Hydrangeas and Blueberries

Blueberry season almost passed us by this year. Having had some back problems, and with groups touring the garden almost every day these past weeks, there was no time to go berry picking. Saturday morning Josh & I got up early and headed off to Dripping Springs Berry Farm south of Berryville, AR. Our friends have about 2 1/2 acres of blueberry bushes, all about head high, just the right height for reaching out and picking. They did have nearly 4 acres of berries but have removed an acre and a half and will be replacing the bushes with new ones. Most of the bushes are 25 or more years old and the owners have decided to replant with new ones, with better spacing, better mulch. They live beside Dry Fork Creek, which is never dry. It's a cold, clear, always moving stream with fish, and is the source for the water for their irrigation system for the berries.

Their main crops are fresh cut flowers and vegetables, which they sell through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, and through the 3 day a week Fayetteville, AR Farmer's Market. They have several greenhouses and about 5 acres in production of vegetables, herbs and flowers.

It was blisteringly hot, even in fairly early morning and we got 4 gallons of blueberries picked. Some will go in the freezer, others have already been eaten. I made a blueberry cobbler for supper last night, and made homemade vanilla ice cream to top it off. This morning I made blueberry pancakes and Josh made a peach-blueberry smoothie for his breakfast.

A visit to Dripping Springs always means a dip in the creek to cool off. After getting soaked with sweat in the summer sun, the cold water always feels great. The Dripping Springs folks host 4 interns a year through an organic internship program and this year they have 2 fellows from Arkansas, a girl from Peru and a guy from Thailand, all there for the season, learning about organic production crops.

The road to Dripping Springs goes along Dry Fork Creek for several miles, and goes under a beautiful limestone bluff (click on the photos to enlarge them). Along the road, and beneath the bluff, which includes caves and springs, grow native hydrangea. These hydrangeas are the mother of the domesticated hydrangeas in bloom across the country right now. Some of the newly patented hydrangeas, like 'Twist 'n Shout' show the wild hydrangea parentage in the form of the flowers. Notice how the flower clusters bloom around the edges like lace.

Native hydrangeas like cool, damp locations. Notice in the bluff photo that it's hydrangea bushes that line the road. That same photo shows hydrangeas hanging out of cracks in the bluff face, well above where cars drive. And in one crevice between the bluff outcroppings, the hydrangeas have climbed all the way up between the rocks.

Hydrangea has been used medicinally by Native Americans and early folk healers, although it's not a plant to be used without caution. Mostly you will know this plant as a decorative shrub in the yard, with either blue, white or pink flowers. Not all hydrangeas can have their flower color changed by the acidity or alkalinity of the soil, but some can, so you may see wildly blue flowers or shocking pink in people's yards. The native variety and the old fashioned ones are white flowered.

I tried growing blueberries here in our gardens once many years ago. I began with 6, chest high bushes and planted them in what I thought to be a moist location. I mulched, watered and they did fair. But it takes a lot of irrigation to grow blueberries and I didn't give them nearly enough. Our guinea hens, which can't see well but somehow were able to see the blueberries, tried every way they knew to get at the berries. They were funny to watch, the size of chickens, somewhat dumpy, they tried unsuccessfully hovering like humming birds, but that didn't work. Jumping up as if chasing a grasshopper did, and in just a few days they had picked all but the very top berries off the plants. The next year the bushes were shorter from not enough water and attention, and by the third year, they were about knee high and I simply mowed them down with the lawnmower. I'd rather go to Dripping Springs Farm, pick berries and go skinny dipping in the creek afterward, than go to all that work to grow them myself!


Staying Cool

Hot hot hot! We've had upper 90s this week, hotter earlier than normal. And with rains every few days, we have the humidity that non-Ozarkers think we always have. While we humans hide out in the shade in mid day, it's just what the green living things need. Plants are amazing in how they take heat and sun. No sunscreens needed. The tomatoes are racing higher each day, although the heat has slowed the blossom set a bit.

Summertime arrived last week with a barrage of tourists to the Lake. Branson has long lines of traffic, the restaurants are crowded and Table Rock Lake is full of boats, skiers, and mega floating mansions being dodged by jet skis and an occasional sail boat.

I avoid the lake. Too much sun, dodging mega-mansions moving 30 miles an hour, noise, tourists who have little regard for a lake they don't live on, just doesn't sound like a good time to me. I'm more like the floating frog in the inner tube. Let me have a cool spot in the shade and I'm fine. I garden in early morning and late afternoon and avoid the heat of the day. Even this lightning bug naps during the day on the underneath side of the Constantine fig leaf.

