Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Daisy-Type Flowers of Mid to Late Summer (Along with some of their Best Friends)

"I will go pick daisies and have a happy heart." Kimber Annie Engstrom 

What would high summer be without some daisy-type flowers? They are pure happiness atop a flower stem! Mid to late summer offers a wide range of this simple flower shape. Let's take a look at a few of them.

This is my front garden back in 2013. I used to have loads of yellow Rudbeckia along the fence back then. 

I pulled half of it out looking to add room for early summer flowers, but now that I reflect back at this glorious August display, I am now rather sorry to have been quite so ruthless. Perhaps it is better to shine for a brief time than to look mediocre over the long haul of a gardening season! Sometimes we gardeners have to learn by making mistakes. Now, I'm thinking of swinging back the other way and restoring some of the Rudbeckia.

Yellow Rudbeckia, Pink colored Zinnias, Sweet Potato Vine and blue 
colored Floss Flower, Ageratum in a public park.

Floss Flower, Ageratum

Rudbeckia also looks great mixed in with annuals as you see here in this display at a local park. As with most plants you need a big patch of each type of flower to really have an impact.

I have two Rudbeckia cultivars to recommend you might try.

It wasn't labeled but, I am going to guess that this is the popular Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum'.

Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum' has golden-yellow flowers with a black centre. It will easily grow in average garden soil. It likes sun, but is also happy in light shade. Removing spent flowers will prolong the display of blooms into the autumn. This perennial has a slow spreading habit, but is easy to remove where unwanted. Height: 60-75 cm ( 23-29 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Rudebckia 'Little Goldstar' was bred to be an improvement on 'Goldstrum'. It blooms profusely on a more compact plant that stands just 14-16 inches tall. It's an easy-to-grow perennial that will prosper in average garden soil with normal moisture conditions. Height: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches), Spread: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Echinacea at the Toronto Botanical Gardens.

Echinacea are butterfly magnets. They are also one of those perennials that the plant industry has bred into a zillion different color and flower forms. If you ask me, some of the older cultivars are still the best and most reliable plants, but here are a few of the newer cultivars to tempt you:

Echinacea in the Landscape Ontario Garden.

Echinacea Sombrero 'Adobe Orange' (top left) has overlapping orange petals and a rusty-red cone. It was bred to produce lots of flowers on a compact, sturdy plant. Average garden soil and moisture conditions are fine for this Echinacea. Full sun. Height: 60-65 cm ( 23-25 inches), Spread: 40-45 cm (16-18 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Echinacea 'Supreme Cantaloupe' (top right) As its name suggests, this echinacea has cantaloupe-colored petals with rosy-red ray petals at the centre of the flower. Full sun. Height: 55-65 cm (21-25 inches), Spread: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Echinacea Sombrero 'Kim's Knee High' (bottom centre) has coral-pink petals with a orange cone. This Echinacea has a compact, bushy habit making it perfect for the front of any flowerbed. Full sun. Height: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Sunflowers are synonymous with late summer. They are annuals but, they are such great self-seeders once you grow them, you almost always have them in your garden. 

Plant sunflowers for the birds. Goldfinches and little chick-a-dees adore eating the seeds.

And as an added bonus, sunflowers make great cut flowers!

Helenium and other perennials in a local park.

To be honest, I've struggled a little with this next plant. Where do you place a perennial that comes in such vivid shades of red, orange and yellow? I am still searching for the perfect place to relocate my Helenium to set it off to best advantage.

Perhaps the answer to that ideal spot lies in this next picture.

Heleniums seem to look great against a golden backdrop. That background could be created with an ornamental grass or maybe a non-invasive form of golden rod. In this image, Helenium is paired with the yellow foliage of a Sumac.

Helenium 'Short 'n' Sassy'(on the left) This compact variety of helenium has orange and gold petals with a deep brown centre. Full sun and moist soil are best. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

Helenium autumnale Mariachi 'Fuego' (on the right) is another compact variety of helenium. 'Fuego' has orange-red petals and a golden halo around a deep, coffee-colored centre. Full sun and moist soil are best. Height: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches), Spread: 50-60 cm (20-30 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

(Here is a link to an English website that will give you a good idea of the tremendous range of Helenium cultivars that are available.)

