Saturday, April 5, 2014

David Beneman: Garden-to-Table


Here is another post about friends and their gardens. David and Chris Beneman have cultivated their land on the Scarborough marsh for close to 25 years. When he is not being Federal Public Defender for the District of Maine, or on his bike, David is out in the garden. Both Chris and David are great cooks and take vegetable cultivation seriously!


 Here is what he grows: 

"My vegetable gardening dates back about 30 years. I have consistently used raised beds. Our current garden is in Scarborough, near the marsh and so the surrounding soils are wet and heavy.  When I dug the beds I removed all of the soil and put about 2" of coarse sand in the bottom of each bed, then back filled them entirely with organic compost.  The rows are lined with landscape fabric covered with wood chips, designed to minimize weeding. I utilize black plastic mulch for the heat loving plants. The entire garden is surrounded by a 6' fence which has deterred most critters except racoons, who come the night before I plan to pick corn. My solution has been to stop planting corn.

Our choice of vegetables and quantity varies depending on who is living at home. For many years we canned, particularly tomato sauce, salsas, pickles and jams. In the last few years with fewer people at home we have not been canning and have reduced the number of tomato plants considerably. We have dedicated one full bed to asparagus, half green, half purple. We love carrots and grow a full bed, which normally lasts us until sometime in January. Another bed is potatoes, all blue or Adirondack blue, Adirondack red or Red Gold, Yukon Gold and Banana fingerlings. Cole crops seem to attract too many cabbage lopers and I now limit them to Brussel sprouts (one green and one purple, usually from the farmer’s market) and green and purple cabbage.

I buy my tomatoes seedlings at the farmers market so I can easily have a multitude of varieties. We have had great success in recent years with grape and cherry tomatoes in red, orange and yellow. I like Celebrity as a main crop medium slicer and also Jetstar. We have much better success with medium size, rather than “beefstake” varieties. I add a yellow slicer such as Taxi, and several heirlooms like
Brandywine. Roma has consistently been our best cooking tomato, along with Tiptop which can be used fresh or cooked. I buy most of my seeds from Pinetree in New Gloucester.  I like that they are a small Maine company, I get good service, and they sell small packets that are perfect for the home size garden at very reasonable prices, most less than $2 per package. I appreciate Johnny’s and especially their pelleted seeds for carrots and lettuces which improves spacing, but the cost is measurably higher.  Other seeds companies I like are High Mowing in Vermont who have all organic seed, Territorial Seeds in Oregon and locally at Allen Sterling and Lothrop store in Falmouth, a good spot for seed potatoes, onion sets, and bulk peas, as well as tools, wooden plant labels and related supplies.  Cooks looking for specialty seed and willing to pay a small premium should consider John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds.

Here are David's favorites for their Maine garden:
-I tend toward bush beans, green, yellow and purple. I am partial to slender “haricots verts” and plant Maxibel (59 days and strong germination). A smaller but early variety is Lynx (53 days). There are now both purple and yellow French beans but I find the purple turn a “camo green” color when cooked and are less appealing. I may try Soleil, a yellow this year (60 days).

Recipe: Saute a medium chopped shallot until translucent, add some chopped chives (including flowers if available), add beans and a touch of white wine to steam, salt and pepper. Remove from heat as soon as beans get a bright green, only a minute or two is steaming is needed, keep them crisp. Garnish with nasturtium flowers.

-Beets are one of our garden favorites. I am particularly fond of Chioggia which feature a red and white pinwheel pattern, and Golden. Both have tops that make nice greens and the beets themselves are flavorful and add wonderful color to an dish. Unlike the more common red beets, neither of these “bleed” so the dish is not dominated by red beet juice.

Favorite way to cook beets: I try and pull the beets at golf ball or smaller size. Peel, slice and saute alone or in any vegetable combination. Saute a small onion or shallot with a diced strip of smoked bacon, add sliced beets, cook until they soften but are still al dente, then add the chopped stems and leaves, wilt and finish with a splash of maple syrup.

-Okra is not a common vegetable in Maine and frozen varieties or poor cooking have given it a bad reputation. Try Red Burgundy (55 days from seed once the soil is warm). The plants and flowers are stunning and the pods are a great color and should be picked at about the size of your pinkie or smaller so they are not woody. Clemson Spineless grow well for green okra.
How to cook okra: I use okra in two primary ways, grilled and chopped in stir fry. We have a stainless steel square “wok” type basket made by Webber for the grill. About $20 at most hardware stores that carry Webber grills. Slice two onions into rings, toss lightly in a bowl with olive oil, seasoning, trimmed okra pods along with cubed eggplant and peppers. Preheat the wok on the grill and then dump the vegetables in, stirring occasionally with tongs. Cook until onions and eggplant are tender, generally about 5-7 minutes on medium heat.

