I am feeding my soul not just my family.


While we are now expecting a Winter Weather Advisory for tomorrow afternoon and over night, I am expecting that my asparagus roots will be sprouting earlier that usual this year. I will need to get out to Big Garden and prepare the bed as soon as it dries out a little.

Here is what I do for them:

  1. Last fall, I cut back the overgrown fronds so I don’t have to use the Sevin to prevent asparagus beetles from overwintering – BG is striving to be totally organic, so pesticides are no longer used
  2. Weed anything that has gotten into the bed – I should have mulched with chopped leaves last fall too…
  3. Sprinkle Osmocote slow release fertilizer and Preen Organic
  4. Chopped leaves for mulch

Now, this is all I do. I’ll harvest little spears for about 6 weeks and then let them go to seed to feed the roots over the summer. These fronds make excellent filler in cutting garden bouquets.

One caveat:  when you first plant those roots, know that asparagus are perennial in Zones 2-9 but need three years’ of un-harvested growth to fully develop. After that, you will have asparagus that can not be matched by anything in the grocery stores.

Clean and trim tough stalks by snapping each spear in half – it will break at just the right spot automatically. Slice diagonally into 3/4″ segments and discard the tiniest scrap of the broken end to keep the appearance crisp. Film a wok with extra-virgin olive oil; over medium heat, swish 1-2 smashed garlic cloves just to season oil and discard before browning. Turn up heat slightly and toss asparagus for 2-3 minutes. Add black sesame seeds and a splash of soy sauce. Serve immediately.


Rosemary Plants

Rosemary is the perfect plant for xeriscape landscapes as its water needs are minimal.  Consider it an evergreen shrub that prefers a friable soil that drains quickly – similar to its Mediterranean origin. Soil leaning toward alkalinity and of average fertility suit it best. Overfeeding and overwatering are to be avoided. Root rot, the result of too much water, may make it turn yellow and wilt – add fine gravel, sand, perlite, or compost to the soil mix.

As a perennial in Zones 7-10, it will not overwinter in Cincinnati’s Zone 6, so I grow it in pots to bring in each fall. It does prefer full sun which is usually defined as 8 hours sunlight per day so, inside, it needs to be in a bright spot. Finally, on indoor plants, keep an eye out for mealybugs – white insects that look like fluffy cottons tufts clinging to the stems. Pick them off with a cotton swap dipped in alcohol.


Rosemary Marinated Grilled Steak

Stir 3 coarsely chopped garlic cloves, 3 T coarsely chopped fresh rosemary,   1/4 c plus 2 T Worcestershire sauce, and 2 T extra-virgin olive oil in a non-reactive dish, season with freshly ground pepper. Place (1-3/4 lbs) skirt steak in a dish and marinate at least 30 minutes or overnight. Grill steak, turning once, to desired doneness, 3-4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Remove from grill, cover with foil and let rest 5 minutes. Thinly slice against grain and serve, garnished with fresh rosemary sprigs.

Mother Nature

As I have written about before, Cincinnati is having an unusually mild winter. After 2011 setting records for rainiest year on record, rainiest April on record and on and on, winter is also setting records for the least snow. While it has been nice, and certainly the city/state budgets are happier without the salt expense, I am missing a good snow fall.

I’d like to report that this is all about to change. But, in truth, tomorrow’s forecast for 1/2″-1″ accumulation isn’t likely to make a lasting impact, if we get the snow at all.

Some of you may be concerned about the tree and shrubs that are starting to bud or the crocuses that were blooming just yesterday, or even the daffodils that are 3″ above ground already. What will become of them with a cold snap?

Fear not – Nature can take care of herself. If those little flowers do take a hit, the small shoots may die back but they will bounce back when warmweather returns.

If you pulled back mulch to see what is happening, pull it back but there is no need to add more.

If there is a special plant you are concerned about (if you see buds on a Japanese Maple, for instance), you can cover it with a sheet or towel. Just make sure to remove it as soon as the sun is out to avoid creating a greenhouse. And, don’t ever use plastic!

Also, remember, snow has an insulating effect, so if we do get some, leave it alone.

So, relax and enjoy whatever snow we might get!


Cutting Back The Clematises

Yet, again, despite a recurring “task” set up in Outlook, I am behind the ball on cutting back my clematis vines. When I moved the task forward last winter to Feb 4th, I was really proud of myself for picking … Continue reading

Gearing Up

Considering this winter – or so far, lack thereof – I am feeling really far behind in my garden plans. Lord knows my daffodils are even ahead of me! I noticed they are already 3″ out of the ground. Poor babies, I hope we don’t get dumped with snow, for their sake, although I have been reassured by the local radio-gardener-talkshow guy that they will be just fine. But if I don’t get started with the planning, it will be me who is not. Tomorrow night, I WILL inventory the seeds from last year that are still viable so I can then begin the dreaming/shopping from my favorite catalogs.