Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Winter Landscape

Want to create a beautiful Winter Landscape?  It’s time to take a good hard look at your landscape and see what you may want to add to enjoy next Winter.  Although the blooms of summer are a distant memory and the splendor of fall is neatly raked into the compost pile, don’t think that your yard has to be dreary from now until spring. Blooms, bark, berries, and background planting are the secrets of a colorful and interesting winter landscape.

Evergreens are the mainstay of the winter landscape. When the shade and flowering trees and shrubs of spring and summer have entered their winter sleep, it’s evergreens that take the stage. Spruce, Cedar, Pine, Hemlock, Arborvitae, Yew and Juniper- there are many beautiful varieties suitable for foundation or specimen planting, windbreaks, screens and groundcover. Some change into their ‘winter wardrobe’ too: “Reingold” Arborvitae takes on a coppery hue, while Junipers like “Bar Harbor” and “Prince of Wales” turn bronzy purple.  Don’t forget broad-leaved evergreens for texture contrast, plus make use of evergreen perennials like Coral Bells (Heuchera), Thrift (Armeria), Creeping Phlox, Candytuft (Iberis) and varieties of Sedum, for groundcover or edging. A few ornamental grasses such as Blue Fescue retain their color in winter. The foliage and flowers of others, like Miscanthus and Fountain Grass (Pennisetum), dries to a biscuit color and look particularly effective against a snowy backdrop.


Berry-bearing plants are a boon for birds, as well as being a decorative addition to the winter landscape. Try prickly Pyracantha, colorful Cotoneaster, and hardy Hollies- a must for holiday decorating. Hollies come in many shapes and sizes for all sorts of landscaping situations. Plant a dwarf grower like “Blue Angel” (Ilex meserveae ‘Blue Angel’) as a foundation plant, a medium grower like China Girl (Ilex cornuta ‘China Girl’) as a screen or hedge and a tall grower like “Nellie Stevens” (Ilex) as a specimen. Hollies require a male pollinator for best berry production. Be sure and ask us which pollinator you need for the variety you select.


The beautiful bark, which many trees and shrubs exhibit, can be seen at its best during winter, when leaves have fallen. Paper Park Maple (Acer griseum) is a delightful small specimen tree with reddish- brown bark that exfoliates in thin papery sheets. Consider white barked European or Himalayan Birch or water-loving River Birch with its eye-catching grey-brown to cinnamon colored peeling bark. For attractive mottled trunks, plant Stewartia and Crepe Myrtle. The dazzling stems of Red and Yellow Twig Dogwood brighten as the winter progresses. Twig Dogwoods look particularly stunning when planted in groupings in front of evergreen trees.


Even in the middle of winter, there are a few plants that will surprise us with flowers. Perennial Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) has pretty white buttercup-like flowers; its cousin, Lenten Rose (H. orientalis) blooms a little later with flowers ranging from purplish green to white and pink. Both are shade loving, growing slowly to a loose evergreen clump. Witch Hazel (Hammamelis mollis) is a large, multi-stemmed shrub with fragrant late winter blooms in yellow, orange, or red. Other late winter bloomers, all of which are fragrant also, include Leatherleaf Mahonia (Mahonia bealii), Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) and Sweet Box (Sarcoccoca).

Stop by soon and talk to us about helping you plan your landscape to include blooms, berries, bark, and background plantings for winter interest. Your yard will never have the winter doldrums again!

Preserving the Harvest

Was it a bumper crop year? Now that the harvest is in, the decision needs to be made as to what to do with the abundance.

Many years ago, homes had “root cellars,” a place to store winter squash and root vegetables such as onions, potatoes, and carrots. Nowadays, it may be difficult for gardener’s to store their harvest this way. So, what can they do?

Here’s a quick little table to help you:

Vegetable Store Freeze/Blanching Time Can Dry Pickle
Beets X (2 min) X X X
Broccoli (3 min) X X X
Brussels sprouts (3 min) X X X
Cabbage (90 sec for wedges) Pickle first X X
Carrots X (5 min) X X X
Cauliflower (3 min) X X X
Celery (3 min) X X
Fennel (1/2 min) Pickle first X
Horseradish X (shred) Prepare as sauce X X
Kohlrabi (3 min) Pickle first X X
Onions X (raw) Pickle first X X
Parsnips X (2 min) X X X
Potatoes X (cooked) X X X
Rutabagas X (2 min) X X X
Sweet Potatoes/Yams X (cooked) X X X
Turnip X (2 min) X X X
Winter Squash X (cooked) X X X

Storing: Only store mature and perfect vegetables. If there are soft spots or bruises, eat immediately or preserve. Leave several inches of stems on winter squash. It’s important to maintain temperatures between 32⁰ and 40⁰F. with good air circulation and ventilation. To reduce spoilage, the humidity should be between 85 and 95%.

Freezing: Freezing maintains nutrients, flavor and texture. Most vegetables require blanching (cutting into pieces, a boiling water bath [see times above], followed by immersion into very cold water) prior to putting into freezer bags or containers in the freezer. Maintain a temperature of 0⁰F. Most vegetables will store well for 12 weeks.

Canning: Best method for vegetables with high water content such as fruits and tomatoes. Hot water baths or pressure cookers seal the contents in sterilized jars. Most vegetables are low acid foods and require using a pressure cooker. Use cleaned fresh and tender vegetables. Follow all pressure cooker instructions carefully.