-I plant 6 to 8 types of carrots. I sort the seed packets by maturity date and plant in rows
from earliest to latest to expedite harvest. Early season thinings come from all varieties. Beyond the traditional deep orange, (Napoli, Mokum, Nelson, Sugarsnax, I like to include Cosmic Purple, and Rainbow to give us a range of colors.

Carrots with Ginger: Slice carrots into rounds, steam and finish with grated fresh ginger and curry powder, or with ginger syrup. Keep the carrots crisp by taking them off the heat before they are soft. Ginger syrup is available at specialty stores or can be made at home. To two cups of water add two cups of sugar and about a 6 inch piece of ginger peeled and finely diced. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about an hour. Strain the finished liquid for a clearer syrup. Use half brown sugar for a deeper color and fuller flavor.

-Another garden favorite is Edamame. These are grown very similarly to bush beans. We have good results with Envy (75 days) planting the same as beans once the soil is warm. We steam the pods and toss with just a touch of butter, salt and pepper serving them right in the pods."

Important note: All the wonderful photography in this post taken by the Beneman Family.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kathryn Davis and Colin Jones: A Natural Drive

I had the idea for this post at a dinner party last month when I realized how many friends garden and start seeds - I should write about what they grow and where they get their seeds. Then asking friends to of course became so much more. This is the first of several posts presenting what they have written to me. I love people's passion for gardening!

Kathryn Davis: 
After transitioning from her role as Director of the Unum Charitable Foundation, Kathryn served in a number of leadership roles in Maine's nonprofit sector including as President of Laudholm Trust, Chair of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve Management Authority, and as CEO of United Way of York County.  Since retiring in 2012, Kathryn is living the life of her dreams: growing beauty, feeding the hungry, and chasing the light in southern Maine.

 "Outside in the garden, I am happiest with my hands in the dirt or wrapped around a camera, capturing the beauty and wonder unfolding through the growing season. As a UMaine Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteer, I am involved with Maine Harvest for Hunger growing in the Kennebunk Community Garden and gleaning at Spiller's farm in Wells. In recent years, I helped create the Partners for a Hunger Free York County, a group that is getting more farm fresh produce to the most food insecure people in our community -- the very young and the very old."

Believing people are as healthy as the food they consume, Kathryn advocates for a locally grown plant based diet as the cure for the chronic diseases plaguing so many in our community. Since her undergraduate studies in nutritional research, Kathryn has been passionate about sharing science based evidence linking food and health as well as ancient wisdom of living a simple balanced life close to the earth.

"In macrobiotic fashion, I  include a wide variety of plants that grow in, on or above the ground. These are always in my garden:
Salad greens including Johnny's Seeds roquette/arugula, beans including french green beans and root vegetables including daikon radish and Nante carrots and American Purple top rutabaga from Allen Sterling and Lothrop,  and leeks seedlings from Winslow Farm (Gray Road, Falmouth). I tried celery last year and this year, I plan to include celeric."

Colin Jones:

Legal counsel at a large bank in MaineColin has a passion for gardening.  He first became interested in gardening through helping his grandmother and later his father tend to their extensive gardens and vegetable patches.  While Colin is always talking to his wife, Lizzy, about getting “more land,” he is content for now with a little under an acre in Falmouth, where he is constantly expanding his gardens, building rock walls, maintaining a pond and small orchard and tending to his bee hives. Colin is interested in companion planting and attracting beneficial insects to the garden.  Colin tries to maintain as much diversity as possible by collecting and growing as many different plant specimens as he can find.

I asked Colin, who starts most things from seed, what your 5 top tried and true things are from seed here in Maine. This is what he said....

