Sunday, December 18, 2016

Week 3 Garden Picture Contest-December 18, 2016

Welcome to the Mears Garden Winter Picture Contest, Week 3. This is our way to survive dark times.

Here is Iowa this weekend certainly is giving us a taste of good old fashion winter. Yesterday there was a some blowing snow, before the temperatures tumbled. It is currently minus 9 as I hit the publish button. That is negative 9. The high today might get to  negative 4. I remember this kind of weather. But there will be sunshine and we will dress as if we have been there before.

The winter solstice is Wednesday, just three days away. Out shortest day will then be behind us.

In last week's contest the winner was...the center of the poppy. What a great picture. As someone commented, the center is like velvet. I do not quite understand seed production for this plant. I do know the seeds wind up inside that velvet box. I assume the pollen must be on those black things. Is this like a corn plant where the pollen somehow travels down the silk to the kernels of corn on the inside of the husk?

I do try to present a balanced group of contestants each week. There was good support this past week for all of the other contestants. The yellow iris could well captain a yellow team in warmer weather, after our playoffs. What do you think? How would a team yellow do against a team red, captained by the Red Coneflower from week 1?

The full voting this past week was:
Center of the poppy  18
Yellow Iris  15
Hosta Bluebells  13
Shirley the tulip  8

We heard from five comments from viewers this week. That was a lot for this blog. Please keep it up. I do really like comments. I see it as showing an extra level of support. Maybe people who comment should get two votes. Not really. That would be like people who give lots of money to political candidates... I am sorry for that slip. I really am trying to provide an escape from reality. Sometimes it is hard.

Week 3

This week I present to you pictures in a slightly different form. These 4 pictures are all cropped. They are modified in the same way. They are sort of in the same category. Think of it as if it were a dog show. These are pictures from the traditional herding group.

#1  Lupine Collective (May 26, 2016)

I love lupines.
I manage to get them to come back each year. Some of that is finding the right spot. I have one such spot up by the house on the west side. That location gets decent sun, including afternoon sun in the summer.
       Some of that success is having achieved a critical mass. There are enough plants that even if the individual plants do not last more than 2-3 years, they self seed, which replenishes the supply. I should add that they are rather good at being grown from seed. I manage to plant out about a dozen new plants each year, which supplements the carryovers and the self seedlings.
They do need sun. This puts them in direct competition with all the other plants I want to grow in sun. (There are iris and daylilies for two.) Lupines are up there are the priority list.

#2 Yellow Coneflower (June 21, 2016)

I wish I knew the name of this pretty thing. As I said two weeks ago, there has been so much done with Coneflowers in the last ten years. I am starting to get some of the hybrids to go with the old reliable purple guys.

#3  White Japanese Anemone (September 17, 2016)

These next two pictures are from the month of September. I am proud of the fact that I can find wonderful color and pictures in the latter part of the garden year.  April is an easy month. There are all those Spring flowers and trees and the weather is just about the best. There are very few weeds and virtually no bad bugs. That is an easy month.

September is a time when some gardeners have packed it in. It was too hot or too dry or too many bugs. The hosta have all those slug holes. (Don't you love the name "slug"?)
On top of everything else you have to start worrying about a frost. But September can be a great time in the garden, for some of those same reasons. Great color is just appreciated more when it stands out without much competition. We grew some late zinnias this year...Well you will learn more about them as the contest roles along.

Fall anemones, called for some reason Japanese anemones (perhaps Philip it is because they came from Japan), brighten up the time from late August to early October. This particular white variety is probably Honorine Jobert. I read somewhere that Japanese anemones prefer shade. I find mine do best with at least half day sun. Even then the blooms can start to lean toward the light, a little more than I like. Quite frankly the later varieties often will grow straighter, after all the leaves have fallen off the crabapple trees in early September.

Let me add a few notes about this particular picture. I really like the color contrast between the bright white flower and the black leaves around it. The shadows are good too. Then there is entire center-of the-blossom thing. A differently cropped picture of this same photograph is with the bonus section.

#4 Gingerland Caladium (September 8, 2016)

This caladium was sent to me this past Spring as a free "bonus plant" from the caladium company. I loved it. The group really presents much like a modern painting. The variety is a keeper.
Caladium are tender perennial bulbs. That means they will not overwinter in Iowa. I just order new ones in wholesale quantities (25 or more or more yet) each spring. They cost maybe $1.50 each. Instructions say to plant them outside when the soil temperature is at least 70 degrees. Sometimes I think that can be July. I start them inside in pots about April 1. There is room inside for caladiums at that point as some early seedlings of other plants can go outside by April 1.
With the inside season starting so late this year, (since it was warm outside) it is almost time to think about seeds. I usually want to start plants like Iceland Poppies by around January 1. It is time now to think about ordering seeds.

That's for this, the third week of the contest. We are over half way done with December. The solstice is this week. The days will start getting longer. Enjoy the pictures. Ignore reality. Cast your votes. Tell a friend. Make a comment. Send an email. Keep that reinforcement coming.

