Monday, August 18, 2014

Lamb's quarters--a superfood like its cousin quinoa

Bob Henrickson
        Ava Chin, Urban Forager blogger for the New York Times, writes about lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album), “I remember the first time I tried lamb’s quarters, nibbling on the young, tender raw leaves plucked from the tip of the plant. I thought they tasted pretty much like other leafy greens. I didn’t expect to be wowed once I got them into my kitchen. But after sautéeing them in olive oil and adding a little bit of salt, I took my first bite and nearly dropped my fork. I knew lamb’s quarters was supposed to taste like spinach, but I wasn’t prepared for them to out-spinach spinach.”
        To harvest it, gather the top growth from young plants (gather a bunch because you can store it in freezer bags once it’s blanched). Like its cousin quinoa, it’s a super-food—high in Vitamins A and C, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, manganese, potassium and iron.
        Kay Young has a wonderful recipe for creamed lamb’s quarter greens in her book Wild Seasons: Gathering and Cooking Wild Plants of the Great Plains. It's delicious and easy to make as well. Kay recommends sauteing it with onion, mushrooms and butter, then adding a little flour, some milk, salt and pepper and maybe a dab of sour cream at the end. 

*Excerpted from the 2014 GreatPlants Gardener

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Plant Selection Crucial in Dry Shade

Karma Larsen
Coral bells

       One of the challenges of gardening can be dealing with shade, particularly dry shade. Often it’s under the canopy of trees so rainwater is deflected away and plants need to compete for moisture, root space, nutrients, even airflow. Narrow spaces between buildings or under north-facing eaves offer the same challenge.  
       Moisture and sunlight are essential to plants. When those things are limited the plant possibilities are somewhat narrowed, or at least less familiar. This may be because plants for shade tend to be less showy—blooming less and for shorter periods of time. Shadows darken and mute any color, so some of the best plants for shade are ones with pale or variegated foliage or blossoms that can stand out against a dark backdrop. In shade, characteristics like texture and form are just as important as color.
       Fortunately there are many plants that can thrive in areas with minimal moisture and sunlight. Hostas are perhaps the best-known, loved and most-used of shade perennials… and for good reason. They’re hardy and long-lived and they come in an amazing variety of sizes, textures and colors. They spread slowly and reliably, just enough to make them the perfect plant for sharing!
       Coral bells are available in a huge range also, with foliage ranging from purple to chartreuse to bronze.  Like hosta and astilbe, they are stalwarts of the shade garden. Very similar but less familiar is foam flower or Tiarella.  Some cultivars have dark purple veins and foliage persists into winter.  The flowers are delicate and smoky but the foliage is the real star.
Jack Frost Brunnera
       Green is the predominant color for shade plants, but using plants of varying size and texture can provide as interesting a contrast as even the boldest color difference. Ferns, with their delicate cut foliage, arching stems and unfurling leaves, are a wonderful contrast to large, glossy-leaved hostas. For subtle but effective color contrast, try Japanese painted fern with purple, silver and almost metallic tones.
       Other lesser-known beauties for shade include Solomon’s seal with beautiful, bending stems from which flowers and later berries dangle below the foliage. The new variegated ‘Jack Frost’ Brunnera has finally brought more attention to this genus with large, deeply-veined, heart-shaped leaves and starry blue flowers in early spring. Corydalis has small yellow flowers and finely cut, silvery foliage. Like the other plants mentioned above, these are all tough plants that can handle difficult conditions.
       For seasonal beauty midwinter, the bright red stems of red twig dogwood and berries of viburnums, cotoneaster and coralberry offer color. For persistent or semi-persistent green, there’s periwinkle, creeping mahonia, Hypericum and Myrica. In early spring, Lenten roses and snowdrops can bloom right through the cover of snow.  Both have beautiful blossoms, but the subtle greenish purples and pinks of the former and the close-to-the-ground greens and whites of the latter demand close attention. The tiny bulb squill, or Scilla, has bright blue flowers in early spring, then goes dormant as summer approaches.
Perennial Geranium
       For groundcovers, good options are lamb’s ear, periwinkle, Lamium, lily of the valley, Pachysandra, snow-in-summer, lady’s mantle, wild ginger, Epimedium and perennial Geranium. Almost any plants for shade work as groundcovers, as they tend to be grown for foliage more than flower and tend to spread and cover.
       Few shade plants are grown for their blossoms alone but daylilies can bloom in fairly dense shade, and columbine, foxglove, coral bells, Brunnera, Bergenia, Geranium, Corydalis, foam flower and sedum all offer beautiful flowers. Understory shrubs, many with spring blossoms, include viburnum, black jetbead, snowberry, dogwood, witch hazel, Kerria and Carolina allspice.
       When planting shade-lovers, consider adding organic matter to increase moisture retention and enrich the soil. Though they can handle dry shade, like all plants they need regular watering until their roots are established.
       A final, seasonal idea for shady outdoor spaces is to put houseplants out for the summer.  They’ll repay you with healthy new foliage when you bring them back inside in early fall. You can leave them in their pots, plant them into soil or bury them, pots and all until it’s time to bring them indoors. They’ll enjoy the shade and shelter outdoors just as much as you do.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Summer Shade

