Jim Long's Garden: Spiderworts

Jim Long's Garden: Spiderworts


Please  click on the photos, you can see the details of the very feathery center, possibly the view bees see when they visit looking for nectar.

We have Spiderworts in bloom this week in the yard and around the edges of the garden. I have several kinds, collected in various locations. This pink one I found in Arkansas several years ago and is Tradescantia ozarkana. It's found growing in rich, rocky areas, including woods and bluff ledges.
Look close into the center. If the stamen hairs turn orange, there's a radiation leak somewhere!
Tradescantias are claimed to be indicators of radiation leaks. I found this quote on the web: "All members of the Spiderwort are used extensively in scientific research to detect radiation fallout or exposure." The name, Spiderwort comes from the feathery, glistening hairs on the sepals and the buds which resemble spider webs, especially when covered with dew. (Wort, is the old English word for plant). Other sources claim the name comes from the leaf arrangement that looks like a squatting spider. Really? I don't see it.
This one is a deeper purple, with a brighter yellow-green leaf color and is a selection of Tradescantia virginiana.
Most spiderworts grow in shady areas around the edges of woods and the flowers bloom from early morning until around noon. Mine are growing under various oak trees in the yard but we had them growing in full sun on our cellar when I was a kid. Sometimes on cloudy days the blossom will last from morning to night, but like a daylily, the flowers only last one day.
Note the cluster of buds, each one ready to open for just one day. This is T. bracteata, native of Missouri.
The Cherokee Indians and probably other Native tribes, used the plant medicinally in preparations for "female" and kidney problems. The sticky, muciliginous sap was rubbed on insect bites and poison ivy.
This is the more common color of spiderwort.
In the afternoon the flowers wilt, turning into a jelly-like fluid but before that, there is a constant line of bees and butterflies going after the nectar. The flower has very little fragrance to the human nose but evidently bee noses sense something special because they line up like kids at a hot dog stand.
I'll leave you with just one more photo to consider. Know what this mean looking critter is, resting on a spinach leaf? You'll be surprised if you don't already know the insect. It's the larval stage of the common ladybug! A very desirable insect to have in the garden. They love to eat the aphids that eat young plant leaves.

Happy gardening!


The Royal Wedding

To commemorate the Royal Wedding.

People often grouse about the Monarchy in England, about its being occupied by dinosaurs, about being an institution that has outlived itself. Maybe, but I think the world needs a good royal wedding from time to time. Most people feel their lives are rather bland and predictable and once in a while I think it's good to let your fantasies run wild and imagine what life must be like for those who seem to have it all. Few of us will ever have a 30 million dollar (or pound), wedding, or can even imagine having 6,000 of our closest friends in attendance.

When I was in Italy in 2005, Prince Williams' father, Prince Charles was one of the speakers at the Slow Foods Conference. I was impressed at his knowledge and dedication to not only gardening, but pushing organic gardening in England. Our friend, Elvin McDonald traveled to England to interview Prince Charles, in his garden, and told me that Charles is a very dedicated gardener who actually works in his own gardens.

I was recently inspired by reading Amanada's Dablings and Whimsies blog post of lilac syrup and lilac martinis (in response to my Lilac Sorbet recipe) and she gave me an idea. It's perfect timing that Sweet Williams are bursting into flower today in the first sunshine we've had in over a week.

Sweet Williams are a biennial, plant one year, bloom the next.

So in honor of Prince William and Catherine Middleton's wedding on April 29, I offer up the Sweet William and Catherine Martini (and for those who don't drink alcohol, you can leave out the vodka and put in some fizzy water). Make a batch and give a toast to the royal couple tomorrow.

If you don't have Sweet Williams in bloom, use dianthus, they're relatives and taste the same.

First you'll need 1 cup of fresh Sweet William (or similar dianthus) flowers. Stems picked off, just the flowers. You'll also need 1 1/2 cups of water and 1 cup of white sugar.

Sweet Williams come in various shades of pink, red and white. All are fragrant and all have a spicy, clove-like flavor.

Bring the water to a boil, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the flowers, lower the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Cover pan and let the syrup cool for a few hours or overnight. Strain out and discard the flowers. Add a drop of red color, if desired. You now have about a cup of Sweet William syrup. Use it over ice cream, over strawberry shortcake, or in a Sweet William martini to toast the royal couple.

Not having martini glasses, I chose the closest thing. These look more royal, anyway.

Prince William and Catherine's Martini
3 oz. vodka
1 1/2 ounces Sweet William syrup

Fill a martini shaker with ice. Add vodka and Sweet William syrup and shake.
Pour into 2 martini glasses and garnish with a sprig of dianthus, in honor of Prince Williams' mother, Diana

Dianthus, a close relative of Sweet William, much like Princess Diana was mother of Prince William.

Kate Middleton and Prince William


An Herbal Affair

Booths are set up on both sides of the street around the town triangle.

This was the 22nd annual Herbal Affair at Sand Springs, OK, which is always held the 3rd Saturday in April. This year it was chilly, but thankfully, not raining. Josh, Barbara, Adam and I all went, with Josh and Barbara staying with our friends, Tom and Sue Stees in Tulsa. We always have a booth, taking along Herbal Nail Fungus Soak, my books and assorted other things to sell.

