Rain lilies

Late last year, I stopped by a favorite nursery and binged on plants for which I did not have a place prepared in the garden. Among the must-haves that found their way into my cart were Habranthus robustus, the nodding rain lily.

Habranthus robustus, rain lily

Zephyranthes sp. and Habranthus sp. are two genera commonly known as rain lilies, because they come into flower after summer rainstorms. Interestingly, they don’t respond in the same way to a shower from the hose or watering can–even if the water comes from a rain barrel. I am fascinated to know how these plants know the difference between the water sources. I have read a suggestion that it’s to do with nitrogen in the rainwater fixed by lightning, but they bloom after storms without lightning as well.

I am not sure why it’s called nodding rain lily–I didn’t observe the blooms nodding downward to any extent, but perhaps mine were duds. The position of the bloom, though, is one way to tell the genera apart: Zephyranthes species’ blooms tend to face upward, while Habranthus species’ blooms face outward, like those of their relative, the amaryllis.

The bulbs begin blooming in late summer, when little else shows up, and will often multiply steadily if planted in a happy spot. Unfortunately, I think mine may have been lost to last winter’s polar vortex. Plant Delights Nursery and Brent and Becky’s Bulbs carry lots of these fascinating plants, which are hardy between USDA Zones 7-10. I have read that Zephyranthes citrina is hardy to Zone 5. I’m keen to repopulate my garden with them all, but I may have to wait until next spring. I hear that another polar vortex may be in future this winter.

Crinums

Crinums are wonderful plants for warm-climate gardeners. Blooming in late summer, graceful flowers on tall stems fill the air with a honey-like scent.

Crinum bloomLooking very much like the amaryllis to which they are related, crinums grow from sturdy bulbs and have wide, strap-like leaves. They will not refuse a good garden soil but will grow just as easily in junkyards, if that is where you happen to garden. Like your friend who refuses to pick a restaurant for dinner, crinums are indifferent to their surroundings: sun, shade, wet, dry–oh, whatever. Just plant them up to their necks someplace and leave them alone. The only thing they fuss about is cold–they’re not reliably hardy north of Zone 7. But mine came through the polar vortex without complaint.

I never feed them. Sometimes they get mulched with shredded leaves if I need to empty my shredder bag nearby. Pinching off the spent blossoms keeps them going.

If you insist on moving one, be sure to get as much soil around the bulb as possible and don’t sever the bulb. Understand before you attempt this extraction that bulbs can grow to be absolutely enormous, basketball size (29 inches or 75 cm in circumference) or larger. Brush soil off the top of the bulb until you can discern its width, give it five inches on either side, and dig straight down. But really, if you’re the uncertain type, better plant it in a nice, large container, and move the container instead.

Crinum sources:

Tropical punch: Ground cherries offer strong flavor in a tiny bite.

ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa)

Related to tomatoes, and more closely to tomatilloes, the ground cherry (Physalis pruinosa) goes by many names, including ground tomatoes, husk cherries, and cape gooseberries.

The fruits grow under the plant’s large leaves, encased in a thin calyx that dries to a crispy, papery husk. The husk and fruit fall to the ground when they are ripe (hence the name).

husks and fruit

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

Large fruits measure about the size of an adult woman’s thumbnail, with a texture resembling a firm grape, and taste strongly of pineapple. I look forward to experimenting with them in cooking, if I can stop eating them by the handful, like popcorn.

In my Zone 7b garden, I transplanted seedlings about one month after the average last frost, or mid-May, and got my first fruits about six weeks later. This plant does like it hot–it seemed to double in size every day the temperature hit 90 degrees or higher.

For those who practice permaculture, this plant seeds itself easily and seems to require no inputs except for hot sunshine and whatever rain may fall. Do allow space for them–halfway through the growing season, mine are five feet tall and wide–or were, before the 8-year-old ran over a few inconvenient stems with a bicycle. The stems are rigid but not woody, a bit like basil in mid-season, and may crack or break under their own weight. Because my space is limited (and shared with bicycles), my plants are now supported with slings of garden twine, tethered to a bamboo pole.  You could perhaps grow lettuce beneath them, or root vegetables, if you wished to implement companion planting.