Blue salvia mixing nicely with Rudbeckia in a local public park.

Salvia farinacea 'Victoria Blue' is an annual you can find at almost any garden centre.

Rudbeckia hirta 

A few brief words on different varieties of Rudbeckia hirta. These are short-lived perennials that are often treated as annuals. They will sometimes survive a few winters, but are more likely to live on by self-seeding.

Rudbeckia hirta 'Denver Daisy' at the Guelph trial garden.

Rudbeckia hirta 'Denver Daisy'

Rudbeckia hirta 'Denver Daisy' has golden-yellow daisies with a red eye and a black cone. It is fairly drought tolerant once established. Full sun. Height: 45-50 cm (18-20 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

Rudbeckia hirta 'Toto Gold'

As well as the taller cultivars, there some more compact varieties of Rudebckia hirta as well. Rudbeckia hirta 'Toto Gold' and Rudeckia hirta 'Toto Lemon' are two good examples.

Donna's garden in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Pale yellow Coreopsis edges the flagstone pathway in my friend Donna's garden. It's a dainty little daisy-type flower that blooms for ages. Donna tells me she sheers her plants in mid to late July to encourage a fresh round of blooms.

Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam' has soft yellow flowers and fine, ferny foliage. It tolerates heat and humidity well making it a good choice for edging a sunny border. Full sun. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam'

Coreopsis is yet another plant with many variations on a color theme. It is important to note that not all of the new cultivars are as hardy and as reliable as older varieties like 'Moonbeam'. Many of are sterile, so they won't even reseed themselves. 

My advice is to confirm the hardiness zone on the plant tag before you make your purchase. If the cultivar in question isn't hardy in your area, think of it as an annual. Here are just a few of the many new cultivars available:

Big Bang Coreopsis 'Star Cluster' (top left) has creamy white daisies that sometimes develop a maroon-purple eye. 'Star Cluster' forms a upright mound of fine, narrow foliage. Plants may require some support, if grown in good garden soil. Full sun and average moisture conditions. Height: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

Coreopsis Leading Lady 'Lauren' (top right) has single yellow flowers. It was bred to be floriferous, mildew resistant, cold and heat tolerant. 'Lauren' also blooms earlier than most Coreopsis. Full sun and average moisture conditions. Height: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches), Spread: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

Coreopsis 'Dream Catcher' has cool pink daisies with a maroon eye. Full sun and average moisture conditions. This variety is hardier than most pink forms. Full sun. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

Annual Zinnias make great companions for late summer daisies and grasses.

Zinnias in a local public park.

Gaillardia bloom for such an extended period in the summer, I regret not having any in my garden. There are many color variations available these days. They like hot, sunny sights and are drought tolerant once established. Dry conditions and normal or sandy soil are best. Here are just three:

Gaillardia aristata 'Arizona Sun' (top left) has orange-red flower petals with yellow tips. Full sun. Height: 20-30 cm (8-12 inches), Spread: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

Gaillardia aristata 'Arizona Red Shades' (top right) has orange-red flowers. Full sun. Height: 25-30 cm (10-12 inches), Spread: 25-30 cm (10-12 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Gaillardia x grandiflora Mesa 'Yellow' (bottom centre) has solid yellow petals and a large golden eye. Full sun. Height: 40-45 cm (18-23 inches), Spread: 40-45 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

These pictures have been pulled from a wide range of gardens. It just goes to show you how versatile daisy-type flowers can be.

I hope you have found a little inspiration for your garden in my many examples.

P.S. The latest book winner will be announced shortly!

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Shade, Shells and Slime

In her latest post Jean Godawa writes about slugs and snails. 