One of the great things about this event, and one of the many reasons vendors happily come back every year, is the complimentary dinner the festival hosts provide the night before. Every year, the volunteers who organize and work the Herbal Affair, cook up a bunch of great food and invite all us vendor-sorts for dinner. It's always a welcome event, many of us having driven many hours to set up our booths. The food is always great, with all sorts of salads, sandwiches, beverages and desserts. It shows their appreciation for our being there, and it's also a great opportunity to get to visit with people we see only once a year.

On Friday night, while most of us were sleeping, strong winds blew through Oklahoma. Some of the vendors who'd set up their tents, and secured them down low over their goods, discovered on Saturday that the tents had taken flight, tumbling along down the street and breaking apart. It was sad to see, but everyone picked up and moved on, selling their produce or plants even without the tents.

The festival is a pretty impressive event, with around 30,000 people showing up this year. One of the local churches offers free plant sitting, so that shoppers can drop off their plants while they shop for more.

It's always remarkable how many people bring their dogs to this event. Women carrying little cuddle-dogs in their arms, men leading giant horse-like pets, small dogs on leashes dodging feet in the crowd. With the 30,000 people attending, I'm guessing there were about 2,000 dogs in attendance, as well!

People come for the plants and while Mr. Tomato Man  (who's there every year) does a very brisk business, selling a couple thousand heirloom tomato plants, it's the herb folks that are the primary focus. This festival is fully an herb festival. The Boy Scouts sell drinks (out of a canoe filled with ice) but it's either root beer - herbal based, or water. The food vendors must include herbs in their foods, as well. There's a big outdoor food court and it's a great way to visit with other shoppers and see what plants you might have missed.

The 5 women who started this festival 22 years ago, including the late Ruth Leib and Sandi Bylerly, visited my Herb Day in May back when I was still having a festival at Long Creek Herb Farm. They took notes, asked questions and inquired if I minded if they borrowed some of my ideas for their festival. I was pleased to know another festival was forming, as mine had outgrown its space. They took some simple ideas and ran with them and their festival is one of the best herb festivals anywhere!

People not only bring their pets, they bring their wagons, as well, and fill them several times with their purchases. By the end of the day, the plant booths are pretty empty with little left to choose from. Even though the festival opens at 9:00 a.m., people start arriving even before we have our booths set up, wanting to buy things at 8:00. 

People bring wagons of all kinds to haul around their purchases.

Everything sold has to relate to the garden or herbs. That includes old garden antiques, painted garden furniture, trellises, even worm tea, produced by kids at the local grade school and sold to fund school projects.

Worm tea, from the children's worm farm is excellent fertilizer.

Rustic furniture made from twigs, along with trellises and everything else for the garden, could be found at Sand Springs.
 And last but not least, in the spirit of herbs, check out my recipe this week, for Lavender Cookies that I served to Texas visitors yesterday, on my Recipes Blog.
Lavender Cookies, so good you want more!

Happy Gardening!


Lilac Sorbet

There are some fragrances that are just better than others. This one is my favorite, the primary fragrance I look forward to each spring and I have a long history with this flower. Along about the year this embarrassing photo was taken, I was in love. No, not with the bear, but with Clara Jean Graves.

Jeanie, as I knew her in the first grade, had freckles and blue eyes and a sense of humor that made me happy. I looked forward to seeing her every day. We were in the same one-room school, along with 28 or 30 other students, grades 1-8. Every day she and I took our lunches over to an old Osage Orange tree that had a limb near the ground, looking for all the world like it was reaching down, just so school kids could sit there. We'd unlock our lunch boxes and talk about classes we'd had that day. Her being a year older and in the second grade, she was more knowledgeable. But since I sat behind her, my being the only one in the first grade, I got to listen in to her lessons and learn second grade material.

I decided during lilac blossom time that I was going to propose to Jeanie before someone else claimed her for a future wife. I wanted to do something special to make sure she knew how serious I was about her. We had an ancient set of Encyclopedias in the school and I read up on how to make perfume. Basically, I learned, flower essences were the collected steam of hot water vapor from flowers. Knowledge in hand, my mother allowed me to bring some water to a boil into which I added a whole lot of lilac flowers. I covered the steaming pan with a tea towel and collected the steam. I'd found a very tiny, old perfume bottle, so wrung out my lilac flower essence into the bottle. Next day, I could hardly stand it until lunch time came. Out of my lunch box I pulled the tiny vial of lilac flower essence and handed it to Jeanie. She wasn't impressed, and refused to believe I had made it. Her not believing me, no matter how much I tried to persuade her, ended our lunches together, and any future marriage plans, as well. But I never stopped liking lilacs.
I've been making flower and herb sorbets for years but it was my friend, Cathy Barash (author of Edible Flowers) who told me about using lilacs for sorbet. Recently I made plum blossom sorbet, another favorite, but even though it is very fragrant and tasty, nothing compares to lilac sorbet. Here's the recipe, from my book. If you're interested in lots more easy and delicious Herb and Flower Sorbet recipes, order the book, here.
Lilac Sorbet
2 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (or more) lilac flowers, stems removed, chopped slightly in the food processor

Pour the water into a non-aluminum saucepan, add sugar and stir to dissolve. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and add the flowers. Allow the liquid to simmer for 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from heat, cover with a lid and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight. Strain.

