Thursday, July 16, 2020

Culinary Herb Recipes To Try This Summer

Peg Riccio, Camelot Garden Club, District III

parsleyThis summer, as you cut and harvest your culinary herbs from your garden, try using them in a variety of basic recipes. Here are a few simple recipes — the herb you use depends on the flavor you want so try experimenting. For easy reference, print this article and tape it on the inside of your kitchen cabinet along with the list of herbs you are growing.


tarragon is often used in herb vinegars

Herbal Vinegar

Wash one cup of herbs, allow to air dry. Pack leaves (can use stems too) in quart glass jar with wooden spoon. Fill with 3 to 3 ½ cups vinegar to one inch from top. The vinegar should be 5% acidity and best types of vinegar are white or red wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar. Push down with spoon and bruise leaves. If a metal lid, first cover with plastic wrap, if plastic lid, just close. Store in dark place for 4 to 6 week, shaking every few days. Taste to see if too strong, add more vinegar, or too weak, add more herb. When done, strain leaves out and pour liquid into clean bottles and add a sprig of fresh herb for decoration. Label.


Wash herbs, let dry. Take a stick of unsalted butter out of the fridge, put in bowl, and let come to room temperature so is soft. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the chopped herb, do this to taste. Depending on the leaf, may have to cut into small pieces. Can put in a container to keep in fridge for 2 weeks or roll into saran wrap like a log and freeze for up to 6 months.


Put one cup of water and one cup of sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. When sugar dissolves, turn off heat, add large handful of herb leaves. Bruise with wooden spoon by smashing against side of pot. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes. When cool, strain leaves out and pour syrup in glass jar and store in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

mint has a variety of uses in the kitchen including sweet syrups


Pulverize in the blender 2 cups washed fresh basil, 4 cloves of garlic, (chopped), and ½ cup olive oil until pasty. Add 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, blend again. Can freeze in plastic ice cube trays or flat in plastic bags.

Marinade for meat

Depending on the amount of meat can change the quantities but the ratio is 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of vinegar like a wine vinegar, ¼ cup water, a dash of salt (like soy sauce), a dash of sugar (honey or brown sugar) and about a cup of fresh herb leaves (tear leaves apart if large). Have meat sit in this mixture for at least 30 minutes. Drain and cook meat.

Herb paste

If you don’t need pesto, make basil paste to preserve
Can use this as a frozen base for pesto and then add the fresh garlic and Parmesan cheese to the thawed paste or a frozen base for stew or soup. Clean herbs but make sure are completely dry as water and oil do not mix. Blend in the food processor 4 cups of herb leaves to ¼ to 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil to make a paste. Freeze in bags or plastic ice cube trays. There should be some texture to herb so is a paste and not pureed like liquid. Good with savory herbs such as basil, parsley, and cilantro. If using a “sweet” herb like mints, may want to try sunflower seed oil instead.

Monday, June 22, 2020

National Pollinator Week

By Peg Ricco,

 This week, Celebrate National Pollinator Week 

It's the perfect time to learn more about pollinators, identifying the best plants and trees for pollinators in your area, and incorporating best practices to protect, harbor, and feed pollinators. 

It is amazing that something as small as a bee is vitally important to our food supply. As pollinators, bees transfer pollen thus ensuring that plants and crops develop fruit and seeds for us to consume. But bees are not the only keystone species that we depend on, we also need other pollinators such as butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, and birds, including hummingbirds. 

About 80 percent of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators (the others are wind pollinated). According to Cornell University, pollinators are responsible for every third bite of food we eat. Unfortunately, pollinator populations have declined due to pesticides, habitat loss, and disease. Gardeners who are aware of this problem have deliberately planted flowering perennials and annuals to provide pollen (protein) and nectar (carbs). Because of their dramatic 90 percent decline in population over the past 20 years, monarch butterflies have received quite a lot of support. Many gardeners are planting milkweed – the one and only plant for monarchs — or trying to produce more butterflies with home kits. Bees too have received national attention. Nurseries promote bee friendly flowers and gardeners have planted bee magnets such as Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium), goldenrod (Solidago), and gayfeather (Liatris).


