Before enlightenment (which is an ongoing, painfully slow, process) the only Kalanchoe in my world was the grocery store foil-wrapped pot of lurid hot pink or orange blossoms presented by Auntie Gertie when she popped in for tea. They were nursed along just long enough not to appear ungrateful before being put to their ultimate best use as compost.


When this gorgeous hunk entered my life, I could hardly believe it: Kalanchoe orgyatum is his name. The leaves are fleshy, with that lovely, soft fuzz found on some Rhododendrons, and whose proper terminology I can never remember. The sage green takes on a bronze blush when the plant is left out in the sun for the summer. The plant pictured above is third generation. Cuttings root without any special treatment…man, do I need a greenhouse.


Thus began an “orgy” of Kalanchoe acquisition. Above, left, is E beharensis ‘Elephant Ears’, sharing a pot with one of its kindred identified only as “species”. Surely it deserves a name of its own.


K fedtschenkoi has lovely scalloped leaves. That was what attracted me to a small specimen, along with the blue-green coloration. It quickly put on a spurt of growth and produced dangling orange sherbet blossoms. I started many new plants with cuttings, and here you see the mother plant again pushing boundaries and waiting for another round of cuttings to whip her into shape.


I have heard them called paddle plants, or pancake plants, but these cuties are technically E thyrsiflora.

I have never considered myself a “collector” of anything…especially in the realm of gardening, but I do seem to be drawn to these particular plants in a way that threatens to drag me into the collectors’ corner. Have you fallen prey to a species that keeps you wanting more?


Yes, it’s a color (and one of my favorites), but also the French word for eggplant.


I find them so beautiful that they are in the entry berm along with the perennials and shrubs. This one is called ‘Dancer’. The blossoms are pale lavender and about 2″ across. The fruit has a pearlescent sheen, and peeks out from amidst the dense foliage in a rather coy manner. When the time comes to harvest the first of them, I think I will try making ratatouille…Julia’s recipe, of course. We have already indulged in a moussaka, using the recipe in Joy of Cooking. It was complicated, but worth it…and with just two of us, it provided three meals. I figure that about equals out to kitchen time for simpler fare, and it’s recreational anyway, no?

I don’t know if the new varieties are improved, but we don’t bother with all the salting and draining before throwing sliced eggplant on the grill, brushed with a little garlic oil. No hint of bitterness, and easy as can be. Another easy approach is to dredge the slices in seasoned flour, dip in beaten eggs, coat in panko crumbs and saute in oil (same treatment works for zucchini).

Bon Apetit!

Julia’s cukes

We went to see Julie and Julia Thursday night with friends. This foursome rarely agrees on the movies we see, but it was unanimous thumbs up for this one. In one scene, Julia and friends sat around a table singing the praises of roasted cucumbers. I never heard of such a thing. Next day, out came both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Sure enough: there was the recipe. Mine turned out overly salty and overcooked, but worth another try with some adjustments. The cucumber flavor and slight crunch came through even my feeble effort. If my fine-tuning turns up a winner, I will post the recipe here. I dare you to come away from that film without a rage to cook…or at least to eat.

cukes galore

I wish the veggies would pace themselves better.


This was this morning’s harvest. Every day is the same. I must say, though, having a lot of something brings out the cook’s creativity. So far, my favorite use for the cucumbers is a creamy salad using plain yogurt, a splash of vinegar (I like rice, champagne or sherry) and a chopped herb. The tarragon is as rampant as the cukes, so that is usually my herb of choice, but for the sake of variety cilantro or parsley have worked well. The skins on the green cukes are not at all bitter, so it can be fun to score them lengthwise all around the circumference, then slice them thinly crosswise. They look almost like flowers this way. Add some sweet onion (Walla Walla or Vidalia) cut into good sized chunks, toss the whole thing together and you are good to go. Easy. Refreshing. Downright sublime. You didn’t really think I was complaining about too many cucumbers, did you?

I’m crazy about the lemon cucumbers. In years past, they have followed the first rule of show business, always leaving us wanting more. Ha! Let me tell you about the cucumber martini. Muddle a bit of cucumber and mint with a splash of simple syrup, add gin and crushed ice and garnish with cucumber slices and mint sprigs. On a really hot day, the addition of seltzer ups the refreshment factor, and you can sip away without getting totally loopy right away.

Thin slices of Cucumber and lemon in a pitcher of plain old tap water is a staple in our fridg these days. After a morning of digging, it gives me the will to go on.

About that idea of wanting more…I do hope they hang around long enough to overlap with the tomato crop. Gazpacho, anyone?



Just when I think I have something figured out, my plants conspire to prove me wrong. My Acanthus spinosus, the one with the spiky leaves (and the one I was convinced was the more vigorous and hardy) has yet to produce any flowering stalks this year. Pictured is Acanthus mollis in its first year in its new home in the woodland garden. What a grand show it is putting on. It is said to spread rather aggressively, but that will be fine by me, as long as it resists overtaking the ‘Swallowtail’ columbine down in the right corner and the Rhododendron ‘Dazzle’ on the left.

lily chronicles

I am saying goodbye to the last of the lilies.


The first Oriental lilies that I planted were ‘Casa Blanca’..three bulbs planted in ’04.
They grew to about 5′ the first year. This year there there are nine of them, topping out at 7′. They begin blooming around the end of July and hang in there for about 3 weeks (maybe longer, depending on the weather). They generally like to have their feet in the shade and heads in the sun. This location on the south side of the house with dense underplanting seems to suit them.


