Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rhubarb Confessions

If you've read my book, you might have noticed a glaring omission: I don't mention all. (At least not that I remember.) Well, I have a confession to make. I've been holding out, but now is the time to admit...I have never grown rhubarb. It's true. I've lived in the Midwest most of my life, and for some unknown reason it has never shown up in a garden I've tended. For my own part, that's probably because A) I've never lived in one place long enough to reap the benefits or B) the places I've lived haven't really lended themselves well to this perennial mainstay (an apartment, a houseboat, and now a National Park). That said, I love baking with rhubarb, so I am often the happy recipient of colorful stalks from friends and family.

Rhubarb's beautiful red petioles, about to join strawberries in a delicious baked crumble. Photo from
Now, if you're a Midwestern gardener, there's probably little I need to say to convince you that rhubarb is a great plant for the home landscape, because it's most likely already there (and has been for generations, or has followed your family from house to house if the stories I hear are true). So I'm writing this to convince myself as much as anyone else (although living in a National Park I won't be planting it in my yard any time soon - they have rules about things like that).

Rhubarb is the perfect perennial for the Northern garden because it pops up before just about anything else in the spring, and it actually loves cold temperatures. The Michigan Bulb Company says this to describe 'Victoria' rhubarb:  "Thrives best in regions with cool, moist summers and winters cold enough to freeze to a depth of several inches." Music to my Northern ears. Rhubarb will grow in just about any soil, can handle some shade, has very few pest problems, is harvested in June while most other garden plants are just getting going, and will produce for years and years. What's not to like? What's more, it's a great space filler, and looks spectacular. It is distinctly reminiscent of Swiss chard with it's large glossy leaves and deep red petioles, so naturally I'm a fan.

Rhubarb makes a great mass planting in the landscape. There's a lot of green in those big fleshy leaves, so add some color with bright ornamentals, or keep it subtle by combining rhubarb with various greens and other deep hues. You don't necessarily need bright color to make things interesting. Harmonious and subdued colors are pretty dang classy, as you can see here.

Famed edible landscaper Rosalind Creasy captured this lovely rhubarb combo at the Denver Botanical Garden. Great subtle mix of rhubarb, oregano, parsley and amaranth.

There are countless sources on growing rhubarb, and they're pretty straightforward because it's just about the easiest perennial to grow. Check out a few of these sources if you're just getting started. It's not too late to get rhubarb started this year. It needs a year to grow before you start harvesting anyway, so pick a big empty spot in the garden and get some in there.

And if you're a bit limited on space as I am, take a look at the links below that talk about growing rhubarb in containers. There aren't a whole lot of people talking about this, but I'm getting some started this season in a couple large containers to give it a try. Overwintering potted perennials is always the tricky part because they need to get cold to enter dormancy, but could be damaged because the roots are basically exposed to air temperature. I have access to a cold cellar space which could prove to be perfect for overwintering potted rhubarb. I might also try wrapping one of my rhubarb containers with some straw and burlap. I'll let you know what happens. 

Now that's a big container.
Photo borrowed from The Enduring Gardener.

Have you grown rhubarb in a container? Got any tricks? Leave a comment if you're willing to share your secrets.

Info on Growing Rhubarb

People Growing Rhubarb in Containers

Happy growing,

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

books are selling fast

Have you been looking for a copy of The Edible Landscape and finding it is not available? Here's the deal seems the first printing of my book sold out way faster than my publisher expected - hooray for me, but not for you. The second printing is on its way, but won't be available until the end of April. If you can hold out till then, you'll be able to get your copy at all the usual big retailers. Put in your order soon, because the second printing is already 50% sold!

If you just can't wait, I have great news. I have a stash of copies right here at home just waiting to be mailed to anyone needing to get their creative gardening ideas up and running. I'm afraid I can't sell them quite as cheaply as Amazon and those other big guys, because I don't get the discount deal they do. But, if you do choose to buy from me, you could maybe feel kinda good about supporting a new author directly...just a thought. And here's a plus, this way you can have your copy signed by the author (that's me!)

Even my stock of books is dwindling fast, so if you just can't wait until the end of April for your copy to arrive, pop on over to the right side of this page and click Buy Now and you'll be able to place your order quickly and easily. Be sure to choose whether you want your copy signed or not. If not, don't worry, I shall take no offense.  I receive order notifications instantly, so your book will be in Priority Mail within a few hours of placing your order, and in your mailbox 2 or 3 days later. How's that for fast?

