Garden Notes: Ahoy, Labor Day!

Recipes for right now, and suggestions for next year’s garden.

Susan Safford

The season winds down, and containers often look it, with lanky stems short on flowers. You can toss them, or — you can practice your gardening arts by propagating next season’s container plants. Many will root quite easily, and be of blooming size by next year, providing you with your own plants (providing you can house them over the winter).

The easiest by far are pelargoniums. Cut thick shoots with a sharp tool. Strip off flowers and bottom leaves; let dry overnight. Insert them into perlite in a quart yogurt container. Add tap water to moisten perlite, and leave in a bright place for three to six weeks. When there is noticeable root development, carefully remove the cuttings and pot them up in four-inch pots with a good container mix. (Save perlite.)


August’s Big Four: Flowering shrubs

August gardens’ Big Four flowering shrubs are rose of Sharon, panicle hydrangeas, vitex, and crape myrtle. Well-grown specimens of all can be impressive. The first two hardly need introducing, as they are longtime “Islanders,” among the sturdy few that, even prior to World War II, featured in many Vineyard yards and gardens. 

The second two are less well known, in part due to hardiness concerns; however, modern weather is giving them a chance to survive here, while simultaneously, breeders’ work gives us more choice in size, color, and hardiness.

Breeders have produced rose of Sharon varieties that are seedless, unlike the old-fashioned varieties that can strew a bed with hundreds upon hundreds of nuisance seedlings. Five to look for are ‘Diana’ (white), ‘Aphrodite’ (pink with red eye), ‘Minerva’ (pale lavender), ‘Helena’ (white with red eye), and ‘Azurri Blue Satin’ (blue with red eye), all, I believe, the work of the U.S. National Arboretum.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora,’ panicle hydrangea, also known as “peegee” hydrangea, has long been a signature of August gardens, and now the choice in cultivars has exploded. The three-page hydrangea sheet that Westport’s Sylvan Nursery hands out lists 24 of them. Compactness and exaggerated panicle aging to pink/crimson are features of many recent introductions.

Vitex, sometimes confusingly called “summer lilac,” along with some other plants, is the shrub with glorious lavender blue flower spikes that is NOT buddleia. Growing in a spreading fashion with grayish-green, vaguely cannabis-looking foliage, vitex is borderline hardy here, so therefore slightly tricky. When conditions are not to its liking, it dies back and resprouts from the crown. Landscape-size cultivars as well as dwarf forms are available.

Those who visit Southern states have long been captivated by crape myrtles, the sinuous small trees and shrubs with the shining foliage, striking exfoliating bark effects, and unbelievable flower colors: white, lavender, pink, cerise, and purple. Crape myrtle breeding has also been an ongoing program at the U.S. National Arboretum, with many of its introductions given the names of Native American tribes. Dwarf forms suitable for containers and foundation plantings are now available.      

August’s Big Four: Sauces
Vegetable gardens are abundant now; after all, that is what “harvest season” means, and we hope for bonita, blues, and bass. It is liberating to have everything one needs, right here at home. No anxieties about acquiring quality ingredients — say, great cucumbers, a bunch of basil, or really nice ripe tomatoes -— likely in winter to be expensive or lacking in freshness.

Sauces are one way of enhancing the seasonal fare. Pistou is a standby of French cuisine. Try it; you will find many ways to use it in soups and vegetable dishes. Other versions of pistou incorporate a small amount of Parmesan cheese or are made with butter instead of olive oil, but this recipe is a simple introduction.

Pistou (pestou, or tomato-basil sauce): 2 ripe tomatoes, about half a pound; ¼ tsp. salt; 2 cloves garlic; 2 cups tightly packed packed fresh basil leaves; 2 Tbsp. olive oil; freshly ground pepper.

Core, peel, and seed the tomatoes; cut into small pieces and set aside. In food processor with metal blade, combine salt and garlic gloves. Process until coarsely chopped. Add the basil leaves and continue to process to form a coarse purée. Add the tomatoes and process until a smooth purée forms. Add the olive oil and pepper to taste and continue to process until well blended and smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to a day. Makes about 1¼ cups. (“Simple French Cooking,” Chuck Williams)

Aioli (mayonnaise with garlic): ¼ cup scallions, green part; ¼ cup loosely packed basil leaves; 2-3 large cloves garlic; 1 egg plus 2 yolks; ⅔ cup olive oil; ½ cup vegetable oil; 2 Tbsp. lemon juice; salt and pepper to taste.

In food processor, chop scallions, basil, and garlic. Add egg and yolks. Through feed tube, add oils slowly in a steady stream until sauce thickens to the consistency of light mayonnaise. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper, and process until well blended. (“Cooking from the Garden,” Rosalind Creasy)

Chimichurri (green sauce of Italian origin for meat or fish, with many variants in Argentina, Uruguay): 1½ cups chopped flat parsley; ½ cup chopped red bell pepper; 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped; 2 Tbsp. dried oregano; 1 tsp. red pepper flakes; 1 cup olive oil; ½ tsp. black pepper; 1 tsp. salt; ½ tsp. cumin; ½ cup white vinegar; 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar.

In a food processor, combine the parsley, red bell pepper, garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Pulse until the herbs are finely chopped. Add the olive oil, pepper, salt, cumin, and vinegars, and pulse to combine. Season the chimichurri to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl. Let stand for at least six hours before serving. The sauce will keep for up to two days; let come to room temperature before serving.


Diseases of boxwood

Boxwood on the Vineyard is increasingly victim of disease, although specifically which disease must be determined by a plant pathologist. Dwarf English box is more susceptible than other species. Please follow this link to a more comprehensive discussion of the situation:

Plants that appear to be afflicted must be given support, which may include cutting back to clear internal congestion, and composted manure and water. Clean away leaf drop as much as possible.