Our friend, Ellen Spector Platt has a timely book from Stackpole Books, Lavender, How to Grow & Use This Fragrant Herb. She gives descriptions of many of the lavender varieties, includes information about growing it, lots of sources for plants, and the various ways it's used. And, like all really good books, it has recipes! Here's Ellen's recipe for Herbed Potato Salad:
3 pounds small potatoes
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 cups chopped lovage or celery with leaves
1/2 cup chopped chives
1 tablespoon fresh lavender flowers or 1/2 tablespoon dried
Salt & pepper to taste
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
1/2 cup edible flowers for garnish (calendula, chive, dill, borage, etc.)

Boil unpeeled potatoes until soft but not mushy. Drain and cool. Slice with skin on. Mix the herbs and seasonings with the yogurt and gently stir into the potatoes. Garnish with the edible flowers. Refrigerate until serving time. Serves 6.

Our own lavender in the garden is blooming happily although the blooms and bloom spikes aren't as robust this season. Too much rain in May didn't make the plants happy. We grow Munstead and Hidcote, the two most reliable varieties here. I've trialed 'Grosso,' 'Lavender Lady,' 'Linda Ligon' and several others and none live more than a year in the garden, so I've gone back to the old standbys. I use ours in ice cream, in cookies, cakes and mix the flowers (fresh or dry) with lovage, scallions, garlic and a bit of orange or lemon zest when baking chicken.

Molly, our Jack Russell, is the guardian of the garden. She believes she is a 100 pound gorilla, when in reality she's just a mere 11 pounds. Two nights ago she tackled a medium sized raccoon. Now you may love raccoons, even feed them which if you've ever skipped a few feedings and had one or more raccoons tear down your patio door, you know better. On a farm, with chickens, sweet corn, feed and other things, raccoons aren't welcome. Molly patrols at night and if she discovers an intruder, either deals with it or calls for help. She had to have help with this one and was so beaten up that she slept for a day and night, had to have antibiotics and in the heat is still a bit subdued. But she's a brave hunter and protects our territory very well.

Josh was out in the garden early this morning, gathering comfrey for one of his sick goats. Comfrey has lots of healing properties, and often a sick goat will seek it out if it's within reach. The goat had a shot of antibiotics and a good handful of comfrey.


White House Vegetable Garden

Great news! I just received a note from our friend, Renee Shepherd, of Renee's Seed. that she was one of the lucky guests to meet with Michelle Obama at the new White House Garden Project. Renee has provided seed to the project. I've written about her outstanding seed collections many times here on the blog and in the newspapers. Here's the story and congratulations to you, Renee!

Renee at the White House - Renee's Garden was part of the Congressional Club's annual First Lady's Luncheon honoring Michelle Obama at the Washington Hilton last month.

This gala annual event, attended by Congressional, Supreme Court and Administration spouses as well as guests from around the country had a theme of "Forever Green", and event co-chair, Betty Ann Tanner, wife of the senator from Tennessee, invited me to contribute our seeds for attendees. Individual packets of our Farmers Market lettuce and Pesto Basil were part of the beautiful gift bags given every attendee.

Renee said, "Best of all, I was invited to the VIP reception before the affair and had the thrill and honor of meeting Michelle Obama in person. I was also able to make a personal selection of our seeds to give to Michelle. I expect they will become part of the new White House garden. Michelle was everything I expected -- vibrant, graceful, clearly engaged and enjoying what she is doing. When you speak with her, you have her full attention and feel like you are the only person in the room. The luncheon itself was really fabulous. I was seated at a table quite close to the First Lady and other honorees, so I got to watch her "up close and personal" as she gave a very insightful speech on community service."

We've had lots of great groups touring the garden nearly every day last week, including Mrs. Hampy who has been trying to get here for 15 years! There was The Dogwood Trails Garden Club yesterday, a group of 4 friends from Ozark, MO this morning and a larger group this evening.

Tonight was the first time I've given an evening garden tour. Friends at the Unitarian Church in Springfield, MO, have been trying for 2 summers to set something up here at the farm. Tonight we had 25 people, many Master Gardeners and Unitarians, who arrived about 6:30. The car-pool group arrived separately, all coming from 1 1/2 to 2 hours away, so I got to give 2 sets of tours. Included in the group were interns and researchers from Poland and Hungary and a wide diversity of people and professions from across the Ozarks, which made it great fun for me.

