Sunday, August 31, 2014

Travel stories: Private gardens near Pittsburgh

While I was attending the Garden Writers Association symposium in Pittsburgh, my husband Bill and I got to tour several outstanding private gardens. I found plenty of inspiration in the form of garden design, plant materials and attractive garden decor.

Here are some choice photos to give you an idea of the caliber of the gardens we visited! Some of the homes and their gardens look like they could be in England, don't you think?

This was a cool raised bed garden.

Loved these shutters behind the oakleaf hydrangea!

Aug. 31 column

Viola 'Heartthrob' (foreground) and painted fern (background).
Wow, how can it be the last day of August already?! But it's just in time for my last column of the month in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Time to focus on perennials, trees, shrubs. This one is all about the fall plant sale put on by the Friends of Manito.

It will be held on Sat., Sept. 6 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., although if you're a TFM member, you can shop early at 8 a.m.

Not familiar with the TFM plant sales? Well, they are the place to be if you're looking for fabulous perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs or vines -- they do a great job of selecting plants hardy for the Inland Northwest (zone 5-ish) that will knock your socks off. Don't let the time of year scare you: fall is an excellent for planting.

In the column, I make recommendations of a few plants that would be great selections. As always, all proceeds from the sale go right back into Manito Park so it's a great benefit to the community.

If you're not a member of TFM, you can still arrive at 8 a.m. and join on Saturday and still get in. How's that for a deal?

Friday, August 29, 2014

How to grow cover crops

I recently planted cover crops in some of my vegetable garden beds that are done producing for the year.

So, what are cover crops anyway? They are usually members of the legume or grass families that are planted in idle soil to suppress weeds, maybe to protect soil from erosion, or to add nutrients into the soil.

That last reason is why I'm growing cover crops and it's a really important one. In my opinion, it's very easy to take our soil for granted. Yet each year, the vegetable crops we grow in our gardens deplete the soil of different types of nutrients.

By planting cover crops in my raised beds, I'll be able to later turn those crops into the soil which adds nitrogen and other organic amendments to the soil. That will in turn give me better yields next year.

This year, I'm planting Austrian winter peas in my beds. They're a legume which has nitrogen-fixing attributes. Other examples of cover crops are different types of rye grasses and clovers. You can find cover crop seeds at large garden centers. If you live in Spokane, Northwest Seed & Pet stocks them.

To plant them, all you have to do is loosen the top few inches of the soil and then either plant the seeds in rows or broadcast them across the bed. For best results, plant cover crops about a month before the killing frosts start occurring so the roots can become established.

If the type of crop you are growing begins to flower, that's when you want to cut them down to the ground. Wait a couple of days for the plants to dry out, then turn them into the soil so they can decompose over the fall and winter.

I've found three excellent resources on the web for growing cover crops:

If you have any questions, just post a comment below or drop me an email at

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Garden travels: More Pittsburgh photos

While exploring the Pittsburgh area, I noticed a lot of beautiful green spaces that had been planted for locals to enjoy. Here are a few more photos showing them. Check out the huge vertical garden on the side of a building! (click on the photo to see a larger image)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fall/winter garden gets underway!

Remember how I grew veggies through the fall and winter months last year? It was mostly an experiment to see if I could pull it off. Of course, I initially only expected the plants to grow during the fall and then die. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to still be harvesting some of them in April! Crazy.

Last August, I planted spinach, lettuce, carrots and bunching onions. Spinach performed the best. The lettuce grew well until it got really cold in December, then died back... although it did sprout from the roots again in very early spring. The onions did so-so and the roots of the carrots developed rather oddly. I later learned that you should plant them much earlier than I did.

But the bottom line is that yes, you can grow vegetables during the cold months of the year, even in zone 4b/5a, which is where I live.

Fast-forward to this summer, when I learned much more about this process. I am excited about trying it again, which involves making a few slight changes so I can be even more successful this time.

