Friday, October 23, 2009

My favorite tree in Florence

Every year I look forward to seeing this tree change color. It is located on Pine Street next to an architect's office and just one block from the campus where I work. It always has the most intense color I've ever seen. As I was lamenting the fact earlier that there wasn't much fall color yet, this tree seemed to turn overnight. There still isn't a lot of color (you can see that from the surrounding trees in the photo) but I'm happy that the most beautiful tree is spectacular as usual.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where is the Fall color?

We've had patches of frost for the past two nights and it looks like winter is just around the corner. So, what has happened to the fall color? The trees are just showing scant changes in color. We have a nice collection of Japanese maples and they are usually spectacular by now. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we will have some great displays before the cold weather strips the leaves.

I've been working on making our front entrance a little more inviting. I've planted mums and pansies to add some much needed color. The pansies are still so small that they are not making much of an impact.

I didn't think the coleus grew as well this year as they usually do. They are just now looking good but they will be toast after the first frost.

Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha) is a must-have for the fall garden.

Miscanthus grass is another great plant for the fall garden.

Japanese Anemone "Honorine Jobert" - I forgot I had planted this. Imagine my surprise when I found it blooming a few days ago.

The sasanqua camellias have also started to bloom. This one is "Hana Jiman" -

I've replanted some of the containers but others are just beginning to look really nice. I'll hate to see this begonia go -

I usually don't buy a lot of mums because I know they won't be around long. I couldn't resist this color -

More colorful annuals that can't take the cold (Lantana, Begonia 'Bonfire', Blueberry Flax Lily (Dianella tasmanica). I'm going to try and overwinter the lantana trees in the basement. I've also taken the flax lily inside and will grow it as a houseplant.

Maybe the leaves will start turning soon. The garden is usually blazing with color by now. What is the hold up???

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The first time I ever heard of patchouli was back in the late 80s when Madonna released her "Like A Prayer" cd with a patchouli scented insert. I still didn't know back then that patchouli was an herb from the mint family (Pogostemom cablin).

I was surprised when I saw this herb at a nursery back in the spring and knew that I had to try growing it. Like I usually do, I bought the plant first and then researched it afterward. I googled it and read that it wasn't the easiest plant to grow and was finicky about growing conditions. I stuck it in the vegetable garden without much fanfare and figured that it would probably croak within the week. Like other plants that flourish with neglect, the patchouli proved me wrong when it started growing like wildfire and quickly developed into a nice clump about two feet high and wide. I read that it develops flower spikes of very tiny pink flowers but so far, I've only seen foliage.

Patchouli has a powerful fragrance - spicy and musky - and is used in perfumes and is said to combat depression, stimulate the nervous system and help balance hormones. It is also used externally for the effect it has on skin infections, eczema, acne, chapped skin, hemorrhoids, as well as varicose veins. It hails from the Orient and likes hot tropical conditions and prefers semi-shade. It is only hardy to zone 9 which means I will have to try and overwinter it if I want to keep it. I may try it as a houseplant through the winter.

I've really enjoyed this plant. I had a banana pepper plant growing next to it and as I picked peppers, my arms would brush up against it and the heavy patchouli aroma would be released into the air.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


This unique and beautiful vine has been a success this year. I have grown it in the past but I have always put it in places where you couldn't see it easily. Since it is an evening blooming vine, it is not wise to put it on the other side of your lower 40 for viewing pleasure. I also find it sad that a plant might be blooming but there is no audience to enjoy the blooms. But I digress.

This year I planted the seeds next to a gate right next to the street. I can see the blooms from our kitchen window and when I wander out into the vegetable garden to pick tomatoes or cut some herbs for supper, the blooms have opened. The blooms usually stay open late into the morning (especially with all the cloudiness we've had lately), so I see them as I'm heading off to work.

Moonflower (Ipomoea alba) is a tropical beauty and is a perennial in warmer regions. It loves the heat and it usually doesn't begin to bloom until very late in the summer. Therefore, it is advisable to plant the seeds early. It is a relative of the morning glory and I've heard people suggest that you should plant them together to enjoy the morning glory blooms during the day and the moonflower blooms at night. I have to pass on this suggestion because I refuse to grow morning glory. I think they are absolutely beautiful but they pop up all over the place and it isn't fun pulling them out of your perennial borders in the middle of August.

I've learned some interesting facts about moonflower. They say that people used to have parties when the vines started to bloom. I don't recall ever hearing anyone do this, it had to have been a nineteenth century thing. It sounds like fun though, doesn't it?

I also learned - and I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't know it (I suppose I'm not a very observant gardener) - that the blooms open in less than 30 seconds so you have to be on your toes to see them unfurl. I'm guessing this is where the parties come in?

The seeds are tough and should be soaked overnight in water before planting. Plant them in a sunny location near an archway, a trellis, fence or other type of structure. The vines will climb into trees which is really not good because the blooms will be so high up that you can't enjoy them. Vines can grow quickly up to 20 feet and the leaves are large enough to provide good shade. The flowers are pure white and fragrant and large (up to 6"-8" inches across).

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pinched Orange Macaroons

I made these a few days ago for a function at work. This was the second time I've made them and they are so good. I first came across this recipe on the Martha Stewart Show last year. They are the creation of Patrick Lemble, pastry chef at The Four Seasons restaurant. I had never worked with almond paste before but it turns out it is not that big of a deal (except maybe on the pocketbook!)

Pinched Orange Macaroons

Makes 5 dozen.
2 large egg whites, separated
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted, plus more for rolling and coating
1 pound almond paste
Zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with nonstick baking mats; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 1 egg white and almond extract. Add confectioners' sugar and almond paste; beat until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add orange zest and orange liqueur; beat to combine, about 1 minute.

Lightly dust work surface with confectioners' sugar. Turn dough out onto work surface; roll into two 3/4-inch-thick logs, about 18 inches long. Cut each log crosswise into 30 1/2-inch pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.

Lightly beat remaining egg white. Coat each ball with egg white and roll in sugar, tapping to remove excess (this can be messy; I use one hand for each task and use a spoon to coat the balls); transfer to prepared baking sheets. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Pinch each piece of dough with three fingers to form an irregular pyramid shape. Bake until lightly golden, about 12-15 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.