Persimmon fruit, thanks to pollinators

These efforts have helped the pollinators and certainly gardeners have come to appreciate the importance of pollinators. However, an overlooked source of food and protection for pollinators are trees. Trees provide more flowers, plenty of foliage for larva (caterpillars), and a large infrastructure to hold hives and nests. Because of the number of flowers a canopy provides, trees can provide more pollen and nectar compared to annuals and perennials. Plus, as homeowners move from house to house, the herbaceous landscape may change but usually the trees and all of their tiny inhabitants remain.

Plant Small Native Trees for Homes                                                                                            “Trees are a permanent fixture,” said Steve Nagy, an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Board-Certified Master Arborist and Assistant District Manager at the northern Virginia office of the Davey Tree Expert Company. Based in Ohio, the company was founded in 1880 and has offices across North America.  For attracting pollinators in the Washington DC metro area, Steve recommends native trees that thrive in our particular climate (cold winters and hot, humid summers). “We recommend native trees because the chances of them growing well is higher that non-natives,” he explained. For typical suburban lots where space is a premium, Steve recommends swamp white oak (Quercis bicolor), willow oak (Quercis phellos), post oak (Quercis stellata), cucumber magnolia (Magnolia acuminata), sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), little leaf linden (Tilia cordata), persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), and serviceberry (Amelanchier). “Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) is a great tree, too,” said Steve, “It is a typically overlooked native with good fall color.”

The crape myrtle branches bend down

Plant Trees that Flower at Various Times
 with summer-blooming flowers. While a tree can provide many flowers, usually it only flowers for a few weeks. Because different pollinators are active at various times of the year, Steve recommends planting trees with various bloom times. Instead of planting the well-known spring bloomers such as flowering cherry trees, flowering plums, star magnolias, saucer magnolias, and redbuds, homeowners can plant summer blooming trees such as little leaf linden, persimmon, cucumber magnolia, southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), and crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia).                                                                                                 

Plant Trees that Support Specific Pollinators. 

Another reason to plant trees is that certain pollinators require specific tree species or genera. Similar to the monarch butterfly’s relationship with milkweed, the spicebush swallowtail caterpillar only feeds on spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and sassafras (Sassafras albidum). The zebra swallowtail caterpillar only feeds on young paw paw leaves (Asimina spp.) and the pink-striped oak worm moth gets its name from its preference for oaks (Quercus spp.).

Paw paw trees are vital to the zebra swallowtail butterfly



Monday, April 27, 2020

Baptisia Plants Perform Well in the DC Metro Area

by Peg Riccio,

Baptisia 'Lemon Meringue' flowers up close
Baptisia, also called false indigo, is a shrub-like plant that does well in our hot and humid summers. Recent breeding efforts have expanded the range of flower colors creating a new look for an old favorite. I myself have been taken by two top performers according to Mt. Cuba Center’s 15-page report, Baptisia for the Mid-Atlantic Region. The Mt. Cuba Center’s Trial Garden, managed by George Coombs, research horticulturist, evaluates native plants and their related cultivars. From 2012 to 2015, staff evaluated 46 selections of Baptisia including representatives from 11 different species to determine which performs best in the mid-Atlantic region. Over 60 percent of the plants tested receive 4 or 5 stars. Among those, 10 superior cultivars outperformed the rest. Fortunately for me my two Baptisia cultivars are included in the ten.

Dutch Chocolate and Lemon Meringue
I have two Lemon Meringue and two Dutch Chocolate plants. I purchase them several years ago as small plants. Now in April, they are tall and just about to bloom. In the summer, they will be loaded with yellow or chocolate brown flowers. Although they look like shrubs, these plants are herbaceous perennials. I cut them back in the winter and in March, new growth emerges from the base. By summer, the plants grow to their mature height of about 3 feet high and wide, each year. The plants have pea-like flowers on tall spikes, similar to lupines, which emerge in April and are in full flower in May. In the fall, the dark brown pods can be left on the plant or used for dried flower arrangements. Baptisia plants are deer resistant, heat and humidity tolerant, and drought tolerant once established.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Now That You Have Seeds, Order Bulbs for Summer Blooms!

