Cherry Harvest and Clafoutis!

My small ‘Bali’ cherry tree is especially productive this year. So far, I’ve picked about a gallon and a half of nice cherries off the tree and there are plenty more where those came from. I’ll be picking daily over the next week or so, or until the birds clean out the rest.

A very small portion of this year's harvest, ready for baking.

A very small portion of this year’s harvest, ready for baking.

This is by far the best crop I’ve had from my cherry tree, which has been in the ground about eight years now: abundant cherries, no pests, and the birds haven’t cleaned out the tree even though I did not put a net on the tree this year as I have in the past. I attribute some of that good harvest to the pruning we did last fall, which opened up the center of the tree and improved air-flow through it.

‘Bali’, sometimes called ‘Evans’ cherry, is a sour cherry, discovered by the Canadian horticulturist Ieuen Evans in the 1920s. The trees stay relatively small — mine is under 10 feet tall. It’s a pretty tree for a smaller landscape and is covered with delicate white blossoms in the spring. The cherries are pretty, too, and make a great pie, cobbler or — what I did Saturday — clafoutis. A French confection, clafoutis lies somewhere between custard and a pancake. It’s easy to put together and, in my mind, works as a breakfast as well as a dessert.

Here’s the recipe I used, which is enough to fill a standard 9-inch pie plate:

clafoutis tight

Cherry Clafoutis

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; thoroughly butter (or use spray) a 9-inch pie pan

Cherries

Clean and pit enough cherries to fill the bottom of the pie plate–2 to 3 cups. Because my cherries are sour, I covered them with about 1/3rd cup of sugar and rolled them around so the cherries were coated with sugar.

Batter

3 eggs

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 c. all-purpose flour

3/4 c. milk (I used whole)

Whisk the eggs together with the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt until well combined. Add the flour and whisk to incorporate it. Then, add the milk and whisk. The batter should be similar to a thick pancake batter. Gently ladle or pour the batter over the cherries in the pan. You want even distribution of cherries in the clafoutis. Bake the clafouti for 45. It will be puffed (though hopefully not so lopsided as mine was!). Lightly sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

This tastes wonderful fresh from the oven as is, or you could put a dollop of whipped cream on it for even more decadence. I also ate a piece for breakfast the next morning and that was wonderful, too.

Enjoy!

 

 

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Garden Travel

The Dowager Queen looks out over Copenhagen's King's Garden.

The Dowager Queen looks out over Copenhagen’s King’s Garden.

My husband just completed a five month teaching assignment at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden. While work and family obligations kept me from joining him, I did manage to visit a couple of times, and we did a lot of travel around Scandinavia and the Baltic. For me, travel often means visiting gardens.

We saw several wonderful gardens and it will probably take a few posts to digest it all. You can learn a lot about a country and its history and culture by visiting public gardens. Take Copenhagen, for example. Just walking around, it seemed clear that Copenhagen was a vibrant, artsy city with lots of bike traffic and trendy dining (expensive, to0). But it’s also a city that loves its gardens — after all, it is home to Tivoli Gardens, the park that inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland.

We didn’t make it to Tivoli, but loved walking through two side-by-side garden refuges in the city center. King’s Garden is essentially the front yard to Rosenborg Slot (Rosenborg Castle), the 1606 fortress built by King Christian IV of Denmark. The park is meant for strolling, but it has several elements of interest to gardeners, especially the large formal garden, anchored at one end by the statue of the Dowager Queen Caroline Amalie, who was carrying a bouquet the day we visited.  For someone whose home garden is casual to the extreme, the boxwood hedges, perfectly aligned in a diamond pattern, with lavender and roses inside them, was impressive indeed. Sometimes order is relaxing.

The views are magnificent in the Copenhagen Botanical Garden.

The views are magnificent in the Copenhagen Botanical Garden.

Just across the street from King’s Garden  lies the Copenhagen Botanical Garden. This garden is part of the University of Copenhagen and functions as a research garden as well as a display garden. It also had a cute garden shop, which sold plants. (Unfortunately, you can’t bring those home on a plane!) Inside the garden gates are three museums and an enormous conservatory for tropical plants. The grounds are expansive and include a large rock garden, a pond, a variety of test and display gardens. The paths took you through sunny areas and deep shade and a wide range of soil types. The rock garden was especially impressive and I recognized many of the plants there as ones that would grow in our climate as well.

Below is a gallery of photos from the two gardens. Do you visit gardens when you travel?

 

 

 

 

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Review: Heirloom Gardening Pants

gardening pants

After six hours of gardening Sunday, the pants look good. I need a beer.

I don’t do a lot of product reviews, but when Duluth Trading Co. contacted me about reviewing their heirloom gardening pants, I said sure! First, it’s a local company. (The company started in Duluth, though it’s now based in Belleville, Wis.) Second, I’m already a customer so I was pretty sure the quality would be there, and I wouldn’t have to tell them, no, I’m not going to review your product because it stinks.

