Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fresh from the Garden Pesto

It's not too late to make use of that fresh Basil still popping out of your garden.  If you've had all the fresh basil you could ever want from our short summer, consider cutting and freezing the rest in the form of pesto.  The secret to the favorite pizza in our house is a basil pesto sauce base.  Learning from the master pie makers at American Dream, we top it with red sauce, artichoke hearts, feta, salami or pepperoni, and sundried tomatoes.  The other secret is to brush the edge of your crust with garlic butter.  Soooo good....   

For my own pesto, I use walnuts since they're more readily on hand under this roof.  These are most flavorful when lightly toasted in a 350 degree pre-heated oven for 5-8 minutes (until just starting to brown).  

If you don't have a food processor, a handheld blender works just as well.  Before you freeze your pesto, put a small amount of lemon juice in the top of the jar to help prevent oxidization. 

Garlic Lovers’ Basil Pesto Recipe
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts, lightly toasted
5 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
3 tsp. lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Makes approximately 6 oz. fresh pesto

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mahonia Magic

Have you noticed the yellow winter blooms bringing attention to the Oregon Grapes that, 8 or 9 months out of the year, reside demurely in a background or hedgerow?  Winter and early fall are the times they're most likely to tempt money from the gardener's wallet.  Starting as early as January, the beautiful lemon bells have a slight, sweet fragrance that succeeds the Witch Hazels' own.  The flowers are edible and citrusy, making a nice addition to winter salads.  Following into Autumn, the blue-black berries have formed; hanging succulent temptations for urban birds and home canners who adore the sweetened jam.   

Mahonia aquifolium can reach 7-10 feet tall.  Several cultivars are grown for varying floral display.  These are sometimes found in retail nurseries.  The species pictured here, Mahonia aquifolium 'Compacta' will grow 2-3 feet tall and approx. 1 1/2 feet wide.  Width can easily be controlled by removing suckers.  Oregon Grape performs best year-round in dappled shade, but will tolerate full sun and a range of soils.  


Bleeding Heart Blooms

Always reminding me of Lewis Carroll's famous Queens,  Bleeding Hearts are a must for the sweetheart garden, a woodland planting, and for early spring confidence that sunshine will soon again find its way into your home and garden.  The species shown here, Dicentra spectabilis, is native to east Asia and will grow 2-3 feet in height and approx. 2 feet wide.  Bleeding Hearts grow happily in semi-shaded areas among ferns, Heucheras, and Oregon Grape.  Other species worthy of mention are the later flowering native Bleeding Heart, Dicentra formosa, and the early white-flowering cultivar Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba'.  The elegant flowers are excellent, though not long-lasting, in a vase.  

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hawaii's National Tropical Botanical Garden


is located on peaceful Kauai, just a few miles west of Po'ipu on the island's leeward side.  As stated on their website,, "The importance of plants to life on earth is immeasurable. We depend upon them for the air we breathe, for the food we eat, for shelter, and for medicine.

Ninety percent of all plant and animal species on our planet exist in the tropics -- that warm moist belt that circles the earth. And it is in these regions where the extinction rate is the highest. Species are disappearing faster than anyone knows. They cannot be replaced.
The National Tropical Botanical Garden is dedicated to preserving tropical plant diversity and stemming this tide of extinction - through plant exploration, propagation, habitat restoration, scientific research, and education. NTBG's gardens and preserves are safe havens for at-risk species that otherwise might disappear forever."
This kind of work is so important, and their collections so impressive.  I was lucky enough to make a visit last month (the reason for no January post), and spent most of my time in the tropical oasis of McBryde Garden, blowing my mind, geeking out on their amazing specimens.  
As far as learning new plants goes, my time there was limited but I was able to learn a few, as well as see many I'd known only as Northwest houseplants, growing naturally more beautiful in their preferred habitat.  Ti leaf, gingers, turmeric, Indian Mulberry, Taro, Elephant Ears, Banana, Coconut Palms, Candlenut, Cacao, and sweet potato are plants all growing beautifully today; February 5th, another sunny day on the south side of Kauai. 
Rarities and immediate favorites were Hibiscus waimeae (koki'o ke'oke'o); native to Kauai, and having fragrant white flowers unlike most other hibiscus.  Also, the Spindle Palm (Hyophorbe verschaffeltii) which was flowering in January, created a seductive attraction for the local honey bees.  Other highlights were the vanilla orchid, of which there are 110 species native to tropical regions from North America to Asia.  Vanilla planifolia is the species commercially grown to produce vanilla flavoring.  
Also worthy of mention, the curious Kupang tree (Parkia timoriana), also called Tree Bean. According to, the kupang flowers are dense, hanging from leaf axils like old-fashioned electric bulbs, on long cable-like stalks. The flowers are white and yellow, about 1 cm long. The pods are about 3.5 cm wide, rather thick, pendulous, and black and shinning when mature, and contain from 15-20 seeds. The pods are edible, and are considered a delicacy in Manipur. Their pulp is golden yellow, with a sweetish taste and an odor like that of violets. The roasted seeds are used in certain parts of Africa to make an infusion like coffee, for which reason they have been called soudan Coffee.   
Favorites both known and unknown are pictured here.