Bonus Section

Here are more caladium pictures and commentary.

This variety is Red Flash. I find the variety to be about the biggest red one available. Isn't this picture almost like a stained glass window? Because of the cool spring this year, it was almost June before I planted these guys in the ground. When it is cool certain flowers do better, like the lupines. You should have some plants that do better in different kinds of temperatures. That way something is always happy.

When the weather finally warms up, it is such fun to have 50-75 caladium to splash around the garden.With several pots in my hand, I can approach the garden like a painter with some very nice colors to use. Caladium can really can grow in almost any amount of sun/shade. They will really do well in rather deep shade. But they are ok in more sunny places. Caladium plants are a good alternative to impatiens as a companion plant to hosta. I will grow some caladium in pots all summer. That way they can be moved around and placed on top of those areas with lots of spring bulbs that are finished.

The City of Iowa City grew caladium in downtown flower beds in full sun a few years back. They were fine. I do think certain varieties may not like the sun as much.

In this picture you can begin to get an idea about the size of the leaves. Actually the daylilies in the picture are small ones but you can still appreciate the size of the caladium.

This white one is called Candidum. I have grown it for a number of years. There is one spot under the walnut tree in the front year where I regularly plant them.
I start the plants in gallon pots. I start them in a mix of professional potting soil, peat moss, and garden dirt. This mix acts as a soil amendment wherever the plants go. Mostly I will then leave the plants in the ground at the end of the season, rather than digging them up.

Here is a closeup of Gingerland, the new favorite. I will want to make sure I order early this coming year, so I can get the jumbo sized bulbs.

Here are more anemones.

This is the same variety as our contestant this week.

This is the common pink Japanese anemone. It is quite vigorous, taking over an area if you let it go for 4-5 years. It starts to bloom in late August here and blooms for about a month.

The following picture is the same picture as contestant #3, only cropped differently. This picture probably could have done well in the contest itself. Sometimes I have a difficult time picking the particular picture to include.
The color combination of the petals and parts is rather stunning. It looks like a green sun surrounded by all those yellow dancing things.

Here are more lupines. As I mentioned in a previous post if you click on a picture you should get to a slide show for all the pictures from that week.
The first picture does illustrate one reason florists do not used lupines much. The  flowers bloom sequentially, slowly coming up the flower stalk. I guess that florists would prefer them to bloom all at once.

The foliage on the lupine is rather frost hardy. It is one of the first non-bulb plants up in the spring. Columbine plants are right there with it. They also hang on well into the fall, actually putting up a fair amount of growth in the fall.
This picture was taken on November 26, 2016.

From the other end of the year comes this little emerging lupine on March 16, 2016. I put colored straws out as markers, to make sure I do not step on anything important.
I do this to avoid one of the things any gardener really fears. That would be stepping on something just coming up.

This spring picture  shows how wonderfully this particular plant holds the water drops, either from a rain or a heavy dew.

Here is Julia's recipe for the week.

Cashew Shortbread Cookies

I thought it would be appropriate to share a cookie recipe at this time of year, for cashew shortbread cookies to be exact.

The New Pioneer Co-op used to sell cashew shortbread cookies, big flat cookies with bits of cashew. Then they stopped selling them, and I was sad. I prevailed on them to let me have the recipe, and they let me copy it on a paper bag. The recipe is on the paper bag, at left. It is not possible to read so you will have to take my word for it that it starts "8 lb. butter - softened". So when I make these cookies, there is always math work.

This time, I decided to make two very small batches, one with regular all-purpose flour (that is, with gluten in it) and another with gluten-free flour (I used King Arthur's gluten-free flour which one can buy at the grocery store).

I started with 1 stick of butter. Don't use anything except butter to make shortbread. I put it in the bowl of the stand mixer and started it up. (If you don't have a stand mixer, you can use a hand-mixer or even a spoon. It will be harder (especially with a spoon), and you will need to make sure the butter is actually soft.) Then I added 1/4 cup of brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/8 teaspoon (or just a pinch) of salt and I cup of flour.  Then I made another batch. All the ingredients were the same for both batches except for the type of flour. In the gluten-free batch, I added 1/4 cup of cashew pieces. Those were going to our daughter Katie, who is not good with gluten but has no objections to cashews. In the all-purpose flour batch, I did not add any nuts as they were going to my mother, and I am not sure how she feels about cashews. Both batches of dough came out very much the same, interestingly enough. I have found that gluten-free flour sometimes behaves oddly in baked goods. But not in this case.

Next I formed the dough into a little log shape with my hands. Like play-doh. The cashew log is at right. The log was about 8 inches long and about 1-1/2 inches across. I rolled each log on a piece of waxed paper (you could use parchment or aluminum foil or saran wrap if you are up to wrestling with saran wrap). I refrigerated each log for about 30 minutes. I turned the oven on to 350 degrees.

I sliced each log into 16 slices. I think the slices were about 1/4 inch thick. The cashew-studded log is harder to slice. Because of the cashews. Be patient. Use a serrated or very sharp knife.

