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How to Find Great Plants #2

Here it is! For issue #2 of How to Find Great Plants I decided to highlight four each in the food and ornamental categories. It was such a hard choice to choose only eight of this month’s 32 submissions! Don’t miss out on the complete list of entries located at the end of the post, they were all a pleasure to read and gave me plenty of spring garden ideas.

I’m already taking submissions for issue #3 — the deadline is January 28th, 2011, publication will occur on January 31st at approximately noon.

Photo Caption: Parsnips... and a celeriac (Credit: Mark's Veg Garden)

FOOD: Mark’s Veg Plot: Parsnips

As a cooler weather veggie, parsnips aren’t seen all that often on southern dinner plates (although they are easy to grow in the winter here with polytunnels). It’s a shame we aren’t more familiar with them because the caramelized parsnip recipe on Mark’s Veg Plot looks like comfort food of the highest order! Impressively harvested through a layer of snow (with some casualties, the largest parsnip got skewered by a garden fork), this is a vegetable you won’t have to build a root cellar for.


Photo Caption: Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars on Aristolochia tomentosa (Credit: The Garden-Roof Coop)

ORNAMENTAL: The Garden-Roof Coop: Pipevine

Unlike some homely larval host plants, aristolochias are handsome enough that you may, like Rebecca at The Garden-Roof Coop, end up starting an accidental butterfly garden through an impulse buy at the garden center. If heart-shaped leaves and blooms that resemble pipes aren’t intriguing enough, there’s also the chance you’ll attract the bizarre, spongy little caterpillars of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly. I like to plant sacrificial specimens of my host plants in unseen corners of the yard. By redistributing the hungry bugs I manage to keep the plants that matter from looking ragged. If you don’t have room for extras, I love Rebecca’s suggestion to donate excess caterpillars to public butterfly gardens.

Sources (if you’re in the US, check your local native plant sales before ordering online):

Photo Caption: Coffea arabica growing in Brisbane (Credit: Mud Pie)

FOOD: Mud Pie: Coffee

You may be lucky enough to grow coffee shrubs outdoors in your zone 9 and up garden, but this one is a potted plant where I live. Even though I’ve drooled over them in catalogs, I was discouraged about the idea because it seemed I’d never harvest enough beans to make a decent cup. However, Ali at Mud Pie had the brilliant idea of making homemade chocolate covered coffee beans — that might be worth letting this plant hog a corner of my bright kitchen all winter!


Photo Caption: Amsonia seed starting (Credit: Busy Bee)

ORNAMENTAL: Busy Bee: Amsonia

Oh I agree with Busy Bee, this is one of my favorites and we have native species in the Appalachian area! The rich green foliage and blue flowers are charming. I bought a specimen from Plant Delights Nursery that turned out to be a great partner for early spring flowering bulbs — they bloom as it emerges from dormancy and by the time the amsonia is tall enough to cover them up, you want it to! I think Busy Bee’s germination info is great advice, too. Based on the manageable number of freebies popping up in my garden, I’d assume it is a good seed bet.


Photo Caption: Harvesting 'Scarlet Nantes' carrots (Credit: The Garden Explorer)

FOOD: The Garden Explorer: Carrots

This is a more common root veggie than parsnips but some people still need encouragement to grow them. Either way, Ramona’s plump harvest photos at The Garden Explorer were so delicious that I had to feature them! If you can’t get your native soil to cooperate, a raised bed or ball carrots are your solution. ‘Little Finger’ or ‘Adelaide’ are some other good varietal options.


Photo Caption: Lawson cypress in its natural habitat (Credit: John Grimshaw's Garden Diary)

ORNAMENTAL: John Grimshaw’s Garden Diary: Lawson Cypress

John Grimshaw’s Garden Diary reads a little bit like a journal of the Victorian plantsmen he is discussing. When you’re considering the “bones” of your garden, keep the 200+ cultivars of Lawson cypress in mind as a historically significant and stately option. We may think breeder-improved plants are a modern thing but as John points out, the yellow ‘Lutea’ cultivar was selected as early as 1870! These trees may offer some trouble in “captivity” but they’re quite hardy in the right climate.


Photo Caption: Culinary sage leaves coated in frost (Credit: The Queen of Seaford)

FOOD: The Queen of Seaford: Winter Herbs

Last night I darted out the side door to grab some slightly pouty rosemary and thyme for our wild mushroom risotto and thought about how herbs are one of the few edibles many of us have in the winter. As Janet at The Queen of Seaford knows, herbs are probably the lowest maintenance way to get something you grew yourself onto your table. She covers a broad spectrum of herbs that are tough enough for mild winters (or windowsill pots). I’ve also learned that outdoor basil can be useful in the winter after all — as goldfinch food!


