Garden Open House

The open house on Saturday was a great success. Visitors came from as far away as Wichita, Kansas, just to visit the garden and say hello. The purpose of the event was to dedicate an entire day to visiting with readers of my newspaper columns and blogs. It was an honor to get to meet so many folks and hear what they had to say. Several brought gardening questions along with compliments and comments, all of which were appreciated.

There were two ladies from Wichita, Kansas who came, with one very tolerant and pleasant young man. They told us they learned about Long Creek Herb Farm from our mystery writer friend, Susan Wittig Albert. Her book,  China Bayles Book of Days, lists interesting things to do each day of the year, and for June 22nd, one of their birthdays, "Visit Long Creek Herb Farm." They decided to take China Bayles' advice and come see how we garden. 

One of the pleasant surprises of the day was having kids come with their parents and grandparents. Not lots of kids, but several, ranging in ages from about 10 to 14 or so. Interesting and interested kids, asking questions, tasting the herbs, enjoying being in the garden. Anytime kids can be encouraged to garden, to know where food comes from, and learn, is a joy to me. Thanks to everyone of you who brought your kids. And to China Bayles, by way of Susan Wittig Albert, for sending wonderful visitors to our garden! You can see her newest book, The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree, about to be released in July, here and order it for your summer reading. Her book, Wormwood, won the IHA Book of the Year Award, as well!

It was fun having a group from the Table Rock Art Guild in the garden, as well. I taught the first oil painting class 25 years ago to a group of 9 ladies in Kimberling City and that group formed what is now the Table Rock Art Guild. Several brought cameras to take photos, either to sell as photos, or to use for painting. A few times over the years we've had art groups visit and spend the day painting.

If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can probably see the row of Potawatamie lima beans, a Native American pole bean, growing just beyond the birdhouse.

I hadn't seen several of the Art Guild folks for a few years, so it was a treat to get to visit over lemonade and cookies.

The grape arbor and herb shop porch gave a shady place to sit after garden tours. It was a hot, steamy day, but little showers, lasting no more than a couple of minutes, helped cool things a bit.

Getting to share the garden, to show off my plant collections and new plant trials, was an enjoyable treat. We enjoyed it so much, we might even do it again next year. And Molly has the right idea, a nap on the porch. Now, to just find the time.


Sorbet and Summer Nights

I'm always glad for an excuse to turn herbs from the garden into food for guests. When our friend, Flavie inquired if her parents, Jean-Marc and  Soulange Mirat could drop by the garden yesterday evening and bring Julie Sonveau, the manager of the Ozark Medieval Fortress, and Jean, one of the developers of the castle, I was excited. First, we don't get visitors from France very often. Second, we are always excited to get to visit with Jean-Marc and Solange. They're fellow "foodies" like me (they're former restaurateurs in France), and appreciate fresh things from the garden. And lastly, the garden probably looks at its best right now, so it was a chance to show off the plants in their prime.

With temperatures still in the lower 90s when they arrived at 6:00 p.m., they meandered through the garden, taking photos, tasting, smelling, talking, fanning. It was a pleasant reminder of why I love to garden, the chance to share it with friends. (Flavie, by the way, with her husband, Paul, own Reeds Spring Pizza Co.  Flavie designs all of my books and their covers, Paul's company, Creative Printing, prints them).

From Jean (I'm sorry I don't remember your last name) I learned that the simple castor beans we grow beside the garden, are cultivated extensively in France. The oil is used in the manufacture of C-11 and C-12 plastics, which are manufactured for use in fuel lines and high pressure air piping. He said that France manufacturers about 80% of the world's supply of those specialty plastics. Now, every time I look over the fence at my castor bean plants, I'll think of France and specialty plastics. I love learning new tidbits like that!

After looking at plants we retired to the deck overlooking the garden, to sample a few fresh tastes from yesterday's harvest. You probably recall my oft-repeated opinion,  "why garden, if you can't eat what you grow?" The "theme," for the evening, if there was one, was basil.

I used a bit of brie, wrapped in prosciutto, and that wrapped in a Thai basil leaf for one of the tastes. There were yellow and red cherry tomatoes, halved, with a little marble-sized piece of mozzarella in the center, and a basil leaf, held in place with the other half of the cherry tomato. And, in honor of The Herb of the Year, dill, I made a some lobster salad with dill, piled atop cucumber slices.

