Saturday, March 30, 2013

How to Dye Easter Eggs with Natural Plant Dyes

If one is a dedicated foodie, coloring Easter or spring eggs, should be done au natural, no?

This Examiner set out to discover – or re-discover – how to color eggs with natural – plant-based dye.

Yes, the fizzie paaz is a holiday favorite or tradition.  But those pellets are scary. 

In search of a better Easter egg, there was the pursuit of the Martha Stewart-inspired craft of blowing out the eggs and using the wax crayon to inscribe the name of family and dinner guests, with the beribboned monogrammed eggs hung from forced cherry blossom or pussy willow stems.

This year, natural was the challenge.
After some research, including Junior League friends (Hilary shared her red onion egg dye experience) - the plan was to more or less follow the recipe or guidelines as provided by a Katie Fox, SimpleHomemade blog from 2010.  Fox was unavailable for comment for this post.

However the recipe seemed quite doable and fun. Most of the ingredients were on hand, and the others would have been in the garden or pantry. Nevertheless all were readily accessed from the market.

Recipe from SimpleHomemade:
In addition to eggs, you will need white vinegar, water, and veggies, fruits, and spices for colors.  Don’t leave out the vinegar – it is a necessary fixative, ensuring that the color will adhere to the eggs.
• grated beets
• chopped cranberries (fresh or frozen)
• Red Zinger tea
• chopped frozen cherries
• chopped frozen blueberries
• chopped red cabbage
• red onion skins
• yellow/brown onion skins
• chamomile tea
• ground turmeric
• saffron
• chopped spinach
Mix these together to create other colors, as well; for example, reds and yellows can combine to produce orange shades.  It’s a fun and easy way to teach children about colors.

Use about 2-3 cups of water in a saucepan for each color.  Add one tablespoon of vinegar and the plant(s) of choice.  Bring to a boil for fifteen minutes before adding eggs.
The chopping of the frozen blueberries and the spinach was easy. Likewise, the grating of the beets.
Rather than use four different pots on the cooktop (after all, there is a big holiday dinner in prep for Easter!), the microwave was employed.
The natural ingredients were added to coffee cups, with the vinegar and heated for five minutes to a boil.

The best color was the chamomile and yellow onion skins.  The yellow was a bright and happy hue.
The red turned out to be more pink.  It worked better with the addition of the rest of the beet. Don’t shave it – just cut it up and add to the vinegar water.
The thinking was to turbo-charge the blue color and add a blueberry tea to the frozen chopped blueberries for the test recipe. After all, the chamomile worked swell. But the blue turned out to be more grayish blue initially. The addition of more vinegar accelerated the blue color.
The only real failure was the green. Which is more than disappointing as the spinach even dyed the cutting board when chopped! Perhaps more spinach and a bigger container to accommodate the intensified plant dye ingredient.
The result was great Yellows, good Red & Pinks and Blues. That the Green was flawed was made all the more disappointing given that Green is the Pantone color of the year…  

Happy spring.  Enjoy the egg salad, sans colored shells.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

BloemBox Premieres Hort Fashion Spring Line: Fresh, Flirty Poppies Gift Collection

Readers and fans of Garden Glamour know I adore BloemBox and its artful creations.
The romance and whimsy of horticulture couldn’t be more squeal inducing than in this line of gift-boxed seeds or bulbs that shape-shift as fashion.
In fact, there should be a Botanical Green Carpet! 

Every year brings a newly-designed BloemBox (Dutch for “flower”) collection: from Specialty Wildflower Gardens to Habitat Gardens with bumble bees or butterfly to Mini Hangings to Veggie & Herb Gardens. 
The original creations are confections to give or collect.
Or use as the perfect Spring Holiday tablescape fantasy and gift swag.  

Your dining table will transform to a shimmering garden with eye-popping color – think Pink, Blue, Yellow, Tangerine, and Green: The Color of the Year, don’t forget. 

