Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Come-back Kids"

Growing up in a small farm town gave me a rather utilitarian approach to plants – if you’re going to plant it, water it, and weed it, you’d darn well better be able to eat it! The flower beds of my childhood were filled with perennials that were permanent fixtures: peonies, bleeding-hearts, violets, daffodils, and tulips.  The idea of buying and planting flowers that only last a summer seemed like extravagant self-indulgence.

When I had my own place, and started perusing home-and-garden magazines and noticing other people’s yards that I found attractive and might want to imitate, I especially noticed the stand-alone pots of colorful blooms grouped on porches and decks. They always looked welcoming and showed the care that the residents took to add a little beauty to their surroundings.
So, I found myself scouring the garden shops to find the right shade of petunias and complimentary blooms, plus the trailing vines, spiky leaves and colorful foliage that filled my pots with vibrant summer color. 

A couple of years ago, I evidently strayed into perennial-land and picked up some foliage plants.  This one is lamium or “spotted henbit”.  (I’d love to know how it got that name.) I love its cool-looking green and white foliage.  This variety produces small purple flowers. I also got some variegated ornamental grass. These two have survived our recent mild winters, so I now just poke in the petunias and alyssum around them, saving a little bit of time and money.   All the enjoyment with less extravagance!


I still love annuals for their recklessly exuberant colors; they are the floral demonstration of the philosophy of carpe diem (seize the day, for tomorrow may bring locusts or frost).  I always plant marigolds around my raised beds to discourage bugs.  This year I added alyssum after reading that aphids don’t like it.  Last year my pots of broccoli and kale were infested, but so far, this year it seems to be working.  I’ve stayed true to my roots by making these annuals work for their keep.

A lot of gardening success is caused by the random alignment of timing and weather.  I’ve never had any success with beets, for example.  I don’t know if it’s my timing or if the birds in our yard consider the sprouting leaves their own personal salad bar.  I love beets, but I don’t think of cooking them often enough. I love that in their fresh, natural state, they’re a two-part edible – greens to sauté or steam and the ruby roots to roast.  I found them at the farmers’ market last week and “cooked up” this easy summer recipe that was a big hit at my house!

Roasted Almost-Pickled Beets
4 medium-sized beets
1/3 c. light Raspberry –Walnut Vinaigrette
¼ c. crumbled feta cheese

Scrub the beets and cut off the green tops. Wrap each beet in aluminum foil and roast in a 350-degree oven until tender when pierced with a fork, 45 – 60 minutes. Cool, peel and cut into ½ inch chunks. Toss with dressing and chill. Top with crumbled feta cheese right before serving.   You could also toss this with baby greens and chopped walnuts for a roasted beet salad.

I’m going back to the farmers’ market for more beets!