Friday, August 28, 2009

Texas Ranger; Brave Bloomer in Hot Dry Gardens for Friday Floral

This brave plant currently blooming in 100 degree heat is called Texas Ranger or Leucophyllum frutescens. It is also one of the oddest plants I have grown, but more about that later. After a few years of getting established it is really blooming this year. Most Leucophyllums have purple flowers with more of an open bell shape. Both have small, oval silvery leaves. This leucophyllum is called "Green Cloud" and is known for its little red, straight tubular flowers. I love them and so do the hummingbirds!

Leucophyllum frutescens is native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Texas Ranger is also called Texas Sage (no relation) or Cenizo.

I planted this shrub because it was evergreen, drought tolerant, heat resistant and takes full sun. It is part of my Back 40 Section; where my landscape goal is to have plants that survive completely off rainfall alone. I am jealous of English gardens so I also wanted something that would flower. My southern California garden has heavy clay, alkaline soil and Texas Ranger was just the man, er, plant for the job. I think it has earned a star this year.

There is an odd thing about this plant. It is very sticky and doesn't feel like a normal shrub when you touch it. If you push your hand into it you will hear the branches crackling as if they are breaking. Then your hand will be sticky with essential oils. It smells sort of grassy and green.

It is classified as a shrub, but it has a thick viny growing habit. The word 'cloud' is pretty accurate; it sort of cloaks the space around it with branches. The tips point up, but they bend slightly under their own weight. Texas Ranger can grow up to 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide. My plant has slowly enveloped a tall barrel and the plants growing out of the top of the barrel.

This would be a good screen plant to grow on a chain link fence. It needs support to grow up, but in time it would form a solid screen. They are also useful as borders and can take shearing.

Most leucophyllum varieties are hardy in USDA Zones 10. I found seeds of Leucophyllum scrophulariaceae and Leucophyllum frutescens from my favorite seed bank, J.L. Hudson, Seedsman here...

Try to stay cool out there and don't forget the sunscreen; keep a spray-on bottle next to your gardening gloves so you don't forget. Happy gardening!


Friday, August 21, 2009

Blooming Aechmea Bromeliad Update for Friday Floral

The flowers on my aechmea plant are finally opening. They are on stalks about a foot long coming out of the center of the plant. The flower is about 6 inches wide from tendril to spiky tendril.

Aechmeas can be grown in Sunset Zones 22 -24, or (USDA Zone 10 or above or hardy to about 40 degrees). These bromeliads normally grow on trees in the rainforest, but mine is in a pot on the patio.

The flower starts out pink with some creamy white. In a way, it looks like more than one flower. There are smaller buds circling the largest one crowning the center.

After a few days additional colors show in the aechmea. Tiny, two-petal flowers in deep blue and dark pink open inside the massive bloom. Aechmea blossoms can last for several months.

Alas, after the blooming is finished the plant will die. But it will not go to the big Greenhouse in the Sky without my appreciation. And I will have something else to remember it by; it will send out pups that should bloom in a few years.



Wednesday, August 19, 2009

3 Vintage Tomato Recipes for Gardeners With Too Many Tomatoes

Not only do I love gardening and growing vegetables, I also love cooking and collecting old cookbooks. Since many of us may be blessed with an overabundance of tomatoes this summer, I thought it would be fun to share a few tomato recipes with my garden readers.

These recipes are from The White House Cook Book, published in 1887, by Mr. F. L. Gillette and Hugo Ziemann, steward of the White House. According to the book: "Hugo Ziemann was at one time caterer for that Prince Napoleon who was killed while fighting the Zulus in Africa [Imperial Prince Napoléon IV, France]. He was afterwards steward of the famous Hotel Splendide in Paris. Later he conducted the celebrated Brunswick Café in New York and still later he gave to the Hotel Richelieu, in Chicago, a cuisine which won the applause of even the gourmets of foreign lands… Mrs. F.L. Gillette is no less proficient and capable, having made a life-long and thorough study of cookery and housekeeping, especially as adapted to the practical wants of average American homes."

Stewed Tomatoes

Pour boiling water over a dozen sound ripe tomatoes; let them remain for a few moments; then peel off the skins, slice them and put them over the fire in a well lined tin or granite ware sauce-pan. Stew them about twenty minutes, then add a tablespoonful of butter, salt and pepper to taste; let them stew fifteen minutes longer; and serve hot. Some prefer to thicken tomatoes with a little grated bread, adding a teaspoonful of sugar; and others who like the flavor of onion chop up one and add while stewing; then again some add as much green corn as there are tomatoes.

Scalloped Tomatoes

Butter the sides and bottom of a pudding [baking] dish. Put a layer of bread crumbs in the bottom; on them put a layer of sliced tomatoes; sprinkle with salt, pepper and some bits of butter, and a very little white vinegar. Then repeat with another layer of crumbs, another of tomato and seasoning until full, having the top layer of slices of tomato, with bits of butter on each. Bake covered until well cooked through; remove the cover and brown quickly.

[I'd bake this at 375 degrees and maybe run it under the broiler at the end to brown the top. And a little Parmesan cheese on top might not hurt either.]

To Prepare Tomatoes (Raw)

Carefully remove the peelings. Only perfectly ripe tomatoes should ever be eaten raw, and if ripe the skins easily peel off. Scalding injures the flavor. Slice thin, and sprinkle generously with salt, more sparingly with black pepper, and to a dish holding one quart, add a light tablespoonful of sugar to give a piquant zest to the whole. Lastly, add a gill [1/2 a cup] of best cider vinegar; although, if you would have a dish yet better suited to please an epicurean palate, you may add a teaspoonful of made [prepared] mustard and two tablespoonfuls of rich sweet cream.

I was going to publish a graphic of a tomato with this blog post. However, since you are probably up to your eyeballs in tomatoes already, I'm showing you the cool vintage art on the title page of this fine cookbook instead. Drop by my cooking and kitchen art website MomsRetro.com to find more recipes.

Happy Cooking!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Astounding Amaryllis Flowers Blooming in So California August Heat

Amaryllis belladonna are fascinating flowers. They bloom straight out of the bare ground on tall stalks. Their flowers are large and dramatic, shaped like trumpets about four inches long. They smell wonderful and can perfume a room on a hot summer day. They bloom in late summer or early fall.

The leaves are on a completely different schedule. They sprout from their stout bulbs in spring or early summer. The bright green leaves are about a foot long and an inch wide.

These amaryllis are native to South Africa, making them a perfect fit for my hot, dry garden. They require no additional water and survive on rainfall alone. They are also called Brunsvigia rosea or Belladonna Lily or Naked Lady. Don't confuse these with the other hybrid bulb sold as amaryllis that is a favorite of florists, with striped flowers; its' latin name is Hippeastrum and it requires regular water.

This is how my amaryllis looked about six days ago. One fat bud emerges from the ground. To be honest, I'd completely forgotten I had planted it there!

Soon there are two stalks about two feet tall and the flowers are unfolding. There are usually four or five flowers in the bunch.

These bulbs grow in Sunset Zone 4 - 24 or USDA Zone 7 - 10. In colder winter areas they do better with extra mulch and slightly deeper planting.

Amaryllis bulbs are generally large, two or three inches tall is a normal size. They don't like to be planted deeply; at or slightly above ground level is fine. They have a way of emerging from the ground as they get older and produce offset bulbs. The best time to transplant them is just after blooming.

Just try not to forget where you planted them!


Friday, August 7, 2009

Amazing Aechmea; Unique Urn Plant Prickly Posies for Friday Floral

Can you identify this photo? No, these are not the tendrils of a sci-fi monster, or the top of a giant pink bug.

Anticipation has been crackling in the air over here since this aechmea flower was discovered emerging from one of the urns in my silver urn plant. It was a few years ago when my mother sent me home with a few wispy offset pups in a large plastic plant pot. I had read that aechmea pups can take 3 to 4 years to flower after transplanting. It's true.

Now finally we have two pale pink flowers emerging from the center of leaves. The flowers will eventually reach a foot long and about 6 inches across at the top. The leaves are about three feet long with a faint silver stripe. The edges of the leaves and the flowers have tiny but very sharp spikes.

Aechmeas are in the bromeliaceae family and are native to Central and South America. The Sunset Western Garden Book lists them for Zones 22 -24, or (USDA Zone 10 or above or hardy to about 40 degrees). They also recommend keeping the urns filled with water or peat moss. I suppose in the growing in the wilds of a rainforest tree they would be filled with moss or water. I have not done that, and my plant seems fine.

Aechmea likes deep to light shade. Sunburn will show up as round brown patches. The burned leaf will become dry and papery. Try moving your plant to less sunlight. The patch won't clear up, but you shouldn't get any new ones. Urn plants make excellent houseplants and prefer to be grown in bright indirect sunlight indoors. Propagation is easiest by planting the small offset plants.

Title note: apologies to former Organic Gardening Magazine editor, humorist and all-around great guy, Mike McGrath. He's known for his alluring alliteration and for getting me hooked on gardening.

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