One important thing I learned is that I should have chosen more cold-tolerant crops for my experimental bed. Also, I should use 6-mil greenhouse plastic to cover my beds as it's heavier duty and should provide more protection for the plants. And lastly, my husband Bill is hoping to make a small hoop house (a type of greenhouse covered with plastic) that will fit over 2 of my raised beds. It will be portable so we can move it to different areas of the garden each fall. All of this is getting me excited to see how things will grow!

Which brings us to the photo above. What you're looking at is the first of my 2 fall/winter beds, which I planted the first week of August. The closest row is a mix of lettuce to get us through the fall (then it will probably die back), the middle row is mizuna and the back row is tatsoi, an Asian green. (remember that you can click on the photo to view a larger image)

There's another bed right next to it (see photo to right), which I just planted this morning with corn salad (mache), arugula and kale. When I interviewed Peaceful Valley resident Greg King for the article I wrote on extending the garden season (Gardening goes undercover), he told me that you just can't beat the performance of kale during the colder months. That's all I needed to hear!

You'll notice there are hoops and bird netting covering each of the beds. That's because we have a lot of birds in our garden that just love to nibble on freshly-sprouted seeds. That will never do! So I'm protecting them with the netting. Once the weather gets colder, I'll replace the netting with floating row cover for a few extra degrees of frost protection. After that -- and if Bill doesn't have time to make the hoop house -- I'll replace those lightweight hoops with something stronger so they'll hold up under the weight of snow and cover the bed with a layer of plastic.

Here are some links to posts I wrote about last year's experiment: Fall garden updateAnd the fall start still lives on! and Fall garden still going strong.

If you're looking for sources for cold-tolerant seeds, try Northwest Seed & Pet, if you live in the Spokane are). Two excellent sources for seeds and information on fall and winter vegetable gardening are Johnny's Selected Seeds and Territorial Seeds.

So that's what's happening at this point with my fall/winter garden. I plan to update you on how everything is growing over the next few months. And I really hope you will give this a try, too!

How to freeze beans

Every year I grow a lot of green beans. I usually only grow pole beans ('Italian Snap') but am also growing bush beans ('French filet' style beans) which have been really productive.

I have to admit that I'm a bit of a chicken when it comes to canning low-acid vegetables, which beans are. That's because of the risk of botulism contamination. Instead, I like to blanch and freeze veggies like beans corn.

Blanching is a process in which you cook the vegetables in boiling water for a short time and then plunge them into cold water, to stop the cooking action. It's very quick and easy. Here's how:

- Large pot of boiling water
- A long-handled sieve or slotted spoon
- Sink full of cold water
- Colander
- Freezer bags

1. Prepare your beans by snapping off the ends and, if desired, snapping or cutting them into bite-sized chunks. I normally do this but because these French filet beans are so tender and dainty, all I did was snap off the end that attached to the plant. Very quick!

Step 2
2. Once the pot of water is boiling, carefully put 1/2 to 1 pound of beans into the water.

3. As soon as the water starts boiling again, set a timer for 2 minutes.
Step 4

Step 5

4. When the timer goes off, carefully scoop out the beans and plunge them into the sink of cold water.

5. Keep them there until they feel fairly cool to the touch, then move them into a colander to drain.

Step 6
6. Place the blanched beans into freezer bags and put them into the freezer.

See how easy that is?

As always, if you have questions, either put a comment on this post or drop me an email at

Monday, August 25, 2014

Garden travels: Phipps Conservatory

While we were in Pittsburgh for the annual Garden Writers Association's symposium, my husband Bill and I had the pleasure of going to Phipps Conservatory for an early morning photo shoot. That was before the doors opened to the public for the day, which was pretty cool although it was a bit difficult to get up at 5 a.m. to participate!

It's a Victorian-style conservatory that is huge and enjoyable to explore. Outside, they have aquatic gardens, perennial beds and the highly-acclaimed Center for Sustainable Landscapes.

