Tag Archives: Renee’s Garden

In a Vase on Monday: Rudbeckia ‘Cappucino’

When a flower is more than the vase, here is Rudbeckia ‘Cappucino’ grown from seed in my Virginia garden for today’s #inavaseonMonday. Seed courtesy of Renee’s Garden.

Successes in my Virginia Garden: July 2016

Cardinal climber among oregano and sage

Cardinal climber among oregano and sage

July is a good time to take stock of the garden and determine what worked and what didn’t. This year I tried growing cardinal climber because I have banisters and rails in several locations on my property. Cardinal climber (Ipomoea x multifida) is a flowering vine, grown as an annual in Virginia. It is easy to grow indoors in the spring from seed which I obtained from Renee’s Garden. In May, I transplanted them outside and trained them up to the banisters with yarn. They learned quickly and began to wrap themselves around the banisters. Now that it is hot, they bloom every day in full sun. The flowers are bright red and simple but I discovered that they add a pop of color against the other plants. The leaves are very lacy and the vines are light enough to weave into neighboring plants (I like it when two or more plants tumble into each other’s space).  Cardinal climber is a winner in my book.

Vanilla Cream marigold with Cossack Pineapple ground cherry

Vanilla Cream marigold with Cossack Pineapple ground cherry

The other winner flower this year is ‘Vanilla Cream’, part of the Alumia series of French marigolds from Park’s Seed. I started the seed indoors in the spring although it was not necessary, I could have started them outside later. In May I plant them outside in a row in front of a vegetable bed so the lawn service crew wouldn’t get too close to the veggies with the weed wacker. The marigold plants have filled out nicely. Each bushy plant has several blooms at a time. The flowers are unusual for a marigold, they are anemone-shaped and bright yellow. I like the fact that they are a clear solid yellow — they glow like beacons in the garden.

ground cherry

husks pulled back from ground cherry fruit on spoon

Speaking of yellow, this year I grew Cossack Pineapple ground cherries. I bought seed from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and started them indoors under lights in very early spring. I was surprised at how well they germinated. In May, I transplanted several in my tomato patch and although I thought I gave them enough space I did not realize how fast they grew. Mine are a few feet wide and tall and completely cover the ground. Members of the tomato family, the fruit is small like a pea covered in a papery husk. The husks are green on the plant and gradually turn yellow and drop to the ground. I have learned that some of the ones on the ground are empty, maybe something got to them before I did, so I gather the ones on the ground and gently touch the yellow ones on the plant to see if they will drop into my hand. The fruit really does taste like pineapple but without the zing so more like a cross between a pineapple and an apple. They can be eaten raw, used in desserts, or used in savory dishes like salsa.

These are just a few success stories in my garden, more to come!

Cookbooks That Focus on the Harvest Are More Useful to Gardeners: The Renee’s Garden Cookbook

The Renee's Garden CookbookThe more I garden, the more I want to increase my repertoire of vegetable and herb-based recipes. I have plenty of cookbooks that were given to me years ago, but they are of little use to me now. With them, I have to wade through dozens of recipes to find one that highlights fresh chard, kale, or spinach, much less mention rosemary, thyme, or basil, all of which I have in abundance in my Northern Virginia garden. For me, cookbooks that focus on the harvest are more useful to gardeners than ones that focus on the type of course. Because many of my vegetable seeds come from Renee’s Garden, an online seed company in California, recently I learned that owner Renee Shepherd published The Renee’s Garden Cookbook with co-author Fran Raboff, cookbook author and cooking teacher. The Renee’s Garden Cookbook is the third in their collaborative effort; Renee and Fran already published Recipes from a Kitchen Garden and More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden a few years ago. The recipes for these cookbooks come out of a gardener/cook partnership; Renee brings the harvest from her company’s trial gardens to Fran’s kitchen and together they cook and test recipes to make easy dishes for families to enjoy. The recipes are by no means vegetarian dishes but vegetables and herbs are prominent.