I'm lucky to live in a part of the city with many large mature trees. The fall colours on my street rival those of any picturesque country lane. So much so, that visitors and passers-by often stop to take pictures. As grateful as I am for the autumn beauty and summer shade that this canopy provides, I envy gardens filled with blooms of all textures, shapes and colours that only a sunny or partially sunny area can sustain. Thankfully, the previous owner of our home had a talent for creating visual interest with several varieties of hostas which thrive today.

With all those hostas in my Jurassic-looking garden however, comes an open invitation for snails and slugs (Gastropoda). The wide, sturdy leaves and low positioning of hostas make them perfect hosts for these slow moving, shade loving members of the mollusc phylum.

The brown-lipped, or grove snail (Cepaea nemoralis) is an introduced species found in the north eastern U.S. and southern Ontario. It varies in colour and number of stripes with the opening lip of the shell typically dark brown in colour.

The white-lipped snail (Cepaea hortensis) has a light coloured band around the shell opening.

Snails and slugs have two pairs of antennae-like appendages - one small pair is used for smelling while the larger, upper pair holds the eyes.

Gastropods require a moist environment to survive. The common amber snail (Succinea putris) lives near water sources and feeds on strong aquatic reeds and grasses.

You may rarely see these nocturnal creatures but you will know they are around. They feed at night to avoid both predators and the harsh, drying effects of the sun. They spend the day sheltered under the shade of plants, decaying plant matter, mulch or garden structures. A slime trail, along with holes or jagged edges on leaves indicates a snail or slug problem.

Slugs vary in size with some species growing up to 25 cms (10 inches) in length. They can range in colour from light yellow to dark brown or grey. Their feeding behaviour and habitat preference is similar to snails. The obvious difference between the two is the slug's lack of shell.

Most snails and slugs that you encounter in the garden are hermaphrodites, with both male and female reproductive organs. Despite this, they do not self-fertilize - they must mate to reproduce. Eggs are laid in a sticky secretion in a damp protected area of the garden. After about a month, the immature creatures hatch and begin feeding. Warm humid conditions speed up their development.

Being fascinated, as I am, with all kinds of crawly and slimy things, I have a hard time getting rid of creatures that are just doing what is natural. If plants are hardy and growing well, they can usually tolerate a bit of damage from a snail or slug. When pest numbers increase and I start to feel the crunch of shells under my feet as I walk in the yard, then I know it's time to act.

Cleaning up debris around affected plants and trimming off any leaves that touch the ground helps protect plants from snail and slug damage. Remove overturned pots, fallen branches and if you're not squeamish, handpick the creatures off the plant and drop them in a bucket of soapy water. Go out after dark with a flashlight or early in the morning to find and remove the pests.

Barriers, such as copper strips or diatomaceous earth, and traps, with or without bait, can also eliminate snails and slugs. Be sure to check and clean traps frequently at first for the best results.

For every plant we bring into the garden, there will be some creature that needs it for food, shelter or reproduction. Whether it's an owl living in a tree, a deer eating tall lilies or slugs munching on hostas, if we accept that we share our space with many other creatures and we arm ourselves with knowledge about those creatures, then it's easy to maintain healthy, vibrant gardens.

About Jean GodawaJean is a science teacher and writer. She has been writing science-related articles for print and online publications for more than ten years. Jean holds a degree in biology and environmental science with a focus on entomology from the University of Toronto. She had conducted field research in the tropical rainforests of Asia and South America.

Many thanks to Ken Sproule for providing the images for this post.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavourful Herbs: Review & Giveaway

I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed when I first opened this book. This had everything to do with my expectations and nothing to do with the book itself. When I ordered it, I imagined a cookbook full of herb-based recipes, but when it arrived, I saw it wasn't that type of book at all.

But I put my original expectations aside, dived in and got reading. Any initial disappointment I felt quickly vanished. What I found was a lot of helpful information about how to grow, harvest and preserve herbs. And there were even a few of the recipes for herbal vinegars, butters, pastes and syrups I was originally looking for.