This time of year, there are model trains running throughout different rooms of the conservatory which were fun to watch. And they had a marvelous gift shop which is certainly an important fact you should know! For more information about the conservatory and exhibits, visit to their website.

Here are some photos I took during my time at Phipps. Remember that you can click on any of the photos to view a larger, more detailed image.

How to make oven-roasted tomato sauce

The veggies are ready to go into the oven!
Boy, are we in the middle of tomato-harvesting season and I'll bet you are, too. We primarily grow paste tomatoes for making sauces and catsup but we don't always have the time or inclination to break out all of the canning gear.

Today, I picked our first big tomato harvest and decided to make oven-roasted tomato sauce. It's easy to make and you just freeze (or immediately eat) the results. No special equipment is necessary.

Here's how to make your own oven-roasted tomato sauce:

- tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs if desired, salt, pepper, peppers if desired, olive oil
- roasting or baking pans that are 3" or so deep
- immersion blender or food processor or blender or potato masher
- freezer containers such as empty quart-size yogurt containers or freezer bags

1. Coarsely chop your vegetables (see how large I chop my tomatoes in the photo to the left?). You don't need to peel the tomatoes or peppers, but you should peel the onions. You don't have to worry about exact measurements of the veggies, just go with quantities that are to your liking.
2. Place them in roasting or baking pans. Add minced garlic, herbs (optional), salt & pepper. Drizzle olive oil over the top. You can also sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of sugar over the top, if desired, as it brings out the flavors even more.
3. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Place baking pans in oven for 10 minutes.
4. After 10 minutes, decrease oven temperature to 425 degrees and continue baking for another 40 to 50 minutes. If possible, stir the contents once or twice just to expose everything to the same amount of heat.
5. When the onions look tender, remove the pans from the oven and let everything cool completely. The photo above shows how my veggies looked after baking.
6. When cool, puree the mixture using one of the tools mentioned under "Supplies" above. Be careful using the immersion blender so you don't splatter juices on yourself. (been there, done that) You goal is to blend everything together until you have a thick sauce.
7. Either serve the sauce with pasta or freeze it in freezer containers or freezer bags. You can see the finished product in the photo above. Yum! The 3 roasting pans I used yielded 2 gallons of sauce.

Pretty easy, huh? If you have any questions, don't hesitate to either post a comment below or drop me an email at

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Aug. 24 column

If you're wondering how my vegetable garden is coming along, you'll be pleased to know that my column in today's issue of The Spokesman-Review is an update on that very topic.

Most everything is growing and producing well, but I've had a few frustrating setbacks. Take a look: Good summer for vegetables.

By the way, the photo above shows my raised beds overflowing with (from left to right) corn, tomatoes and winter squash. Woohoo!

At the end of the season, I intend to file a "report card" on how each variety of veggie performed on this blog so stay tuned for that...

Friday, August 22, 2014

Garden travels: Hershey Gardens

Today begins my series of travel tales from visiting several beautiful public gardens in the state of Pennsylvania. Since I posted a quick video from Hershey Gardens yesterday as a little announcement of what was to come, I thought I'd start with photos from Hershey.

That wasn't actually the first garden we visited but that's OK. I'll catch you up on the sequence of events as we go along!

Hershey Gardens is located in Hershey, PA -- yup, the same place where all of those delightful chocolates come from. While it would've been fun to tour the factory and sample chocolate treats, I'd seen photos from the gardens and just knew I had to see them. It's located just off highway 422, at 170 Hotel Rd. The gardens are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. beginning in April each year. Their web address is

Here are some photos to enjoy. You can click on any of them for an enlarged view. And if you're enjoying what you're seeing, please become a member so you can enjoy this blog on a regular basis! It's free and painless. Thanks.  :o)

One of my favorite places was the Butterfly House. Look at some of the beauties I saw:

Zebra Longwing

Common Buckeye