Whether you order from me or wait till the next printing is available, I am just thrilled that you're interested in this book and this great way of gardening.The more of us who start working edibles into our landscapes, the more we'll start seeing food plants everywhere - back yards, front yards, from the tiniest balcony to the grandest estates. All providing delicious fresh food for our families, friends and neighbors. And the more we all get accustomed to these plants being attractive and really adding to the beauty of the landscape, the more they'll start showing up in commercial landscaping where they might feed employees, and of course in schoolyards where they'll feed our kids. Let's get this thing going. Edibles everywhere!

Monday, March 18, 2013

fruit resources updated

Egads! I just noticed that the links on the growing fruit page were outdated. I have just updated them all, so you should now be able to get to those resources with ease.

I'll be going through the blog over the next couple of days, checking links and updating. Please, if you notice any bad links, leave a comment and I'll take care of it right away.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

time to get your garden on

...or at least start thinking about it. If you're looking for inspiration for this year's garden there are two events coming up you won't want to miss. And as you might suspect, I'll be speaking at both of them!

This Saturday, March 9 is the East Metro Spring Fling in Woodbury, MN. This one required pre-registration, but there might still be space available, so if you're interested it would be worth checking in with them.

Next Saturday, March 16, in Cambridge, MN (just north of the twin cities) is Burst Into Spring, hosted by the Isanti County Master Gardeners.

Both events should be lots of fun and promise to offer tons of info and inspiration for your garden. I'll be speaking and selling/signing books at both events, so come on out!

Look forward to seeing you!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

talking edible landscapes this weekend

We have two chances to meet this weekend!

I'll be at Cooks of Crocus Hill in Stillwater, MN on Saturday from 11-1, signing books and answering questions. Then, on Sunday from 1-3 I'll be at Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply in St. Paul. You'll need to sign up for this event, so check out the E|P website for more info.

Hope to see you there! 

Friday, February 22, 2013

saturday book signing at gertens

I'll be joining the good folks at Gertens this Saturday at 10am to talk all about edible landscaping and to sign books. Sure the snow is flying, but it's never too early to start thinking about your garden. Come and join us to share ideas and get inspired to grow veggies, fruit, herbs and flowers all right there in your landscape. This event is free, but I'd recommend you sign up on the Gertens website to reserve a spot.
See you there!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

new plant list page

Look above in the menu and you'll see a link for a new Plant Lists page. The lists are directly from my book, The Edible Landscape, and are a little freebie (and perhaps a little teaser) for those of you who don't have the book yet.

I hope the lists help you as you begin to plan your edible landscape for this year. And if you find the lists helpful, be sure to check out my book for lots and lots of inspiration, photos, sample designs, tips and techniques for making your yard a feast for the eyes and the table!

Thanks, and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

more winter squash

I was perusing the web for more winter squash ideas, and found a couple I just had to share them with you. There are some creative gardeners out there. These are good reminders to think outside the box when devising plant supports.
Train your squash along a fence and this show stopper will
give you easy access at harvest time.
Photo borrowed from

An old tree stump provides plenty of support
for these gourds. It would work just as well
for winter squash.
Image borrowed from m.gifford.

I also found a couple more recipes to try. This one from Motive Nutrition boasts two of my winter time favorites: butternut squash AND kale.

A friend gave me another recipe based on the Native American 'three sisters' combo - corn, bean and pumpkin. (Thanks Steve!) Give these two a try, along with the Winter Squash and Carrot Soup I raved about, and send the winter blues packing.

I'll type up a clearer version and give a cookbook source soon.

Happy souping,

Thursday, January 24, 2013

eating in season...winter

Since it's the middle of winter and a little early to be getting spring fever, I'm thinking more about food than I am about gardening.

Image borrowed from
Mill City Farmers Market, Minneapolis, MN.
One of the things I like best about edible landscaping - and gardening in general - is the seasonality of what comes to the table. I eat the right things at the right times at the absolute peak of freshness, and that is how it should be. That's fine during the summer when our gardens and tables abound with zucchini, strawberries, tomatoes, eggplant, and, and, and.... But what about these long days of winter? Days when it seems like nothing ever again will grow and the world is doomed to an eternity of white. Okay, maybe I'm experiencing just a pang of spring, winter blues now stuffed neatly away in my down parka pocket...

The scene out my window. Now you understand.
So, how do we eat in season during a season when nothing grows? Well, unless you have a root cellar or do a lot of canning, (neither of which are part of my present existence) you, like me, are probably spending some time in the produce section of the grocery store. During winter I tend to gravitate to veggies that would likely be in my root cellar were I lucky enough to have one. These are tasty delights like winter squash, cabbage, potatoes and sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, carrots, onions, turnips, garlic, and even celery! All things that lend themselves well to roasting, baking and souping (?) - cooking methods that provide the warmth and richness that we northern denizens crave this time of year.