I have the most recent cookbook, The Renee’s Garden Cookbook, and I suspect from the sample recipes on the Renee’s Garden web site that the other two books are similar. Unlike traditional cookbooks, Renee and Fran divided the recipes in The Renee’s Garden Cookbook by the main vegetable, salads, and herbs. In the first section, 29 vegetables are highlighted in alphabetical order, each with several recipes and sidebars on growing the plant. The section on salads and salad dressings has both leaf as well as fruit salad recipes with instructions on growing lettuce and Asian greens. The third section covers savory and sweet herbs. Savory herb recipes include herb encrusted lamb chops; Whitney’s tender chicken with pasta, mushrooms, and fresh herb sauce; apple chutney with wine and sweet basil; Thai shrimp soup with lemon grass; and spiced mint vinegar. Sweet herbs are used for desserts such as upper crust pear pie with lemon basil or lemon thyme; yogurt cheese pie scented with lemon geranium; caramel custard cups scented with rose geranium; and lavender jelly to name a few. Your mouth waters and you instinctively add the plants you don’t have to your “garden wish list” (got to get those scented geraniums!). Illustrated by Mimi Osborne who designs the watercolor images on the Renee’s Garden seed packets, the 158-page book has over 300 recipes.  Each copy is $17.95 or $19.05 for a gift box (great holiday present). To order and to view sample recipes and the other cookbooks, visit http://www.reneesgarden.com.


You Can Grow That! Tuscan Melons

You Can Grow That! Tuscan Melons

This summer I grew cantaloupe from seed and was pleasantly surprised at the delicious taste of the melons plus the ease at which I could grow the vines. These were not just any cantaloupes; these were Tuscan ‘Napoli’ melons from Renee’s Garden.melons3

I started the seeds indoors under lights in early spring and in May, when the danger of frost had passed here in Northern Virginia, I planted several seedlings in two very large smart pots. By using large smart pots, new bags of potting soil, and a slow release fertilizer, I was able to give the seedlings the optimal balance of air, water, and nutrients. I placed the bags on a new garden bed I was creating that had a layer of hardwood mulch. The bags were in full sun, within reach of the garden hose. The vines grew down the sides of the pots and onto the mulch in no time. By June I had so many yellow flowers my kids thought we would be eating melons every day. Sadly, I had to explain that melon flowers are either male or female and they do not always open at the same time. In order to get fruit, bees have to visit both a female and a male flower on the same day. Statistically speaking, by summer’s end, we would have less melons than flowers.melons

Still, we watched the vines grow and by the fourth of July, we could see five small fruit, with smooth green skins. As summer flew by, the skins changed and developed the rough texture and netting pattern. Eventually, as the melons ripened, the skin turned to a yellow buff color, the netting pattern became more pronounced, and the garden was perfumed with a sweet aroma. Our Tuscan melons were incredibly fragrant; we could stand a few yards away and still smell the sweetness. When we picked our melons they were completely ripe, which is when the sugar level is highest. Tuscan melons in general have higher sugar content than the grocery store type of cantaloupes. Additionally, commercial growers harvest melons before they are fully ripe in order to ship with minimal damage. So ours were not only fully ripe they naturally produce more sugar and thus were sweeter than what we could have bought from the store. Next year, try growing Tuscan melons – you just can’t buy such beautiful homegrown freshness!melons2

Click on You Can Grow That! — a collaborative effort by gardeners to encourage others to grow something – to read more gardening posts.


In My Virginian Garden: A July Update

I have not posted in a while partly because the garden is in full swing, I am so busy harvesting, and partly because we have been making changes here at the homestead that necessitate me being outside instead of inside at the computer. We had a few trees thinned and one chopped down entirely which has increased the sunlight, putting a few plants in shock, but great for some other plants that needed extra sun. I am now able to extend my front garden where the old crab apple tree was, which will be a fall project. We also had the deck power washed which traumatized the container plants that had to be put out on the lawn for now, including the tomatoes in the earthboxes, and greatly moved the soil around many plants. So I have spent much time moving, tending, nursing, and healing the garden but in the end I will have more light (always needed for edibles) and more garden beds.

