Hibiscus, Morning Glory and Tomatillos–Oh, My!

End of lovely September, and with it has come some wonderful flowers and produce from the garden:

Hibiscus 'Sweet Caroline'

Meet ‘Sweet Caroline,’ a very pretty, late-blooming hibiscus.  This plant is around four and a half-feet tall, and the flowers are huge–bigger than the size of my spread palm!  I love this bright flower–it makes me happy when I walk outside and see it.

Another September pretty:

Morning Glory 'Heavenly Blue'

My favorite morning glory, a variety called ‘Heavenly Blue.’  That shade of blue is just right–and I love how it looks with the waves of purple Verbena bonariensis below it, and one sprightly orange nasturtium, ala Van Gogh, for a pop of contrasting color to set everything off.  Nature planted the nasturtium there for me, but I had the common sense to leave well enough alone!

In between rain storms today, I ran out and picked these:


I love tomatillos.  I planted two plants, so that they would cross-polinate each other, and the result was that I got much larger tomatillos than I did last year with just one plant.  However, they did not produce as heavily as last year–was it the cooler summer temperatures, was it the particular variety of plant–who knows?  All I know is that they got turned into a great salsa verde, inspired by a recipe by chef Rick Bayliss.  It gets heated up in a pan, and sliced greens are added so that they wilt, and into that goes some shredded cooked chicken.  This is a wonderful taco filling, which we are having for dinner tonight.  I also spent time today making a big batch of homegrown tomato salsa, which will go into the freezer, and I snacked on a few fall-bearing raspberries while I was out and about in the garden–have to keep up your strength, ya’know.

I hope you are enjoying your garden right now–let me know what’s growing and producing well for you now at the end of September.  And visit the Garden Party.

The garden fairy says goodbye.

Garden Fairy fond farewell!


‘Einset’ Grape Harvest

I have been looking forward to this fall, because fall is the time of year when grapes are ripe and ready to be harvested.  The grapevine that I have growing on my outdoor pergola is an ‘Einset’, a red seedless table grape.  This particular variety was recommended to me by the head arborist at the Home Orchard Society at Clackamas Community College, where they have an arboretum of fruit trees, but which also includes grapes and figs, and other types of fruit.  I’ll show you the progression of this vine. 

I started it from a free cutting that I got at the Home Orchard Society Rootstock Sale and Scion Exchange, which is held every March.  I basically put the bottom end of the cutting in damp paper towel, put it in a ziplock bag, and put it in my refrigerator for about a month or so, untill roots started coming out of the bottom of the cutting.  I then took it out of the frig, and potted it up in a container with potting soil.  I let it grow a little bit more, so the roots could get more established, and then I planted it outside in position.  Here’s what it looked like as a baby vine in 2008:

So we were off to a good start–the cutting was healthy and growing.  This was the first grape I’ve ever grown, so I was a total neophyte in terms of pruning.  So basically, I didn’t do any until this year.  Here’s what I had to deal with early on:

'Einset' grape vine trunks, April 2011

As you can see, there is one plant crown, but four trunks growing out of it.  This caused the grape vine to produce a ton of leaves and no fruit.  I knew I had to learn how to prune it to get it to produce fruit.  The first thing I learned was that there is only supposed to be one trunk coming out of the crown.  But I had grown this vine from a tender baby, and I didn’t want to kill it, so I cut it down to two trunks.  (I know, I am a pruning wuss.)  I figured if something went wrong, I’d still have one trunk left to play with.

I learned a little bit.  First off, each grape variety produces the most fruit if you prune them in one of two methods:  spur pruning and cane pruning.  Each variety of grape has one or the other of these pruning requirements.  I looked up ‘Einset’ and discovered that it responds best to cane pruning.  You are supposed to do grape pruning, at least here in SW Washington State, around the end of February, when the vine starts putting out the first new growth in the form of leaf buds.  I didn’t get around to pruning it until the beginning of May, which is quite late, so I made a note on my gardening calendar to do this earlier next year.  (If you recall last February, the weather was very cold and rainy, but if you’re growing fruit, you just have to gird your loins and get out there to prune.)