Photo Caption: An architecturally imposing clump of deer grass (Credit: Bambutopia)

ORNAMENTAL: Bambutopia: Deer Grass

On my cross-country trip last summer I saw heaps of this plant without knowing what it was. Thanks to Gerhard at Bambutopia I now know it is called deer grass. Since he says the source of its common name is fairly ambiguous, I’ll point out that it puts me more in mind of giant green porcupines than deer! I see from his post that it is hardy in zone 7 but wonder if it would put up with an east coast climate… has anyone tried it? I adore our other native muhlenbergias and would love to have this spiky “critter” in my garden.


The remaining entries are listed in the order they were submitted to inlinkz (the blue frog icon in the right sidebar and at the bottom of this post).

This month’s food posts include edible oddballs like capers, winged beans, drumstick trees, miracle berry, and achocha. There’s also plenty of recognizable crops like the two excellent winter kale posts by Self Reliance Works and Boulder Belt Eco-Farm.

If you’re longing for spring some of the wonderful ornamental options are elegant calla lilies, adorable sweet peas, a delightfully thorough post on cosmos (one of the first seeds I ever sowed), and fragrant wisteria at Aberdeen Gardening (I recommend the non-invasive American wisteria if you live in the southeastern US, since the Chinese one behaves like kudzu in our region).

An “F” represents a food post and an “O” represents an ornamental. Happy spring garden planning!

  1. O: My Secret Garden: Fatsia (Fatsia japonica)
  2. F: My Garden Haven: Winged Bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus)
  3. O: Plantaliscious: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’
  4. O: The Whimsical Gardener: Colorado Water Lily
  5. F: The Garden Explorer: Carrots
  6. O: Got Geosmin?: Cosmos
  7. F: The Queen of Seaford: Winter Herbs
  8. O: The Garden-Roof Coop: Pipevine (Aristolochia tomentosa)
  9. O: Hill Country Mysteries: Firebush (Hamelia patens)
  10. O: my little garden in japan: Calla Lily (Zantedeschia sp.)
  11. O: Aberdeen Gardening: Wisteria sinensis ‘Prolific’
  12. F: A Green Earth: Drumstick Tree (Moringa oleifera)
  13. O: Bambutopia: Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens)
  14. F: My Little Vegetable Garden: Miracle Berry (Synsepalum dulcificum)
  15. F: Self Reliance Works: Kale
  16. O: Thailand Breeze: Orchids
  17. F: Dog Island Farm: Navel Orange Tree
  18. F: Boulder Belt Eco-Farm: Kale
  19. F: Herbarium Herb Gardening: Chives
  20. F: Mud Pie: Coffee (Coffea arabica)
  21. F: Mark’s Veg Plot: Parsnips
  22. O: John Grimshaw’s Garden Diary: Lawson Cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana)
  23. O: I Earth, I Echo: Peepal Tree (Ficus religiosa)
  24. F: Information Central Gardening: Cauliflower
  25. O: Alternative Eden: Schefflera taiwaniana
  26. F: Olives and Artichokes: Capers (Capparis spinosa)
  27. O: Arugula Too: Sweet Peas
  28. O: Gardening by Trial and Error: Dahlia ‘Mom’s Special’
  29. O: Busy Bee: Amsonia (various species)
  30. O: Restoring the Landscape with Native Plants: Bottlebrush Grass (Elymus hystrix)
  31. F: Natural Health Ezine: Blueberries
  32. F: Appalachian Feet: Achocha/Caigua (Cyclanthera pedata)

If you have a food or ornamental plant you’d like to recommend to readers in How to Find Great Plants, please click on the little blue frog icon below to submit it.

Tip: I will only use one entry per blog, per month. However, here’s a strategy for you — if you submit an older post and then decide to write a new post just before the link deadline, you can submit both posts. Once you do, I’ll keep the placeholder of your first entry but use your more recently-written entry in the HtFGP issue. For example, let’s say you have an old post on ‘Peace’ roses and you submit it as #3 on the inlinkz collection (inlinkz is the blue frog icon). Then, just before this month’s deadline you write a new post on ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod and submit it as #42 on the inlinkz collection. When I go through the entries for that month I will list your ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod post as #3 in the published issue of How to Find Great Plants. So, you’ll end up with a newer entry ranked at the top of the list.

Make sure you read the entry guidelines and then click on the blue frog icon below to submit your post to How to Find Great Plants, issue #3:

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