Summer salads are such a great way to use herbs! Chopped Salad with Parsley 
and a Tahini Dressing

Following a general introduction, The Culinary Herbal: Growing and Preserving 97 Flavourful Herbs offers profiles for a wide range of herbs. Each profiles begins with a description of the herb's smell, taste and its culinary uses. Then there are quick tips for its cultivation and propagation. The profiles end with pointers on harvesting and preserving the herb in question.

The profiles are followed by a big chapter with useful information on growing herbs.

My herb garden.

Harvesting Herbs:

Herbs can be harvested repeatedly during a growing season. Pruning them once a month will encourage new growth and the potential of a fresh yield.

Each of the book's herb profiles recommends a specific harvest time for that herb. Generally speaking, the authors advise that you harvest most types of herbs just before the plants form flower buds. Basil, for instance, becomes bitter when the essential oils are concentrated in the flowers. Exceptions would be herbs with woody stems, like oregano or thyme, that produce essential oils when in the midst of flowering.

Sage in my garden.

Choose a sunny day to pick your herbs. Herb oils are more concentrated in sunlit leaves. If you plan on drying your herbs, pick them after the morning dew has evaporated. Wet herbs will inhibit the drying process.

Drying Herbs:

Herbs can be dried in a number of ways. You can hang them in bunches or lay them flat on screens or in shallow baskets. When hanging them to dry, the book cautions you to keep the bunches small. Three to seven stems per bunch is ideal. Our old house is dusty, so I like to wrap my herbs in a piece of parchment paper and secure them with an elastic band.

The book counsels that you choose a well-ventilated place away from sunlight to hang your herbs. Depending on humidity and weather conditions, it may take from a few days to several weeks for bunches to dry. Herbs can mould if you pack them into jars when the aren't completely dried. Here's a good way the authors suggest you test for dryness: a dried herb should crumble when rubbed between your fingers.

To prepare your dried herbs for storage set out a bowl or lay down a piece of parchment paper and strip the leaves from the stems. Try not to crumble the leaves as this will release their essential oils to early (crumbling herbs into a dish you are preparing is the better time to release their oils).

You can find more tips on drying herbs in the book. When stored properly away from light and heat, dried herbs should easily see you through to the next growing season.

Thyme blooming a few weeks ago.

The Master Recipes:

The final chapter of the book offers some of master recipes for making syrups, vinegars, herbal pastes and butters.

It wouldn't be a proper review if I didn't try out a few of these master recipes. Most days it has been 30+ degrees, so to be honest, I was a little reluctant to stand over a hot stove even for the few minutes necessary to try out a few of these recipes. Once I got going however, I found I was having fun.

Freezing Herbs:

Have you seen the pins suggesting that fresh herbs be frozen in water using ice cube trays on Pinterest?

I was surprised to read the authors don't recommend this method for preserving herbs. Apparently freezing herbs in water breaks down the cellular structure turning the leaves mushy and watery. Freezing chopped fresh herbs in oil offers better results. Oil preserves the color and taste of herbs much better.  

Freezing herbs in oil is easy! Simply chop your herbs and fill each quadrant of an ice cube tray. Two-thirds herbs to one-third oil is the ratio you are going for.  Pour virgin oil oil over the herbs.

You can also use melted unsalted butter, if you prefer.  Cover the tray with plastic wrap and freeze. When the contents are frozen, remove the herbs from the tray and store them in a freezer bag.

The book made mention of parsley butter, so I decided to give making it a try. It will be great to pull it out these buttery herb cubes on a cold winter evening and dress up some otherwise ordinary mashed potatoes.

Flash freezing whole leaves is yet another way to great flavour. The thin leaves of annual herbs like parsley, cilantro and basil work best. Harvest and clean your herbs as if you were drying them. Place the leaves in a single layer on a cookie sheet and put them into the freezer for 20 minutes. When the leaves are stiffly frozen, remove them from the sheet and store them in an airtight container or freezer bag. Don't forget to label them. The authors recommend adding the leaves directly into recipes while still frozen. The bright green will become darker when thawed.