Black Beauty Eggplant Flower

Black Beauty Eggplant Flower

So far, I have had great success with melons, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, peppers, and the herbs of course. The puzzler of the year are the eggplants, which I grew successfully last year in a different place but this year, no fruit. Lots of flowers, and everything else nearby is flowering and fruiting, but no eggplant. I read that they are self fertile and I should brush the flowers with a paintbrush, which I just started to do, but still nothing. These are Black Beauty eggplants so maybe next year I will try a different type. I have about six plants among basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and squash, with plenty of bees,  and they are the only plants that do not bear fruit.

On the bright side, I am enjoying the Burpee celery plant,’Peppermint Stick’. I would have never grown a celery plant unless Burpee sent it to me but it has turned out to be really easy to grow and very tasty, much more so than what you get in a store. The stalks are more pungent and the leaves are so big they could be used to garnish as well. I am sold, will grow celery from now on!

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in ground

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in ground

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in bowl

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in bowl

Another success is Renee’s Garden’s Gourmet Tuscan Melon plant. These I started from seed and grew in the large Smart Pots so they could get pampered with the richest soil and plenty of water. I have several melons so far. I have not eaten them yet but just having them is a success for me. We have been fortunate to have had quite a lot of rain in the early summer which I think is responsible for so many melons — it certainly has given me a bumper crop of cucumbers.

Renee's Garden's Gourmet Tuscan Melon

Renee’s Garden’s Gourmet Tuscan Melon

Another surprise was the Jericho lettuce, also from Renee’s Garden. It was partly shaded by a tree limb, which we cut down and since the sunlight has increased, these lettuce plants have been growing and doing well. Lettuce in July is a rare treat, will harvest these soon!

For fun, I planted Proven Winners’ Superbells calibrachoa ‘Holy Moly’, which is a flowering annual, in a large container with Burpee’s ‘Sweet Savour’ pepper. I really like the combination: Holy Moly lends itself to yellows, red and oranges but also plays off blue because it can been seen as an orange color (at first I could not decide if the container should be red, green, or blue). In early summer, the Sweet Savour peppers were yellow, but now at the end of July, the peppers have turned red and orange. They are small, perfect for a container, and although look like hot peppers are actually sweet.

Close Up of Proven Winners' Holy Moly

Close Up of Proven Winners’ Holy Moly

Burpee's Sweet Savour peppers in late July

Burpee’s Sweet Savour peppers in late July

Beans: Easier than Radishes for Encouraging Kids to Garden

bush beans (2)People recommend radishes for encouraging kids to garden but I say BEANS! Beans germinate quickly; are easy to grow; are more visible; are sweeter; and the leaves are not as prickly as radishes. I grow pole beans in the ground and bush beans in containers on the deck and my kids love to pick them as a snack and for dinner.

This year, I am growing ‘Rolande’ bush beans from Renee’s Garden. Bush beans make a pretty “deck” plant, as long as the container has drainage holes, is large enough (mine are 12 inches wide and tall), and is in full sun. Although bush beans do not have to be staked like pole beans, I put a short stick in mine to lift the plant up to better find the beans. This particular type is called “filet” or “haricot vert.” The beans will grow to be very thin, no thicker than a pencil, and about 6 inches long. Because they are thin, they cook quickly. I grew mine from seed indoors in early May but I could have started them outdoors after the last average frost (mid-May in Northern Virginia). By the end of May, when I was sure that night time temperatures were staying in the mid-fifties, I transferred one seedling to one container which had been supplemented with granular vegetable fertilizer. The plant in this photo is quite lush, but it will put all its energy into producing beans quickly (I can already see beans) over a short period of time and then exhaust itself.bush beans in container