Many gardeners focus on obtaining seed in the spring to start their garden. Now that summer is around the corner, don’t forget to add summer-blooming bulbs such as alliums, cannas, crinums, dahlias, lilies, gladiolus, and iris to your garden. For interesting foliage, try caladiums, colocasias, and alocasias. Below is a short list of companies that sell bulbs in alphabetical order. For more,  you can always google to see who carries your favorite or, see more companies on Even Costco, faithfully carries great summer bulbs every spring (price is hard to beat), so if you are already food shopping there, check out their garden offerings also. PS you can't beat their containers, many made of recycled materials, for under $30.
Amaryllis and Caladium Bulb Company, Florida, has catalog and can order online. Sells amaryllis, caladiums, and spring and summer bulbs.
Brecks, Ohio, has a catalog and can order online, states that it ships bulbs directly from Holland
Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, Virginia, has a catalog, can order online, can visit display garden and shop in Gloucester, VA.
Dutch Grown, Pennsylvania, order bulbs online.
Easy to Grow Bulbs, California, can order online, no catalog. Sells bulbs, succulents, and houseplants.
John Scheepers Beauty from Bulbs, Connecticut, can order online and has catalog. Also has sister company Van Engelen for wholesale bulb orders and a sister company, Kitchen Garden Seeds, for vegetable, herb, flower seeds
Longfield Gardens, New Jersey, can order online but no catalog, sells bulbs and perennials
McClure and Zimmerman, Wisconsin, has a digital catalog and can order online, sells bulbs
Odyssey Bulbs, Massachusetts, online, no catalog, sells unusual bulbs and perennials
Old House Gardens, Michigan, can order online and has a print catalog, known for heirloom bulbs
RoozenGaarde and Washington Bulb Company, Washington, has a mailorder and internet division called There is a retail gift shop in WA. Also ships flowers and promotes bulbs as wedding favors.
Telos Rare Bulbs, California, sells bulbs from South Africa, South America, and western U.S., online, no catalog
White Flower Farm, Connecticut, can order online and obtain catalog, wide range of bulbs, perennials, holiday plants, and gardening tools. Has display gardens and store in CT.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Gardening--All You Need is ONLINE!

Gardening Online: A Bounty of Connections for You!

Contributor: Peg Riccio
Cherie Lejeune, President NCA
Although we may be home during the day, the absence of a commute, errands, and basically a social life, grants us more time than before. Plant lovers and gardeners can take advantage of this to learn about gardening online in the Washington DC metro area.  Below is a sample of resources for webinars, videos, and online courses. No doubt, there are more; e-mail me if you know of virtual methods for learning about gardening at pegplant at gmail dot com. I may even post an addendum if we find ourselves social distancing for an extended period. This list is in no order; some are free videos while others require registration and payment. 
National Capital Area Garden Clubs, Inc now has a Youtube Channel and President Cherie says more content will be added from the many archived videos she and others have compiled,  over the last few years.
Upcoming will be live-streamed presentations. For example, The STATE meeting that was to be held at Glenstone on April 7th will be Live-Streamed with Paul Tukey, their Sustainability Director, directly on the Glenstone Facebook page:
The details will become available through the club Presidents.
NCAGC's Youtube channel (thank you in advance for subscribing):
(this URL will get shorter once there are 100 views!)  ,
Also National Garden Clubs Facebook page will host live-stream material too:   And yes, please like this page too!

