The Year of the Delphinium

Delphinium - Curtis Jones

My snow covered flowerbeds look like a black and white photograph. I love the serenity of winter, but I am also eager for the activity of color to come. Direct sowing is the easiest way to sow but starting flowers early (indoors) satisfies my gardening mind and pays off with early color in the garden. This is especially true when it comes to perennial flowers, specifically delphiniums.

The National Garden Bureau is calling 2016 “The Year of the Delphinium”, and I agree. Delphiniums bring coveted blues, deep purples, pinks and whites to the garden, not to mention they are pollinator magnets. These stand-out perennials (hardy to USDA zone 2) got their name because ancient Greeks thought the spur on the back of the flower resembled a dolphin’s snout (the Greek word for dolphin is delfini.) In the south, these flowers are grown as annuals because they don’t perform well in prolonged heat and humidity (much like myself). Delphiniums are excellent cut flowers with a variety for every application. I love both heirlooms we carry—the traditionally tall 3’–6’ Pacific Giant, and the short and sweet Butterfly Blend that reaches just 12”–16”. Both are deer-resistant. Their close, more delicate cousin, larkspur, can be used similarly, and also comes in some hotter pinks and reds.

I prefer to start most perennials, including delphiniums, early and indoors, because I am more likely to get blooms the first season. You can start most perennials extra early (10 to 12 weeks ahead of your average last spring frost), although they may need to be potted up into larger containers once or twice before you transplant them outside. Delphiniums in particular should be started no later than 6 weeks ahead of your average last spring frost. Soaking seed for 8 to 12 hours can help speed germination, as well as darkness; so bury seeds ¼” when you sow. Also, delphiniums germinate best in soil temperatures of 70°–80°F—a tall order for our cool spring soil, which is another good argument for starting them indoors. Delphinium seeds should be fresh, as they are a species that doesn’t hold over as long as some others.

These extra steps will reward you come late spring! Pacific Giant spires look stately planted in odd numbers of clumps in the back of my sunny flowerbed. Their sculptural form adds structure to the bed and helps guide the eye. Despite being straight and tall, the petals and leaves are lacy and soft, adding a delicate touch. I prefer to stake mine since we can get some big winds here on the Colorado Front Range. After they flower, you should cut them back, fertilize with a phosphorous-rich, liquid fertilizer, and you will often get a second flush of flowers. I cut them down again at the end of the season and thank them for their spectacular display one last time. Next spring, look for the strongest 2–3 shoots in a crown and cut out the others; this is a good time to fertilize with a balanced, or phosphorous-rich liquid fertilizer. Dividing clumps every 1 to 3 years or so can also keep these cool-hued beauties from overcrowding so they can look their best.

Perennials are known for demanding a little more patience to see their full potential, but the up-front effort has long lasting results. Remember, if you don’t want to wait a year for blooms, sow extra early indoors to increase your chances of seeing that first year color. Once established, perennials give years of beauty with minimal maintenance, and are great when used to give a garden consistent structure. Growing perennials from seed is also advantageous because it gives plants time to grow up in your garden and adapt rather than being spoiled in a greenhouse, and in my case, shocked by the real world garden. Plus, buying seed versus potted plants really stretches one’s garden budget! The countdown to spring continues!

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Broncos Orange Pepper Jelly

orange pepper jellyHere in Colorado, we’re thinking about the Broncos and the big game on Sunday. We’re also thinking about starting our gardens, specifically peppers. So what better way to celebrate both than with some Bronco Orange Pepper Jelly! This recipe is a sweet and spicy addition to toast, cream cheese and crackers, or even mixed with your favorite vegetable (delicious on green beans!). Our version is mildly spicy, but if you like it hot, increase the number of habanero peppers.

Ingredients:
3 sweet orange bell peppers, like our new variety, Coral Belle
2 habanero peppers
6 cups of sugar
1.5 cups of distilled white vinegar
3 oz pouch of liquid pectin

Directions

  1. Purée peppers in a food processor.
  2. Add all ingredients to a large pot, stir to dissolve sugar, and bring to a boil. Contents can boil over quickly, so watch carefully.
  3. Boil for 4 minutes while constantly stirring. Let rest 5 minutes, pour into jars, and let cool on the counter or in the fridge overnight.

pepper jelly

 

Cool Season Planters

Cool Season Planter

It may be the middle of winter, but that’s no reason to not think about gardening.

Mid-winter is the perfect time to start a cool season planter that can be set out on the patio during the day and brought inside on evenings or days that dip below freezing. If you start a planter now, it will look great as a centerpiece for Easter dinner!