My pole beans will produce beans later in the summer, but over a longer period of time. They are a little more work in that I have make sure their tendrils climb up a pole (until they figure it out on their own) and I have to harvest for a longer period of time. Beans should be harvested often, sometimes as often as every other day, in order to encourage more beans. I am growing Renee’s Garden’s ‘Emerite.’ ‘Emerite’ is a filet type, just as thin as ‘Rolande’, but longer, about 7 to 8 inches.  I have learned early on to keep it simple when it comes to beans. I don’t mix varieties in one place; I grow one type in one location so I know when to harvest that particular bean. With the filet type, I harvest when the beans are thin, so I know not to wait for them to “fatten up.”bush beans Fresh beans can be eaten raw or sautéed or steamed with herbs such a parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, savory, tarragon, or dill. Garlic or onion is good as well as sliced almonds.


You Can Grow That! Sugar Snap Peas

plump sugar snap peas

plump sugar snap peas

March is the time to grow peas here in Northern Virginia. In our family we prefer the sugar snap peas where you eat pea and pod together but shelling peas and snow peas are also started during March’s cool weather. Last year we grew Amish Snap from Seed Savers Exchange which was excellent; this year we will try Renee’s Garden’s Sugar Snap Peas just to compare. We have already tied the nylon netting to the banister that leads to the front door and, in the back, to the deck railing, wherever I could ensure that the peas would receive full sun. Pea plants are light in weight and their small tendrils need to wrap around thin nylon or string. In the beginning, you may have to “train” them to wrap around the nylon or unwrap them if they find a nearby plant but eventually they learn to wrap up and create a pretty green screen. St. Patrick’s Day is my cue to soak the seeds in water overnight, insert in cone shaped coffee filters (could have used paper towels too), and place in zipped plastic bags. I left them on a shelf, I did not put them under grow lights. Within two days, the seeds germinated and after a few days, when it was necessary for the shoots to receive sunlight, I planted them outside about 4 inches apart. Planting them when they have germinated as opposed to planting seeds makes them able to withstand the cold soil temperatures. Last year, in April and May, we picked them almost every day when the peas had expanded enough to make the pods plump – hence – snap when you bit them or bent them. They were so sweet, we ate them raw as the vegetable portion of dinner. Peas are easy to grow, nutritious and delicious, and are a great kid gardening project.

You Can Grow That is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Usually articles on posted on the fourth of the month. Visit http://www.youcangrowthat.com/blogs/ to read more posts.Youcangrowthat

You Can Grow That: Alpine Strawberries!

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June, white flowers nestled in leaves; alpine strawberries hanging over container

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July, ripened alpine strawberry on plant in ground

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November, flower bud on alpine strawberry plant

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November, new growth in center

In May I posted a short article about growing alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) from seed for the first time: Renee Shepherd’s “Heirloom Pineapple” and “Mignonette” and a package of seeds from Switzerland from a garden club member. All germinated easily under lights in spring and I transplanted the seedlings in May to several spots in the garden as well as a few large containers. Throughout the summer, the kids and I picked the small strawberries which were so cute I thought they could also be used for decorating desserts, cakes and cupcakes. I never had any problems with insects, diseases, or even birds. As of Thanksgiving week, despite nights of twenty degrees and days of thirty degrees, the alpine strawberry plants are not only doing well, they are thriving!  Although I knew they were perennials and would survive the winter, I was surprised to see new growth and even a small flower bud so late in the year. The leaves still look fine for late November — I can see why some people recommend them as border plants. You too can grow alpine strawberries; put them on your wish list for 2015! To learn more about what you can grow, read other “you can grow that” posts on the fourth of every month.Youcangrowthat

Lemon Cucs Taking Over Garden Bed

Baby Lemon Cucumber

Baby Lemon Cucumber

I suffer from “have-to-have-it” horticulturist syndrome – usually brought on by reading or seeing an unusual plant. I first read about lemon cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) last year but it was too late in the year to start them. This year, I started a few from seed from Renee’s Garden, an online source of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds. Lemon cucumber is an old plant, an heirloom, with fruit that are cucumbers botanically speaking but look like inflated lemons. They are light yellow and are not supposed to taste like lemons but are supposed to be sweeter or less bitter than regular cucumbers. I have never eaten one but my regular cucumbers tend to get bitter because I cannot keep even moisture levels so the theory is that lemon cucumbers will solve all of my problems.My plan was to have the vine veggies, the cucumbers and the pole beans, wind up together on two wooden door frames, the French door types with spaces for glass. Last year, I bought several from Rebuild Warehouse in Springfield, Virginia, for a few dollars, sans glass of course. Rebuild Warehouse has building materials or home appliances that can be recycled, including garden items. You can get a lot of useful structures for the garden very cheaply – check it out.