All BloemBox designs are adorned or accessorized with floral and vegetable garnish or sweet-as-Disney pollinators including hummingbirds, bumble bees, and birds.

An instant conversation starter is to name all the flowers. 
You decide whether to require the flower’s common name or the botanical nomenclature. Ha. 
Choose from this season’s Poppies, or Dogtooth Daisy, Delphinium, French Marigold Cornflower, Maltese Cross, Zinnia’s, Wildflowers, scarlet sage, lemon mint, and edibles such as red and green French lettuce, royal purple Italian Heirloom eggplant or Nantes carrot and herb creations to create a dazzling, irresistible bouquet.

Leave it to a woman to Lean In in just the right – make that, green- way. 
Take that, Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg. 

Wrapped around the BloemBox collections is a woman’s entrepreneurial success story.

In the happy world of BloemBox - founder, product designer and botanist (love that!) Laura Quatrochi, is a visionary and hard working plant lover who cultivated her horticulture roots as a scientist and her creative charm, to produce a collection of glamorous, too-cute seeds or bulbs, discretely sheathed in the chic tissue paper slip, er, biodegradable ribbon sleeve, tucked inside the BloemBox signature lime-green, petite, glossy, hatbox that looks for all the world like it is channeling Lily Pulitzer and those hot Palm Beach colors.

This year, Quatrochi is channeling Mother Nature herself and has introduced the Poppy Collection in homage to the company’s signature flower, the Shirley Poppy, Papaver rhoeas.  

Garden Love
What better romantic suitor is there? BloemBox arrives with flowers, poems, seed “jewels” and love….  How glamorous!

BloemBox is the perfect Hostess Gift, too.

All BloemBox designs come gift wrapped with the corresponding silk flower or vegetable perched atop the preppy green box, 5’ of plantable tissue paper seed sleeve, tied up with a fetching ribbon, care instructions (a gardener can’t be too meticulous), a gift tag and a poetic reference to the flower.

Did I mention that Oprah and Paula Deen are among the celebrity BloemBox fans, having showcased the garden jewels to attract “happiness”?

I double-dare you and your guests not to smile when the look is a glamorous, layered arrangement of color, texture, and blooms - ready to go from BloemBox.
No floral arrangement or gardening resume required...

Phone: 707-895-3500

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Irish Garden Book Reviews to make you & your Garden Green with Envy

Irish Garden Books Review

Spring is here and that means the cool, sweet, hopeful green season is back.  
“Green” seems to be everywhere. 

Emerald Green is the Pantone "Color of the Year."
The color arbiter claims it's rejuvenating, multi-faceted, harmonious, and lush. 

You can’t help but register that everybody – from corporations to government to media – are keen to profess their new green initiatives. 
Why even the newly-appointed Pope Francis is named for St. Francis - patron saint of animals and the environment.

This green style sparked a green review on my part.
When I think green – real honest-to-goodness, wearin’ of the green – I think of Ireland. 
The Emerald Isle.

So the books for this garden visit will demonstrate why this island is truly a gardener’s green paradise. 
And St. Patrick's Day was fleeting. I was too busy planting my peas, after all. 

Gardens of Ireland, by Marianne Heron and photography by Seven Wooster takes the reader on an Irish garden tour organized by region: The South and South East; Central, South West, and the North, followed by a two-page index of “Where to Visit,” that includes the hours of visitation, travel directions, and contact information.

Ireland’s rain and temperate climate is ideal for growing the widest range of plants in its latitude -- not to mention the Gulf Stream that allows sub-tropical plants to thrive along the coasts.  And you thought the Irish green thumb was the magic sprinkled in the garden by all those fairies and leprechauns! 

Ireland boasts many private gardens whose owners are happy to show off their horticulture triumphs. 
Today there are also more than 100 gardens that are open the public. 

