Urtica dioica • painfully delicious

stinging nettle

Restaurants feature them (part of the “eat local”, better yet “eat wild” movement), nutritionists tout them (a true super-food), our back woods is full of them. Yes, I speak of stinging nettles: the darlings of the spring culinary elite.

the nettle harvest

Ever one to dabble in the latest food craze (and never opposed to free food) I covered up, grabbed a basket and shears and headed into the woods. The abundance of plants in peak condition led me to cram my market basket with the pernicious delicacy.

fiddleheads unfurling

While still in the woods, I spotted fiddleheads emerging from the many sword ferns and made a mental note to return for the makings of another esoteric kitchen experiment. Sadly, when I went back a couple of days later, the deer had nipped off each and every one.


On the way back to the house, I stopped by the vegetable plot, where a row of leeks was in need of thinning. I figured these would be good companions for the nettles.

Tongs had been recommended for handling, but I knew that, in addition to the tongs, this would be a hands-on experience. I broke out the surgical gloves. The stems and undersides of the leaves are covered with spiny hairs that release a devilish mix of histamine, serotonin and formic acid. By plunging the stems into boiling water for about a minute, that toxic brew is deactivated without undermining the health benefits of intense concentrations of protein, iron, vitamins and minerals. But how do they taste? Something like spinach with a little more of a mineral tang. The real difference is in the texture. There is an almost dangerous roughness on the tongue (I will admit: that may have something to do with the power of suggestion).

I had expected the raw material to cook down much more than it did. I wound up with plenty for experimentation. Dish 1: sauteed leeks and nettles layered with non-cook lasagna, bechamel sauce and three cheeses; grade ****. Dish 2: another lasagna using tomato sauce instead of the bechamel and adding sunflower seeds; grade **. Dish 3: simple scrambled eggs with the nettles stirred in and a light sprinkle of finishing salt; grade ****. My conclusion was that the simpler the dish, the more the subtle flavor of the nettles came through. And heavier gloves are needed for handling. I swished them around in cold water before using tongs to transfer them to the boiling water bath and could feel them stinging right through the surgical gloves. Not unbearable (anyone who cooks and/or gardens is used to minor injuries) but my fingers were still numb and tingly the next day.

Wendy, at Greenish Thumb has challenged us to cook up our gardens’ bounty and share. Go there to find good goodies.

Joy Creek dry gardening seminar

On the second day, Hortlandia lost out to Maurice Horn’s presentation. Most Sundays, Joy Creek Nursery offers a seminar. This one held special interest for me, as I have been trying to phase out the need to drag hoses about during the dry summer months.

Joy Creek seminar tent

The canopy protects the audience from rainfall, or, in this case (wonder of wonders), sunshine.

dry garden plants

A table plus a cart were loaded with plants to illustrate points being made.

handouts on clip boards

These guys seemingly think of everything: handouts come on individual clipboards, complete with a sharpened pencil for note-taking. I, for one, was scribbling furiously. Maurice has been pressed into service to deal with some staggering planting problems, and he used them to walk us through a process that will end in success under almost any circumstances. The formula, in a nutshell: use a mixture of 1/4″ ten gravel mixed with organic material for planting; mulch with more of the same gravel. Mulching with gravel allows bringing the mulch right up to the plant, where organic mulches will cause rot if there isn’t breathing room. I had been using pea gravel because I like the look, but I am now convinced that the 1/4″ ten is superior in every way. Where pea gravel tends to roll and gets kicked around, this stuff stays put. Just make sure you get the washed kind so that sediment does not rise to the surface and form a crust.

Cistus ‘Blanche’

I arrived early to stroll through the display gardens, and even had time to latch on to this Cistus ‘Blanche’.

more Cistus ‘Blanche’

It is marginally hearty here, so it is going in a pot with Heuchera ‘Caramel’ at its feet. I love those wavy leaves and the coloration of leaf and stem. The blooms will be white, so I can live with those, too.

Artemesia versicolor

We dove for the demonstration plants (politely, of course) and I came up with Artemesia versicolor, which has been on my list for some time.

Zauschneria garetti

Zauschneria garetti is supposed to form a mat through which early bulbs will grow and then produce red-orange flowers of its own later on. I’ll let you know how that works out.

Eryngium borgattii

Continuing my love affair with Eryngiums, this one is borgattii.

