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Posts Tagged ‘Seed Savers Exchange’

The New York Botanical Gardens is hosting a summer long celebration of the edible garden, filling weekends with cooking demonstrations and tips on growing your own food.  It’s a beautiful display and nice to see celebrity chefs like Mario Batali, Dan Barber, and Sara Moulton making suggestion on plants to zip up your culinary skills.

  In the raised beds there’s arugula and fava beans, sorrel and corn.  There’s even a banana tree and sugar cane, which I didn’t know could be added to a backyard garden.  But there it was, looking like the houseplant Dracaena.  New Yorkers must treasure their sweets like fine wine if they’re prepared to grow, harvest, and cook down the canes for their sugar.  I simply head to the store, but they get a chance to set fire to their crop before taking in the sweet stalks (blogger’s confession: no mention of the flame harvest was made in the information plaque at NYBG; this technique was described to me by a fellow traveler who lived by sugar cane fields in Texas).

The container display took patio crops to new heights, with beans, bitter melons and squash vining up wrought iron trellises that suited the Victorian conservatory setting.  The formal flair would please even the most discerning HOA guardians in the Denver area.  Of note was their technique for supporting the tall sunflowers that added color and whimsy to the gathered pots:  bamboo stakes held the flower stalks upright, providing an anchor in a limited rooting space. 

Seed Savers Exchange had an amazing display of heirloom plants in a garden designed by Rosalind Creasy, author of  Edible Landscaping.  Her use of flowering ornamentals, decorative trellises and kitchen plants was an education in how vegetables offer beauty and usefulness in borders and beds.

Path after path in this edible event was loaded with clues for cooks, from suggestions on daylily blossoms in hot and sour soups to Martha Stewart’s herb garden with its traditional herb hedge and topiary bay trees.  That she included roses with big, orange hips was a good thing.

In this world class place filled with millions of plants, one thought kept running through my head:  what difference water makes.

  The east must be rich with it – they leave hydrants running, faucets on, and bring glasses of it to you in restaurants without being asked.  Why, they have so much water it literally falls from the sky.

 So it should have been no surprise that the method they used to water their vegetable garden was an oscillating fan sprinkler.  Back and forth this fountain of water waved, and I was stunned to see it.  I’ve spent more than a decade begging people to use drip irrigation, warning them that Overhead Sprinklers Are Not Safe Gardening and You Could Get A Disease.

But here’s this botanical garden – one of the foremost in the world – using a fan sprinkler to demonstrate how to grow a backyard garden.  Don’t try this at home, folks, it still isn’t right for us in the arid west, but I suppose getting people into the garden is the first step, then we can worry about pesky things like fungal spores getting splashed around.  And besides, they have so much humidity I doubt they lost water to evaporation.      

Miraculously, the plants had no problems.  I know because I checked.  Perhaps the humidity provides a glossy, protective coat on the leaves and disease can’t get through.  Or possibly the plants are growing so quickly that fungus doesn’t stand a chance.  Whatever their secret is, this garden is gorgeous, so if you’re in the Bronx, check it out.

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There are 162 days until Thanksgiving, so you’d better hurry if you plan on decorating this year.  For a cornucopia of color, get your seeds in the ground before the end of June, popping in everything you need to stuff that horn in November.

Start by planting two staples of fall décor – miniature gourds and tiny pumpkins.  These must-have accents nestle into centerpieces and are easy to grow in our hot, dry summer. Each vine produces enough decorative fruit to make any decorator happy, but because they like to ramble, give them room or train them up a trellis. 

Customize your plants to fit your decorator’s style, by planting a mix of orange and white mini pumpkins.  If you favor a flat pumpkin, orange Jack be Little or white Baby Boo is what you need.  But for perfectly round, miniature Jack O’ Lanterns, check out Little October at Botanical Interests .

For a striking red accent, grow Love Lies Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus), an amaranth with long, pendulous seed heads.  Pop in full sun, giving these three-to-four feet tall plants elbow room and a stake for support.  Water, but keep them a bit on the dry side.  Clip mature flowers and hang them in a cool, dark location to dry.  Seeds of change  has this.

Ornamental corn is available in a variety of sizes and colors, from diminutive, two-inch strawberry ears to huge, nine-inch Seneca Red Stalker whose stalks and ears delight in fall on porches, tables, and doors.  Direct sow seeds in full sun, planting at least five rows to ensure pollination.  Water often so ears get large, then wait to harvest until after the silk turns completely brown and the kernels are dry and hard. 

Pluck the ears from the stalk by pulling them down, peel back the husk to reveal the kernels, and then hang upside down in a cool, dry location that is free of mice.  Leave the husk attached to the cob for a decorative look, or peel it completely off before drying the ears.  For a large selection of colors and sizes, check out Seed Savers Exchange .

Normally seen springing up from straw mulch by accident, wheat is an unusual addition to cut flower gardens.  But its spiky, bearded seed heads are gorgeous in arrangements and bundled in sheaves on the table.  Plant it like grass seed by sowing onto a prepared bed, covering it with one-quarter-inch of soil.  Keep the ground moist but not water-logged.  Johnny’s Selected Seeds has black tipped wheat, or try Silver Tip, a wheat/rye cross with huge seed heads.

  Small to medium sized sunflowers are cheerful in dried arrangements, and keep long into the fall once prepared.  Harvest when flowers are partially open, cutting the stem off at the length you want for arranging.  Then bundle the sunflowers into groups of three, making sure the heads aren’t touching, tie with twine and hang them upside down in a cool, dark place to dry.  The flowers will unfurl as they dry.

Try the pollen-less Pro Cut sunflower series; the orange, yellow peach and bi-color blooms were developed for cut flower use. Johnny’s Selected Seeds has them.  

Make your own fall wreath or swag with broomcorn (Sorghum bicolor).  The name is misleading – this isn’t corn – but the seed sprays of this sorghum come in bronze, burgundy, black, and cream.   Harvest after the seed heads have colored up but before the stalk becomes hard and woody.  Cut the stem, then hang the sprays upside down to dry.  But if you want them to have a decorative arch once dried, stand them up in a vase for drying.  Victory seeds has an heirloom mix.

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