The book is richly illustrated with luscious photographs – some are full-page illustrations of the gardens that are punctuated with bright, sharp colors or misty landscapes along with the home, folly, or castle.  Others are whimsical notations that truly provide a sense of place such as the willow dragon of Ballymaloe or the flock of hens there, or the peacocks at Kilmokea, or the feline-looking stone creature on the Dodo Terrace at the Mount Stewart garden.

The text is just the right mix of garden history and a description or inventory of the plants in the garden – it reads as if you are walking through the site. The author writes, “Drifts of white willow herb waving beyond precision-clipped box hedges…” or “Bonet’s plan features two long ponds stretching a dramatic 550 feet towards a distant avenue of limes, beyond them are the Cascades, a series of tumbling water features or stops, hidden by a ha-ha…”  

You get the idea of how intriguing and fun this is to read!  The famous Irish sense of humor that is everywhere evident.  
The overview of Larchhill reads, “A rural Arcadia where extraordinary follies and rare pigs in palaces feature in Ireland’s only ferme ornee or ornamental farm: a unique survivor of gardening history.”  

How can you not be taken in by that?

Down to Earth with Helen Dillon is a little over 200 pages and is chock full of sage wisdom about how to achieve magnificent gardens.   

This is a beautifully illustrated full color photographs gardener’s “how-to” written in a witty, practical – and well, down to earth prose that supports the cover jacket’s   “Advice and inspiration from one of the world’s great gardeners.”  

You’ll be hooked by Dillon from the start. 

The Introduction begins with the heading: “Shouldn’t Have.”  
And she begins her frothy tirade confessing bad gardening decisions from wrong plants to tacky garden accessories like the loopy swan fountain.  

Right off the bat, you can relate.  

Helen is determined that we can all learn from her mistakes.  She triumphed through the evolution of her Irish gardens and the book guides us through the journey. The chapter headings tell us this will be a process – a fun one too—from Part 1 Beginners Stuff (sub heads include Why did it die, Collapse of the late summer garden, to Ten trees for a small garden, and The one-hour a week garden.  

Part 2 is the Middle Ground and includes “Hiding the neighbors,” Five shrubs with good leaves,” and “Questionable plants.”  

And who could resist Part 3 Fancy Stuff? 
Helen concludes the garden journey with topics such as “No plants,” “Unsettling remarks,” “As light as air,” and “Dog in the garden.” (she advises to get a short dog like a daschund who can’t lift their legs high!)

The writing is witty, if not hilarious.  

We will all recognize ourselves in the humble pursuit of producing a fabulous garden.  

Beautiful gardens take a lot of work and no small amount of some magic. 

The speciallness of this book is that while we can see ourselves in the garden foibles the author describes, she provides more than a lucky charm or horticulture hocus-pocus.  This is a fun, helpful garden guide that you will turn to over and over for a been-there/done that experienced gardener.

 Do you have any Irish Garden book favorites to recommend?

Happy Spring!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

So, You Say You Want to Sow Seeds?

Growing plants from seed – especially our native, seasonal produce -- is essential to our food supply. 
Besides buying from local greenmarkets or farmer’s markets, it is really, really important to grown your own food.
As the food thought leader and author Michael Pollan advises with his 7 Words & & Rules for Eating, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”   

Think of seeds as the “Warriors” or “First Responders” in our battle to retain taste and diversity and local cuisine.

Any gardener worth their salt, er seed, delights in growing some edible basics, including tomatoes or cucumbers or zucchini or peppers.
But it’s just as easy and fun and delicious to grow a very wider variety of fruits and vegetables. 
Don’t just replicate the store or familiar plant variety.  Please.   

And while one can get the more familiar, “staples of the table” plants at a big box store or nursery, why bother? 
Frankly – if you are going to grow your own -- why limit yourself with the ordinary?

There is a vast, thrilling, visually enthralling and unlimited supply of deliciously, unique plants just waiting, beckoning to be tried.
Like a fashion Lookbook, you will be giddy with anticipation, merely turning the catalog pages.  
Check out these beauties -- the color, the texture, the glamour!