Capturing the Essence of a Herb by making a Simple Syrup:

Simple herb flavoured syrups can be used to make beverages, flavour fruit or can be drizzled on ice cream or baked goods. One day soon I'd love to try out the book's suggestion to use a herb syrup instead of water or milk in a cake. That might be interesting!

The syrups recipes in the book call for equal parts water and sugar. To make these herb syrups the authors prefer organic cane sugar. They advise that darker sugars, honey and maple syrup can overpower the delicate taste of the herbs.

Lavender at Dalhousie University's Agricultural College in Truro, N.S. They have a lovely ornamental herb garden on the campus.

The quantity of herbs or flowers needed to make a syrup varies, so I was glad to see a quick guide with recommendations as to quantities. A lavender syrup, for instance, only requires a tablespoon of flesh flowers.

I decided to try making a mint flavoured syrup to sweeten freshly squeezed lemon juice. 

The glass of lemonade didn't last much longer than the time it took me to take this photograph. It was wonderfully refreshing on a hot afternoon!

You can find the recipe and full instructions in the book.

Making a Herb Paste:

As well as freezing or drying herbs, the authors suggest you can make a herbal paste. The paste will keep for 10-14 days in the fridge or can be frozen to brighten winter sauces, soups and baked goods.

As long as you leave an inch of head space for the paste to expand in the freezing process, you can use pint or quart canning jars to store your herb paste.

Pots of flowers and herbs in a private garden.

Basil loses its distinctive flavour when dried. The authors prefer the simplicity of a paste over a basil pesto for the freezer. Garlic, pine nuts and parmesan cheese don't freeze well. It's better to add these ingredients as you prepare the dish.

Not all herbs make a good paste. The book recommends drying woody-stemmed herbs like rosemary and sage for best texture and flavour.

Herbs like tarragon, which loses its flavour when dried, are better used to make herb flavoured vinegar. Herb vinegars are another master recipe you can find in the last chapter.

Making a Herb Butter:

Savoury herb butters can used in so many ways including adding flavour to vegetables, breads, and sauces. Before reading this book I hadn't considered using sweeter herbs to add interest to pancakes, muffins and biscuits. I'd like to try that sometime.

When it comes to making herb butters, the authors caution that less is more. Don't mix more than one to three or as many as four different herbs, if you absolutely must. With too many herbs mixed together, individual flavours becomes muddled. The authors often add a clove of garlic, a little lemon or lime zest and a finely minced shallot to their herb butters. Herb butters can be refrigerated or they can be rolled into a log for the freezer. They freeze really well.

I have to warn you that making a herb butter is a bit messy process (the ice cube tray was easier in my estimation). I made dill flavoured butter, which will be nice to pull out of the freezer when I am cooking a fresh salmon fillet.

As well as herb leaves, edible flowers can be used for an interesting bit of color. You can find the full recipe for herb butters in the book.

Tomatoes with chopped chives and salad cream

Using herbs to add flavour to dishes was not something I grew up knowing. I don't think my mother, who was never particularly interested in cooking, ever used herbs. Discovering how to grow and use herbs is therefore, something I've had to learn as an adult.

Slowly I have been expanding my herb garden and experimenting with the different herbs in my cooking. The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavourful Herbs is going to be a helpful reference. I think you might enjoy the book as well.

Timber Press has kindly given me a review copy of the book, which I am going to give away. If you would like to enter, please leave a comment below. It's a heavy book to mail out, so for this draw I will have to limit a winner to North America. The draw will remain open for the next seven days.

More Information and Links:

About the Authors:

Susan Belsinger is a culinary herbalist, food writer and photographer. She is also the co-author of several best-selling, award-wining cookbooks. Her latest book, co-authored with Dr. Arthur O. Tucker, The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavourful Herbs was published in January of this year.

Arthur O. Tucker is a botanist specializing in the identification and chemistry of plants of flavour, fragrance and medicine. He is the research professor and director of the Claude E. Phillips Herbarium and an emeritus professor at Delaware State University.