So PegPlant recommendations:

YouTube, Good Gardening Videos has more than 1,000 gardening videos curated for accuracy and quality. This is a non-profit, ad-free educational campaign to find and promote evidence-based gardening videos and to help more accurate ones be made.
Laura LeBoutillier is the Youtube and Facebook:  “Garden Answer.”
Laura has produced many videos on gardening as well as do-it-yourself projects, which are free to watch. She and her husband started filming gardening videos as a hobby and have become so successful they manage Garden Answer as a full time business. She has partnered with companies such as Proven Winners, Espoma, Gardener’s Supply Company, and Bonide so you will often see her promote products on her shows.  Although she lives to the west in zone 5 most of her videos are applicable to this area.
Another familiar face on Facebook is Philadelphian Doug Oster who has created the Everybody Gardens website and has produced the “In the Garden” video series on YouTube. He is a prolific writer, filmmaker, and author and he also has a radio show. Doug frequently appears on Pittsburgh Today Live Television show as their local garden expert.
For those who know P. Allen Smith  ,  has produced so many videos that if you enter his name on YouTube you will see short vlogs, longer videos, and even full-length television shows. Plus, he produces a digital magazine called Naturally Magazine (I view mine on Issuu). When this is over I would love to visit Moss Mountain Farm.
Kerry Ann Mendez of Perennially Yours in Maine is a well-known garden speaker, author, and garden designer. She has a beautiful website, listing many webinars. On YouTube there is a video of her giving a presentation to an audience called “Growing Honkin’ Hydrangeas in the Northeast.”
Lisa Mason Ziegler, owner of the The Gardener’s Workshop in Newport News, VA, manages a very successful cut flower farm. She has written several books, gives presentations (including in the Northern Virginia area), and has produced online courses for seed starting, cut flowers, cool flowers, and flower farming. She is queen of cool flowers and for her books she has produced videos where she discusses each chapter and answers questions. You will often see her on Facebook Live.
Charlie Nardozzi is a well-known garden expert, he has published books, gives presentations, provides garden tours, and produces a library of on demand webinars at his website Gardening with Charlie Nardozzi. Topics include small space edible gardening, cottage gardening, native and invasive plants, organic pest control, and pollinator gardening. Charlie also publishes a free, informative newsletter. He lives in Vermont and I would love to hear him speak if he ever travels to this area.
The Ecological Landscape Alliance is a New Hampshire membership-based organization with a mission of promoting sustainable approaches to landscape design, construction, and management. They host events, some of which are near this area, and distribute a newsletter. Many of their webinars are suitable for home gardeners. For example, there will be a one-hour webinar on protecting pollinators for $10 for non-members or free for members, but some webinars are free.
Bluprint which used to be Craftsy, has popular garden figures such as Ellen Ecker Ogden, Karen Chapman, David Culp, Debra Lee Baldwin, and Jodi Torpey. They provide online courses for which you  must register and pay for on the Bluprint website but if you like their topic or their style you should check out their own websites.
Pith and Vigor Rochelle Greayer is a designer in Boston who has an online course called Garden Design Bootcamp and one called Planting Design Bootcamp. From her website, it looks like she may be producing additional ones. She has published a book and publishes a digital newspaper type of publication.
Karen Chapman is a garden speaker, author, and designer in the State of Washington. I have heard her speak in this area and she is an excellent speaker. She is a container guru with many online courses on creating beautiful containers. Karen has just published a book on deer resistant designs and has a webinar on this topic on her website Le Jardinet.

This list and connections should keep you engaged even if homebound for several months...and, we know that doesn't even account for tending to our own gardens no matter how large or small. The good news those hours deliver fresh air and (mostly) sunshine.

You are in our thoughts..stay well. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Chocolate Mint, a great plant to grow (and eat) !

