A simple way to keep track of garden changes

My life is hectic. I’m trying hard to cut down on distractions so I can enjoy a few things in my life more fully. One of those priorities is my garden.

shed and iris.jpeg

Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) in shades of red and pink, planted among irises, lilies, and daffodils.

This year I had a glorious show of Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus). Sweet William is a biennial plant, meaning it grows, flowers, sets seed, and dies over the course of two years, rather than one for annuals.

They’re fading now, and setting seedpods. If I collect the seed, I can sow it and have another batch of plants ready to go for next year. And while I like the mixed-colors look, there are a few places I’d like to add these plants but I want to restrict the color scheme a bit.

As I went outside with brown paper envelopes in hand, I wondered how to differentiate between the different colors of Dianthus. How will I remember what’s what? Then I remembered the bit of genius always at my side: my smartphone.

I snapped photos of each color and immediately labeled them:

 

Then I labeled my paper seed envelopes to match.

I created an album in my iPhone Photos app to keep them organized, so when I’m planning my garden for next year I’ll have a quick reference. (Or I guess I could also come back here.)

How do you keep track of changes in your garden?

Garden log, 5.12.16

Went out in the backyard with the dog this morning intending to pull weeds for 10 minutes. Camellia ‘Midnight Lover’ had a terrible case of leaf hall, so I pruned those out. While I was at it, I struck 12 cuttings of Camellia ‘Nuccio’s Cameo.’ I haven’t had much luck in the past growing camellias from cuttings, but I keep trying.

Louisiana iris ‘Black Gamecock’ is in bloom in the rain garden and looking rather spectacular.

New plants, 2016,Vol. 1

Planted two tassel ferns, Polystichum polyblepharum, yesterday before the freeze. One looks great. The other I had let get too dry, so it will take a while for it to settle in and look good.

  • I acquired them last week at the Duke Gardens plant sale, a gardening sucker’s paradise if every there was one. It’s worse then Target. I went in with a $25 gift certificate I had won at a lecture, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to limit myself to that small amount. The total sum spent shall remain between me and my bank, but I will say I think I got the better end of the bargain.

Garden log, 2.4.16

Planted poppy seeds today, only four months late. Papaver orientale ‘Brilliant’ in the hot border; Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape’ in the blue slope and on either side of the climbing rose ‘Generous Gardener’ in the back. P. somniferum ‘Hungarian blue breadseed’ in the bed by the front walk, except for one more patch of ‘Lauren’s Grape’ closest to the acanthus.

Also planted two P. orientale ‘Allegro’ transplants in the hot border a few weeks ago.

 

We are skipping winter.

It’s Christmas Day and it’s 80 degrees. Forecast doesn’t call for anything below about 45 for the next week.

The plants have decided to get on with it. Narcissus cantabricus, which I only planted at Thanksgiving one month ago, started blooming today, a month sooner than expected.

 

Narcissus cantabricus

Narcissus cantabricus

The winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, has started blooming. Its lemon scent is detectable whenever I pass by.

And the Cyclamen coum also have begun to bloom, about six or seven weeks ahead of schedule.



The flowering quince, Chaenomeles sp., has been blooming for a month now. It’s beginning to trade its flowers for new leaves.


And finally, the Daphne is about to show off. When it blooms, no one will notice the Lonicera.


Lots of my friends are enjoying this weather, but it depresses me. While one Christmas data point does not a trend make, I have lived in this area the better part of 30 years and I remember when it was never warm enough to wear sandals and shorts as we took out the holiday trash. I have spent the past ten years working in the garden on New Year’s Day,    needing nothing much warmer than jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt. Looks like this year will be the same, unless it’s raining.

I guess that any day spent in the garden cannot be too melancholy. Whatever holiday you celebrate, I hope it is a happy one.

First snowdrops 

My first snowdrops of the year bloomed today. I don’t think it’s unusual for Galanthus nivalis to bloom this time of year, but it’s a first in my garden, I think, to have them bloom before Christmas.

  
It’s a ridiculous 70 degrees today. My kids don’t believe me when I tell them that when I was their age, I wore a coat and a sweater to school in December. 

I hope your days are filled with peace.

Recipe: Ground cherry (Physalis) jam

This time last year, I began harvesting piles of ground cherries (also known as cape gooseberries, Physalis ‘Cossack Pineapple’). The tiny fruits grow in a husk, like the tomatillos to which they are related. When the husk turns dry and brittle and the fruits are golden without a hint of green, they’re ripe and ready to eat. They’ll often fall off the bush when they’re ready, which is why they’re called “ground cherries.”

husks and fruit

Ground cherries grow encased in calyces that turn brittle when the fruit is ripe.

The plants grew exponentially in the hot weather and set fruit faster than I could pick it. But, having never grown nor eaten them before–I do love an experiment–I didn’t know what to do with them. I can certainly recommend eating them like popcorn. They’re exceptionally high in vitamin C and make a terrific snack.

ground cherries physalis fruits in bowl

The peeled fruit of ground cherries (Physalis sp.).

Craving variety from eating them out-of-hand, I began experimenting with canning. Appalled by the amounts of sugar most recipes directed me to add, I turned to Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which permits the cook to cut the amount of sugar in the recipe by about half.

I began, logically, with Pomona’s recipe for Ground Cherry Jam but wanted to give it some flair. Taking a cue from recipes I’ve seen combining stone fruits and rich spices (cinnamon plum, vanilla peach, etc.), and inspired by another combination I saw online once but can no longer find, I split open a bag of chai tea (yes, redundant) and dumped the leaves into the pot in Step 5 of Pomona’s recipe, when the fruit is brought to a boil (I added the tea, then the pectin mixture). The leaves and spices were finely ground, but you may break the bag into a ramekin and sift out larger pieces before adding it to the jam, if you wish.

I stirred it well, then proceeded to fill the jars and boil as directed.

physalis jam

The finished product.

It is absolutely delicious; a lovely combination of bright citrus and smoky spice.