I don’t have good pictures of how to do cane pruning–I was doing well to get out there and prune it at all this time around.  My hope is that next year I can take some and do a more detailed post on how to do it.  But basically, each trunk produces two cordon arms (You have to train it, ie. prune it, to get it to do this), and from this arm you want to have at least sixteen canes coming out from each of the cordon arms, because this is where the grapes are produced.  You also want to keep a spur, a short cane, near the base of the cordon arm, with the idea being that the spur will grow long over the growing season, and next year you replace the cane that produced fruit the year before with the fresh cane that grew from the spur of the previous year, to constantly rejuvenate the plant each year so it produces well.  I positioned the cordon arms and the canes so they were spread out over the entire pergola roof, and tied them into place on the wooden beams of the roof.

I had a HUGE pile of vines when I finished pruning–no photo, but I cut that entire gigantic overgrown plant back by half.  It looked pretty puny after that.  But I had faith–this is a grape, after all, and they grow like crazy each year, so I figured I couldn’t damage it too much even if I didn’t prune it exactly right.  (I later learned from a friend who has produced wine from his own wine grapes that you can take a chain saw and cut a grapevine down to the ground, but you won’t kill it, because it will send out new vines from the roots.  In fact, it is pretty difficult to get rid of a grapevine because of this.  This is one way to rejuvenate a badly overgrown grapevine–just cut it completely down and start over with it so you can train it properly from the beginning.)

So the growing season began.  Here it is in June of this year:

'Einset' grape, June 2011

So here it is cut back to two trunks, and I “limbed’ it up so there was no leaf growth until the stem got to the very top of the pergola roof.  Notice that there is a lot of open air showing through the roof at this time–not much leaf cover yet.

'Einset' grape, June 2011

But don’t feel sorry for that vine at all–here’s what it developed into by July 2011:

'Einset' grape, end of July 2011

Notice that there’s not much open space at all now–it is completely covered in leaves . . . and also, finally, baby grape clusters!

'Einset' grapes, end of July 2011

Having it growing on the pergola made it very easy to pick the grapes later, so I liked that.  And I love how they look–they are small, green and tart at this stage, but the clusters are even pretty for decorating a buffet table if you’re having a party.  Now technically, you are supposed to thin the grapes, either remove entire clusters, or remove some of the grapes–the tips—from each cluster, but I wasn’t sure how much the vine would produce, if at all, so I didn’t thin this year.  And frankly, it didn’t seem to hurt anything.  Also I’ve been told if you thin, it produces sweeter grapes, which could be true because the vine is putting its energy into less fruit, but I just decided to leave well enough alone this time around.  If you have a young vine that is only just starting to produce, the advice is to thin the fruit so it doesn’t wear itself out with a huge crop early on in its life, and then let it gradually produce more and more each following year, so the framework of the vine can support the growth of all the fruit.

Here they are in August:

Green 'Einset' grapes, August 2011

The grapes are still green, but filling out and getting bigger.

Finally, on September 5th, here is what they looked like:

Ripe, red 'Einset' grapes, September 5, 2011

So, we were in business–eating fresh and delicious ‘Einset’ table grapes by Labor Day Weekend!  I still don’t have a completely developed cane framework yet with this vine, but nevertheless it produced a lot of fruit for us for about two and a half weeks.  There were a few final grape clusters that I was giving one more day to ripen, and something (birds probably, or a raccoon?) came out and overnight had a big grape-eating party.  I came out the next day, and there were grape leaves everywhere, and fallen fruit, and empty stems on the grape clusters!  So that was the end of that!

I also had people warn me about growing grapes under a pergola where we had a dining table.  They said the bees would become a problem, but I had no trouble with bees at all.  Perhaps because I kept the grapes picked often, so they didn’t fall to the ground and attract insects.  I also have a ton of flowers nearby, and maybe they were so busy with the flowers they didn’t bother with the grapes.  It does produces a dense leaf cover that makes it kind of dark when you are seated there, but that’s why you add a candle chandelier!