"Here are 5 tried and true favorites, all grown from seed that I saved:
1. Borage, attracts beneficial pollinators, flowers and leaves are edible, can be used to garnish salads, tastes like a cucumber (seed originally from Pinetree Seed Co.)
2.  Cranberry beans, mostly used as a dry bean, pretty green and red speckled bean (seed originally from Fedco.)
3. Mustard Greens, adds peppery taste to a salad (seed originally from Seed Savers Exchange)

4. Lettuce "Flashy Trout's Back” romaine lettuce with red speckles.  Self seeds in my garden over winter. (Plant originally from Wealden farm, Freeport)
5. Tomato “Black Cherry” (seed originally from Territorial Seed)

1 new one this year:
-Carrots “Nantes,” trying to grow from saved seed for the first time, carrots are biennials so I have waited two years to try this (seed originally from Seed Savers Exchange)"

More soon on other Maine gardeners and what they love about growing!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rosemary Verey: Classic Garden Design

I  found some watercolor plans I did of gardens more than 15 years ago.  Back then planning peoples gardens and my own during the winter months was as enjoyable as the digging and doing. My hero at the time was Rosemary Verey. Her Making of a Garden was and still is, my inspiration book. I also loved this book, Good Planting Plans, that was filled with watercolor paintings of garden ideas.

 A woman who inherited a garden from her husband's parents in the English countryside, she knew nothing at the start, but her will, determination, and spirit gained her a renown reputation and produced a generation of gardens that will be her legacy. Her own house, Barnsley House in Gloucestershire, was her greatest creation. She was famous for scaling public garden features down for home gardeners, and for bringing the ornamental vegetable garden back into fashion.

I made these plans, inspired by her watercolors. With rapidograph and watercolor washes, the plans give a sense of the color that plant material will give off when in bloom. Most of plant material were herbs and vegetables.

This garden was a large herb garden done for a family in Redding, CT. They had hired a crew to prepare the site, which included leveling the area, bringing in top soil and composted manure. The beds were defined in Belgian block (the rage of the 90's.) The central feature was a 10 foot birch pole, with a ball of copper wire at the top. Remember when copper was inexpensive! This was a feature I added to many gardens and looked like a huge topiary when covered with vines. I liked to use hops because it grows very tall and will wrap around the pole and ball easily.

This garden plan below never came to materialize. The feature I love of this plan was the "brick rug". After seeing an article about a woman who designed intricate patterns in brick, I was inspired. I dreamed of using all the brick pieces that were in my basement at the time. Old brick has a weathered and worn look that can't be replicated by new brick.

As I sit here waiting for the snow to melt, it is fun to look back at these plans and think about what I might add to this year's plan. As always, a look through a Making of a Garden will inspire.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Terrarium 101

A few years back, I started making terrariums. I saw them everywhere and they reminded how I loved the ones my mom used to make when I was young. I was fascinated with the little tiny world that was self sufficient.  Several years since my first one, I realize how easy and versatile they are. Some of my first experiments have never been watered since the day I put them together! With the tops on, the moisture heats up and condenses during the day, and then replenishes the soil at night. They also can survive on very little light...especially if you use mosses and things found in the woods. I have a few that are never near light.

I collect mosses and lichen in the woods on walks, along with dead branches and rocks that add color and form. Little did I know the organisms they carried! Months later, as the moss started growing in ways it doesn't in the wild, small tiny flying insects hatched, lived, apparently reproduced, and then went back to the soil. They continued this cycle for several years.

Today I stopped into my favorite Portland garden shop, Fiacre. Melissa always has something enticing, and the sun made me feel the urge to touch something green! I was tempted my her specimen succulents, and her cut flowering quince (that she said had been blooming for over 3 weeks!) but ultimately settled on a sweet little maidenhair fern to give a pick me up to my terrariums.

So this is how I make these little beauties....I get a covered, or sometimes open glass container. Often Home Goods or other home store will have these for a inexpensive price. (Open containers will need to be watered!) Then put gravel in the bottom, 1 inch or so. This can be simply from your driveway or woods, or beautiful river rocks purchased at a garden center. Then a short layer of charcoal. This I get from our burn pit, but could be from the fireplace or wood stove. Rinse off before you put on top. Then comes the soil. I use top soil, or compost..something that isn't potting soil, since that usually has perlite and looks artificial. Plant material comes next, and remember less is more. 


Try different things, look for color, texture, and variety. Garden Center (even Home Depot) small plugs, the woods, small shade seedlings from garden perennials are all good choices. Then the fun part...mosses, lichen, gnarly branches, shells, rocks can be added. I add great bug specimens (that die of natural causes) suspended on wire. A great dried dragonfly or bumble bee hovering on wire adds drama but won't last long (because of the moisture.)