Laurentian Rutabaga

Rainbow Sweet Inca Corn

You know you want to show off your Marc Jacobs - so indulge and show off your amaranth!

Plus, the big superstores were more than at fault in the tomato blight issue a few years back.
The corporate food retailers/big box stores sourced their tomatoes from China and other far-flung, non-local regions and the results were disastrous. 

Tomato Blight  Photo credit:
 Looks familiar?  
Tomato Blight Photo credit:

Tomato Blight


There is a happy, healthy, tasty, easy-to-grow alternative.   

Where to Source Seeds and How to Grow

There may not be a better place to start than the book, “The Heirloom Life Gardener: The Baker Creek Way of Growing Your Own Food Easily and Naturally,” authored by Jere & Emilee Gettle, cofounders of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.

No less than the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart and Melissa Clark – a trifecta of homegrown food advocates – have provided blurbs for the best selling book. 

“Gettle is the Indiana Jones of seeds,” according to the book cover banner quote credited to The New York Times Magazine.

I received "The Heirloom Life Gardener"for review last year. 
I remain very impressed with its presentation and content.
The importance of growing food free of pesticides, genetically modified Franken-melons or what have you, continues to resonate and is only gaining in popularity.

The book is an engaging how-to, for beginners and for more experienced gardeners.
The zen of gardening, after all, is the understanding of the art of gardening, especially as I am advocating pursuing myriad plant collections and not just the monoculture of growing a few varieties. 

While I have read that some take issue with the somewhat protracted author biography, I think they missed the point here.
The purpose is to establish the author’s credentials and philosophy.
Why follow the leader if you don’t know where they’ve been?
In addition to Gettle, every vegetable and fruit has a history – a provenance. 
Those stories need to be told in a book. 
With the passion and expertise that inspires a lifetime of gardening knowledge
The artwork of those early seed packets, alone is worth a book.  (The New York Botanical Garden curated an exhibit of seed packets a few years’ back and one might look into this display of agricultural art.)

Otherwise, just Google what you seek!  Or seriously, contact your local Master Gardener’s Extension Coop.

A book is an exploration and a reference.  A friend.

Further, this grow-your-own-food book showcases full-color photographs to enchant and excite the home gardener.  The images are a passport to the world of plants that most don’t ever see.
I will hate myself for saying this, but even if the reader doesn’t get to growing much of the beauties offered in the book, they can take the book to the Greenmarket and discover jewels of the earth such as the candy striped Chioggia Beets, for example, or carrots.  

Lest one be deterred, the full color sidebars and tips do make it all so easy and tempting to jump in and get planting.     

Chapter headings help tell the Heirloom story too.  Here is a sampling:
Growing Up with Heirlooms
Seeds in America
Collecting Seeds Around the World
How to Garden
Seed Saving
City Farmer
A to Z Growing Guide.

You will enjoy the good-food stories, the history of heirlooms, how to garden even in urban settings, and cooking tips. 

Seed Sources

Seed and bulb sources are a cornucopia of garden information!  Plus they give it away.  For free.  Take advantage of that expertise.  The seed companies we use earn our loyalty be providing outstanding, quality product along with unbridled, solid growing tips and tricks. For example:

At our Garden State farm-ette, my husband Bill and I grow a variety of vegetables, herbs,  and fruits.  Some of our favorite, tested seed and bulb resources include:

Kitazawa Seed Co. - Especially for their Shisedo Peppers

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds – more than 1400 heirloom seeds.  If you can’t find something here to tickle your carrots, click off!

Maine Potato Lady – for their garlic and potatoes

John Scheepers Garden Seeds – for their eggplants, especially the Black Opal, and Turkish Orange

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs -

**  Don’t forget to plant your Peas!  St. Patrick’s Day is the traditional calendar date to plant the peas and hope for snow!  If you are further south, happy pea harvesting.