For more information of growing and pruning grapes, I recommend Ron Lombaugh’s book called The Grape Grower.  Ron grows grapes locally in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

So that’s it for my grape-growing adventures for this year!  What gardening adventures have you had this season–do tell in the comments!  And visit the garden party.

How To Make An Inexpensive Fall Wreath

I decided, even though it was ninety-two degrees yesterday, to start decorating the house for the upcoming autumn season.  I wanted to be a little bit ahead of the game this year, so started a little earlier than I have in the past. 

Here is a little seasonal tablescape I created using flowers from my garden:

The autumn table

This is a little dark, but essentially I got a dark blue sheet from Goodwill, and fashioned it into a tablecloth. 

Here is a daytime shot:

Daytime tablescape

I was totally inspired by that shade of blue of the tablecloth, and I have had my eye out for things that would work with it. 

I next found these fun table mats at Dollar Tree, and loved the shades of dark blues and greens that were in them, and that got me going on the rest of the table vignette. 

Close-up of flower arrangement

I created a flower arrangement using blue and smoky purple hydrangeas as the base, and added dark burgundy dahlias and pink zinnias, and for an accent I added sprays of white clethra.    I put a ruff of purple sage all around the bottom.  I like the look of dark wood in the fall, and thus I added the wooden pepper mill.  I have been collecting leaf plates at Goodwill for a while now, and decided to pick one of the hybrid acorn squash from the garden to place in a green leaf plate.  (Those hybrids are stringy on the inside and no good to eat, but I let them grow so I have lots of squash to use for decorating in the fall.)  I thought they all went together nicely, and for me this is a table look, because of the blue tones, that make a good transition from summer into the fall.

Here’s the mantle:

Love those bright leaves!

And all from Dollar Tree!  I love those felt leaves, especially the cut-outs that allow the late afternoon light to shine through.  And I have become more in love with tall things in front of the mirror over the mantle–all of this, in smoky dark blues, (to pick up the table cloth color) and some bright warm colors, with tall sticks all came from Dollar Tree, which I put in a vase I already had.

Then I decided to get crafty and fashion an autumn wreath for the front door.  Have to say, I am not a big “crafty” person, not really where my skill set lays, so this took me a lot longer–about two hours and change–than it would for someone who is more versatile in this area.  Having said that, it was not hard to make, and quite inexpensive as well, because I used what I had around the house and augmented it with items from Dollar Tree.

Here are the supplies I used:

Ingredients for an autumn wreath

I had the grapevine wreath form, thin wire and a little wire cutter, hot glue gun and glue sticks, and the sunflower garland was already attached from years past–yay.  I purchased from Dollar Tree a fall leaf garland, some small mini gourds and pumpkins, a roll of wire-edge fall ribbon, an over-the-door wreath hanger, and some other larger leaves that I didn’t end up using in this project, but thought I might at the time.  (I’ll use them inside somewhere instead.)

Also . . .

Lots of purple sage

I liked the idea of smoky purple indoors, and wanted to extend that look outdoors as well, particularly because we have turquoise trim on our screen door, so I thought that would look good, and wear well hopefully all the way until Thanksgiving.  I used about 3 buckets of purple sage cuttings.

Turning sage into a garland

I took several little sprigs of sage, clumped them together, and used thin wire to wrap around the stems to hold it together.  This I continued to do, just wiring little groups of sage along their stems, and this created a long garland of purple sage.  (As an aside, I saw this originally done with wiring maple leaves together to create a swag to put on a wreath form, but there are no fallen maple leaves around here yet–I told you I was early doing this project!  But you get the idea–you could use fallen leaves with stems on them in the same way.)

clump of purple sage

Okay, the next pictures are not my best, because I was trying to hold and wire sage with one hand and take a picture of it with the other, so just deal with it, ‘kay?  Here I am clumping sage, and notice there are some stems sticking out at the bottom. 

sage with wire

Here I’ve started to put several tight wraps of wire around the stem grouping,

sage on the wreath completed--whew!

