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June 14, 2005

What’s in a Name?

A rose by any name still would smell as sweet and all that other stuff by that Shakespeare guy.

Gardeners buy plants for lots of different reasons. Sometimes we’ve seen a magazine photo of something so absolutely gorgeous that we just have to have it or we’re following a recommendation from a trusted friend.

For me, sometimes it’s the name alone that will get me hooked.

You’ve probably figured out that I’m a sucker for all things British, and if it’s Welsh in particular, all the better.

So you can imagine my delight a few years ago when I came across some pots of Welsh poppies, Meconopsis cambria, at Lilydale Gardens. All summer long their cheerful yellow faces reminded me of our great trips to Wales, and I was disappointed when I could not find them the next year.

But along came Artemisia “Powis Castle,” named after some spectacular gardens near Welshpool in Wales. Brian and I spent a lovely day exploring there a few years ago. So of course I had to have a plant with that name, if only for the memories. It’s a great looking plant but marginally hardy in Zone 4. It never lasts more than a year or two in Minnesota, no matter how I try to protect it with bags of leaves in the fall.

And then there’s Lavender “Hidcote.” We finally have established a nice little border edging of this lavender along the south side of the house. Now I want to visit the famous Hidcote Manor Garden in the North Cotswolds, to see where it all started.

Don’t forget Graham Thomas roses, a stunning yellow rose developed by David Austin and named for one of the great British gardening experts. We planted five of them a few years ago in honor of the birth of our son, Graham Kiloran Maas. They look fantastic amid the purple “Walker’s Low” nepeta.

I’m not the only one who has a thing for plant names. My friend Lisa is having a baby girl later this year. When I asked if she had a name picked out, Lisa said the baby will be called Thalia.

“Oh, like the daffodil,” I replied.

“Actually, we’ve always liked the name but now I find myself buying ‘Thalia’ daffodils each fall,” she said.

I think it’s a lovely name, but I know that by any other name, that baby would still be as sweet.

Lawn Care

Brian deserves special mention for all the care and attention he has spent rejuvenating our back yard. The combination of a frozen pond-like area which killed all the grass roots and the urinary attentions of two dogs did a number on our turf this year.

Brian spread topsoil, reseeded, spread more topsoil, seeded again, and finally cordoned off the area to keep Pont and his 35-mile-an-hour paws from kicking up any progress he made.

The lawn looks so much better now. He really did a great job. I think my days as gardening “expert” are numbered…

Time for Rhubarb

For most people, rhubarb has no middle ground. You either love or you hate it.

I’m in the “love it” faction. I have fond childhood memories of strolling through my neighborhood with a stick of rhubarb in one hand and a sugar-filled yellow Melmac mug in the other. I’d chew on the rhubarb stick a while and then roll it in the sugar before tasting another explosion of sweet and tart.

Midwesterners have a particularly fondness for rhubarb. Most church cookbooks are filled with recipes for rhubarb crisps, crumbles and crunches. Litchfield, North Dakota, population 200+ and the town adjacent to my hometown of LaMoure, took that devotion one step further and created a cookbook based solely on rhubarb, the Ritzy Rhubarb Secrets Cookbook, with proceeds going to city development. Rhubarb slush, muffins, breads, ice cream, relishes, you name it, there’s a recipe for it in here.

My rhubarb plants came from my mom and have survived several moves. They are slowly building up steam and soon will produce more stalks than I know what to do with. If your plants start to bolt and produce flower stalks, get rid of them.

Remember that to harvest a stalk, all you have to do is gently twist it at the base and pull. Cut off the rhubarb leaves and throw them in the compost pile. Don’t eat the leaves; they are mildly toxic. There’s an old saying that you should never harvest rhubarb after the Fourth of July. That’s pretty true since you want the plants to gather energy for the next year. But if you only need a few stalks, go ahead!

Here are a few of my favorite rhubarb recipes gathered through the years.

Rhubarb Delight

From my mom, Irene Dohn, my all-time favorite recipe.

4 cups rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1 TBS flour

Mix and put into a 9 x 13 pan. Mix the following and spread over the rhubarb:

½ cup cold butter
½ cup sugar
½ cup flour
½ cup oatmeal.

Bake in a 350 degree oven until rhubarb is done and crust is brown, about one hour. I recommend doubling the recipe but keeping it in a 9x13 pan.

Try it warm with vanilla ice cream!

Rhubarb Cake

From my co-worker Karen, a very easy crumb-style cake:

½ cup shortening
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 tsp soda
¼ tsp salt
2 cups diced rhubarb

Mix all together and pour into a 9 x 13 cake pan.

Topping: ½ cup brown sugar, 1 TBS butter, and a dash of cinnamon. Mix other and sprinkle on the cake.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.

As Karen says, “And that’s how easy it is.”

Rhubarb Chutney

This tastes great with an Indian-style chicken and rice meal.

3-1/2 to 4 cups rhubarb
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 TBS chopped lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick, about 4 inches long
1-inch-piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 cup golden raisins or dried cherries
¼ tsp salt
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Combine the sugar, vinegar and lemon zest in a stainless-steel or other nonreactive saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the rhubarb, cinnamon stick and ginger, raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the rhubarb is soft, about 4 minutes. Add the raisins, salt and walnuts. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes.