This is a fruit that has made it into my garden’s permanent rotation. I’ll share recipes later in the summer–assuming I can quit snacking.

ground cherries physalis fruits in bowl

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day: July 2014

Carol at May Dreams Gardens hosts Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day on the 15th of each month.rudbeckiasHigh summer means high heat and humidity. Water evaporates from the ground quickly, and mulch would be helpful but it’s too hot to move. Early mornings and short trips outside provide the means for a successful garden at this time of year.

Tough plants, too, are required. Crocosmia flowers better when there’s abundant water, but short thunderstorms suits it just fine.Crocosmia

The jewel of my July garden must be blackberry lilies, formerly Belamcanda chinensis, now Iris domestica. Looking like an iris only in its foliage, these orchid-like flowers provide delight in the hottest weather.

Blackberry lily, formerly Belamcanda chinensis, now Iris domestica.

Blackberry lily, formerly Belamcanda chinensis, now Iris domestica.

 

 

Dear Friend and Gardener: July 11, 2014

Dear Friend and Gardener,

I don’t know about you, but my garden at midsummer looks more than a bit tattered.

garden at midsummer

It’s fine if you don’t look too closely. But if you give the beans a second look, you’ll see the flea beetles’ handiwork.

tired beans

They’re still producing beans, but they look as sapped as I feel. Somehow we both keep managing to plug along. My second sowing got its leaves eaten off while I was out of town one weekend. Third time lucky?

The tomatoes, however, cheer me up no end. ‘Sophie’s Choice’ is outdoing herself. For a short-season variety, she’s giving me a lot. I only have two of ‘Sophie’s Choice’ but I’d guess we’ve gotten 3 or 4 pounds of tomatoes just this week. Dinner has tasted and smelled fantastic. Is anything better than a fresh, home-grown tomato?

Maybe a home-grown tomato in the dead of winter? Well, they won’t be fresh, but perhaps they’ll taste like it. My ‘Principe Borghese’ tomatoes keep yielding, and I dried a large batch the other day. My winter sauces shall taste like summer, I am determined.

principe borghese

How’s the picking where you are?

Amy

 

Grilling on Fourth of July? Try lemon balm pesto.

The Fourth of July is a big day for grilling in the US–although just about any summertime evening when it isn’t storming makes a pretty compelling candidate. I love grilling foods, from meats, fish, and shellfish to vegetables and fruits. More than that, I like to create my own marinades and sauces with the herbs I grow. If you’re looking for something fresh, summery, and different that’s also extremely easy to make, give my lemon balm pesto a try.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is an herb in the mint family. Its small white flowers attract bees and other pollinators, but you’ll be drawn by the lemony scent of the foliage as you brush it with your fingers. It is reputed to be effective as a mosquito repellant when the leaves are rubbed on the skin. But more than all of that, you’ll like the bright lemon flavoring the leaves lend to salads, drinks, and marinades. It has endless uses in the kitchen.

Lemon balm grows easily to 3 feet tall in sun or shade. It spreads like its mint relatives, so grow it in a container of well-draining potting soil mixed with compost. It does not require fertilizing, and is quite stoic in drought but delights in regular rain. One plant should be plenty for you, unless you run a busy restaurant or keep bees. In those cases, two plants should suffice.

MissingHenryMitchell’s Lemon Balm Pesto

  • 3 cups lemon balm leaves, washed
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • Coarse salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice or lemon zest

Put the first three ingredients and a pinch of salt and pepper into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Start the blender, and drizzle olive oil into the mix until the mixture is the texture you like.  If you want your pesto extra-lemony, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or lemon zest. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Spread on chicken, fish, or shrimp before putting the food on the grill, or allow foods to marinate in the pesto in the refrigerator overnight. For overnight marinating or for brushing on food on the grill, a thinner mixture works well. I like a thicker paste as a garnish on finished dishes. It also tastes great as a salad dressing when tossed with greens, olives, peppers, and a bit of goat cheese, or as a spread on crusty bread.

The pesto may be kept in the refrigerator for a week, or may be frozen for later use. The pesto may slightly discolor as it freezes, but it will taste just fine.

Hope you enjoy your holiday grilling!