Kale

There are many varieties that will tolerate cooler temperatures and do well in containers, including pansies, violas, kale, alyssum, snapdragons, dianthus and lettuce.

You can change things up by adding some cool season and container friendly edibles that are beautiful and delicious like Tom Thumb Shelling Peas, Swiss Chard, Ruby Streaks Mustard, Bull’s Blood Beets and many others.

What you’ll need:

  • Grow lights or a window with bright, indirect light
  • Seeds
  • Small, movable container with a drainage hole and saucer
  • Container soil
  • Plastic wrap

Sow seeds into container according to packet instructions. Check out our article with help for seed starting indoors.

Cover your container with clear plastic wrap to maintain humidity during germination, and place under grow lights or in a well-lit window but not in direct sunlight.

When seedlings have emerged, remove plastic wrap and keep soil evenly moist but not soggy.

When plants have matured, move your container outside to a warm sunny spot. (They need to harden off before going from no direct sun to a sunny spot.)Move inside if temperatures drop below freezing.

If you’ve sown any edible varieties such as pansies or lettuce, you can harvest them as desired. They will grow back, and periodic harvesting will keep your planter looking tidy.

If you care for your planter properly, it will attract pollinators and other beneficial insects when spring arrives. Check out our article Small Space and Container Gardening for more information.

pansies

We’d love to see your cool season planters! Hashtag your photos with #botanicalinterests.

Garden Planning Time!

onion starters

When I lived in California, I would joke that I gardened until Thanksgiving, rested until New Year, and then started gardening again. Gardening in Colorado is a completely different ball game! The ground is frozen, the air is cold, and we’re not even through the worst of it. With these cold temperatures, it is sometimes hard (even for me) to remember to start sowing seeds now—spring will be here before I know it!

The new catalog is out, and I have been enjoying it (and our new coloring book) cozied up by the fireplace with the dogs but, goodness, I need to get planning and sowing! This year, I want to add foxgloves, Canterbury Bells, and delphiniums to my flower beds; artichokes, celery, and onions in my vegetable garden; and I would hate to miss out on our pumpkin on a stick ornamental eggplant for fall décor. But, if I want to enjoy these plants in June, I need to start planning now. Here are a few things that benefit from an early start indoors (10 to 12 weeks before our average last spring frost):

Artichoke Columbine
Celery Echinacea
Eggplant Little Bluestem Grass
Onion Heliotrope
Rosemary Lavender
Penstemon barbatus
Verbena

I use several of the printable charts available online to help with the planning process. They keep me so organized! Our sowing guides are also extremely helpful. I will get out my planning charts and a calendar, mark my average last frost date, organize my seed packets by number of weeks until average last frost, and get to sowing!

when to sow

If you don’t know your average last frost date, contact your county extension office or a reputable local garden center to find out. Using that frost date, I can count the weeks back to know when to sow or stratify and mark it on our handy Indoor Seed Starting Worksheet. So here I go, coloring book down (for now); let the planning and sowing begin.

 

 

DIY Holiday Décor

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Garland

Save money and de-stress your life with some creative time this holiday season!

Making your own holiday decorations can be a fun family activity, while making something beautiful and unique for your tree, wreath, or centerpiece.

What you’ll need:

  • Cranberries
  • Popcorn
  • Tomatillo husks
  • Pinecones
  • Craft glue
  • Mother-of-pearl craft paint
  • Clear glitter
  • Ornament hangers
  • Unwaxed dental floss
  • Large sewing needle
  • Small paint brush

To make the garland:

First, thread unwaxed dental floss through a sewing needle.

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Next, thread the cranberries and popcorn onto the strand of dental floss.

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Next, tie each end around the last cranberry to keep the threaded items in place.

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Discard the garland after a few weeks.

To make the tomatillo husk ornaments:

Using a small paint brush, paint a thin coat of mother-of-pearl paint on the tomatillo husk.

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After the paint has dried, attach a metal ornament hanger. Attach to a tree, wreath, garland or place in a centerpiece.

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To make the frosted pinecones:

Using a small paint brush, paint a thick layer of craft glue onto each tip of the pinecone.

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Next, pour a generous amount of glitter on the pinecone

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We’d love to see your holiday creations! Hashtag your photos with #botanicalinterests.

Happy holidays from your friends at Botanical Interests!

 

 

Judy’s “Under-Appreciated Treasures”

Canterbury Bells

 

We all have things that we see beauty in, while others may not yet—a vintage sweater, an independent film, or a local band. For me, it’s plants. There are a few “under-appreciated treasures” in our line that, from a business point of view, I should have dropped years ago. I still offer them because I think they are fabulous, and I know everyone will eventually think so, too! These varieties are in my garden every season and hopefully, they will find their way into yours.

