Welcome to Sassy Plants - a blog about urban gardening, edible landscaping, and other plant rants.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Red Twig Dogwood

Northwest gardeners don't always get weak in the knees at the mention of a Red Twig Dogwood.  It is a native plant that is fairly low maintenance, which gives it two thumbs up in my book...  but, because of those qualities it is frequently used as the default space filler plant.
But the name really says it all. The beauty of this plant lies in it's bright red bark.

Here is a photo of Red Twig Dogwood that I took at the
Platt Garden two years ago:

The dirt on Red Twig Dogwood:

Botanical Name: Cornus sericea
Origin: California to Alaska
Plant Type: Deciduous Shrub
Hardiness: Sunset A1-A3; 1-9; 14-21
Size:7' high, 12' wide.  There are many smaller cultivars. 'Isanti' grows to 5' high.
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Light Shade

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Gift of Seeds

Earlier this year I was surprised to have a few of my gardening friends tell me that they never save their seeds!  It is probably apparent from previous posts that I really like to save my garden seeds.  From a practical perspective it saves me the time and money of buying all new seeds every year.  But, more than that, saving seeds makes gardening a continuum as opposed to a temporary, seasonal event.  The same snap peas that I ate with my neighbors this Fourth of July were from the peas that we ate together last year, and the year before, and so on.
Another reason I like to save seeds is so I can share them! It is said that people usually give the gifts that they themselves want to receive.  I try to be mindful of this, but the giving of seeds might be an exception.
Last year I made little seed books that I gave to my gardening family & friends. This year I found some origami paper that I have turned into seed envelopes.

I have turned them over so the labels won't show and I don't completely ruin the surprise for anyone.

I think the giving of things you want to receive has paid off, because I was also the recipient of several neat seeds packages this year.  I am not entirely sure if this is legal, so the giver shall remain nameless, but a friend of mine went to France twice this year and brought back seed packs for me on both occasions!  From the first visit came seeds for a small round eggplant called 'Ronde de Valence'.  When I looked it up online it was categorized as 'extinct' in the United States! The eggplant was delicious, and a perfect size for making eggplant parmesan sandwiches.  Mmmm.  I also received spinach and mache.  The second trip was recent, so I didn't grow any of these seeds this year, but they included endive, leeks, a variety of white onion called 'Hatif de Paris', lettuce, and cherry tomatoes. I am intrigued by the cherry tomato package.  My French isn't fantastic, but I recognize the word 'cocktail' when I see it!

The mixology department may need to conduct some research.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Curry Butternut Squash Soup

We're still making our way through this year's Backyard Butternut Squash. Here's a yummy recipe that I made today:

1 Large Butternut Squash
6 Cups Broth
1 Onion
1/2 Cup Soy Milk (or other milk product)
2 Tablespoons Curry Powder
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
Salt to taste

Cut squash in half, remove seeds, cut into 2-3" cubes, cut off skin.
Put squash in a large pot with broth and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until squash is soft.
Heat olive oil, curry and cinnamon in a pan.  Chop onion, add to pan and saute on low-medium heat until onions are cooked - approx. 5 minutes.
Combine onions with cooked squash and broth.
Puree the soup in a blender.  It will take two or three batches to blend it all.  Return pureed soup to the pot, add soy milk, lemon juice and salt.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


You have to appreciate it when you see a nice winter garden here in Puddletown.  I've been taking advantage of our sunny weather this week by going for walks to check out various neighbors' yards and see what treasures I can find. One of the more unusual looking winter interest plants I have seen is Beautyberry.  Beautyberry is an arching shrub that is covered with clusters of purple fruit.  The cool thing about Beautyberry is that long after it has lost it's leaves, those crazy violet berries are still covering the shrub.  It looks great combined with the contrasting foliage of yellow or chartreuse evergreen shrubs.

Here's the dirt on Beautyberry:

Botanical name:  Callicarpa americana
Origin:  Eastern United States
Plant type:  Deciduous Shrub
Hardiness:  USDA Zones 6-10; Sunset 3-9, 14-24
Size:   6' tall, 5' wide.
Light Requirements: Full Sun or Light Shade
Maintenance:  Low. 
Berries: Purple color - NOT edible.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chili Peppers

Like many gardeners I console myself on these short,
cold days by planning which seeds I will be starting in
just a few months. One plant that I will be growing
more of next year is chili pepper.  While my sweet
peppers were struggling along this summer, the chili
peppers were booming.  Chilis are beautiful plants, too! I'm planning to use them next year as I would use an ornamental plant, with some in containers and some mixed in with perennials.

