Thursday, July 28, 2011

Determinate vs. Indeterminate Tomatoes, Plus Why I Hate Tomato Cages

Have you seen tomato plants described as determinate or indeterminate and wondered what that meant? Well, it's easy. Determinate varieties are usually "bush" type. Their fruits all ripen at the same time, usually over a period of about two weeks, then they die. They usually don't require much support.

Yellow Taxi is a determinate variety

Indeterminate varieties are those that vine, and can grow to 10 feet tall, but 6 feet is the usual. They blossom, set fruit, and ripen at different times throughout the season, and the plant is killed by frost. They require substantial staking to keep the vines from breaking and the fruit from sitting on the ground.

Speaking of support, I am completely fed up with my wire tomato cages. I had some ideas about what to use to support the tomatoes, but just didn't have time to build them. So I bought the cheap wire ones from Home Depot. We've had a few strong storm systems move through Chicagoland in the last few weeks, and each morning following, I've been greeted with downed tomato cages. Grrr!

Green Zebra
My Green Zebra variety is so full of fruit that it was the first to come down. I used an old wooden ladder (which actually looks quite charming) to hold it up because I didn't want to lose the plant. It's working very well!

But this morning, another cage was down. And I don't have another ladder!

What a mess!

There's not much that can be done at this point to provide adequate support that actually looks nice too. I'll just have to tie some string to the top of the cages and stake them like you would a new tree. But I'll be prepared next year with a strong and good-looking solution!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

My day with Roy Diblik

Plantsman Roy Diblik in Lurie Gardens

I haven't been this excited to spend the day with a man other than my husband for a long time!

A few of my horticulture classmates and I had the unique opportunity spend the day with Roy Diblik, well-known plantsman and owner of Northwind Perennial Farm of Burlington, WI. Diblik leads our Perennial Plant Communities class, and worked closely with Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf to propegate and grow the plants used in the Lurie Gardens of Milennium Park in Chicago.

Diblik had much experience providing plant material for the traditional mass-plantings of species like rudbeckia, sedum, and miscanthus (as was the trend in Chicago in the 70's, 80's, and 90's) with poor long-term results. In the mid-90's, he was inspired by Oudolf's book, Gardening with Grasses, and started designing and installing "stylized prairie" gardens in Lake Geneva, WI. After hearing of Diblik's work, Oudolf visited Northwind, and immediately asked that Diblik be the plant provider for Lurie.

Diblik had two years to grow 16,000 plants that were installed in the Lurie Gardens in 2003. He says that we are in a period of great change, and Lurie is the beginning of the future of horticulture. Gone will be the hundreds of varieties of daylilies, hostas and dahlias brought to the industry each year. The trend will be to grow plants that live together in communities, thus reducing their inputs, especially of water and labor.

I was thrilled to get an inside look into the design process and construction of Lurie, and Diblik's other showpiece, the gardens at the Art Institute of Chicago. I am so inspired by Diblik's and Oudolf's style, and am so thankful to be able to learn from these masters.

Limonium latifolium and Liatris spicata

Echinacea purpurea, Allium 'Summer Beauty', Calamintha nepeta var. nepeta

Hemerocallis 'Chicago Apache'

Love this combo: Agastache 'Blue Fortune' and Knautia macedonia 'Mars Midget'

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cooking with Swiss Chard

I'll admit it. I'd never eaten Swiss chard until this year. And no, it's not the same as how I've never eaten jelly or cottage cheese. Those are strange looking foods. But Swiss chard looks delicious! It's just not something my Mom cooked with when I was young, so I was not familiar with it.

Swiss chard is one of the world's healthiest foods. It contains phytonutrients that are powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, and lots of Vitamins K, A, C, magnesium, potassium, iron, and calcium. Chard is best grown from seed, but can also be bought in flats from the nursery. It's a superstar in the vegetable world; it was voted #1 for the 2011 One Seed Chicago program.

Chard belongs to the same family as beets and spinach, and is similarly bitter, pungent, and slightly salty. Cooking brings out a sweeter taste. I've included my favorite Swiss chard recipe below. It's one that even the kids love, but then again, mine will eat anything in quiche form! If you've never cooked with chard, now is the time to try it!

Swiss Chard and Salmon Quiche
serves 4

2 salmon fillets, cooked and flaked
4 eggs
2/3 c milk
1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cups Swiss chard, chopped
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1 pre-made frozen deep dish pie shell

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook salmon in your preferred way - oven bake, pan fry, poach, etc. Use a fork to flake the salmon into bite sized pieces. Beat eggs with milk in mixing bowl. Mix in salmon.

Sautee onions and chard in olive oil until onion is translucent. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir into mixing bowl with the egg and salmon mixture. Pour into pie shell. Place quiche on a cookie sheet and bake for 45 minutes or until eggs are cooked in center. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Positively Pretty Purple Plants

A visit to my wholesale nursery got me all atwitter over some perennials and shrubs with dark foliage. I have a thing for these purple beauties because they provide such a nice color contrast amidst all the green.

Many of them are native and have blooms or berries that attract birds and butterflies. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!

Redwing American Cranberry Viburnum
Viburnum Trilobum 'JN Select'
Native to North America
Photo credit

Purple Smokebush
Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple'
Native to Europe
Photo credit

Black Lace Elderberry
Sambucus nigra
Native to North America, good wildlife value
Photo credit


Chocolate Snakeroot
Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate'
Cultivar of a North American native plant
Photo credit

Obsidian Heuchera
Heuchera 'Obsidian'
Cultivar of a North American native plant
Photo credit

Sedum 'Jose Aubergine'
Cultivar of a North American native plant
Photo credit

Physocarpus opulifolius 'Donna May'
Ninebark 'Little Devil'
Cultivar of a North American native plant
Photo credit

Monday, July 4, 2011

My Guilty Pleasure - Lysimachia clethroides

Gooseneck Loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) is one of my favorite plants. I fell in love with it on a mini-vacation with the husband in Lake Geneva, WI. It was July 2007, just weeks before my daughter was to be born, and we wanted to have one last romantic getaway. As we strolled the downtown, popping in and out of shops, I saw this plant everywhere! When we came home, I tried to find it at our local nurseries with no luck. When I'd ask about it, the nursery staff would tell me it was so invasive that they would not carry it.

I had to have it. I posted on Freecycle asking if anyone had it and would like to share, and received a note from a woman in the next town. I remember her telling me it was invasive and to make sure I put it in a place where it wouldn't be able to spread. I was so thrilled to get her thinnings, and for free! I had the perfect spot - a 1' x 8' strip of earth next to my house bordered on the other three sides by concrete. Since Gooseneck Loosestrife spreads by rhizomes, there would be no worry about it taking over.

So, why is it my guilty pleasure? I do feel a little guilty (or maybe just rebellious) that I planted this non-native botanical bully that most people regret ever introducing to their gardens. But it's beauty outweighs any feelings of guilt. It blooms reliably and profusely, even in drought, for a full six weeks in June and July. And the blooms are stunning en masse - like a gaggle of geese all looking in the same direction. It also has striking fall color. An A+ plant for zones 3-8, if you use it responsibly!

Lysimachia in bloom

See how it got it's common name?

Lysimachia fall color