Thursday, May 31, 2007

Passalong Plants

I know that house. It sits on top of a small but steep hill. A fence separates the slope from the hilltop, and hot pink creeping phlox covers the entire yard. This picture, this memory, is the picture that resides in my mind's eye when I hear the word "creeping phlox." And it must be the picture in Felder's mind's eye as well. That house on the hill in Oxford, Mississippi brings a smile to the face of all who pass it. The creeping phlox all in bloom, it seems to yell "Smile, because spring is here!" It is a sight one isn't likely to forget.

Passalong plants are like that. More than any other plants, passalongs are often tied to a memory, feeling, or event. In Passalong Plants Felder Rushing and Steve Bender offer their readers a collection of not only valuable plant information, but also of the many stories and memories these plants help us recall and share again.

Mimosa must be one of the messiest trees on Earth, but I still love it. I inherited one in my front yard on the north side of the house in between my house and the neighbors. It helps provide a punch of height and color and shade for a bed on that side of the house. Growing up we didn't have a mimosa, but the neighbors did. The fan-like foliage, pompom-like flowers, and study seedpods provided plenty of ammunition to allow our imaginations to run wild. I distinctly remember a game of "Cleopatra" where one chosen girl was the Queen of the Nile and others fanned the Queen with mimosa branches or did her make-up with mimosa pompoms. These days I love the mimosa for the sweet scent it provides as I enjoy a evening glass of wine or tea on the front porch.

My Grandma Cain introduced me to cosmos and zinnias. We'd sow the seeds directly in the ground of her cutting garden after the last frost date had passed. Also in her cutting garden were sunflowers, bachelor's buttons, a couple rose-of-Sharon shrubs, and gladioli. All summer Grandma would have the most beautiful arrangements. Table-top bouquets were filled with these passalongs. In college when I rented my first house, I decided to till a bit of the soil and plant some sunflowers, zinnias, and cosmos from seeds she had given me. Each year since then, when the temperatures go warmer, I long for the stems of zinnias and cosmos to fill my surroundings with color.

Gardeners love to share stories and swap plants. When we find a plant the fills a spot just right or gives off a heavenly scent or thrives in less-than-ideal conditions, we want to share it. When we have a plant whose blooms remind us of spring or special events such as our wedding or graduation, we want to share it. We want to share our best memories with our family, friends, and neighbors, and what better way to do that than with a living, growing passalong plant?

Monday, May 28, 2007

New Orleans

My husband and I took off for New Orleans on Saturday morning. It was a beautiful day to take a drive. The sky was spotted with clouds, not too hot and not too humid. We checked-in to our hotel (the W on Poydras) at around 2:15 PM. We hit the French Quarter immediately. I planned to take photos of the Quarter on Saturday, but I left my camera in the glove box of the car. Yuck!

We had a quick bite to eat at the Hard Rock, then made our way around the Quarter. We tried a couple Ragin' Bull Red Bull daquiris at the Fat Tuesday on Bourbon. They were pretty terrible. Then we listened to a band at the Gazebo Bar & Grill in the French Market. While walking around Jackson Square, we ran into a friend of Chip's, and we all chatted for a bit.

Saturday night we walked around looking for a jazz bar that I'd been to before and LOVED. I couldn't remember the name or exactly where it was. We never found it!! Now that I have access to Google, I know the place is called The Spotted Cat, and it is on Frenchman Street. Next time we go to New Orleans we're going to have to make it to that place. They have a house band that plays my favorite type of jazz.

On Sunday, we had a DELICIOUS breakfast at Croissant D'or on the Quarter. We took a little walk, and I took some photos. Next we made it over to the Garden District. Where I took loads of photos of some magnificent houses and gardens. Have a look at my New Orleans album at Picasa.

There were tons of plants that I know, but also some unknowns. Take a look and let me know if you can name some of these plants!

This vine is very pretty, but what is it?

And what's this one?

I've seen these everywhere, but I can't remember the name of this plant.

Is this a tree or a shrub? It has flowering spires like sage or a butterfly bush.

My husband really like this tropical-looking plant. What is it? It was about 8 to 10 feet tall.

Sunday night we had reservations at Emeril's New Orleans. OMG, it was so good! The best part was a Caprese salad layered with basil, buffalo mozzarella, skinless cherry tomatoes, arugula, prosciutto, and watermelon with a balsamic dressing. So good! For dessert we had a Grand Marnier chocolate souffle that was totally delicious.

We plan to go back soon to hit some of the restaurants we missed out on this time. High on our list are Bayona and Herbsaint.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Composting - and some photos

This week I had a chance to turn my compost pile for the first time. I've never done this composting thing before, so I was a bit worried about how it would all go down. You hear rumours about how compost piles attract pests, and I didn't want any vermin jumping out at me during the turning process.