I started buying Duluth Trading Co. clothing about five years ago. The first purchase was strictly because I loved the humor in the catalog, with the jokes about avoiding plumber’s butt by purchasing their long-tailed T-shirts and buying just the right briefcase to meet with the “suits.” But the clothes live up to the hype — they are truly work clothes but they also look good. My go-to garden tour outfit is a Duluth Trading Co. skort (the one I have is no longer sold, but this is close) worn with a tank top and this plaid shirt. It’s a look that’s relatively put together but allows me to bend over to look at a plant or crouch to take a photo without embarrassing myself or others. I also have two of their canvas totes, which are tough and incredibly useful for someone who’s often hauling a computer and lots of paper around town.

The heirloom gardening pants arrived a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been putting them through their paces, planting, mulching, weeding and mowing. They’ve been through the wash at least four times and show no sign of shrinkage, though the color has mellowed a bit. That doesn’t bother me and I like that the blue color I chose matches the overalls that Tomato Guy wears on my MSHS T-shirt.

The knees are extra tough.

The knees are extra tough.

The heirloom gardening pants have a number of features that I really like.  They’ve  got a small pocket on the side of the leg that’s just the right size for holding your cellphone, so it’s accessible but won’t fall out. I frequently take pictures of plants while I’m working and I like to be able to take calls without having to run into the house. There are two other pockets, plus an elastic strap on the side of the other leg that you can use to hold your gloves or a tool. The knees have a  pouch that you can insert a pad into that is lined with a water-resistant fabric. One rainy day, I worked outside for a couple of hours in the pants and my knees were dry as could be. If you are a hard-core gardener, that’s a great feature. The elastic at the ankles is very nice for wet weather or extra weedy conditions.

Finally, I like the way these pants fit. For some reason, many pants for women are built as if we were all straight — you know, like men. So I often find that pants that fit my rear are biggish in the waist and are constantly slipping down. These pants have an elastic waist with a cinch belt, so you can tighten up the waist as tight as needed.

 

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Best Rhubarb Bars Ever

rhubarb barsWhen early summer hits Minnesota, it’s rhubarb time! While these tart stalks originated in China, where they were used largely for medicinal effects, they are considered the first fruit (vegetable?) of summer in the Midwest. Rhubarb is easy to grow, requiring only sun and a fertile soil. (My patch was planted on top of a former compost pile.) You need to let your rhubarb plant develop two or three years before harvesting stalks, but once you get past the three-year mark, you can harvest away.

These bars are my own creation, based on a similar recipe that I found once on Cooks.com that involves pumpkin. (The recipe does not seem to be on the site anymore, but garden blogger Kylee Baumee makes them, too.) I made the rhubarb variation first when my daughters were still in school and I was a “Drama Mama.” The Drama Mamas helped out with theater productions at our local high school and sold treats and coffee at intermission to raise funds for the drama programs. The Drama Mamas have a reputation for providing really stellar bars, and these got lots of applause from the local critics. I hope you enjoy them, too!

Best Ever Rhubarb Bars

This recipe has three sections. It can be assembled in about 30 minutes, then baked for 45 to 55 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Crust

1 box yellow cake mix (remove 1/2 cup for topping)

1/2 cup butter, very soft

1 egg

Take out 1/2 cup of cake mix for topping and set aside. Mix the butter into the rest of the cake mix, then add the egg and mix. You will have a stiff dough. Spread the dough in a 9 by 13 inch pan using damp fingers. I put a slight lip on the edges to keep the filling from over-flowing.

Filling

3 cups chopped rhubarb (about 4 large stalks) — I slit the stalks lengthwise, then chop in 1/2 inch pieces

3 eggs

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 Tablespoons  flour

1 tsp fresh grated ginger (optional, but good)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

dash salt

2/3 cup of milk, half-and-half or whipping cream — depending on how wild you are feeling.

Whisk eggs with a hand whisk, then add brown sugar, flour, spices and salt and whisk again. Gradually whisk in liquid. Fold in rhubarb. Pour mixture over the crust layer, making sure the rhubarb bits are evenly distributed.

Topping

1/2 cup reserved cake mix

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup butter, softened

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Mix topping ingredients together to make a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle on top of filling.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes. Enjoy plain or with some whipped cream or ice cream on top.

 

 

 

 

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What’s Blooming: Arb Edition

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Things are — not surprisingly — slow to come up and bloom this year. My neighbor’s crocus is in bloom and the crocus bulbs I planted last fall have foliage but no blooms yet. My Siberian squill is also blooming, … Continue reading

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Signs of Spring

Siberian squill ready to bloom

Siberian squill ready to bloom

Sunday’s gorgeous weather had me outside at last, flinging caution to the wind and raking a few spots in the lawn, cleaning out some of the beds I can reach from the sidewalk and looking for signs of life.