Ok, now your turn! Add some green to a dark corner without a window, and never water again!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Insect Habitats

Insect habitats have been popular in Europe for many years because they are such a great way to attract all sorts of pollinators to your yard, while being beautiful in their own right. I have seen them in the Netherlands and France and all take on similar qualities.

From the Black Forest in Germany. Photo by Michael Bohnert.
Old stalks from last season, wood, logs and sticks all with holes drilled into them. Old clay pots, twine balls, hay- anything with a nook or a cranny will do. These can be arranged in wooden box of some sort,  or can be open sided like the one below, made from old pallets.
Copyright: Cheshire Wildlife Trust,
I like the dried corn in the one below, and the variety of natural materials.  Often they have a small roof to protect it from rain.

Insect hotel in Hamburg, Germany.

There are many insects that will be appreciative of more nesting space. Wasps, dragonflies, beetles, lacewings, ladybirds, moths, and the many solitary bees. Bumble bees, leafcutter bees, masked bees and digger bees for a few. This is a great project for people to learn more about these insects that get less attention. It is also a wonderful way to use natural materials that might just go to the compost pile.

Insect Habitat assembled from foraged organic materials and reclaimed
scrap, a habitat-in-waiting for bees and other native creatures. By
Kevin Smith and Lisa Lee Benjamin.
For my garden, I think I will try to make a visually interesting structure with textures and colors all arranged in patterns. Stay posted for the outcome!
For more about these great habitats and how to make and care for them, here are some sources:

Monday, February 17, 2014

Structure Ideas from a Potager Garden in Paris

Simultaneous with thinking about what seeds to order, are the dreams of what to build this year for things to grow on. These structures have to have an overall plan for good affect, and so planning with pencil and paper is a good place to start. Here are a few ideas I have been thinking about from a visit to Parc de Bercy in Paris.

 This garden was created in the 90's and so I felt it was something that might be possible to recreate. Often in countries with long histories, the gardens are so old that I realize there is small hope that my garden will ever look like theirs. This garden is different. First, as always the French start with boxwoods. Boxwood borders and boxwood on pots.

This can be more difficult than you think. Not to grow boxwoods, because they are easy to grow, but to restrain oneself at the garden center from buying all sorts of interesting annuals for the pots. The French know, put your effort in the garden, not the pots. Simple is better!

Here is a great example of thinking large. This trellis made of found wood spans the walkway and creates an arbor mid -garden. Even if the plants didn't grow up it, the structure carries it off on its own. Notice the use of different colors and textures too in this bed. Red chard, escarole and morning glories all getting along harmoniously!

And in September, even the seed heads are ornamental! Can you guess what beautiful poofs those are in the foreground? Artichokes gone to seed! They are only an edible thistle after all! To do this in Maine, you would have to time it extremely right. Artichokes are a biennial that aren't hardy..but...I have grown seedlings from Snell Family Farm that have been tricked into thinking that it is their second year by giving them a dose of cold exposure mid-winter. They have fruited...and I would like to dream that they could go to seed if uneaten. But really, in Maine, if you can grow an artichoke in your garden, you will eat it!

Here is another picture of a simple pyramid that anyone can do with 4-6 long bamboo stakes. This is a nice way to show off your trailing nasturtiums without them growing everywhere. Again this shows how alternating the color and texture of plants helps so much in the overall visual plan. Ok, food for thought! Next post will have to be about seeds.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

10 (+1) Herbs Not to be Without (not culinary!)

I have always loved herbs and herb gardens.  An herb garden is beautiful but when combined with plant lore and the history of gardening it becomes multidimensional and truly fascinating.  Herbs, defined by Webster's as a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities, had many daily uses that we have forgotten today. 
Medieval Herb Garden

Only a hundred years ago, most households with a bit of earth, grew things to ease pain, make your house smell better (those were smelly times) and make food taste more interesting (when you ate many of the same foods every day.) People made their own tinctures (medicines made from extracting the chemical compound of plants by soaking them in alcohol), laid plants in the house to keep bugs away, and sought out local and exotic plants to enhance their food. Today, the added advantage of growing herbs is that that most of these plants are not appealing to deer and other garden ravishers because of their strong smell and taste. Here is a list of a few plants that are beautiful, easy to grow, and have been very useful in human history. 


Monarda citrodora, Lemon Mint

This plant gets 5 stars for good looks. In the mint family (like all other monardas or bee-balms) this annual is easy to grow from seed and gets lots of comments in a northern garden, since most people don't bother doing it from seed. Flowers can be eaten in salads and leaves can be used to make a lemon mint tea. If you never have tried growing this I suggest giving it a try. Seeds can be found at Native American Seed.