Pour strained liquid into a small ice cream freezer or sorbet maker and freeze. Serve as soon as sorbet is fully frozen, or pack in ice or the freezer for an hour.

I use a Donvier sorbet maker, which I found at a yard sale for $5. I often see them in thrift shops and have bought a couple more that way. You can order them from the company, new, for about $60. The inner part is kept in your freezer, then when you want to make sorbet, remove the liner from the freezer, put it inside the plastic cover, pour in chilled liquid and turn the crank. In a mere 15 minutes, with turning the crank once every couple of minutes, you have perfect sorbet!
And what you get, is perfect sorbet every time. Here's a photo of the plum blossom sorbet (recipe also found in my book). I haven't taken a pic of the lilac sorbet yet.
If you like the fragrance of lilacs, or plum blossoms, then you will really enjoy the flavor, too. It's more intense, delightfully fragrant and keeps well in the freezer.
Pansies, lavender, roses, Sweet Williams, violets and many more edible flowers make outstanding sorbets. There are over 45 recipes and lots of tips and instructions for great sorbets in my book. Springtime, it's time for sorbet, healthier than ice cream, quicker than a trip to the store. Happy spring!

Also, I'm proud to say, this posting has been translated into Estonian by Anna Galovich, with my permission, on her blog, 1800 Flowers. You can find her interesting blog here.


Arp Rosemary, the Real Story

Arp and Hill Hardy rosemary

I've long wondered how 'Arp' rosemary got its name, and I admit I always thought it an odd choice for a plant name. While visiting Festival Hill a couple of weeks ago, I was pleased to share breakfast with Gwen Barclay and Henry Flowers. Gwen, as many of you remember, is the daughter of the late Madalene Hill (whose incredible rosemary collection resides at Festival Hill). Henry Flowers it the horticulturalist and over-all plant genius at Festival Hill and began his work under Madalene's supervision. (If you want to know more, you can read the tribute I wrote about Madalene on my earlier blog, here.
Henry Flowers, Horticulturist at Festival Hill

Gwen Barclay, chef, musician and herbalist.

Gwen made a reference to Arp rosemary, how there were a lot of the plants sold during the plant sale that weekend and that the Herb Society of America was intending to plant a commemorative plaque in Arp.

"You mean Arp is a place?" I asked.

So I got the whole story, directly from Gwen and Henry. Gwen and her mother have cousins in Arp, Texas, southeast of Tyler. One Christmas they were visiting their cousins and Madalene noticed a very robust rosemary, in full bloom, in front of an abandoned house nearby. It was unusual for a rosemary to be covered with blue-lavender flowers at Christmas time. Madalene inquired of her cousins and the neighbors if anyone knew who owned the old, neglected (and empty) house. No one knew anything about the owner.

Madalene borrowed a knife and made several cuttings from the very prolific rosemary and took them home with her to root. Over the next few years she shared the cuttings with several people, including the late Tom DeBaggio. He began propagating the now named, 'Arp' rosemary for his retail nursery. (You can read more about Tom and his amazing story of dealing with Alzheimer's disease on his nursery website here; you will also find lots of stories about him on National Public Radio, the Washington Post, etc. if you Google his name).

Hill Hardy rosemary

One day Tom noticed that one rosemary stood out as different from among the dozens of trays of Arp rosemary cuttings and he separated it out and grew it on, propagating more. That rosemary was more gray and fine-leafed than the Arp rosemary which appeared to be its parent. Over time Tom discovered the grayer rosemary to be equally or even more hardy than the original Arp, and he dubbed it, 'Hill's Hardy' rosemary, in honor of Madalene Hill who had first brought it to him.

Thanks to my Garmin navigator, Arp wasn't difficult to find.

Since I had Arp rosemary with me, and now knew the real story of the origins of both these exceptional rosemaries, and since I was already heading toward Tyler, TX from Round Top/Festival Hill, I decided I should definitely drive to Arp, TX and see where this amazing rosemary came from.
That's my pot of 'Arp' rosemary, standing proudly in front of the Arp welcome sign.

(Madalene had found, in later years, the name of owner of the property, and learned the rosemary had come to Arp from "somewhere up in Oklahoma," but no one knew anything else about its origins). The Herb Society of America is slated to erect the plaque in Arp, sometime this coming summer.

That's 'Arp' on the left, 'Hill Hardy' on the right. Some nurseries list 'Hill Hardy' as 'Hill's Hardy' rosemary, which I believe is correct. Both are outstanding rosemaries to grow and use.
 So there is the story of the origins of a this particularly good, and hardy rosemary and it's cousin, 'Hill Hardy.' The rosemary itself is likely more famous than the little town it came from, but you can't miss the sign if you drive through.