Here is a photo of our peppers - fresh, dried, and crushed.  The crushed pepper flakes have some kick!  They are twice as hot as our store bought flakes.
Making your own crushed pepper flakes is simple. You can dry your peppers either by hanging them up for a few weeks or by cooking them in the oven on the lowest setting - about 170 to 200 degrees.  If you are starting with fresh peppers it will probably take a good 8 or 9 hours to dry them in the oven.  I hung my peppers, but decided to cook them in the oven about a week or so later, so my peppers took about 5 hours to cook. 
When your peppers are dried just put them in a plastic bag, cover with a dish towel, and use a rolling pin to crush. Voila.  One small pepper plant provided us with enough peppers to fill the two containers in the photo.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Penne all'Arrabbiata

We had 14 tomato plants in our garden this year, and about an equal number growing in large containers on our deck and in our small greenhouse.  When the subject of vegetable gardening inevitably came up at work, and my coworkers heard how many tomatoes we were growing, they would laugh and look at me as if I were completely nuts.  Then they would say something cute like "one or two plants is more than enough for our family".  Clearly these people are not Italian. It is all about the gravy, baby.  Tomato sauce, that is.

One of our culinary staples at home is Penne all'Arrabbiata. Arrabbiata is an Italian tomato sauce that literally translates as 'Angry Pasta' because of it's spiciness. Here is our recipe for Penne all'Arrabbiata:


6 cups fresh tomatoes  (If you don't have fresh tomatoes, use two 28 oz. cans but omit the salt if your canned tomatoes are already salted)
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons capers

Heat olive oil on low heat for one to two minutes.
Saute garlic and chili flakes for approximately two minutes. Add tomatoes and salt.  Simmer on medium heat for approximately one hour, stirring frequently.  Add capers and continue to cook sauce down to desired consistency - approximately 15 minutes.
Serve over cooked penne.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Butternut Squash Pie

In May I was at a Master Gardener plant sale where I purchased a small start labeled 'Spaghetti Squash'.  Certainly most people will crinkle up their noses and shudder when you put those two words together, but I had had a delicious curried spaghetti squash soup a few months earlier, and I was willing to try to recreate it and expand my gardening horizons doing so.  

So I planted the start.  I gave it a spot with what I thought was a fair amount of room. And it grew. And grew.  And grew even more.  It was a monster.  It devoured a hydrangea plant. It ran through my garlic. It covered up an entire cucumber plant. It mixed itself in with our potatoes. It trellised itself on our back fence and then kept going right into our neighbors yard.  It was truly a beast. Scott would look at it, and shake his head at it (and me) disapprovingly, and declare that we would never, ever do something like that again. 
As luck would have it, our Spaghetti Squash was mislabeled.  It is actually Butternut Squash, and it is delicious.  We grew THIRTEEN squash off the one plant, ranging in size from average to downright humongous.  I've given half to our neighbors and have been experimenting with different recipes including this one for Butternut Squash Pie.  I like to alter recipes so I have found a few good looking recipes for Butternut Squash Pie, that I have combined.  It turned out pretty well last time.  It was a lot like pumpkin pie, only better because I grew it!  I have made another minor alteration or two, and am going to try it this way for our Thanksgiving dinner: 


9" pie crust - unbaked
1 1/2 cups cooked & pureed squash
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup evaporated milk
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

To cook the squash, heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove stem, cut squash in half and scoop out seeds (see below for seed saving). Lay flat side down on a greased cookie sheet and bake for about 45 to 55 minutes, or until squash is soft. Allow to cool, then remove skin and puree.  You will probably have extra squash which can be frozen to make another pie or soup later on.
Reduce heat to 350 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl beat the sugar into the squash, add the eggs, evaporated milk, cinnamon, ginger, salt and vanilla.  Pour into pie shell and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until set.

SEEDS:  Saving squash seeds is easy!  Just pick off any flesh, give 'em a good rinse, then lay out on a paper towel to dry.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


What could be cooler or more sustainable than growing your own sponges?!
I was so excited to grow luffa this year.  I wanted to have some for our own use, but I also wanted to give them as holiday presents.  Yes, I was planning in advance!  How sweet would that be to get a nice home grown luffa?
I harvested the luffa last week, and it turned out to be a very quick process because I only had two!  Better luck next year.
Here is a photo of the 'bounty' (one luffa is cut in half):

Here's the dirt on harvesting luffa:

Luffa is an edible plant.  If you want to eat it, just harvest the young small fruit and prepare it like you would prepare squash.
To use as a sponge wait until the luffa is done growing, is very lightweight and has turned yellow and dark brown or black. Peel the skin off, and rinse out the seeds and flesh. Dry seeds on a paper towel and then store for next year.
When the luffa is cleaned out soak it for 5-10 minutes in water with about 5% bleach.  Rinse and lay out to dry.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mouse Melon II

Last week I took about a dozen Mouse Melons and carefully squeezed out the tiny seeds to save and plant next spring. I left the seeds uncovered overnight, and when I woke up...   they were gone.
Today I tried again.  After cutting open a few of the tiny cukes I was bombarded by my cat Henry who jumped up on the counter and was butting my hand away to get at the cucumbers.  It turns out that my cat loves to eat Mouse Melons.  Mystery solved.                                                              
To save seeds from Mouse Melon you do a fermenting process like you would if you are saving tomato seeds.  Let the cucumbers get a bit over ripe, squeeze out the seeds into a bowl, let it sit for few days until a thick film grows on top.  Scrape off the film, rinse seeds thoroughly, spread out to dry on a paper towel, and then store in a cool, dry place.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Green Tomatoes