My favorite annual flowers are so easy to grow, and display beautiful, showy colors! California Bluebells bloom a near true blue within weeks of sowing. I love a scented garden, and for me, Sweet Pea High Scent is a must! Sunflower Vanilla Ice is a pale yellow showstopper during summer, and a fall bird magnet. Hyacinth Bean Ruby Moon not only attracts hummingbirds to its purple flowers, but the lilac/purple pods that follow are also strikingly beautiful . Marigold Signet Lemon/Tangerine Gems bloom non-stop, and are covered in cute, yellow and orange edible flowers summer until frost. Add them to your vegetable garden near the tomatoes!

In general, biennials are under-utilized likely because they don’t bloom until their second year, but if you sow them every year, you can enjoy them every year! I grow Canterbury Bells because they are dramatic, elegant, and make excellent spring cut flowers. Foxglove Gloxiniiflora Blend is a winner for areas of part sun, and blooms in spectacular multi-flower spikes, each flower having its own beautiful, speckled detail on the inside.

It’s true that perennials require a little more commitment and patience, but I wouldn’t have a summer pass without Chocolate Flower, Nicotiana Indian Peace Pipe, Painted Daisy Robinson’s Blend or Penstemon Dazzler Blend. Chocolate Flower is native, loved by beneficial insects, drought tolerant, and literally smells like chocolate. Need I say more? Nicotiana Indian Peace Pipe reliably returns next to my porch wafting it’s intoxicating scent through the screen, inviting me outside. The white flowers glisten in the moonlight—very romantic. Painted Daisy Robinson’s Blend is a cheery long-lasting cut flower that also attracts butterflies. Penstemon Dazzler Blend is a striking blend of pinks, blues, and purples and is usually humming with hummingbirds. It’s native, drought tolerant, and looks stunning in a rock garden. I love the upright habit and beautiful colors.

These days, culinary palates are more open to the new and unusual, so I can think of only a few little-known and undervalued veggies. Beans are a must in my garden—the fresh flavor is so superior to store-bought. French Filet Beans are thin, tender, and always sweet and succulent.  For a standard bush bean, Jade shines. Jade is disease resistant, a beautiful deep green, and a consistent producer. Orient Wonder Yard Long Bean is also a favorite. Yard Long beans are just beginning to be seen at farmer’s markets. Talk about bang for your buck, the 1-3 foot pods are so delicious, and a definite conversation starter/curiosity. My favorite beet is given an unfortunate name, which may be influencing its lack of popularity—Bull’s Blood beet. It is truly a gross name, but it has brilliant red roots, and the greens are gorgeous in the garden and on the plate.

They might not be Botanical Interests’ top sellers, but luckily gardening isn’t a popularity contest. I’m keeping these varieties for their uniqueness, their high value to me, and to be able to share them with those of you who love them as much as I do.

Sweet and Savory Popcorn

popcorn

Popcorn is one of the quickest snacks to prepare, that’s why it’s great for the busy holiday season or for watching the big game on Turkey Day. There’s no special equipment needed for our recipe. Just 10 minutes and your creative flavor combinations!

Pour about 3 tablespoons of vegetable or coconut oil and 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels into a pan over medium-high heat. Cover with a lid and wait for the popping to begin! Shake the pan over the heat until the popcorn is almost done popping, then remove it from the heat until the popping stops. Remove the lid and mix with your favorite flavor profile. We used Italian seasoning for one batch, and cinnamon and sugar for another, but we also enjoy Cajun seasoning for a spicy kick, dill and celery salt for a salty, tart treat, or classic ranch flavor.

Garlic Bread Popcorn: Melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Pour over the popcorn and turn to coat. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of garlic salt, 2 tablespoons of Italian seasoning mix (usually dried oregano, basil, parsley, and rosemary), and 2 tablespoons of finely grated Parmesan cheese evenly over the popcorn, and mix thoroughly.

Cinnamon Toast Popcorn: Melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Pour over the popcorn and turn to coat. Sprinkle 1–2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon evenly over the popcorn and mix thoroughly.

flavored popcorn

DIY Indoor Compost Bin

 

Indoor Compost Bin in less than one hour!

Finished worm bin

Vermiculture is a fancy word for worm farming. Recycling waste into fabulous fertilizer is efficient, fun, and one step closer to sustainability. Indoor composting is perfect for apartment dwellers, small space gardeners, or any compost enthusiasts who want to reduce their environmental footprint.

