Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Garden Tomato Recipes

This is a face only a Mother could love...

...Which is why I'm dicing him up for the Labor Day BBQ. Heirloom Tomatoes can win, hands down, in a blind taste test but they don't score many points in a beauty pageant.

I live in a boom town and - just between you and me - the Californians are makin' us a little nuts. They quite seriously show up at a Labor Day BBQ with some kooky Tofu recipe and call it a 'dish to share.' Dish to scare is more appropro.

We're Utahns. We're light years behind the rest of the country with respect to social development. (Haven't you seen Big Love?)

This is why I'm cookin' up my favorite BLT Dip. B = bacon!

These days, bacon is so unhealthy and taboo that this dip gets everyone excited ~ including the new neighbors from LA.

  • 1 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 1 lb. bacon
  • 2 heirloom tomatoes

Cook bacon until crispy, drain fat. Crumble into bite-size bits. Dice two majorly ugly heirloom tomatoes. Stir together sour cream, mayonnaise, bacon, and tomatoes. Serve with Bagel Crisps.

Click here for another favorite Heirloom Tomato Recipe.

What's so great about Heirloom Tomatoes?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Welcome Weeds

Dandelions and Sunflowers...
Why do we hate one and love the other?

Except for the obvious size thing these guys have a lot in common. They're both yellow, they bloom where they're least expected. This time of year, wild sunflowers decorate the highways wherever I go. So, in a sense, they are both weeds. Why don't we start a new movement to embrace Dandelions the way we do Sunflowers? Then I could go ride my horse instead of weed the garden...

I have lots of annual sunflowers this year, thanks to messy birds. But, my perennial sunflowers are blooming up a storm, too.

Heliopsis: False Sunflowers are shorter (about 3 feet) blooming in tidy clumps through August and September. (USDA zones 3-8)

Helianthus: Annual Sunflowers also have a zone 4 perennial variety that wakes up the fall garden. Helianthus maximiliana grows 7-8 feet tall and is loaded with small yellow flowers. I love this variety because the stalks are so strong that the flower heads don't droop.

Planting the two together gives you a perennial sunflower patch that can bloom for 2-3 months.

There are 60 million gardeners in America. If we all agreed to like Dandelions, we could start a new movement and we'd have a lot more time on our hands! :)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Blue Mist Spirea

Blue Mist Spirea

My Too Blue Garden is at it again. I am so enamoured with this particular color that I sometimes wonder if I should just uproot all of the 'other color' perennials and dedicate my entire garden to blue.

I've managed to murder* 3 or 4 Blue Mist Spireas over the years. That's because they are water guzzling babies, though fairly waterwise when mature. Since they bloom so late in the season, I often forget they are there. This little bush is the only one that has put up with my neglect and survived.
If your garden is looking tired this late in the season, get thee to the nursery and invest in a couple of these! They'll add pretty cool-blue color at the precise moment the rest of your garden is beginning to close up shop.

Reliable Blue Bloomers:* Not quite dead yet: Keep watering the dead stuff. It could be the roots are alive and well. My perseverance with perennials that have one foot in the grave generally pays off with new growth from the live roots.

** Blue Mist Spirea blooms late August into September. Drought tolerant when mature. Loves full sun. Hardy to -30 (F). They also appreciate a good dose of organic fertilizer.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Chocolate Flowers

"The Chocolate Flower prefers dry, pitiful soil."

That statement got me sooo excited! After all, shopping for perennials that enjoy my harsh, garden environment is like braving the Nordstrom's shoe sale when you know, full well, your size 7 foot is the same size as 23 million other women sporting a Mastercard. (One must be prepared for disappointment. Chances are slim you'll find anything to fit and if you do, it's probably sold out.)

Which is why I was thrilled to find the Chocolate Flower. It's easily mistaken for a Black-Eyed Susan, until you brush past it early in the morning and get a whiff of it's chocolate fragrance.