Allium tuberosum, Garlic Chives

In Asia this plant is used often in cooking. Known for its garlic flavor, the stalks and immature flower buds are great additions on soups or salads. A very vigorous grower, the flowers last a very long time both on the plant and cut in water. It adds late summer white to the garden when many flowers are orange and yellow. It creates a nice border of structure and seed heads are attractive late into fall.

Nepeta x Faassini, Catmint

I know many of us already grow this reliable plant in our gardens. It blooms late May almost through to the end of the season (if cut back once) and is part of the structure that gives a garden form. That's why you may want to grow a few of the new great hybrids they have made in recent years to keep up with demand for this garden classic. Try Walker's Low or Dropmore Hybrid from Canada. Honeybees and butterflies love this member of the mint family.
Try alternating catmnit, lambs ears, and lady's mantle in repetition down your border edge. Silver, blue and lime...a great color combination. 

Angelica gigas, Korean purple angelica

Another unusual plant for the northern garden, Angelica is a biennial that will be leafy the first season, but will reward you with  impressive purple stalks the next. Flowers last much of the season, and seed heads are gorgeous. Plants don't mind a moist spot. It has culinary value as candied stalks or flavoring gin, and people from Lapland and the Aleutians used it for wounds and other ailments. I suggest it for late summer drama in your border.

Humulus Lupulus, Hops

You don't have make beer to enjoy the beauty of a hop vine. Many grow to 15 feet or over and can climb up any wire or stake. Try finding a long good looking stick (birch maybe) and have the vine grow up the pole. I have even made a ball out of copper wire for the top so the pole looks like a large topiary. The luxuriant strobiles give an abundant look to any garden trellis or rock wall. Grown since ancient times for its flavoring qualities, this plant is under used in today's gardens.


Digitalis purpurea, Foxglove

Foxglove is a plant I never can be without, even if it doesn't necessarily like where I put it. A biennial that blooms and reseeds in the same season makes it seem like a perennial. If it likes it where it is, it can bloom and reseed year after year. Deer know to stay away from this plant which has strong compounds used in cardiac medicine. Digitalis comes in many forms, including the sweet pale yellow Digitalis lutea and the Digitalis ferruginea that has won the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Merit.

Mentha suavelolens varegata, Pineapple Mint

Though this variegated form of apple mint blooms, it is the foliage that makes this plant a staple. The white edges can be seem at great distance at dusk and can add drama to a patch of flowers that have only green leaves. Smells great in bouquets and doesn't have the same invasive qualities as much as other mints. Just take off the runners if they start to walk out of the spot you want it.

Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea

A native to the Americas, this plant was used by Native Americans for many ailments including measles and as an antiseptic. Early settlers learned to use the plant as well for many sicknesses. Today this popular garden plant has many varieties that produce interesting textures such as Hot Summer (orange) or the white
Fragrant Angel.

Foeniculum vulgare 'nigra', Bronze Fennel

This is an under used plant that I love for many reasons. A controlled self-seeder, it grows tall and bronze and the yellow umbels in late summer are covered with every kind of bee and wasp in your area. Since I often study wasps and bees for painting, I am amazed at how many varieties there are on one plant. I have it staked under a large picture window so that I can enjoy looking at the busy wasps from the behind glass! Flowers and foliage are great in bouquets, smell like anise and can be used in salads and pickling. Plants grow tall and may need to be staked.

Papaver somniferum, Opium poppy

This common annual used to be grown by most households 100 years ago as a pain reliever, but is no longer legal to grow as such in the US. Thomas Jefferson's garden at Monticello had many varieties as did all the large estates. The laws are vague, but it seems if you grow them as flowers, and not medicine, it is OK. The problem is that it is hard to find seed. Seed can still be bought through European seedsmen such as Thompson & Morgan. My favorite garden blog by Margaret Roach, A Way to Garden, has great information about it all here.

Agastache, Anise Hyssop

The last must-have garden staple is Agastache. Another plant that is loved by all pollinators, this sturdy and fragrant beauty is great in arrangements and can make a great tea. It blooms for many months and reseeds well. I used to edge the whole vegetable garden with it as the deer do not like things in the mint family. Try varieties like 'Blue Fortune' or a red like 'Desert Sunrise'. Read about many varieties in this Fine Gardening article.