Worms are exothermic, meaning their environment dictates their temperature, how fast their metabolism is, and therefore how quickly they turn food scraps into fertilizer. So, while you can have worms outside, in cold winter areas they are far more efficient out of freezing temperatures.

collage

What you’ll need:

  • Two opaque containers (we use plastic but untreated wood can also be used)
  • Bricks or untreated wood blocks for spacers
  • Drill
  • Bedding (straw, shredded paper, dried leaves, or sawdust)
  • Waste Scraps (no meat, no dairy, egg shells okay, avoid vinegar and oils)
  • Red Wiggler Worms (ask a friend, a garden center, or look online for a local worm exchange or garden club)

Container tips: Worms are sensitive to sunlight. Use an opaque container and keep the bin out of direct sunlight, ideally between 50°-75°F. Surface area is important, chose a container that is a shallow and wide vs. a bucket, which is narrow and tall.

 

First, drill at least at least 10 small holes in the lid, sides and bottom of one bin (the second bin will stay intact). The holes are essential for proper air circulation and drainage; both are key to the worms’ health.

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Next, place the bricks or untreated wood blocks in the bottom (intact) bin and stack the drilled bin on top. The bottom bin will catch any compost tea that filters through the top bin, which is a great liquid fertilizer for your plants.

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Next, line the bottom of the bin with paper. This will absorb moisture and provide a barrier above the drainage holes.

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Worms work together with microbes to create compost. Add a few cups of garden soil to the new bin on top of the paper layer to introduce other composting microorganisms, and to give the bin a kick-start.

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Next, fill the bin approximately 2/3 full with shredded paper, dried leaves, saw dust or straw. This will create a bedding area in which the worms find scraps of food.

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Next, moisten the bedding and organic material and bedding to about 75% moisture, which feels like a lightly wrung out sponge.

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Next, gently pour the worms on top of the moistened bedding. They will find their way down on their own.

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Finally, feed your worms. One pound of red wiggler worms can consume 3 1/2 pounds of waste a week! Feed your worms by burying food waste under the bedding (tip: the smaller the pieces the faster they can eat it). As the worms turn the bedding and waste into compost, push compost to one side and add food scraps and bedding to the other side. The worms will migrate to the fresh food and bedding over time allowing you to harvest the compost.

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How many worms do you need? A general suggestion is 1 pound of worms per one square foot of space. Worms do multiply quickly and they will create their own perfect population size given time. Err on the side of less worms to encourage new generations.

Your Gardening Stories Inspire Us

Judy catalogI’ve been a gardener since I was little. My Mom and Grandfather were my mentors. I loved to weed and go to John’s Garden Center in San Jose, CA with my Mom. Gardeners aren’t all the same. Sure, we share a common interest, but everyone has their own gardening story—why they started gardening and why they continue to garden today.

Curtis and I, and the whole Botanical Interests team, wanted to know your stories, so we asked, “What is your gardening story in four words or less?” The overwhelming response (hundreds!) made us happy to see that so many people share our passion. Being inspired by just the four words, we asked for the whole story. And boy did we receive them! As we read through your thoughts and memories, a mosaic emerged of different experiences and personalities.

Throughout the catalog, you’ll read a handful of these personal gardening stories, and you may even recognize yourself in them—we certainly did! Some want to ensure their family eats clean, organic food, while others enjoy creating a beautiful landscape like an artist. Many of you were taught to garden by grandparents and continue that legacy by feeding your own families and building gardening communities. Like us, almost all gardeners shared their love of nature and how communing with the earth centers their soul. You’ll read these gardener’s stories and more! Thank you for taking the time to share your lives with us.

This year, we’re excited to share with you, 47 new varieties with something for everyone. We added two new basils, Lemon and Sweet Thai, for the experimental cooks; the stunning Night and Day snapdragon for ornamental gardeners; Showy and Common Milkweeds for pollinator-friendly gardens; and two popcorns, Dakota Black and Robust Pop 400MR, for something fun and unique to grow. We also increased our organic selections; over half of the new varieties are either organic, heirloom, or both. And for those with larger areas, we even added seven new large packets.

Just as we were inspired by each narrative, personal history, anecdote, and even a poem or two, we hope to continue to inspire and educate the gardeners within all of you.

We’re very proud of 2016 catalog. Request a copy today and discover new and unique varieties, read stories from our customers on why they garden, and learn about sowing temperatures, Scoville Heat units, and more.

Pumpkin Hummus

Pumpkin Hummus

Holiday parties start with Halloween, so be ready and have this quick dip recipe handy.

1–2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
2/3 cup pumpkin purée (from fresh pumpkin or canned)
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt or more
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced

  1. Purée all ingredients except rosemary in a blender or food processor. Add more olive oil or water as necessary to achieve desired consistency. Stir in the rosemary at the end.
  2. Serve with pita bread, fresh vegetables, or tortilla chips.