Winter squash is one of my favorites, and I am forever searching for a really good squash soup recipe. Most I've tried are a bit thin, even those that are pureed, and don't have the richness I long for. And I usually avoid the ones that are too creamy or overly spiced with curry or other exotics, because I generally like my food to taste like the food it is. (That said, I'm always a little over-zealous with the freshly ground black pepper, leading Dirk to remark, "Wow...peppery", to which I respond, "Hmm, you think so?")

This is the only photo taken of my squash-sweet potato-carrot soup production.
Please disregard the delicious cocktail attempting to steal the show.
By the way, winter squash seeds are tasty when roasted like pumpkin
seeds and dusted with a little cinnamon and sugar. 
I found a simple and spectacular recipe named "Zuppa di Carote e Zucca Gialla"{Carrot and Winter Squash Soup} in Williams-Sonoma's Rustic Italian cookbook by Domenica Marchetti. The pancetta croutons sold me on it immediately. If you know what's good for you, you will not neglect them when you make this, as emotional health is just as important as physical health this time of year. Click on over to Domenica Cooks to check out the recipe. The carrots added extra sweetness, and I added a sweet potato for even more orangey, healthy deliciousness.

You might be thinking...what about growing winter squash in your edible landscape? Let me just say this one takes some creativity. The large, coarse leaves make quite a statement, and can look really great when interplanted with chard, kale or other sturdy plants to break up the monotony. The vines are take-over-your-garden-long. There are clever ways to save space, using trellises and other supports. Or, check out some of the newer bush types if you're really tight on space.

If you choose to trellis your plant, the individual fruits might need to be supported. Just something to keep in mind. The tricky part really comes later in the season, as it's generally recommended to harvest after the vines die back. Hmm, that doesn't sound so pretty. But...if you have enough other gorgeous plants growing around the vine, you might not even notice. On the other hand the autumn visage of crisp, tawny vines rambling along the fence line might be just the thing to bring the feel of harvest season into your yard. Sometimes we just have to adjust our concept of beauty.

Edible landscaping guru Rosalind Creasy can always be counted on to
provide creative ideas for growing plants beautifully, including squash.
Image borrowed from
If you've decided to grow winter squash, don't stop at butternut and acorn. Look for unique looking varieties and those that tout excellent flavor. Delicata is one of my favorites.

Here are a few good resources for growing winter squash in the garden:

Growing Pumpkins and Squash in Minnesota Home Gardens
Growing Pumpkins and Other Vine Crops in Wisconsin (Geared toward market gardeners, but includes helpful info for gardeners too!)
Growing Winter Squash: Cornell University Garden Guide
Winter Squash: University of Illinois (Variety descriptions.)

And here's a handy guide for storing fruits and vegetables from the University of Wisconsin.

Stay warm out there!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

hot off the presses

I am happy to announce that my new book The Edible Landscape, published by Voyageur Press is here ahead of schedule! One hundred and sixty colorful pages of photos and sketches, tips and tricks, ideas and inspiration; all in hopes of helping you add a little bit of flavor to your yard.

Most of the photos in the book were taken at local gardens around the Twin Cities area. Many thanks to the individuals and organizations who graciously welcomed me and my fabulous photographer and art directors into their gardens. Many agreed to plant specific things so we would be able to get the shots we needed. They gave us access at ridiculously early hours so we could catch just the right light. And they welcomed us back week after week in order to get the perfect coloring on a plum, capture the zinnias in full bloom, and of course harvest lots of chard! Huge thanks go out to The University of Minnesota Department of Horticultural Science and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, Jane and Jim Gilbert, Maureen Hark and Blue House Garlic, Charlene McEvoy and Doug Olson, Laura McGuire and McGuire's Urban Farm, Theresa Rooney, Dawn Spraungel, and Julie Weisenhorn. This book couldn't have happened without your generosity.

Of course the beautiful photos wouldn't have happened without Paul Markert, photographer extraordinaire. His vision, patience and flexibility contributed not only to a beautiful book, but also made the process really fun for me.

All the talented people I've been working with at Voyageur Press have been very supportive, flexible and accommodating to my many whims, visions and persnickety details. And they put together one heck of a beautiful product that I am really, really proud of.

Finally, I owe endless thanks to my family, friends and colleagues who read over various chapters, confirming my statements, catching mistakes, and pointing out just how many times I use certain words over and over. I sound like a much smarter person thanks to all of you.

The Edible Landscape is available at all the usual online outlets; however... in keeping with the local flavor of the book, please stop into your local bookstore or garden center and ask them to order it for you. Let's support our local shop owners!

With that said, go out and get the book and start planning for spring!