The Siberian squill, which have long been one of the plants I measure spring by, are just one day away from blooming and the miniature cabbage heads of sedum can be spotted under the leaf-mulch. I’ve been looking for them, but there’s no sign yet of the Iris reticulata that is usually the first plant blooming in my yard. Perhaps it is a victim of the long winter. It may still appear yet. Last year, it was April 22 when I first spotted them. They’ve bloomed as early as March 25 in the past.

With the forecast calling for decent temperatures and occasional rain this week, we could see a burst of bloom by next weekend. Here’s hoping!

 

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Repel Rabbits with Plants

Another nice thing about marigolds is they stay blooming well into the fall.

Another nice thing about marigolds is they stay blooming well into the fall.

I’ve had a mess of garden troubles with critters, most of which are of the burrowing variety. But over the past couple of years, my number one garden enemy has been the rabbit. Or rather, rabbits, since I seem to have an endless supply of them eating vegetables, pulling up bean plants and doing lots of unauthorized shrub pruning.

Last year, I put a low fence around my main vegetable area and that certainly slowed them down. But my goal this year is to make peace with the bunnies even more, and a couple of recent garden talks I’ve attended have given me some new ideas. This past weekend, I combined a trip to the Chicago Flower and Garden with a visit to my daughter who lives in the city. Shawna Coronado, noted blogger, author and urban gardener, gave a talk on planting sustainable containers, but also offered a bunch of tips on front yard garden design, composting and growing vegetables in shade.

According to Shawna, you can repel rabbits with plants by growing spicy globe basil combined with marigolds. She particularly recommends ‘Taishon’ marigolds. Both plants have a strong scent and make lists of “rabbit resistant” plants. Will the two together provide extra protection? Generally bunnies don’t care for stinky stuff, so it makes sense that combining two smells might be extra effective.  I’m not sure, but I plan to try the combination this summer.

I already plant parsley for caterpillars/butterflies, so why not a few more plants for the bunnies.

I already plant parsley for caterpillars/butterflies, so why not a few more plants for the bunnies.

Earlier this winter, I reviewed The Wildlife Friendly Vegetable Gardener, a helpful book by Tammi Hartung, who is a big advocate of “decoy plants.” These are plants pests like that you plant somewhere you don’t care about. For bunnies, that means ample parsley planted away from the vegetable garden.

For more ideas on making peace with rabbits, check out the article by Samantha Johnson from the latest issue of Northern Gardener.

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Going to Garden School

Gardeners check out the silent auction items at the 2013 Rice County Horticulture Day.

Gardeners check out the silent auction items at the 2013 Rice County Horticulture Day.

Hort Days. Spring Flings. Garden Gatherings. Garden Fever. Whatever you call them, the assortment of garden schools being sponsored by Master Gardener groups, horticulture societies and garden clubs this time of year is huge. Only weather and mileage keep me from going to one every weekend. Here are a few favorites to consider, both near the Twin Cities and beyond.

I have to start with the local one here in Northfield, sponsored by the Rice County Master Gardeners. This year’s hort day will include three great speakers. The opening speaker is Eric Johnson, a designer, garden writer and columnist for Northern Gardener magazine, who will teach participants how to create garden art that is handmade, beautiful and not too expensive in his talk on DIY Garden Art. He’ll be followed by Dakota County Master Gardener Shari Mayer, a longtime herb enthusiast, who will talk about growing and preserving herbs. After lunch in the St. Olaf cafeteria, participants will hear from Karl Foord, a University of Minnesota Extension Educator on the role of bees in the pollination of fruit as well as threats to bee populations and what gardeners can do to help bees. The event costs $30, which includes lunch, a continental breakfast, handouts and a free sample of honey from local beekeeper Mike Feist. It will be held at Buntrock Commons on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield.

Bees and gardening for pollinators are on the agenda at several horticulture days this year.

Bees and gardening for pollinators are on the agenda at several horticulture days this year.

Last year, I also attended the Carver-Scott Master Gardeners Garden Fever event and thought it was fantastic. This year, the event will be Saturday, March 8, at Oak Ridge Hotel and Conference Center in Chaska. One of the keynoters is Emily Tepe, vegetable gardener and author, who recently wrote about onions for Northern Gardener, and Douglas Mensing, an ecologist. The theme is sustainable gardening. Some of the best parts of this hort day are the presentations by master gardeners from Carver-Scott counties. Here’s my favorite title for a presentation this year: “Help! My Garden is Having a Midlife Crisis.” I know the feeling. If you register by Friday, the event is $40. After that the price goes up to $45.