Justin Evertson
        Anyone living on the Plains knows firsthand the comfort provided by a shade tree on a hot summer day. Just try to imagine camping or picnicking with no trees around to provide shade. Yikes! Incredibly, it has been calculated that a large shade tree has as much cooling potential as ten large air conditioners. Although every tree provides at least some shade, the type and quality of the shade can be quite different among species:
Bur Oak: Perhaps the most majestic of the native trees, bur oak can grow to be over 50 feet tall and more than 70 feet wide. Just one or two of these long-lived trees could easily provide all the shade necessary for a big backyard. 
Honeylocust: Compound leaves with tiny leaflets provide a filtered or “dappled” shade making it easier to grow other landscape plants under this tree. 
Linden: Drooping branches, an upright pyramidal form, and heavy shade from tightly packed leaves makes this a better choice for the background than where activity is planned. Linden is a favorite host of the cicadas and thus a major source of the summer “buzzing” sound.  
Elm/Hackberry:  The architecture of these related species is upright when young and arching with age, making them ideal for shade along streets and where activities are planned.
Sugar Maple: A classic rounded form with fairly dense shade. This is one of the more beautiful shade trees when mature. 
Cottonwood (in photos): Who hasn’t enjoyed the shade of a cottonwood on a hot summer day? The soft rustling of the leaves is also an attractive feature of this native tree.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden

monarch pupa
 Karma Larsen
        Almost any flower garden will attract butterflies, but if you’re trying to attract as many different varieties of butterflies, in as many different stages of life, for as long as possible, here are some of the plants you might want to include:
        Many butterflies will lay their eggs only on the particular plants the caterpillar will need to eat once it hatches. For monarchs, that includes any plants in the milkweed family—butterfly milkweed, swamp or smooth milkweed, etc. Swallowtails lay their eggs on members of the parsley family—dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, etc.  The caterpillars of viceroy butterflies feed on willows. Other good trees and shrubs for butterfly larva include birch, cherry, crabapple, plum, buckeye, etc.
        Asters or daisies are other good food sources—coreopsis, rudbeckia, coneflowers, asters, yarrow, etc.
Sulfur on pitcher sage
        Good nectar sources for the mature butterfly are bright-colored (lavender, purple, pink, red), fragrant flowers with “nectar guides.” Asters and milkweeds are good nectar sources, along with lilies, bee balm, gayfeather, goldenrod, phlox, etc. Flowering shrubs like viburnum, butterfly bush and lilacs are also good choices.
        Native grasses like Indiangrass, bluestem and switchgrass provide good resting and hiding places. And one of the easiest recommendations to follow is to leave a weedy patch somewhere in your yard since clover, violets, thistles and fleabanes are also important parts of their diet.
Cabbage whites on mud
Monarch on gayfeather

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer Blues (and Yellows)

Justin Evertson
      A simple but very effective color combination for the flower garden is blue with yellow. Mother Nature must have understood this from the start as she dispenses both colors in great quantities. In fact, it is relatively easy to keep the color combination going throughout the growing season as different plant species succeed each other in flower prominence. From spring through fall, here are just a few of the great combinations possible:
 ·         Catmint (Nepeta spp.) and Cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma): These two plants grow from 10” to 18” tall and are most striking in early to mid-spring.
·         May Night Salvia (Salvia nemorosa) and Moonshine Yarrow (Achillea x ‘Moonshine’): Both plants are extremely reliable, easy to grow, reach about 18” tall and are at their peak in late May to early June.
·         Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) and False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides): These two prairie natives grow from 24” to 36” tall and are going strong in late spring and early summer.  Give each plenty of room to grow.
·         Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and Goldsturm Rudbeckia (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’).  The soft spray-like blue of Russian sage (36” to 48” tall) makes a great backdrop to the summer-long blooms of Rudbeckia (18” to 24” tall). 
From top: catmint; goldenrod; pitcher sage
·         Sunny Border Blue Veronica (Veronica x ‘Sunny Border Blue’) and Fernleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata).  Both plants stay under 24” tall and are typically mid to late summer bloomers.
·         Pitcher sage (Salvia azurea) and Goldenrod (Solidago spp.).  Mainstays of the late summer and fall landscape, these native plants can both grow 48” tall, depending on the type selected.  However, both can be cut back frequently during the growing season to keep low and to delay blooming.