There were fresh blackberries and raspberries, picked from the garden yesterday, served with glasses of cold-pressed mint tea for a beverage. Julie Sonveau was given the responsibility of churning the Donvier sorbet maker to make the Blackberry-Basil Sorbet, shown above. (The recipe is in my book, Fabulous Herb and Flower Sorbets, one of my favorites for summertime). Basically it's freshly made blackberry juice, some lemon, sugar and about 6 fresh basil leaves. From start to finish, it took a couple of turns of the crank by Julie every 2 or 3 minutes and in about fifteen minutes, it was ready. I'd frozen the dishes beforehand (so it wouldn't melt in the 92 degree heat before we got it to our mouths). That went down well.

Remember Josh's cherry pitter in an earlier post, with him processing gallons of fresh cherries? And the cherry cordial he made from some? It's ready, and that was the next, and final, round of summer tasting. His cordial tastes like cherry pie, all the flavor, but not overly sweet and I think everyone enjoyed that, as well.

We visited about the progress that's going on at the castle (Ozarks Medieval Fortress). The first week of May I attended the grand opening and posted some photos here. Since then, lots of groups of visitors have been touring, taking part in the activities and fun. (Julie said the average visitor averages spending 4 hours, which speaks well for all the things they find to do there).

And tonight, paying honor to the daylily season, I made a daylily quiche for supper. Ingredients were 5 orange, double daylily flowers, garlic chives, French shallot bulbils (that's the bulbs at the top), some lemon basil, ham, cheese, a bit of brandy, a shot of hot sauce, 4 eggs and milk).
So, that wraps up the week. Tomorrow is open house in the garden for readers of my columns and blogs. If you would like the Blackberry-Basil Sorbet recipe, it's in my book, Fabulous Herb and Flower Sorbets. Happy summertime gardening!


Daylily Days & the Osage River

As a kid I looked forward to the time the daylilies blooming in summer. One reason was school was already a distant memory, which meant I could mow yards for neighbors to earn spending money, and work in the hayfields for a local farm family, raking hay on the prairie with an ancient John Deere tractor.
Daylily time also signaled stretching a trotline across the Osage River, and checking it early morning before work, and late evening, after. An old fellow, Frank Williams, lived down the block from my parents' home and he was always glad for a fishing buddy. He and I spent countless hours every summer, seining creeks for bait with a seine, then baiting our trotline hooks to catch fish overnight.

Daylily season also meant food. The old fashioned, orange daylilies (called, "ditch lilies" in some places) furnished buds which my mother dipped in batter and quickly fried. The fresh flowers, too, battered and fried, were nearly as tasty, plus, the young daylily buds, simply boiled or steamed, were worthwhile, as well. And if the county road grader came by cleaning ditches and dug up clumps of daylilies, the lily's tubers were washed clean and steamed or boiled. The flavor? Imagine buttered, fresh roasting ears and that's pretty close. (Note: the first flower is the old fashioned, common orange daylily, or ditch lily, which is tasty; the photos that follow are of the hybrids or tetraploids, which I just raise for show and seldom eat).

The new tetraploid hybrid daylilies aren't as quite useful for food, although some may disagree. Over the years I've collected a lot of red, pink, yellow and even a pure white one, all hybrids and only use these for garnishes. According to the  Univ. of AR Extension Service: "Daylilies typically have 22 chromosomes in the nucleus; cultivars developed with this basic set of chromosomes are referred to as diploids. Tetraploid daylilies have 44 chromosomes, twice the normal somatic number for the species. A few daylilies, most notably the orange daylily seen across the state in roadside ditches, are sterile triploids with 33 chromosomes."

But with the breeding for color, the makeup of the plants has changed. You can still eat the tetraploids, put the flowers in salads, use for garnishing a plate, fill with crab salad and the like, they're not poison But according to author, Steven Foster, you may possibly pay for the meal with a bit of stomach upset. Not a pleasant thought, so when I eat daylilies, I mostly stick with the the old-fashioned ditch lilies.

That's what daylily season is for me, a time of fried daylily buds, petals in salads, stir-fry with daylily (the wilted flowers and buds), and of trotlines, balmy evenings bringing home fish and staying up past midnight getting the fish dressed for my mom to cook the next day. Eat a daylily, and happy gardening!


Fort de Charatres Rendezvous

It's been a tough week since the last post - the destruction of my first garden here on the farm 31 years ago, lots of long hours trying to juggle work, deadlines, introducing a new garden helper to the garden and trying to keep the plants alive that were salvaged from the construction. Lots of bulbs were lost, buried, mashed by the backhoe, but some have survived. Another quite meditation garden will arise somewhere, hopefully.

The exciting thing I want to tell you about is the weekend that my friend, Adam, and I spent at the Rendezvous at Fort de Chartres, near Prairie du Rocher, Illinois. Many of you know it's an annual event for me. I'm excited by the reenactments of the 1700s when the French still controlled much of the Mississippi River valley south to New Orleans. The Rendezvous always falls on Josh's birthday weekend, June 5 & 6, so we celebrated his birthday early and he was happy to have Adam accompany me, giving Josh a quiet time at home to work on his baby chicks, worm farm and raspberry beds.