I admit I had dreaded working with a large group, which is often difficult just by the size and the ability of everyone to hear. These folks were so enthusiastic and engaged, all very knowledgeable about plants, that it allowed me to tell some of the histories of my plants, how I got them, where they came and what was unique about them. When I have an enthusiastic group such as this, I am so energized after they are gone that I can't understand why I don't have more groups like this. (It reminded of how resistant I was to taking on 20 Vacation Bible Schoolers some years ago, ages 4, 5 & 6, and how the minister's wife would not take no for an answer. And when the kids arrived, I was so taken with their amazing questions and their enthusiasm, with their very different perspectives, that I was energized like the Energized Bunny for the entire season). So it was like that tonight, this group was so much fun! I served cold-pressed mint tea and lemon balm cake (which I've posted the recipe for, before). And the evening is a perfect time for tours. Maybe next time we'll have a meal by candlelight and some music. It's my favorite time to be in the garden but most groups want to come about 10:30 in the morning when it's so hot you sweat and want to slide under the bushes. (Of course I'm the one who insists people come in the morning!)

Congratulations to our friend, Renee Shepherd and kudos to Michelle Obama for the fantastic job she is doing with a real, honest to goodness garden in the White House (she has a blog, too). And for the chefs she has that actually use the fresh produce! NPR did a great interview with Michelle yesterday and talked to the main garden chef, too.

And this bit of news from Paul-the-Pie-Man, who WWOOFed for us in the garden in May and is now in Maine with his girlfriend, Katie. He's been baking pies again and sent this pic of the mini apple-rhubarb pies he just baked. He's mastered whole wheat pie crusts, which look great by the way. He baked the pies in jelly glasses. (Why didn't I ever think of that? They're heat proof, make the perfect size individual pie! I love it when someone young comes along, with new fresh ideas, not tied to the methods of the past. Great pies, Paul!

I received this photo from our friend, Arne, in Ava, a market gardener and absolute plant nut, with his extra-large broccoli. I'm always glad when people grow, and like, broccoli. It's a take it or leave it vegetable for me, but Arne's crop is fantastic. I've only seen a few pictures of his garden, but it is beautiful and extensive. He sells at the Ava Farmer's Market and the Bakerville Farmer's Market, too. Thanks Arne, for the great pic!

Last, some housekeeping stuff: I always love hearing the comments folks leave after the posts (and you can click on "comments" and read them, too). But when people ask questions in a comment, I have no way to answer. Either email me directly: Longcreekherbs@yahoo.com if you want an answer, or include your email address in your comment. I see the comments before they are published, but they come to me as "no-reply.comment" which does not give me any way of reaching you. So here are a couple of replies to questions I have no other way of answering since I have no idea who posts them:
1-No, I've not had any problems with germination in the bhut jalokia peppers. To the reader who wrote - were the seed from me or someone else? If from me I'll gladly replace them, but I've not had a problem with germination.
2-Regarding sage dying out in summer. It's caused from not pruning it back hard in early spring (Jan-Feb for us here). I've written several articles, which are in my "Columns" page of the website about this. Lavender, santolina and sage all have the center die-back problem unless they are pruned back to about 6 inches tall in very early spring. Pruning now may well kill the sage plant.
3-To the man who said, "You claim in one place to have 26 books and in another, 24, just which is it?? I've written more than either of those but a couple are out of print. Sorry for the confusion. I try to be accurate but sometimes I miss.

Happy gardening!


Rendezvous and Red Hats

(Just a reminder, you can always click on a photo and make it larger).

At long last, the gazebo has been painted. George gave it 2 coats with the sprayer and it looks great, or so we think and it matches the blue of the 2 garden gates. I have clematis, cardinal climber, moon vine, an antique rose and a few other things planted so vining plants should take over soon.

I've been behind in posting here, pretty well worn out from all the last minute details of cleaning out and organizing the shop. Actually Josh did most of that work, I've been focused on the porches and the garden. Today was our first garden tour, the Branson Show Stoppers Red Hats, who came for a garden tour and a Salsa workshop. They were highly complimentary of the gazebo and had their photos taken under it. The workshop, taken from my book, Sensational Salsas, covered 3 basic salsas: banana, canteloupe and white grape. Everyone had a good time and after eating salsas, I served them lemon balm cake. We have groups and individuals touring nearly every day this week and next.