Ladle the chutney into clean, dry jars with sealable lids, leaving ½ inch for expansion. Use a clean damp cloth to wipe the rims clean. Cover with a lid and then tip upside down for five minutes. After 5 minutes, right the jars again and let them cool over night. Check the lids for a complete seal. (This is the safe USDA 5-minute processing method.)

I have also used frozen, chopped rhubarb for each of these recipes. Freezing is a great way to deal with an overabundance of rhubarb, and the taste of warm rhubarb in the middle of winter will bring summer rushing back to you.

Posted by maasx003 at June 14, 2005 11:08 PM | Gardens


Your gardens are just lovely. I am from Western WI near the Twin Cities. How did you get lavender to grow I have tried three times already and even tried Hidcote with no avail. I am trying a supposedly hardier variety this year. Wish me luck and send some advice my way.

Posted by: Sylvana at June 15, 2005 9:08 PM

Jackie, you inspired me with your article on vertical gardening. I admire my neighbors who feed the birds, but don't aspire to feed them myself. So what to do with a tall, attractive, and firmly installed birdfeeder? Tomorrow Chuck will make a little round trellis around the post with some 1" fencing and I will try the clematis paniculata that I found at Tangletown gardens. Wish us luck! Thanks for a great site.

Posted by: Diana lawrence at June 15, 2005 10:22 PM

Hi, Sylvana - I love reading your blog - you have some very interesting plants. I'm envious! We've added a link from our blog to yours.

Lavender - what a topic. I was going to write about it later but I might as well do it now. I first tried growing "Hidcote" around our fountain bed, purchasing around 20 plants. At about $4 a pot, it was a pricey investment for me. Everything I read said this was the hardiest variety for Zone 4. In the fall, I cut it back and did not cover it, thereby tempting the gardening gods to do their worst. They did.

The next year, I think four of the 20 plants survived. I started purchasing replacement plants and then Brian and I rethought the bed and purchased Nepeta "Walker's Low" to be the edging plant instead. It by the way, has gone crazy. Low, my foot. This plant has grown enormously with massive purple blooms which the bees just can't get enough of.

So I moved my few "Hidcotes", maybe six or so, next to the house along a south-facing wall, so that it would edge what was then an herb/vegetable bed. In the fall, I did not cut them back and I covered them with half-filled lawn bags.

In the spring when I finally lifted the bags, all the plants had survived. Last year's growth was all greened up and presto, I had a lavender bed. Amazing!

It is in full bloom right now and gorgeous. It is only about five to six feet long but the variations of purples and lavenders of the blooms - and a white one?!!- is stunning. Now I know why the Brits are so mad for lavender.

My only real problem is that the hose is at the far end of the bed and I have to be careful when I pull it out and drag it along to the pergola beds, so that I don't crush or snap off any blooms. I think I will start filling watering cans for that area now.

When I do damage any of the plant, oh the scent! I know that I should cut the blooms now if I want to save them for drying and sachets but I'm having a really hard time telling myself I need to do this. I doubt that I will.

I hope this helps. A friend of mine who works at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum told me to use Hidcote but she also said that you can plant "Lady" seed and it will bloom as an annual that year.

Oh, something also to consider - lavender is native to the Mediterranean. The south of France grows huge fields of them. So think about what kind of conditions exist in the south of France? Lots of sun and maybe poorish soil that drains quickly. I have read that lavender hates to sit in water. So maybe try to site your lavender in the hottest microclimate your yard allows. If your soil is very rich and retains water, try adding sand for drainage.

Good luck!

Posted by: jackie at June 15, 2005 10:55 PM

Diana - What a great idea! And not just getting Chuck to finally do some work around the house! (oh, I know I'll pay for that comment later...)

The clematis paniculata is fantastic. Give it a couple years and it will completely overtake the birdfeeder.

If you get the White Flower Farm catalog (www.whiteflowerfarm.com) - and if you don't, you should - check out the photo of their clematis paniculata on page 77 of their Fall 2005 catalog.

We used to feed the birds but all the seed started to attract rodents who then moved into our house. We could hear them have Mice Olympics, running round and round our basement walls. Once when I turned on the basement bathroom vent, I was showered with sunflower seeds and dessicated flowering crabapples. Enough!

Now we just have a few thistle feeders because Graham likes the yellow goldfinches and hummingbird and oriole feeders in the summer.

I can't wait to see the new changes to your house and what you've done to the gardens.


Posted by: jackie at June 15, 2005 11:02 PM

I have just read you advice on growing Lavender and I planted some last summer despite the fact that it has always died at my other homes. Here I have a lot of sun and very sandy soil and the plant has taken right off. I love the look and the scent of Lavender it reminds me of my Grandmother.

Love your recipes for rhubarb in fact I am going to go out and get some from the back yard and make a dessert for tonight.

Posted by: crazygramma at June 18, 2005 8:38 AM