Berlandiera lyrata Chocolate Flower USDA zones 4-8. Save yourself some $$$ and plant this easy bloomer by seed.

* If you're a chocolate lover, you'll probably love this cute place. Although, when they mention chocolate flowers, they're talking color, not fragrance.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Weeding Frenzy

I've been waging war on the weeds in the Impulse Garden and I've got the scars to prove it. That's because I discovered the sneakiest, most vile weed in town has been growing along the fence line. The Canadian Thistle has inspired many a gardener to tear her hair out. I imagine it's also the inspiration for a lot of Sci-Fi movies because it's practically impossible to kill this alien.

The seeds can lie dormant for up to 50 years. If you're feeling pretty clever about zapping it with Round Up, stop reading for I intend to burst your bubble. It will still turn loose it's seeds and come back with a vengeance the following year. (I like to cook it in the BBQ grill. It adds no flavor whatsoever to food. It just makes me happy knowing I'm destroying the seeds! :)

So, the discovery that the Canadian Thistle was back was the bad news but the good news is the Catmint has magically re-seeded itself. I found a half dozen little babies that I transplanted up the hill in the ugly half of my backyard. I also harvested about 5 tons of Catmint off the mature bushes ~ to give the other perennials some wiggle room.

* Cats don't come with the plant, but I guarantee you'll find a few lounging under the bushes, once you plant it.

** If you toss Columbine and Catmint cuttings into an area of loose soil, they will generally sprout on their own.

Monday, August 20, 2007

On the Veranda

"Come for Cocktails on the Veranda..."

One of my oldest and dearest friends lives in the kind of place that just begs for a good old-fashioned patio party on a hot summer night. Each year, she decorates the giant porch of this 100 year old mansion with bright red geraniums. This season, she upgraded to self-watering planters.

If you've been dying of the heat, chances are your plants are suffering, too. I sprung for a few of these and I'm thrilled with how well they work. The 1-quart reservoir keeps plants well-watered when life gets so busy you forget about your flowering friends. Find them at Gardener's Supply Company.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Vegetable Gardening in High Altitudes

A fellow gardener wrote to me wondering if I knew of any vegetables that will grow in high altitudes.

Well, let's see. For starters there's Beans, Beets, Carrots, Corn, Cucumbers, Lettuce, Peas, Potatoes, Radishes, Tomatoes...

Surprised? All of these yummy veggies will grow at high altitudes. Just give 'em a little TLC plus O.F. (organic fertilizer!)

AND! Time your garden differently.
* The heartache of a Memorial Day frost is pretty much guaranteed at altitudes of 6,000 feet or higher.

Garden shops advise April/May planting for vegetables and that's why we feel left out.
* We mountain gardeners need to plant on June 1st and expect a later harvest.
* May nights are too cold for little seedlings. Mature plants are much tougher. They can handle cool night temperatures in September.

Get creative. Most quality seed shops offer cold-hardy and fast-growing varieties. You won't find see this produce at grocery store and the names might not be familiar... But, there are many varieties of tomatoes that mature in less than 60 days. (Thank the hybridizing experts in Russia and Canada for these breakthroughs.)

Plant favorite veggies with a 90-day growing cycle. Experiment with root vegetables that mature in 120 days. The soils stays warm, protecting potatoes.

Raised beds help a great deal.
Soil warms faster in the spring, helping seeds to sprout quicker. With raised beds, you can easily amend the soil. Veggies need lots of soil nutrients to produce a good harvest and mountain soil is generally short on what's needed.

Good Veggie Choices for High Altitude Gardens
  • Bush and Pole Beans = 60 days
  • Beets = 50-70 days
  • Carrots = 90 days
  • Sweet Corn = 60 - 90 days
  • Cucumbers = 90 days
  • Lettuce = 70-90 days
  • Peas = 60 days
  • Potatoes = 90 - 120 days
  • Radishes = 30 days
  • Spinach = 45 - 90 days
  • Tomatoes* = 55 - 90 days
* Popular Beefsteak Tomatoes grow too slow but other varieties do very well. 90-day growth cycle or shorter: Alaskan Fancy, Aztec, Orange Blossom, Health Kick Hybrid, Abraham Lincoln Heirloom, Russian Heirloom.. and many more. Become friends with the folks at the Good Seed Company. They test their organic seeds on the Canadian border and they know what grows!