In addition to the kitchen scraps I've been throwing on the pile, my husband added a great deal of lawn clippings to the pile. He didn't really know all of the composting rules, so he ended up just putting all the clippings on top. The pile needed a good soaking, and I needed to add some "brownies" to all the "greenies" in the pile.

I took almost everything out of the pile. I soaked down what was left in there and mixed it up a good bit. Here you can see my piles and baggies of shredded paper. I recycle a lot of our junk mail, but I shred anything with personal info. And now I shred it AND compost it. How cool is that? After I mixed up the greenies, I put down a layer of shredded paper as the brownie. And then I wet it all down with another spray from the hose. I kept this layering business up (greenies, brownies, greenies, brownies, etc) until everything was back in the pile. It took about 2 hours, but it was hot out there! I had to have multiple mini breaks. I am happy with the way things are going. No pests jumped out at me while I was turning. Actually the only pests I saw were flies and such and some crickets. Another cool thing is that I add kitchen scraps almost everyday and I didn't see evidence of even one (give or take a couple eggshells). In other words, those suckers are breaking down quickly and efficiently.

If you've ever thought about starting a compost bin, DO IT NOW! I am so excited about the possibility of black, rich compost.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Veggies! But not from my yard...

I have herbs, though! Does that count?

I am a relatively new gardener. I've been gardening with mom and dad, granny and pawpaw since I was a kid, but not in a yard of my own. I've only had a house and yard for a few years now so almost everything I do is a new experience. I don't have a veggie garden yet. When we moved into this house I planned to have one. We've been here for over a year, but there are still things standing in my way. 1) The backyard is shady. We've got trees galore back there, in our yard and in our neighbors' yards, that shade the whole thing at some point throughout the day. 2) Other projects. For me it is more important to get the flower beds in order before I move on to the veggies and herbs. When we moved in many of the beds were either neglected or lacked that certain ooomph that said, "Look! A gardener lives here!" I've been working on adding that oomph for the past year.

Am I there? Well, as gardeners, are we ever there? I am getting close. I am happy with the way things are turning out, but I still have a long way to go!

Over the past few weeks I've been working on getting my herb garden together. I've been traveling for work and personal engagements lately, so it took me a little while to get it all planted, dug, composted, and labeled. I think it looks pretty good so far. I planted the Big Thyme and the Italian Oregano late last year. I have a bad habit of planting things too closely in the beginning. And that is exactly what I did with the those plants. I moved the oregano over a few inches to give the thyme some breathing room. I've probably made the exact same mistake with the Dwarf Sage and Hi-Ho Silver Thyme over on the left. I guess the good thing about it is that I can always move them! Behind the sage are two Sweet Basil plants. One of them shed all its leaves before I could get it in the ground, but it is already putting out new growth. I didn't lose it!

I have three varieties of rosemary. From the left: Rosemary, Pine-Scented Rosemary, and Spice Islands Rosemary. The Pine-Scented variety is special because it has soft leaves that are easily chopped up. This makes it an excellent choice to use fresh. It also has a creeping/trailing nature. The other two are uprights. The Spice Islands Rosemary has stems tough enough to use a BBQ skewers!

Oh, and the vivid veggie photo above is the appetizer that I've put together for my husband and I lately. My husband rarely gets a chance to eat lunch at work (and he manages a restaurant for goodness sakes), so he's always starving when he gets home. I'm usually just starting dinner. For this appetizer, I buy whatever is fresh and organic at the market, slice it up, and place a little sesame orange dressing in the middle for dipping. Simple and yummy!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Marinated Portobello Mushrooms

I have a new favorite food!

My husband's boss cooked for us a few months ago, and he made the BEST marinated portobellos. And it is SO EASY.

2 portobello mushroom caps, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup Lawry's Baja Chipotle marinade

In a nonporous glass dish or bowl, combine the vinegar and marinade. Add the mushrooms and stir to coat. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat grill for high heat.
Brush grate with oil, and arrange marinated mushrooms on hot grill. Turn after 2 to 3 minutes, and continue grilling until mushrooms are heated through and look wilted and black. Serve hot off the grill.

I've also done this recipe leaving the caps whole. Sometimes when we don't feel like grilling, we'll cook them under a broiler. They're great either way. My mouth is watering just thinking about them! There wasn't a single bite left after dinner last night.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Perennial Corner Begins to Bloom

The Perennial Corner has really come together. These are photos of it from today, just before a quick shower. The glads my granny gave me are really coming up. She gave me 12 bulbs, and at first only 11 of them came up. The 12th one popped up this week. The Mexican petunia bloomed its first bloom today. The lantanas have been blooming their heart out for about two weeks now. I haven't seen a bloom yet on the shasta daisy, but I plan to see one in another week or so. I'm really happy with the way this is coming together. The Russian Sage plants are getting pretty bushy. Just like I wanted.

Oh, and can you spot the turd? The neighbor's dog left that little present sometime today. I don't love it when it leaves little gifts on the lawn, but I can deal with it. But on the porch? That is just rude!