I was going to attach two frames to the wooden railing along the garden bed, but then the top rail of the fence broke off (which kid sat on it?) and one of the door frames broke so I only had one. We tied the one door frame, long side, to the wooden railing with twine. I planted only a few lemon cucumber and pole bean seedlings in May, after last frost.

It is mid-July and if I did not tell you I had planted pole beans, you would have never known they were there. The lemon cucumber plants are taking over the garden bed, threatening to run over the beans, peppers, eggplants, and lettuces. So many bees swarm over the bright yellow flowers that I have to carefully pick the other vegetables, hoping I don’t get stung.

Lemon cucumbers covering frame

Lemon cucumbers covering frame

I was so surprised at how large the lemon cucumber plants were getting that I looked at the seed packet again and noticed (maybe for the first time) “vigorous.” The word does not do it justice. This is more of a hostile takeover but I love the vigor. Anything that healthy has to be good and anything that healthy will be kept in check with the first frost.

I look forward to picking the fruit; a few are a few inches long already. Lemon cucumbers can be eaten fresh or pickled and I suspect the novelty shape and color will attract kids. If I get as many fruit as there are flowers, I may be bringing some to the garden club. So far, lemon cucumbers are a success but will let you know more at the end of the year.

Alpine Strawberries


Close up of Alpine strawberry leaves

Close up of Alpine strawberry leaves


It’s Mother’s Day, time to move the seedlings out into the big wide open garden and hope they do well on their own. Cutting the apron strings for my Alpine strawberry (Fragaria vesca) seedlings has been hard though. For months now, I have been coddling them from seed, growing them under lights, hardening them off on the deck, and protecting them from heavy rains. I first read about them last year in Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping book, published in 2010. Although Rosalind lives in California, these small, fruit bearing plants seemed perfect for a typical suburban home in Northern Virginia. Coincidentally, my colleague in my garden club had just visited Switzerland and shared the packet she bought but it was too late in the season to start them. This year, Renee’s Garden is offering two types, a yellow fruited variety called Heirloom Pineapple and a red fruited variety called Mignonette. I started the Swiss packet and the two varieties from Renee’s Garden months ago, under lights, and surprisingly they germinated well but the seedlings were very small. After the true leaves appeared, I transferred them to small, plastic containers, still under lights. When the days warmed up in April, I put the tub of containers outside, and even then, only during the day time.

Unlike regular strawberries, Alpine strawberries do not produce runners, are not as productive and have smaller fruit. Also known as fraise des bois, these are herbaceous perennials, hardy to my zone 7. They grow to a mound shape, about 8 inches tall, and prefer well drained soil high in organic matter. In my garden, I will give them morning sun and afternoon shade or dappled shade. I know it looks like I have a lot but I have read that birds like the fruit which hang above the plant like beacons – I am sure the devil squirrel will find them too. To deter such nonsense, I will plant them in various places around the garden and on the deck in containers.

As a “have-to-have-it horticulturist,” I am the type who will read about a plant, buy it, and grow it without having actually tasted the fruit but I have read that the Alpine strawberries are even sweeter than grocery strawberries. According to the Renee’s Garden seed packets (the Swiss packet was not in English), the Heirloom Pineapple tastes like “delectable flavor of pineapples and roses” and the Mignonette has “ambrosial woodland flavor.” I am looking forward to this summer!

Alpine strawberry seedlings in plastic tub

Alpine strawberry seedlings in plastic tub