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Impulse Garden

The Impulse Garden is a long strip of flowers with no rhyme or reason. Whenever I see something I can't live without, it gets planted here.

I'm a big fan of Lauren Springer. That gal has life all figured out. Not only did she marry someone who shares a passion for gardening, she earns a living as a gardener, too. If that's not enough to make me green with envy, she also possesses something I always wished I could cultivate: discipline.

I saw her on a television special a couple of years ago, during my TV Winter. I'd broken my ankle in a skiing accident and that was the first time I'd been forced to sit still for as long as I can remember. I spent months on the couch watching Home & Garden TV.

The tour of the Springer's garden was, of course, magnificent but what really knocked my socks off was when she claimed she didn't plant a single flower during that first year. Instead, she used the entire growing season to lay stone pathways and plan what would ultimately be blooming there.

Wow, I thought, to myself. I was so amazed by her discipline that I actually sat upright on the couch for a little while.

What a novel idea! Planning out a garden so once it reaches maturity there is still some rhyme and reason to the design.

Lauren would be extremely disappointed in my haphazard gardening plan. I started at the bottom of the hill. I dug a hole, stuck a flower in it, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. When that one didn't die, I marched back to the nursery and did it all over again.

You can time my life in this house by the impulsive collection of perennials rapidly moving toward the back end of this narrow property.

While I was diligently weeding this mess last night, I stumbled upon a Butterfly Bush - in bloom! - pushing it's way up through the red Hollyhocks.

I don't remember planting red Hollyhocks. I thought that Butterfly Bush died 2 summers ago. Same goes for the Rudbeckia. Suffice to say things are getting a little out of control.

So, I may admire her but I didn't learn a thing - though I will credit Lauren for these... She turned me onto the Catmint and Jupiter's Beard that keep the Impulse Garden brightly blooming all summer long:

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Butterfly Gardens

It's true. If you plant it, they will come. I'm not sure how the news is delivered but one year after dedicating a section of my yard to their best-loved perennials, pretty little butterflies are dancing all over my garden.

Different butterflies prefer different plants. For instance, the Monarch Butterfly can only lay her eggs on Milkweed. (Send for free Milkweed seeds or purchase Milkweed seedlings here.)

Don't worry if you haven't the time to research which butterflies frequent your neighborhood, the lists are never exact. The Butterfly in the above photo is perched on a Pink Evening Primrose though I've never found that plant listed for butterfly gardens. And, the Swallowtail in this photo to the right is perched on Dame's Rocket and that's not on the list either.

Keep it simple. Plant a mix of pretty perennials and see what happens.

Growing in my Butterfly Garden:
Aster, Bee-balm, Butterfly Bushes, Butterfly weed, Coneflower, Coreopsis, Daisy (Shasta), Dame's Rocket, False Indigo, Gayfeather (Liatrus), Goldenrod (Solidago), Milkweed, Phlox, Sage, Salvia, Sedum, Verbena, Yarrow (Achillea)

Save the Monarchs.

Feed the Swallowtails.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Accidental Gardeners

I cat-proofed the garden this year when I created a 'bird tree.'

I put all of the feeders (plus a hanging birdbath) in the big Ponderosa pine, outside my bedroom window - and out of reach of the two serial kitties who are intent on thinning the flock.

That was concomitantly a dumb and brilliant idea.

Dumb because the birds wake up a whole lot earlier than I do and that sunrise feeding frenzy can get a little noisy.

Brilliant because the clever combination of messy birds, sunflower seeds and water splashed from the hanging birdbath worked like a charm...