Another popular garden school is the East Metro/Washington County Master Gardeners Spring Fling, which will also be held March 8. Speakers include Debbie Lonnee of Bailey Nurseries on new plants, noted nurseryman Steve Kelley on shade gardening, Eric Johnson on vegetable gardening and author Kelly Norris on iris, among others. The $35 fee includes the seminars and lunch catered by Tinucci’s. The event will be held at Woodbury High School.

There are so many more garden schools around the state — I’ve heard great things about the programs in Grand Forks, Stearns County, West Otter Tail County and many others. A complete list of schools is available on the MSHS website. Find one near you!

 

 

 

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Beauty in the Vegetable Garden

During these last cold days of winter (hope, hope, hope!), I’ve been taking refuge in the garden photos I took last summer. Among the images are many from vegetable gardens that are truly beautiful spaces as well as nourishing.

mixed lettuce bowlMy vegetable garden usually has the shabby chic look (or maybe just shabby), but I’ve found that lettuces planted in pots or window boxes can be very attractive, especially those with rose-tipped, ruffly foliage. But a couple of the gardens I visited last summer took vegetable gardening beauty well beyond that.

vertical cabbageThe vegetable garden at Squire House Gardens in Afton, for example, was lush, colorful and full of texture on the warm August afternoon when I stopped by. Planting green and purple cabbages together created a round contrast. Big ripe peppers hung from plants, like green ornaments, ready for plucking. A tall trellis covered in green beans created a produce wall at the back of the garden. The gardeners included a water feature and garden art, too, which encourage visitors to linger. Even the asparagus plants, long past their picking prime, added soft texture with their mature fronds.

Amy archwayEarlier in the summer, I visited the garden of Amy Andrychowicz, proprietor at the Get Busy Gardening blog. You can read all about Amy’s garden in the March/April issue of Northern Gardener, which will be out in about two weeks, but suffice it to say, she has a way with vegetables. The big arch covered with squash is like a grand entry to the garden, and she mixes annuals, such as nasturtiums among the vegetables to add color and encourage pollination. It’s a lovely garden and I was delighted to be able to write about it for Northern Gardener.

For more photos of vegetable garden prettiness, see the gallery below. What will you be planting in your vegetable garden this year?

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Book Review: Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life

Beatrix potter bookWhen my children were young, an older relative gave us a petite set of books by the children’s author Beatrix Potter. With their warm water-color illustrations and sweetly droll humor, the books soon became a favorite of mine. I think the girls liked them, too. So I was thrilled to receive a review copy of Marta McDowell’s Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places that Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales (Timber Press, 2013).

Potter’s books are filled with illustrations and stories that gardeners can appreciate, from Peter Rabbit’s forays into Mr. McGregor’s garden (the longer I garden, the more I side with Mr. McGregor) to silly Jemima Puddleduck picking onions and sage for a dinner at which she is to be the guest of honor — and the main course — to country mouse Timmy Willy, who falls asleep in a peapod before he is shipped off to the city in a basket of garden produce. Potter loved nature and the country life and her stories and illustrations show it.

McDowell’s book is really three books in one, and each has its own merits. The first part is a biography of Potter, a shy and lonely girl, who took refuge in keeping rabbits and drawing plants and animals. She was a skilled botanical illustrator (mushrooms were a particular specialty) but achieved recognition when The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published in 1901. Her parents were the demanding Victorian type, and disapproved of her writing as well as her romance and engagement to her publisher, Frederick Warne. Sadly, Warne died in 1905 from leukemia.  Grieving and seeking independence, Potter bought Hill Top Farm in the Lake District of western England. There, she continued to produce books (23 in all) and garden. At 47, she married a local attorney and began to buy more property in the area. She published her last book in 1922, and spent the final 25 years of her life as a farmer and conservation activist in the Lake District.

The biography section of the book is entertaining, marked by vibrant prose and an abundance of  drawings and photographs. You get a genuine sense of how Potter’s books reflected her interest in nature and her life as a gardener.

The second section takes a reader through the year in Potter’s garden, from the dark winter to the blooming primroses in June to fall and the harvest season. It’s evocative and well-illustrated and gives a full picture of English country life. Through letters and other material, McDowell shows Potter dealing with many of the problems familiar to all gardeners — invasive plants, poor weather, more ideas and work than time. The last section is a short introduction to visiting Potter’s gardens and farms and the Lake District. Potter left most of her property to the National Trust, so there is a lot to see, if you are able to get to this somewhat out-of-the-way part of England. The book is rounded out with resources and suggestions for further reading as well as plant lists, including lists of all the plants that appear in each of her books as well as those she cultivated.

For Potter fans or lovers of English country life that is not of the Downton Abbey variety, this gardener’s biography is a great read. I will be donating the review copy of the beautiful book to the MSHS Library, a great resource for gardeners in Minnesota.

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