Saturday, March 27, 2010

PLANT OF THE WEEK: Magnolia x soulangiana

Magnolia x soulangiana
Saucer Magnolia
(Sometimes called Japanese Tulip Magnolia)

An absolutely breath-taking sight in early spring when the large, tulip-shaped flowers open on bare branches, this gorgeous magnolia, is, in fact, one of the very first harbingers of spring, along with the bright yellow of forsythia and those happy. happy little crocus.

It's a relatively small tree--a great specimen for a larger yard--growing 20' to 30' tall, and can be multi-trunked or single-trunked. The flowers are various shades of white, pink and purplish-maroon, depending on the cultivar.

The only drawback to this tree's spectacular spring beauty is that the flowers can be burnt by early spring frosts, a depressing sight indeed. If they are lucky enough to prevail without a killing frost however, you will be blessed with a virtual carpet of pink as the petals fall off, as you can see here outside this blog author's very own kitchen window:

A nice cultivar that we recommend is 'Jane', smaller (growing to about 10 feet) and with a deeper purplish pink color to the flowers, which seem to persist extra long.

'Jane' blooms later than the larger M.soulangiana making it less susceptible to late freezes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Grow Your Own French Fries

Have you ever eaten a fresh, home-grown potato? If so, you know there is absolutely no comparison to potatoes from the supermarket.

How's this for yummy: baked potatoes with gooey cheddar cheese and fresh steamed broccoli; "new" potatoes sauteed with leeks and butter; maybe grilled fingerling potato salad with lobster and watercress; garlic-Parmesan mashed potatoes; homemade potato chips; and of course, everybody's favorite--french fries! The list of fabulous potato concoctions goes on and on. So imagine being able to walk outside and dig up a coupla spuds of your own-- as many as you need to whip up a delicious feast (of homemade potato chips) when the craving hits you.

Now that you are hungry for potatoes, why not consider growing the humble spud this year? Potatoes truly are one of the most popular vegetables in the home garden. And they are super easy to grow, storing well for months, and, like we said, they taste much, much better.

Valley View sells certified seed potatoes--Kennebec, Red Norland, Yukon Gold, Superior, Cobbler and Pontiac Red.

"What exactly is a 'seed' potato?" you might ask. It's not actually a seed, but was grown from one. Always buy certified disease-free seed potatoes. Planting potatoes from the grocery store is risky; not only may they harbor diseases, potatoes, like many grocery store vegetables, are often treated with a growth inhibitor to keep them from sprouting.

Growing potatoes is easy, as long as you start off with the proper potato-lovin' soil. Potatoes are aggressively rooting plants, and produce an abundant crop when planted in a light, loose, well-drained soil with a pH between 5.0 and 6.0. (Bring in a soil sample, and we will test your pH for free!)

Here's a great guide to planting potatoes:

To complement your potatoes, we also carry onion sets, shallots, and "cole crops" are here, too: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (Savoy, Flat Dutch, Golden Acre, Red Acre), cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi and Swiss chard. We have rhubarb, asparagus and horseradish. Next week look for 6 varieties of lettuce, peas and bok choy.

And for dessert: 4 varieties of strawberries!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

PLANT OF THE WEEK: Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane'

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane'
Witch Hazel
What we all need right now...

'Diane' is the most gorgeous red-flowering form of Witch Hazel, and has received a Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit for being such a great plant.

At this time of year, when there is so little color in the garden, besides white, dirty white, gray-white, brown-white, stick brown, and the dark green of our tired, broken, snow-embattled evergreens, the unique coppery-red flower petals and their crazy zig-zaggy form stand out strikingly-- a true natural beauty and that bit of garden pizazz that we all need right now.

It's also a knockout in fall, when the leaves turn a lush bright orangey-red or yellow. And not only is it a beauty, but a smart multi-tasker--its fruit, flowers, and next year's leaf buds all appear on the branch simultaneously, a true rarity among trees.

You know what else is cool? The seed capsules explode at maturity in fall (about 8 months after flowering in late winter), ejecting the seeds with a snap to send them over 30 feet away!

Easy to grow, requiring only average, well-drained soil, in full or part sun, reaching about 12 feet with a vase-like spread. Remarkably care-free, and very resistant to pests and disease.

top photo courtesy of White Flower Farm