One of the very interesting people I met at the Rendezvous is Carol Kuntz, who is sort of in charge of the gardens at the Fort. In previous years there wasn't anyone on hand to explain the garden and I had wondered just how historically accurate the gardens were. Carol was on hand, along with some volunteers weeding and tending the garden, and she told me what her and the other volunteers' research has shown. Through some of the surviving documents, but more importantly, from historical recipes from the area, Carol now has a remarkable list of what was grown in the mid 1700s in that location.

There are leeks, onions, scarlet runner beans, lettuce, carrots, relatively ordinary vegetables by our standards, now. Oh, and grapes, too, certainly, for wine. But I was surprised to see eggplant. Carol explained that the French used eggplant, but the English only grew the plant as a decorative. Also cabbages and the raised beds were also authentic to the time, as well.

One of the remarkable aspects of the Rendezvous is how many of the descendants there are, from the period of French occupation. Many local families in the area, can date their history in America to the French occupation.

There are lots of reenactors of all sorts. Some portray French soldiers, others portray English military. There are the voyageurs, Coureur des bois, who were licensed fur trappers. There are always a good representation of Indian tribes, as well. I visited with a group of Indians who I'd met last year and learned more about who they are and what they do.

For example I learned about the coloring they'd painted on their bodies again this year. Out of pure ignorance on my part, I inquired why, if Indians were dark complected, would they paint themselves darker, as these fellows had done. "There's the misconception that all tribes were dark skinned," one of the men said. "The truth is, many tribes were light complected." Painting the body was a form of decoration, just as wearing feathers and beads, a way of showing their finest, and thus, being more impressive and fierce, when visiting some place like the Fort. The paint consists of red ochre, or a similar pigment, mixed with bear's tallow and beeswax (I had wondered why these guys never sweated off their coloring, now I know - it's the beeswax!)

I learned, also, about tattooing, how it had significance for status, not just a decoration as it is today. And I got to examine how the feathers are attached (threading a small tail of hair through the leather that holds the feathers in place). One of the reenactors, Josh, is a student at University of Missouri, Columbia.

Throughout the day there were presentations, a medical reenactor talked about the medicines and methods of the day. There was lots of period music, some dancing, lots of cannon firing, muzzle firing, tomahawk throwing and excellent displays of the edible plants that Native Americans relied upon in the area.
Fort de Chartres, by records of the time, was nearly 50 percent African and there had been a village near the Fort of slaves who had bought their freedom from the French. There had been considerable intermarriage between the freed slaves and the local Indian tribes, and this year for the first time, joining Josh (who's Shawnee) and his band of men, was an African American reenactor and a man who was both African and Indian in ancestry, and they were a good addition to the group.

Food, too is always a big part of the festivities, and it has to be relatively authentic. Roasted corn over a fire, buffalo (fish) from the Mississippi River, homemade ice cream, lemonade, etc. I grew  up eating the fish named buffalo (named because it's nose resembles the snout of a buffalo) and it's one of my favorites. I'd take buffalo over swordfish or grouper any day. The traditional way of cooking it, is to score, or cut, through the rib bones every 1/2 inch and when the fish fries, the bones disappear. I used to spend my summer evenings, running my trotline in the Osage River, bringing home buffalo, and carp, my other favorite.

In the afternoon I asked Adam if he'd had enough and wanted to leave. (I'm prone to spending a great deal of time talking to people and learning about what they do, and taking hundreds of photos, not everyone can be patient while I do that). He said he was having fun, had not yet seen everything and wondered if we were coming back the following day (we didn't, opting for the Missouri Botanical Gardens). The Rendezvous, this year the 40th, offers a lot of information about gardens, plants, how people lived, what they ate and a lot of history for people of all ages. It was fun to see how entire families of reenactors came for the whole week (only the weekend is open to the public). What a wonderful way for kids to experience history, vividly, with the smoke, the food and the great outdoors.

We arrived back home on Sunday evening and Adam packed his car and headed to New Mexico on Monday for his next gardening adventure. We enjoyed his company and creativity in the garden and are grateful for the progress and inspiration his visit brought.

Happy gardening to all and to all, a good night.


Hollyhock Days

Last week the Friday Night Dinner group went to DeVito's Restaurant and Trout Farm outside of Harrison, AR. We went to celebrate 3 birthdays, friends June, Mardi and mine. It's a beautiful spot, the restaurant overlooking a cave and spring-fed creek that's full of large trout. You can fish, for a fee, or simply dine in the quite beautiful restaurant. The DeVito family has owned it for 2 generations (it isn't  far from the Ozark Medieval Fortress I wrote about a few weeks back).