Drying: No special equipment required. Most people use ovens or dehydrators. It’s important to have good air circulation and all vegetables are cleaned and not bruised. Blanching in a hot water bath increases quality and cleanliness. Adding 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid to each quart of water will reduce darkening.

Pickling: Used around the world to preserve foods, “pickling” also includes relishes and fermentation. Examples include Kim-chi, pickles, sauerkraut and chutneys. Follow all recipes carefully. Most use vinegar to stabilize acidity to prevent bacteria. Some recipes will suggest canning to preserve the product, others will recommend refrigerator or crock storage.

Have specific questions? The National Center for Home Food Preservation has many online publications to assist you.

Winter Vegetables on the Table

Winter marks a seasonal change. Our bodies seem to crave the deeper tantalizing tastes rather than light fruity flavors of summer. Harvesting vegetables in the late fall, and sometimes into the winter, presents us with bounty for slow, simple and savory cooking. All winter vegetables may be boiled, roasted, grilled, stewed, sautéed, steamed or eaten raw.

What vegetables are these? Well…

The cole, or cruciferous, vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips and kohlrabi rank highly for many nutrients including vitamin C, soluble fiber and other nutrients with anticancer properties. Interestingly, boiling seems to reduce the potency of these nutrients, but other cooking methods don’t.

Root crops, including beets and carrots, sustain life around the world. Beets provide folate, nitrates and manganese in dishes such as borscht and pickled beets. Carrots contain diverse vitamins including A, C, K and B6 and antioxidants from carotenoids. Interestingly, recent research proves people prefer the flavor of steamed carrots to boiled.

Fennel, with its anise flavor jazzes up meals throughout the world but is a favorite in Mediterranean and Italian cuisine. It tops nutritional lists with its antioxidant benefits. Try some raw in salads and appetizers.

Celery, related to fennel, adds a distinctive crunch when used in salads as a raw ingredient or a stronger flavor to soups and stews.

Potatoes and sweet potatoes, long associated with the typical American holiday meal, contain many healthful benefits. According to research, boiling or steaming sweet potato provides the most health benefits; the phytochemicals in them rival that of broccoli. Roasting or baking potatoes is a healthy way to enjoy them.

Winter squashes, from acorn to pumpkins, also serve as healthy sources of carbohydrates. Because 90% of the calories are starch-related, people express surprise at recent studies proving the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and insulin-regulating effects of winter squash. Additionally, the roasted seeds make a delicious and healthful snack.

Have you ever wondered how to roast vegetables? It’s easy! Just wash the vegetables, cut into 1″x1″ cubes, and place in mixing bowl. Drizzle over a few tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and mix to cover all pieces. Place as a single layer in a cookie or roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook at 375⁰F for approximately 45 minutes or until the desired texture is reached. Jazz it up with cinnamon, garlic, curry, etc.

Here are some other recipes to bring these wonderful winter vegetables to your table. Bon appétit!

Roasted Winter Squash Seed and Cheese Ball Appetizer

Step 1: Roast winter squash seeds by cutting the winter squash in half and removing the seeds and stringy “gunk.” Put into a bowl half filled with water and rub between your hands to separate the seeds from the strings. Rinse the seeds again and spread out on a cookie sheet. Use a hair dryer or place in 150⁰F oven to dry. Stirring every 10 minutes reduces drying time.

Step 2: When dry, place in bowl and combine with choice of seasonings. Mix thoroughly. Return to cookie sheet. Place in 275⁰F oven for 10-20 minutes. Watch closely to prevent burning. When cool, chop finely to coat cheese ball.

Seasoning ideas

  1. Latino: 4 T melted butter, 2 t chili powder, 1 t oregano
  2. Asian: 4 T melted butter, 2 t ground ginger, 1 t hot mustard, 1 t honey
  3. Holiday: 4 T melted butter, 2 t cinnamon, 1 t nutmeg, 2 t sugar
  4. Use your imagination!

Step 3: Make cheese ball.

2 pkg. (8 oz. each) softened Neufchatel Cheese
1/2 cup Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese (Low fat)

Directions: Beat Neufchatel and cheddar in small bowl with mixer until well blended. Refrigerate 1 hour. Shape into ball. Press seasoned winter squash seeds onto cheese ball.

Serve with complimentary crackers, tortilla chips, or flatbread.

Winter Squash Casserole (serves 2)

2 Cups winter squash, peeled & cut into 1-inch cubes
3 T extra virgin olive or macadamia nut oil
1 tsp. orange juice
1 tsp. lemon juice


Steam squash chunks, covered, for 7-8 minutes, until just tender
Mix remaining ingredients, pour over squash in bowl
Toss while still warm. Serve.

Other Ideas:

  1. Cook 1/2 C chopped onion with squash, or
  2. Add fresh herbs such as basil or rosemary to liquid dressing, or
  3. Sweeten with 1 t cinnamon and 2 t honey, or
  4. For Asian flavoring, add 1 T minced fresh ginger, 2 t soy sauce

Super Easy Grilled (or Baked) Cauliflower

Remove the leaves. Cut the head in two, core the stem. Place both on large piece of heavy-duty foil.

Melt 1/2 C butter with 2 t garlic salt and 2 t lemon pepper.

Drizzle half of butter mixture over each half and sprinkle each with 3 T Parmesan cheese,

Rejoin the two halves and drizzle remaining butter mixture on the outside.

Fold foil around, creating a ball.

Cook at 350⁰F for approximately an hour or until soft. Delicious!