I used to despair over my green tomatoes at the end of the season.  I know there are many ways to prepare green tomatoes, but I want to eat the ripe ones.  I finally wised up and realized that you can ripen your tomatoes indoors!
Last year I kept clusters of tomatoes on the vine, and hung them all inside.  It worked pretty well, and we were eating the last of the tomatoes in late December. Not bad, huh?!  Below is a photo - it's a little grainy, but you get the idea.

Last week I pulled up our tomato plants, and with them about 5 or 6 gallons of green tomatoes. So this year I am hanging some of the tomatoes again, and I am also layering them with newspaper in small cardboard boxes.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mouse Melon

This tiny cucurbit was my favorite edible plant this year.
Mouse Melons (scientific name Melothria scabra) have many common names - Mexican Sour Gherkin, Mexican Miniature Watermelon, Cuka-Melon, Cuka-Nut, Sandita. I prefer Mouse Melon because the name is as cute as the fruit. Mouse Melons are an heirloom cucumber, originating from Mexico and Central America.  The fruits, which look exactly like a miniature watermelon, taste like a cucumber, but with a very lemony kick.  Almost like they are already pickled.
Despite it's delicate appearance our plant withstood a long heat wave without any babying, and produced a surprising amount of cucumbers.

Mouse Melon is a great choice if you are combining edible with ornamental plants in your garden. It is a very nice looking plant that trellises well and has small foliage that looks like a cross between squash and ivy leaves.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Salsa Verde

I have traditionally been more of a tomato salsa fan than a green salsa fan, but lately I have been grooving on the green salsa! It is a good thing too, because we had some prolific tomatillo plants this year.

Here is a very simple Salsa Verde recipe that I made yesterday:

4 cups tomatillos (approximately 15 tomatillos)
1/2 cup white onion
2 jalapeno peppers - seeded & stemmed
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Remove paper husks and thoroughly wash tomatillos.
Cut tomatillos in half, place cut side down on baking sheet and broil for 6 or 7 minutes until skin just starts to turn black.
Blend tomatillos, onion, peppers, lime juice and salt in a food processor until all ingredients are finely mixed together.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Oakleaf Hydrangea

I will admit that I am biased - I love hydrangeas.  But, I can tell you with complete objectivity that if you have a garden, and it does not contain an Oakleaf Hydrangea, you need to change your ways.  Oakleaf Hydrangeas are awesome!                     Long, white flower panicles cover the shrub from late spring into summer, followed by beautiful fall color.  (The photo on the right is a hydrangea in my yard starting to change color in mid-October.) The cinnamon colored bark has a peeling, papery texture which adds great winter interest.            
Here's the skinny on Oakleaf Hydrangea:

Botanical name:  Hydrangea quercifolia
Origin:  Southeastern United States
Plant type:  Deciduous Shrub
Hardiness:  USDA Zones 5-9, Sunset 2b-23 
Size:  Typically 6' to 8' high and wide. Dwarf varieties such as 'PeeWee' are a mere 2' to 3' high and wide.
Light Requirements: Shade or Sun
Maintenance:  Low.  Prune after blooming.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fall Harvest

It was a good year for vegetable gardening at our place!  Here is a photo from this week's harvest including Yellow Peppers, Armenian Cucumbers, Mouse Melons (the one that looks like a tiny watermelon), Roma Tomatoes, Heinz Sauce Tomatoes, Tomatillo, Japanese Eggplant, Ronde de Valence Eggplant, and Red Chili Peppers.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I love my succulent garden.

When we bought our house, almost ten years ago, the yard was virtually a blank slate.
The previous owner had fixed up the once overgrown yard by clearing all of the vegetation (with the exception of trees), and then covering virtually every square inch of the lot with bark.  He thought that you could not have too much bark in your yard.
He then added, to my horror, a small rose garden in the backyard.
To level the slight slope of the front yard the owner took broken up concrete slabs (left over from the porch remodel), and built a two-tiered retaining wall along the entire length of the front sidewalk.  He planted his masterpiece with boxwood and primrose.
It was what can only be described as Formal Ghetto Style. 

We left this eyesore for longer than I care to admit.  But, eventually, I removed the boxwood and planted a few varieties of succulents.  I added a few varieties of heather, some variegated thyme.  Now it is COVERED with vegetation.  For about 30 bucks worth of plants, and a bit of patience, my hideous front border has been transformed.  I don't ever water it, and when the occasional weed sneaks in, I just flick it out with my favorite garden tool.

(I haven't used the particular brand of tool in the photo, but this is the style of weeder that you need.  It gives you leverage.                                         And you need leverage.)

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009


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