I had the country-style whole trout, which I must say was the best trout I've eaten since I was a teenager and ate my first fresh trout while in Colorado Springs. Often trout in restaurants tastes like fish food. DeVito's trout just tastes like fresh trout. The Dinner Group was so pleased that this week, when Barbara offered to take us out to celebrate Josh's birthday, I suggested Barbara, Josh, Adam and I meet our friends, Sarah and Neil, at DeVito's again. (Josh's birthday and mine are just 2 weeks apart, imagine, 2 geminiis living in the same house - it's often feels more like 4 people instead of just 2).

The reason I'm telling you this fish story is because of the hollyhocks just outside the restaurant. These are spectacular hollyhocks and in colors I have not seen quite like these anywhere before. The photos may not do them justice, but this is a collection of hollyhocks that have crossed back and forth between a dark red and a yellow parent and the offspring are various shades of rose, peach, pink, yellow and a truly beautiful blossom that is rose with a yellow throat. I think it's a spectacular range of colors.
I asked if this was a special blend or if there was a story about the flowers and the owner said he knew little about them other than they come up every year in that spot, in all the various colors. I also asked if he sprays his hollyhocks since they appeared to not have insect problems. He doesn't do anything, just lets them grow to be admired.

If you grow hollyhocks you likely remember there are hoards of tiny black insects that begin to eat on the hollyhock leaves in early spring. They start on the underneath sides of the lowest leaves and eat until that leaf is just a skeleton. The bugs move upward to the next leaf, eating that one, as well. Many times here, we barely get blooming out of our hollyhocks because of the destructive insect that saps the strength of the plants before it can bloom. I know some people use chemicals to kill the insects, but that also kills the bees and beneficial insects, as well. I use Sharon Lovejoy's great hollyhock spray.

Sharon Lovejoy, a long time good friend and author of Hollyhock Days (as well as a whole shovelful of other wonderful children's gardening books that also delight adults), lists this spray, which she passed on to me some years ago - it's also in her book. Mix together:  1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 Tablespoon canola oil, 1/2 teaspoon dish soap, 1/2 cup white vinegar in 1 gallon of water. Mix well and spray the underneath sides of the hollyhock leaves, starting in early spring. Spray about every 10-14 days. It's safe, effective and you won't be killing bees, ladybugs or other beneficial insects. Her newest book is Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots, Gardening Together with Children. She has a wonderful blog, too and I highly recommend it. Her endearing writing and charming illustrations will make you a fan of Sharon's in mere seconds.

This week is a bid sad. We're getting ready to add a bathroom onto the house, which isn't a problem, but we also plan to add a small garage. Long ago when we designed the house, we made space for a drive-up back door, and to eventually add a garage with access without steps (we have lots of steps, we live on a slope, there's not much level in the Ozarks Mountains). But to build the garage it means tearing out the very first garden I built here, 30 years ago. It was first built to channel rain run-off away from the house, but over time it became a sort of meditation garden. There were pathways with lots of edible and decorative plants. It's where the black currants grew, and the tiger lilies from my mother's garden. It's where most of our spring tulips, daffodils and grape hyacinths lived and it had changed over the years from a sun garden to a shade garden. It was bordered by bamboo and had something blooming in just about every season. Unfortunately I have very few photos of the garden. I was so used to it being there, and it was hard to photograph from nearly all angles, I just didn't take pictures. What shows here is after a day of tree cutting and rock moving, only a shadow of what it was.

Adam has worked this week, moving as many plants as he can out of that "upper garden." Some plants had to be moved with a backhoe, like the clumps of currants, a large yellow rosebush and some native shrubby St. John's wort. Adam and Josh together moved about a ton of rock walls out of the way, and the backhoe has been busy removing 2 redbud trees and lots of soil. So tonight, as I write, the garden is all gone, a backhoe sits in its place. I'm sad about losing that garden, losing the rustic stone bench under the redbud tree, missing already the pathways and perennials and bulbs. But many have found a new home, some in the new lower garden area that Adam and I have worked on in the past 10 days. A new garden will spring forth again in another spot, and I expect a lot of bulbs will appear next year in places where piles of soil were dumped.

Adam, who was our intern in 2008 has been with us a month, helping get the garden in shape. He'll be off next week, heading to another garden project in Santa Fe, meeting up with his girlfriend for new adventures in gardening. It's always a pleasure when he comes to lend his creativity and excitement to our garden.

Happy gardening!