The scent is at its headiest in the evening. We get waves of it through our bedroom windows, even though the plants are a ways around the corner.


One stalk is enough to create a dramatic bouquet. When you buy them from a florist, the stamens have been amputated. I understand the reasoning, as they are drenched in pollen that can stain anything it touches. I find them much too beautiful a design element to sacrifice to the Gods of Cleanliness.

Working backward through the season, the ‘Stargazers’ bloom a week or two before ‘Casa Blanca’, and overlap slightly in bloom time. I planted 6 bulbs in ’05. They have proven much less vigorous, rising to only 3′ and decreasing in number (3 this year). I didn’t get photos of them, but we are all familiar with their vivid deep pink, freckled throats.


‘Muscadet’ is the first of the Orientals to bloom. It falls somewhere between the other two in color (pale pink shading to white, with deep pink freckles) and height (5′). 5 bulbs planted in ’05 have increased to 8.

I am convinced that the time has come to divide the lily bulbs, refurbish beds and spread them around. Will let you know how that goes when it cools down and I can bear to dig.


Way back in June, the lower-growing border lilies put in an appearance. What they lack in fragrance, they make up for in pure, saturated color. A friend brought me these (2, in a florists’ plastic pot) in ’06.


By this year they had multiplied to the point where they will become part of the big dig of fall ’09.

august bloom day

Are you new to this? If so, here’s the deal: on the 15th of every month Carol of May Dreams Gardens hosts a forum where gardeners from all over the world share pictures of what is blooming in their gardens. Sound like fun? It is! So come along with me for a tour of my garden, then skip on over to my blogroll and click on May Dreams Gardens to be taken to the portal of all things blooming.


Can you see the bumblebees in there? I counted seven in a single blossom. They seem to sort of drowse in the cardoon, which is way smaller than last year, but more floriferous.


Whenever something blooms for the first time, it is cause for celebration, even if the show is less than stellar. Campsis tagliabuana falls into that category for me. I brought several from my former garden and placed them at five consecutive fence-posts. You know the feeling. This gives me hope that my vision of a fence line covered with vines is not a mere pipe dream.


I bought my Clerodendrum trichotomen specifically for the steely blue balls that form after the blossoms fade. So far, no luck…but the fairly inconspicuous blossoms do have a heavenly fragrance that kicks in just as the lilies breathe their last. Here it hovers above the Hydrangea ‘Limelight’.


And here is a close-up of ‘Limelight’.


The dangling pagodas of Leycesteria formosa combine fruit and flower over a long season. I hear that the fruit can be used in jams and such, but have never tried it.


I remember ‘Red Hot Pokers’ from my grandmother’s garden. The newer varieties emerge sporting a single color, like this ‘Primrose Beauty’, which, as you can see, fades to bicolor as it ages.


But ‘Percy’s Pride’ holds on to its monochromatic pale yellow, making it my favorite of all the kniph’s.


See the deep colored dahlia in back of the paler one? That is the most vigorous of all the dahlias I have ever planted. The paler one in the foreground seems to be a sport, as it is springing from the same tuber…ain’t horticulture grand?


August seems like an odd time to be buying plants, but I couldn’t resist this Rudbeckia ‘Henry Eilers’ at the farmers’ market. It is said to reach a height of 5′, so it fits into my plan for the fence line between us and our nearest neighbors.


This Rosa rugosa ‘Buffalo Gals’ is another introduction along the fence line.

Our extremes of weather have made August feel a bit strange…not so much interest in getting out there to sniff, cut and snap pictures. Thanks to ‘Bloom Day’ there is a little extra motivation, and look what we found…

Roscoea beesiana


I have been spending a lot of time in the woodland garden lately. It stays coolish under the big cedars even in a heat wave. Roscoea beesiana is one of those strange, shy little flowers whose charms are only revealed by close inspection. The foliage is iris-like. The orchid-y flowers emerge one-at-a-time from a sheath where several (3-6) buds wait their turn. The whole edifice will flop over unless surrounded by low growers to prop it up or some discreet staking.



Zinnias are sooo satisfying to start from seed. They emerge in a matter of days, so even with a late start, they are ready to be settled into beds after a few weeks.


I posted earlier about the disappointing results of my tulip bed project. Apparently all that work didn’t go completely to waste. The zinnias are happy there, as are some lemon cucumbers (a variety which I love, but have had little success with in the past).


I decided to try the low-growing ‘Profusion’ variety this time. Their happy little faces are sweet at the edge of the border. I do miss the tall ones. Next year…always next year.

gifts from the storm


Our fabulous Clematis armandii took a big hit in the legendary storm of ’08. Rather than enjoying clouds of fragrant blooms, we watched as the foliage slowly faded to the color of the leaf you see on the right. Because it shades us from the afternoon sun on our deck, we left the dead plant in place, planting a new one at the other side of the deck to slowly take its place. Lo and behold! Vigorous new shoots soon came up from the roots of the old plant, and began producing leaves that are twice the size of the originals. That new leaf, on the left, measures 12″. The new growth is so rampant that I go out there daily to hack back more of the dead stuff and make way for the fresh vines…feels a bit like ‘Jack and the Beanstock’.