My accidental gardeners are growing their own sunflower garden!

Sunflowers are incredibly easy bloomers in a high altitude garden.

Just remember that they almost always face east, to greet the morning sun a little more quietly than the birdies do...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Nice Matters

This totally made my day!

My virtual gardening friend, Gail, sent this to me as thanks for Hollyhock seeds.

If you want some, I've got plenty.

Drop me a line!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Smelling Roses

We bought a cushy little porch swing and placed it in the garden near the roses. (It's had a huge impact on my productivity.) At the end of a busy day, I curl up in that swing. I soak in the quiet beauty of my roses, take a deep breath and wait for life to settle down...

This has been an unbelievably busy work week. One of those weeks where I come home in the evenings and seek out a little bit of solitude in the presence of my flowers.

I am an efficiency expert. Me and 97 bazillion other Moms.

We invented multi-tasking.

And, diplomacy.

Oh, and definitely bribery ~ a terrific motivator.

And... a little bit of ever-so-kind, and perfectly timed, mental torture.

We might also be responsible for the astonishing growth in Napa Valley wine sales.

It wasn't the Army - it was a working Mom - who came up with the drill sergeant concept.

That was invented during a back-to-school shopping spree when time was of the essence. (You want those pants? Let's buy those pants! Let's go! Let's go! Let's go!)

Come Sunday, things will be back to normal. I cannot wait. Sometimes I think it's a pity that work always interferes with life.

In the meantime, I know that my roses are missing regular watering but they'll do just fine. They're Rugosa Roses. Because at times like this everyone needs to fend for themselves.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


These aren't the best photos, but I'm so enamoured with this little guy I thought I'd share them anyway.

My new garden buddy is a scruffy, little hummingbird who uses one of the dead trees as a landing strip.

He zooms back and forth across the garden at a dizzying speed.

Flying forwards, backwards and hovering around the Hollyhocks.

He's particularly fond of the black ones - which surprises me because I always thought Hummers were drawn to brightly colored flowers. (Isn't that why the feeders are red?)

Perched on a Hollyhock provides a nice perspective for size. Hummingbirds weigh less than a penny. They can fly 50+ miles an hour. Most dearly love Honeysuckle vines. This little dude couldn't care less.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Smokey's First Trail Ride

We vowed to make this an adventurous summer.
So far, so good!
K, S & I somehow talked J into letting us ride her horses all summer. This weekend we were invited on a trail ride - a training session for J's feisty young colt, Smokey.

Reaching the top, with a loud pack of ATV drivers coming up behind us. Smokey was cool, calm and collected.

The High Uintas Wilderness area is only 45 minutes from Park City. The most commonly asked question about this gorgeous place is.... "Why don't we come up here more often?"

We chose it because it's always quiet ~ the ideal location for a long ride, a picnic in the shade and no surprises. A safe opportunity for Smokey to get used to life outside the corral.

We ran into the biggest moose I've ever seen. At least a dozen loud ATV nuts. Multiple mountain bikers.

Poor Smokey had to jump a low barrier, cross a rickety bridge and right when he was close to passing out from sensory overload, he met the scariest thing of all... butterflies!

Hard to imagine a big guy like Smokey being terrified of butterflies and not the moose but who knows what goes on inside their heads.


Don't let these quiet good looks fool you: Megan is a biter and a kicker and an all-around ornery little horse.

But, she is finally figuring out that her life is infinitely more enjoyable with me in it.

DH will drink from a water bottle, given half a chance.

The way to a horse's heart is through her stomach so I brought along a bunch of carrots. How old school can I be? At the picnic spot we discovered it's actually Fig Newtons that make them putty in our hands.

This was a good day.

Friday, August 03, 2007


My flowers are diggin' these unusually heavy rains.
Coneflowers bloom beautifully on a low water diet though I'm discovering everything appreciates an extra drink.