Ceanothus gloriosys ‘Heart’s Desire’

Sprawling forms of Ceanothus sound like the perfect ground cover for the evergreen border, so I am giving C. gloriosus ‘Heart’s Desire’ a try.

Sedum ‘Stardust’

Everything the least bit fleshy that goes into my dry berm seems to get nibbled. I must figure out a way to protect Sedum ‘Stardust’, because that is the perfect spot for it, and I will cry if it meets the same fate as the poor Opuntia. Any ideas?

The best and most mature of Horn’s dry gardens is the Reed College Hell Strip. To see another of his efforts and get in on the early stages of a demanding project, go to the rest stop on the west side of I-5 near Aurora. Now I must be off to procure me some gravel.

Rowena Plateau wildflowers in early April

The giant HPSO plant sale, renamed Hortlandia with a nod to the Peabody winning (WWTT) TV series ‘Portlandia’, which lifted its name from the sculpture on the Portland Building by Michael Graves (I know, I know…way more info than you need) has come and gone. Here is why I missed the first day: Saturday.

Bob n Laurie

Our good friends Bob and Laurie are avid wind surfers. Since the Columbia River Gorge offers some of the best, they built a house in Mosier to be closer to the wind, the sun and the river. We have had a standing invitation to visit, and when that Saturday dawned bright and sunny, off we went.

rock outcropping

If you have been following this blog at all, you know that I never met a rock that failed to capture my heart. The Gorge, then, is pure bliss. After visiting over snacks, we headed for Tom McCall Park, also known as Rowena Plateau, where many trails lead from the road to the cliff overlooking the river.

the Columbia River beyond the cliff

In the springtime, the main attraction is the parade of wildflowers strewn along the path. I made an effort to track down the names, with only moderate success. There is an informational board at the trailhead, but I was not equipped to take notes. Maybe next time.

Lomatium columbialum

Columbia desert parsley, or Lomatium columbialum



Later in the season, when the balsamroot comes along things get showy and bold, but now one must look closely to spot the dainty blossoms sprinkled here and there.

grass widow

The hand is there to steady the ‘Grass Widow’ for the camera, but it also gives you an idea of scale.

Fritillaria pudica

Yellow Bells, or Fritillaria pudica

So that, my dears, is what kept me from the first day of ‘Hortlandia’. Next, I will fill you in on what led to my second day of truancy.

april flowers (and foliage)

Wow! I have really fallen behind. It’s been a busy spring, with lots to report, so after being AWOL for a couple of weeks, I will now bombard you with a rush of posts in the next few days, starting with belated Bloom Day & Foliage Follow-up.

Clematis armandii

After three years of little to no blooms, the Clematis armandii is again smothering the front deck in fragrant blooms nearly as lavishly as the first year.


Here’s a close-up of that same evergreen clematis. Can’t you almost smell it?

Rhododendon PMB

The first of the Rhodys to bloom here is Rhododendron PMB. It is far from the showiest, but it did bloom right on schedule for GGBD.

Narcissus ‘Salome’

While the earliest, bright yellow daffodils are welcome for their promise of spring, I am happier with the white of ‘Salome’ with her pinkish cups.

Narcissus ‘Thalia’

And my favorite of the Narcissi ‘Thalia’.

Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’

The Euphorbias are in full swing. Here’s ‘Blackbird”, no longer black, but still pumping out bracts to beat the band.

pear tree in blossom

The fruit trees are beginning to blossom, the pears being the first. If the rains will give the bees a chance at them, there will be a bumper crop of fruit to put up and/or give away. C’mon out!

You know there is more, it being April and all, but that is all I have to show you right now. For more, you know by now where to find it.

Juniperus recurva v butanica

Out in the weeping bed (yes, we have a whole berm given over almost exclusively to weepers) the Himalayan Weeping Juniper is settling in nicely.

unknown sedum

Tucked into the nooks and crannies are a number of sedums, with the hope that they will eventually spill over the edges. I have lost track of which one this is, so if you know, please tell. It is a good spreader and transplants easily.

Augment my sparse foliage report with a visit to digging, where Pam will leave you sated.

what a little sunshine can dooo

tulips in the rain

The ‘Shakespeare’ tulips stayed all closed up for days on end.

‘Shakespeare’ tulips in the sun

Then the sun came out for two days and coaxed them into showing their faces. Of course the rain came back with a vengeance and battered them to shreds, but it was lovely while it lasted. I hope you enjoyed the little respite as much as I did.