Thursday, September 18, 2014

My #4 annual flower for the kitchen garden -- Moonflower

September is a ragged month in the kitchen garden, with most flowers and vegetables past their peak and on the decline. But the mooonflower (Ipomoea alba) is an exception. In September the dark green foliage is unmarked by disease or pests, and multiple white blooms uncurl nightly, releasing their sweet fragrance into the cooling early autumn air.

Like all member of the Ipomoea family, all parts of the plant are poisonous, which accounts for the unchewed leaves. Moonflowers take a long time to bloom from seed, but during the three months of growth that precede flowering the leaves weave their way through my inexpensive wire garden fence and turn it into a solid wall of green. 
Moonflower is not a self seeder here in Massachusetts, since frost usually hits the plants before the seeds are mature, though about one year out of five I am able to collect  a few seeds from the earliest blooms. And in order to be sure of September bloom Moonflower should be started indoors, about 
the same time as tomatoes, which means late March for me.  In fact,  I treat my Mooonflower seedlings just like my tomatoes -- I start, harden off and transplant them into the garden at the same time.
It's a little bit of work compared to some of the prolific self sowers I have already picked for my top five,  but once you've stepped into a September garden full of Moonflowers in bloom, you'll understand why this flower makes the list.

Friday, September 12, 2014

My top five annual flowers - #3, Verbena bonariensis

Yes, the name is a mouthful, but this is a great little plant.  This tough species of Verbena is such a reliable self-seeder that you you plant one Verbena bonariensis, you may never have to plant another. It also winters over given just a bit of shelter from cold hard winds.
And yet it  never seems invasive, because the neat early rosettes of foliage can be easily pulled from places you don't want this willowy, purple flowered butterfly magnet to grow.... though I 'm not sure where you would not want it!
Here's a big patch of bonariensis I let fill in after I pulled my garlic plants in July. The foliage is still clean and green and new flower shoots are sent up every day:

In other parts of the garden I have left just one plant, and I really enjoy the effect of the tall flowers coming up through the vegetable plants, in this case a trellis of Rattlesnake pole beans.

Verbena bonariensis has several characteristics that keep it from being the perfect kitchen garden annual; it is not fragrant nor edible, and as a cut flower tends to shed a lot.
Bur right now, when so many other garden flowers are tired and ragged, the Verbena stands tall and bright.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Top five annual flowers for the kitchen garden- #2, Cleome

Cleome, also known as 'spider plant', latin name Cleome hassleriana, is an old friend from my first days as a gardener. I was  a lot less attentive to my garden's needs then, and even when I neglected to water or fertilize my Cleome they still thrived and flowered, and produced lots of seeds to save for the next season. Their stately heads of pink, purple and white flowers  still rise above my current garden and provide great nectar targets for hummingbirds and hummingbird moths.
I have not bought Cleome seeds in about 30 years. When the seedling come up too thick I thin them, (the compound foliage makes even small seedlings easy to identify) and they tolerate transplanting on cool moist days. I sometimes select for just one color, but often let them grow mixed.
Because of their spiny stems Cleome are rarely eaten by rabbits, deer or woodchucks, so they can liven up the unfenced parts of the kitchen garden. They also make fine cut flowers when collected early in the day-- rememnber to wear gloves or the spiny stems will hurt you!
They also produce flowering side shoots if the main flower head is removed. The seeds can be dried and stored in the fridge, but I generally just grab a few plants after the first frost and shake the seed heads over any bare patch where I want them to grow the following year.
Here's a pic of late season Cleome flowering behind Sol's doghouse:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

September 3rd tour of my Bay State Kitchen Garden

Well, the best laid plans... I will get back to my picks for top annual flowers soon, but first here is a September tour video:

Monday, September 1, 2014

Top five annual flowers in my kitchen garden- #1, Bachelor Button

As I sit in my study writing I can hear the welcome sound of rain falling in the night, as well as a chorus of crickets and the Labor Day fireworks at the racetrack nearby.
Summer is coming to an all too fast end, but for many of the annual flowers I grow in my kitchen garden it is peak bloom time. Over the next few nights I'm going to post about my top five kitchen garden annuals.
Here's my criteria to make the list: they must grow easily from seed sown directly into the garden, they must require little maintenance, they must bloom freely over a long time, and they must add both color and texture to the garden.  Other criteria can vary—some of my favorites are edible, some feed birds and butterflies, and some make good cut flowers,  while others are tricky to keep happy in a vase.
Why grow flowers in a vegetable garden at all? Well, the tradition of kitchen gardens is that they are places of beauty and comfort as well as food. Growing flowers among the vegetables also provides food for insects and birds that eat insect pests. And mixing the flowers and food crops makes it hard for those insect pests to find and eat the crops.
I'm going to write about the top five in roughly the order they bloom in my garden. Bachelor Buttons often winter over in sheltered spots, and they grow quickly to flower when sown before the last frost. By late June I have masses of flowers in colors from blue to red, sometimes edged in contrasting tones.  The foliage is a pleasant soft gray-green, and the upright form contrasts nicely with my early greens and peas on their trellis. They are also edible, bloom a long time in big clusters, and can re bloom if the flower heads are cut off  with hedge trimmers. 
Here's a shot of a clump from a small packet of seeds I bought for 20 cents: 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Free tomato day at work

I harvested all the near ripe tomatoes yesterday, and spread them out on the sideboard in the dining room. They are, going clockwise from the top of the picture:
 Burpees Early Pick (medium sized), Rutgers (large with green shoulders and nice round shape), Patio Princess (perfect little globes about 2-3 inches across),
 Mortgage Lifter (big, funny looking, pink with green edges), two kinds of plums, and Sugar Lump cherry tomatoes:

I am picking all of the tomatoes in the beds next to the fence when just starting to color and ripening them on the sideboard because the woodchucks have already shown an inclination to nip through the fence at ripe fruit-- and only ripe fruit. 

Besides the sideboard tomatoes, I started today with another 30 tomatoes  ripening on a plastic bin lid in the garage. I bagged a dozen of these up and took them to work and gave them away to customers and co-workers.  
I really enjoyed the conversations that went along with sharing my tomatoes. I learned a lot as I handed out the fruits- about the gardens the recipients are currently cultivating,  about family gardens from childhood, and even favorite recipes.  My love of grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches is more common than I dreamed!