Sunday, August 16, 2009

Colorful Cool Season Vegetables

Now is a great time to start cool season vegetables from seed. For most people, the spring/summer vegetable garden is the most favored because of the variety of plants that can be grown. With fewer choices for cool season, the fall/winter gardens can seem a little boring. But this doesn’t need to be the case. If you would like to add some variety to your cool season garden, now is the perfect time to try some of these more unusual varieties of plants available from Botanical Interests seeds. Botanical Interests is one of my favorite seed companies. Not only for the awesome seed varieties they carry, but for the beautiful package illustrations. I love spreading my seed packet collection out on a table to decide just what I’ll be growing for that season.

Beets-Gourmet Blend. I have to admit that it wasn’t until recently that I became a fan of fresh beets. I grew up with the canned, pickled beets and that was all I knew. But once I tried fresh cooked beets, the canned beets paled in comparison. This gourmet blend is not only tasty but beautiful as well. The vivid gold, orange, purple and red beets maintain their lovely colors even when cooked. Both the tops and the roots are edible so you double the amount of production in your gardening bed. Although all the beets are sweet and delicious, my personal favorite is the orange. Easy to prepare by simply cubing and cooking in the microwave or roasting to increase their sweet flavor, I find they need very little additional seasoning.

Bright Lights Chard. Now that you have your gourmet beets, why not plant some matching chard? This variety of chard is easy to grow and lovely in the garden. I find that the colorful stalks and full, ruffled leaves make great filler for fall/winter container gardens. Pair them with edible flowers like brightly colored violas, nasturtiums, or calendula for a bold splash of color that can be added to salads. Use young, fresh leaves chopped in salads to add color and texture. Cook larger stalks and leaves like spinach and enjoy their rich buttery flavor. Try this recipe from Simply Recipes

Carrots-Carnival Blend. Since we are already growing the colorful chard & beets, why not round things out with these delightful carrots? I think colored vegetables are particularly fun for children and fresh carrots are jam packed with nutrition. For better germination success, soak your seeds 12 hours before planting. I’m a big fan of ginger and love this Honey Ginger Carrots recipe from

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rudbeckia & Gallardia

I find that this time of year many gardens start to look a bit sad. Once we get a few weeks of sustained heat here on the Central Coast, many annuals start to wither. Once the heat starts to push them to increased seed production, you better be deadheading on a regular basis if you want to keep them going. If, however, you’ve been busy with family, vacation, or life in general and haven’t been spending as much time in the garden as you did in early spring, you may want to make a few additions to your flower patch to freshen it up and get ready to head into fall.
A few of my favorite flowers this time of year are rudbeckia, and gallardia. Their happy daisy- like flowers and bold colors scream summer to me. In fact, the golden yellow hues of the flowers seem to mimic the summer sun. The most traditional of all rudbeckias, the Black-Eyed-Susan is said to have likely derived its name from an 18th century poem entitled “The Black Eyed Susan.” Growing wild through most of the United States, it is the state flower of Maryland. And although in some areas, it is considered almost a weed because it is so abundant, here it seems to behave itself nicely and can become a very hardworking member of your flower border. The common gallardia, also known as “Blanket Flower” can be found in many wildflower mixes as well.
Both rudbeckias and gallardias prefer a sunny spot in the garden. Although they are not particularly fussy about soil, good drainage will prevent them from rotting out during our rare wet winters. Although they can be started from seed, they can give your garden a quick pick me up when planted in a larger size. During their first growing season, they prefer regular watering, but will become fairly drought tolerant once established. Not particularly needy when it comes to fertilizer, the best practice is simply a side dressing of some good compost. Because of their fuzzy leaves, rudbeckias and gallardias are deer resistant once the foliage has matured (new growth may be nibbled by deer). And as with most wildflowers, they not only attract butterflies, but a wide variety of bees including some native bees.

As with most strong yellows and oranges, these flowers seem to need equally bold partners in the garden or to be paired with complimentary colors of blue and purple. Some plants that can hold their own next to fiery flowers are Zinnias (reds, yellows & oranges), marigolds, and portulaca. In the blue purple ranges, try mixing them with blue & red penstemon, Russian & Santa Barbara sage, lavender and even agapanthus.
Although they don’t make particularly good cut flowers, their presence in the garden can certainly improve anyone’s mood.