And here I’ve taken the garland and wired it in several spots (about 5-6)  to the grapevine wreath form.  I made the garland pretty thick, because I didn’t want the wreath form to show, and also I know that the sage, as it dries, will shrink a little bit.  I also decided to wire in a clump of hydrangeas in a spot that looked a little thin with sage leaves when I got the thing done.  (Another wreath I saw used hydrangea flowers, although silk ones, in crafting a wreath to go from Thanksgiving to whenever you want to decorate for the winter holidays, so I swiped that idea as well for this wreath.)  The real hydrangeas should dry nicely in place.

Next step:  leaf garland

leaf garland added

I love how these bright fall colors play off the smoky purple.  I just wraped this through the sage, so as to hide the fake plastic “vine” that holds the leaves together.  I wired it to the wreath frame in a couple of spots.

Now for the fun part:

Fall Decorations!

Adding the decorations is the easy, and to me at least, the fun part!  I knocked a few of the sunflowers off as I was wiring the sage to the wreath form, but no big deal.  I used a glue gun, and for the plain-jane green leaves that were on the sunflower garland to begin with, I simply hot-glued on a decoration, be it a sunflower or an orange mini-pumpkin or gourd, and arranged them in an artistic fashion.  The fall ribbon bow I tied myself–Martha Stewart on her website has all kinds of how-tos for tying a variety of bows, and I did her simplest one, because again, these craft projects are not my strong suit.  This picture also shows the nice metal wreath hanger I got at Dollar Tree as well.  I love the grey color, and that it will blend in with the screen door.

Decorations hot-glued into place

Now we’re almost done, but first we have to get the bow ready:

I ran some wire through the back of the bow, so it wouldn’t show, and just wired it into place at the top of the wreath.

All done!

A pretty (and inexpensive) autumn wreath for the front door

I like how the purplish tones play off the blue of the door frames.

Since I was sprucing up the entryway, I found some bright yellow chrysanthemums for sale, so added those to window boxes and containers along the front steps leading to the front door.

Yellow mums say "Welcome!"

I hope I’ve inspired you to add a fall wreath to your front door.  You don’t need to spend a lot of money to end up with something fun and festive to celebrate autumn!

And visit the Garden Party.    

September Garden Harvest

Just a quick post to show you what I picked out of the vegetable garden today:

We’ve had glorious hot weather for a bit now, and everything is ripening rather nicely.  I’ve got pictured a bunch of bush and runner beans.  This year I grew ‘Royal Burgundy’ bush beans, which are lovely and prolific, as well as ‘Scarlet Emperor’ and ‘Violet Podded Stringless’ runner beans (excellent hummingbird flowers, and then you get the beans, too!).  I planted them as seed outdoors on June 21st, and I finally picked them today and froze several bags.  Very easy to do–after you clean and cut the tips off, you boil them for 3 minutes at a rolling boil, and then drain and rinse with cold water to stop the beans from cooking any further.  Put in zip lock bags, being careful to remove as much air from the bag as possible (I take a straw and suck the extra air out of the bag–be careful when you do this so you don’t get lightheaded), and then label and pop them in the freezer.  If you want to learn more about preserving foods, I highly recommend the Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving–a slim volume that gives clear instructions for safely canning and freezing just about anything you can imagine.  Also pictured are some ‘Harmonie’ pickling cukes, and a few ‘Green Slam’ slicing cukes.  Tomatoes are ‘Costoluto Genovese’, a ‘Gardeners’ Delight’ cherry tomato and the very first of the ‘Super San Marzano,’ which look like a larger Roma tomato.  Also the last handful of the ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’ snow peas.  In the background of this picture is a yellow-cupped ‘Bill MacKenzie’ clematis, as well as some bright orange nasturtiums and a white fuschia.

I kept a small batch of the green beans out for dinner tonight.  Made a simple recipe that I got out of an old Bon Appetit magazine:  steam the beans, then rinse with cold water, drain and put in a large bowl.  Add a couple of chopped fresh tomatoes, some fresh basil, some feta to your taste, and then season with salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Mix and enjoy as a salad–so easy and wonderful with homegrown produce.

Hope you are enjoying a great harvest this year from your own garden, or are taking advantage of all the wonderful produce at your farmers’ markets now.  What are you cooking with your fresh veggis–I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  And visit the Garden Party.