The big freelance debate began yesterday afternoon. A project that should have taken 5 minutes ended up taking 5 days and who should pay this enormous bill? Well, the client, of course - that's not why we were discussing it. Closer to reality was who would pick up the phone and incur the wrath of said client. After all, we may have a sweet, almost friendly client-agency bond but don't kid yourself - it's a symbiotic relationship.

We need them; they need us. The day they don't need me, they won't call me anymore. I guess the same goes for gardening...
I didn't expect much from Scabiosa, Jupiter's Beard and Butterfly Bushes, new this year. Butterfly Bushes have doubled in size, likely due to all this great rain.

Flowers in the Big Rock Garden are thumbing their noses at me, this morning. Clearly they've discovered I'm holding out on them and that they do better with more water.

Last night's torrential downpour turned the road into a river. The ground squishes underfoot as I tiptoe through the garden snapping photos of lively little bloomers. These young plants are under the impression Mother Nature behaves like this all time.
Even exceptionally drought-tolerant Origanum has more color in her cheeks, thanks to the rain.

Most everything in the Big Rock Garden is a xeric plant. (They pretty much have to be. I don't have a sprinkler system.) Some are experimental seedlings, purchased primarily for that reason. Others are 'xeric' because I've discovered they'll do well with less water.

This could be the reason why the Catmint is doing so poorly.

Most xeric plants don't start out being very waterwise. In fact, some of the most xeric are real wimps when they're seedlings. That's because a lot of xeric plants have a tap root that stretches deep into the ground in order to find enough water. It's a balancing act to grow them. Until they reach maturity, they rely on us for regular watering. Watered too much they will fail to send their roots down far enough to stand on their own two feet later on.

I generally get a few Columbine blooms (with deadheading) throughout the summer. This year, the entire plant has gone wild.

Symbiosis: "Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking. Humans and other species that cooperate with each other often out-compete those that do not." - Lynn Margulis

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Water Log

Who knew?
All it takes is to hire a contractor, decide to paint the house, and/or head to the Uintas for a much anticipated trail ride... to turn this desert environment into a rain forest.

Couldn't be simpler...
I finally found a contractor who agreed to finish up this very, very tiny and unbelievably messy little project on the back of the house. He mentioned he had a tight window of availability and Mother Nature overheard us talking. It continues to rain, each and every day ~ which was great for awhile because I hate to paint ~ but now it's a little annoying.

This morning I took on the muddy task of tipping flowering containers over to drain out the standing water. I generally plant in pots without drainage holes because it's so very dry around here. It's really the only way to keep annuals well-watered and alive.

If you live in a dry environment, you might want to try the same approach. Or, experiment with these. Container gardening is fun. It allows us to plant things we shouldn't. When I was doing my residency in Siberia (aka Minnesota) I'd populate the deck with tropical flowers. Containers also help indecisive gals, like me (some of my trees are growing in containers because I can't decide where, for sure, they should be permanently planted.)

Just remember that when the monsoons hit, you're facing a very muddy job...

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Hazel's Hollyhocks

Hazel's Hollyhocks are blooming up a storm against the back fence. She gave me some seeds last summer when I was visiting.

My fondness for Hollys is a throwback from childhood. They grew wild in a back section of our yard, creating a flowering forest when we were little kids.

These days I love them because they're big enough to create a focal point on my long, narrow lot.

Without this pretty distraction, we find ourselves staring at the new neighbors and they at us. Since I'm at the bottom of a hill, I'd need an 18 foot fence to block the view. Hollies can do just that and nobody will complain.

It's hard to miss a Hollyhock when she's blooming. In flower, I see the tastes and personalities of the people who first planted them because I gather Hollyhock seeds from friends.

An easy re-seeder, they come back year after year, with riotous colors on sturdy stalks, towering 5-15 feet.

Tip: Rust is a common disease for Hollyhocks. Avoid it by cutting down and removing all leaves, seeds and stalks in the fall. (Rust disease overwinters in decaying debris.)