NCA's blogspot editor Peg Riccio,

February 19th is National Chocolate Mint Day and for gardeners that translates into the chocolate mint herb (Mentha x piperita forma citrata ‘Chocolate’). Mints are herbaceous perennials. They are extremely hardy but must be grown in containers. All mints will take over your garden if you plant them in the ground.
Chocolate mint has textured leaves and dark brown to purple stems. The leaves are green but the new growth is darker, with veins that are brown to purple. The leaves really do taste like chocolate mint, which kids love. In my family, we make a syrup out of the leaves and pour it on fresh strawberries (see recipe below). We also put minced leaves in a store-bought brownie mix, chocolate cake, and chocolate chip cookie dough to add the mint flavor. The leaves are great for garnishing fruit salads, desserts, cakes, and cupcakes. They can be used fresh or dried for making tea, or adding to coffee or hot chocolate.
This is a great plant to have in order to make gifts. The stems root very easily in water so you can either pot up the rooted stems or just give cuttings to friends. We have given away pots of chocolate mint with a recipe card attached. Because the cost is minimal, pots of chocolate mint make a great gift for your children’s teachers.
Mints can tolerate shade and prefer moist soil. They can be grown in dappled shade or morning sun and afternoon shade. If there is a dry period in the summer, make sure the container is receiving enough water. They grow to a few feet tall and flower in the summer. The small flowers are edible and can be used as a garnish. They also attract beneficial insects, bees, and butterflies. Deer leave the plant alone. Chocolate mint also can be used as the “spiller” in a container with summer flowers.
Syrup Put one cup of water and one cup of sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. When the sugar dissolves, turn off the heat, and add a large handful of chocolate mint leaves. Bruise with a wooden spoon by smashing leaves against the side of the pot. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes. When cool, strain leaves out and pour syrup in glass jar. Store in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

It All Started With Seeds

It All Started With Seeds

Saving various types of lima beans and their names and stories
read a phrase that is so true: “It all starts with the seed. The seeds take care of us.” We rely on seeds, thus plants, to feed, clothe, and shelter us. But these seeds in turn rely on us. Our cultivated plants (not wild grown but grown in gardens and farms) depend on human care. If we do not preserve a species it will become extinct. If no one grows a plant and saves the seed, the plant and its genetic material will not exist anymore.                                           



The Importance of Seeds

Because seeds are fundamentally important to our survival, saving seeds, especially open pollinated, heirloom seeds, is vital. Plants make up 80 percent of our diet. On an agricultural level, saving seeds preserves genetic diversity. Breeders can tap into a large genetic pool for improved crops and pest/disease resistant crops. Saving seeds of various plants ensures crop diversity so that one pest/disease does not wipe out one crop. Saving seeds of plants that have adapted to a local area helps to become resilient to climate change.

Sharing saved seeds at a seed swap
On a home gardener level, saving seeds saves money. One can exchange seeds at seed swaps or pass down seeds to future generations. Over time, saving seed from plants that have done well in the garden saves plants that have adapted well to the region. This may help with climatic change. Saving seed also increases the diversity of plants grown. There is more of a choice, more of a variety to choose from for better flavor, time of harvest, or plant type. Saving seeds also saves the memories and stories from previous generations and the lineage of heirlooms.
However, each year, as seed are not saved, plants become extinct. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, an estimated 75 percent of global food diversity has become extinct in the past 100 years. Of just 20 plants used for global food production in 2014, only 9 accounted for more than 66 percent of all crop production. Only five cereal grains make up 60 percent of our calories. In the past century we have lost more than 90 percent of our seed diversity. Thousands of plant species are no longer available, and we continue to lose them every day. Yet biodiversity is essential to food and agriculture and provides us and plants with resilience.

Seed Saving Initiatives

Grandpa Ott’s morning glory
Fortunately, there are seed saving initiativesacross the world to save seeds for future generations. One American organization, Seed Savers Exchange, has several programs that are extremely useful and helpful to home gardeners. Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) began in 1975 by Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy. Diane’s grandfather gave them seeds of Grandpa Ott’s morning glory and German Pink tomato which were brought by Grandpa Ott’s parents from Bavaria when they immigrated to Iowa in the 1870’s. Diane knew that with her grandfather’s passing, unless the seed were grown and saved, they would be lost. She reached out to like-minded people interested in saving and sharing heirloom seeds and gradually formed a network.