I baked both pans of cookies in the same oven at the same time for about 20 minutes. After 10 minutes, I flipped the pans around, top to bottom and front to back. They are done when they are set but not very brown. Let them cool on the cookie sheet (they will firm up), then transfer to a cooling rack. You may need to loosen the cookies from the pan with a dinner knife, which is thinner than a pancake flipper. If you are nervous about cookies sticking to the cookie sheet (I have other things to worry about), put parchment paper on the cookie sheet.

Cashew shortbread cookies, with gluten-free flour and cashews. We ate 4 and sent a dozen.

Cashew shortbread cookies, with all purpose flour and no cashews. We also ate 4 of these and sent a dozen.

Obviously, this recipe can be expanded. Just double or triple or quadruple everything. If you multiply by 32, you will have the recipe calling for 8 lbs. of butter and 32 cups of flour.

By the way, plain old shortbread has an even shorter ingredient list. I make these too. In fact I made some earlier this month, also in the glutinous and non-glutinous formats. This recipe is straight from the Betty Crocker Cookbook. She may be imaginary, but she does know her way around desserts. For what are called Scotch Shortbread, put 3/4 cup butter (yes, butter. Nothing else.) in the stand mixer. That's 1-1/2 sticks. It helps if the butter is not hard. Add 1/2 cup of granulated sugar. Cream these things together.  Then add 2 cups of flour, slowly. If the dough is not coming together (dry and crumbly), add a little more soft butter. Or a tiny bit of sour cream. Sometimes I use what is handy. But not too much. The dough should be firm.

Dump the dough out onto a good sized (like 18-24 inches) piece of waxed paper and mush it together into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. You can chill it for a bit. Or not. Cover with another piece of waxed and roll it out to a thickness of 1/2 inch or so. Don't measure thickness. It will be fine. Then cut it into little circles. I have a nested set of circular cookie cutters, and I like to make tiny cookies. You can make them bigger. Or you can make shapes. (I have a little heart-shaped cookie cutter for sentimental moments). But the cookies should be smallish. Use a dinner knife to loosen the cut-out cookies from the waxed paper, and then transfer them to cookie sheets. They can be fairly close together because they don't spread. Gather up the dough scraps and roll and cut again until all of the dough is used up. These also bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes with the same flipping midway through. Enjoy.

Odds and Ends

The houseplant of the week was this just opened African violet. Why African you ask? You will just have to look it up. We do not have many of these violets. There are 9, 6 at the house and 3 at the office. This one regularly blooms about this time of year.

So many types of plants contain the seeds of a major obsession. There really are wonderful varieties of African violets. There are all sorts of colors. There are the little ones. (What is the plural for the term "mini"?)
Under good light in the winter they provide great color and they are not that demanding.

Sometimes I cannot resist blowing up a picture, assuming the focus was good. If you look hard enough you will see the pistil, to the right of those yellow things with the pollen in/on them.
The pistil is purple, just like the petals.
I do like the hint of red on the edges of some of the petals.

OK Bigger still.

Gardening can be about anticipation. I have this one orchid called Angricum sesquipidale. It has an interesting bud. Two years ago it bloomed on January 9. Last year the bud fizzled. Who wants certainty?

I actually have started a few things from seed. Actually these started from seed outside in the fall. These are a variety of blackberry lilies. They grow well.

In this odds and end section, I can go down memory lane. The garden has been here now for over 30 years. In that time plants come and go.

There was a point in time when I grew a lot of calla lilies. I would store the bulbs inside. They stored just fine. There was this one bad year. I should bring them back. The white ones did the best. Here was an entry in the 2006-2007 contest.

One of the clivia this past week began to bloom.

In this picture you can see the seed pods from earlier blooms. Clivia seed takes forever to ripen. You know the seeds are ripe when the seed pod turns reddish. I find that in the winter the flower stalks are somewhat stunted. The color is appreciated.

That is it for the week. It is time to think about staying warm. Maybe we will have a fire in the fireplace.


Anna said...

I'm not able to vote in the poll from my phone, but my vote is for the anemone.

Nicole said...

Not able to vote from my phone either, or at least don't see how to do so, but I'm also voting for the anemone! One of my absolute favorite flowers, and love all the contrast of this picture - the vibrant yellow in the center, shadow on bright white petals, and dark leaves behind. Stunning.

Anonymous said...

The caladium from the contest reminds me of peppermint bark! How wonderful for Christmas! <3

Phyllis Noble said...

I am always delighted by your style of writing. And that's true for BOTH of you! Julia always has some little aside that makes me smile.

philip Mears said...

I am in communication with the Blogger people about the voting by phone issue. The vote by comment will certainly count. If you vote by comment please say that. The Blogger people want to know some details. They would like to know what device & version was used and
which app & version were used to access.
If anyone can vote by their particular phone I would think that would be helpful.

philip Mears said...

For those of you who are having trouble voting from your iphones I think I know the solution. At the bottom of the post on your iphone you will see something that says "view web version."
If you click on that you will get a version that will allow voting.
I have confirmed this with several phones.
Good luck and happy voting.