The first weekend in June is always a struggle to do everything I want to do. The peas are begging to be picked, weeds are coming up like, well, weeds. Josh's birthday was this weekend, and it always coincides with my annual trip to the Fort de Chartres Rendezvous near Prairie du Rocher, IL. The Fort was occupied by the French from 1720 until the Louisiana Purchase, 1820 or '21, I believe. People go and live much like that time period and spend a great deal of time on their costumes, tents, etc. No plastic or fake stuff is allowed. I go to photograph and sometimes to buy seed from seed collectors who preserve some of the Native varieties.

The Fort is on The Great River Road, about 2 hours drive south of St. Louis. The event draws thousands of people and I always look forward to the trip.

We, the Friday Night Dinner group, had a birthday party for Josh on Friday night here at the farm. Josh's mother, Barbara, had ordered 3 seven pound lobsters delivered, which Josh cooked and they made lobster salad. (In case you don't know what a 7 pound lobster looks like....and I accidentlly deleted the photos, sorry) one of the lobster claws was as large as my hand, fingers outstretched - mine, the lobster doesn't have fingers!)

The garden at Fort de Chartres is said to be authentic to the time period. Those amazing French, centuries ahead of the rest of us, used raised beds! No tomatoes there, of course, but lots of beans, peas, garlic, onions and some Native People's crops, too.

The Fort was peopled by French, Indians of several tribes, voyageurs, trappers, later some British, some Scotch or Irish (I can't tell other than they're in kilts). Both adults and children get into the whole thing. One time, a few years back, I asked a reenactor if I could photograph him in his costume and learned he was part French and his family had lived near the Fort in the 1700s. And, his family, all these generations since, still live only about 40 miles from the Fort, which I thought remarkable for so many generations to have passed.

The clary sage is in full bloom this week. It's a biennial, meaning, it came up last year and bloomed this season. I have 2 varieties, a white one that came from Dr. Art Tucker at Delaware State Univ., which is said to have originally come from Russia, and a pink to lavender variety that's more common. The white one was said to have been imported by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and they supposedly grow several thousand acres for use in flavoring for smokeless tobacco products. It's a pretty decent insect repellent and the goldfinches go nuts for the seed after the flowers have wilted.

Rains are coming, the satellite will probably quit working so that's it for tonight.


A Weekend of Cherries and Peas

We and the birds have been enjoying the cherries. We've tried to keep ahead of the picking and last evening I picked until nearly dark, getting just about every cherry with red anywhere on it. But by this morning more cherries had ripened and a pair of crows had their 3 young ones in the tree, giving lessons on which cherries were ready to eat and which ones weren't. I have an affinity for crows, a story maybe I'll tell sometime, so I don't mind sharing the fruit with the crows since we have more than enough for a pie already.

I picked all the peas that were ready the same night. As long as you keep picking peas, they keep producing until the hot weather hits. These were planted on February 14th, the traditional planting time in the Ozarks. We should get several more pickings before the summer heat brings them to a halt.

The valerian is in bloom in the garden this week. The flowers have a somewhat haunting fragrance, sweet and yet unusual. I like it best from a distance. The flowers give no hint of what the roots smell like, and it's the roots that are the medicinal part. Dried and ground, even when in capsules, valerian smells somewhat like an old, sweaty goat. Or, many people describe it as what their gym socks smelled like when they found them in the back of the gym locker. Smell aside, valerian is a very good muscle relaxer. My pharmacist friend, Jerry Stamps, recommended valerian to me when I had back pain and muscle spasms. And when I was having nightmares and couldn't sleep through the night, he recommended valerian capsules and a Restful Sleep Dream Pillow. That was decades ago. We still sell his restful sleep dream blend and you can find it on our Dream Pillows page. (More dream pillow information is available on my Dream Pillows blog, too). I don't grow enough valerian to dig and use, but have the plants to show visitors what it looks like. It stays in bloom for only about 10 days, then the flowers grow little "feathers" and take off in the wind, finding new homes in other garden beds.

This past weekend I visited the Shouse family, which you may recall I posted information about after their house burned last winter. Several readers donated to help out this family who had no insurance and lost everything, and several of you have asked for an update. They received enough donations to pay for the foundation of a new structure, to pour the concrete floor and to pay for and install an in-floor hot water heating system. They have borrowed money and have begun framing the house and this is the picture of the progress to date. These are folks I grew up with and who have always been a second family to me. To read the entire story here's the link to the earlier blog post. There's also an address there if you feel moved to help these folks who've always helped others so generously and can use the help themselves, now.

Summer is upon us, the garden is growing and the fireflies have begun. Awesome!