Seed Savers Exchange

German Pink tomato
Today, SSE is a non-profit organization in Decorah, Iowa, with more than 13,000 members. Its mission is to “conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.”
The SSE maintains a seed bank with 18,000 to 20,000 varieties at their headquarters in Iowa. They also send seed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) seed vault at Fort Collins, Colorado, and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.
“At SSE, we store seeds at zero degrees Fahrenheit and 20 percent humidity. Under these conditions, certain seed can last up to 100 years,” said Philip Kauth, Ph.D., Director of Preservation.
To give an idea of the number of varieties that can exist within one plant, Philip said that currently the SSE collection has 6,000 tomatoes. There are 3,000 types on the market that are commercially available. “We have 1,100 varieties of corn but the USDA has 20,000 varieties of corn. We also have 6,000 varieties of beans.” What makes SSE unique is that they also maintain the seed’s history. “We put a lot of emphasis on stories. We preserve the varieties and their histories as well as evaluation data on their performance as a plant.”

The Seed Exchange

Anyone, including home gardeners, may access some of these varieties through the Seed Exchange. The Seed Exchange is a free online database of seeds, basically a seed swap. Anyone can offer or obtain open pollinated seeds to grow in their garden. It does not cost money to view this database; however, in order to list or request seed a free account must be established. If reading hard copy is preferable, there is an annual catalog called the Yearbook that can be ordered for a fee. The Seed Exchange has more than 11,000 varieties of homegrown, open pollinated vegetable, flower, and herb seed. Once people obtain and grow these, they can save and re-sow the seed (hence have them for a long time) or even save and share the seed with friends and family. The Seed Exchange also includes potato tubers, garlic bulbs, apple tree cuttings, and other non-seed material.

Field crew harvesting beans
Today, a quick look at the Seed Exchange reveals 9,563 varieties of tomatoes. Some entries have short descriptions, some long, and some have photos. For example, the description for the Silvery Fir Tree tomato is a “compact (18 – 24 inches high) with unusual, delicate, lacy leaves. In Russian, it is called ‘Serebristaya El’ .. it is an old Russian variety that was introduced to American seed savers in the early 1990s by Marina Danilenko, pioneering private seed seller from Moscow during the Perestroika-era.”
There are 38 entries for spinach including a broad leaved prickly seed spinach “described by Albertus Magnus, a Catholic saint from Germany, in 1260, has been commercially available in the US since at least 1806, and was planted by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello in 1809 and 1812.”
SSE also sells seed, people can order online and from a free catalog. SSE makes about 600 varieties available commercially to the public when inventory of seed is high enough to meed the demand. The revenue from the seed sales, as well as donations and memberships, maintain the organization’s seed collection and promote and encourage the tradition of saving and sharing seed.

Trial beds at Heritage Farm

Seed Savers Exchange Projects

Other interesting SSE projects are Seed Rematriation (identifying and growing plants grown by indigenous communities in order to obtain and save the seeds); SeedLinked, a seed data platform connecting people with information on varieties from other gardeners/farmers; and the Community Seed Network, which engages hundreds of people across the United States and Canada to connect, share, and learn about seeds. The SSE also provides free seed to schools, community groups, and people in need via the Herman’s Garden and Disaster Relief Seed Donation programs.

Heritage Farm

The SSE is a destination point — hundreds of gardeners, horticulturists, and seed savers visit the headquarters, known as Heritage Farm, each year. The public is encouraged to visit the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center and Gift and Garden store, walk through display gardens, including an apple orchard with 900 varieties of apple trees, and attend events such as a seed swap, an heirloom plant sale, a seed school, a tomato tasting, and a harvest festival. And if that isn’t enough, there is always the Robert Becker Memorial Library with 6,000 volumes covering agriculture, horticulture, and biodiversity. And to think it all started with seeds of a morning glory and a tomato.
All photos courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange