Romanesco: My favorite Autumnal Fractal Fare.

Posted by Mark Wessel on November 28th, 2013  •  Comments Off on Romanesco: My favorite Autumnal Fractal Fare.

Romanesco Cauliflower

Romanesco Cauliflower

“We thought it was kind of handy, take a trip and never leave the farm”. Those were the words that popped into my mind after I harvested my first head of Romanesco cauliflower. It may not be quite the same trip that Mr. Stafford is referring to in the song “The Wildwood Weed”, but what a long strange trip I have been on with this freakish vegetable.

“Cauliflower on acid” is how one garden described this fractal fare in the Fedco Seed Catalog. Take care not to gaze too deeply or else you may be sucked into its infinity. The three dimensional self-similar patterning creating a mathematically correct recursive helical arrangement of cones can take you to the edge and beyond.

roman close

Romanesco sucking you in.

 All the psychedelia aside, Romanesco is more than just eye candy. It is a lovely alternative to the many more common cole crops on our autumn table. Mild earthy flavors with nutty overtones set Romanesco apart from standard cauliflower. Some people feel its flavor is a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. I do not find this to be the case.

 Romanesco can be used in any recipe calling for standard cauliflower.  It is fine for cream soups and gratins, but I prefer to use recipes that keep the florets in tact for eye appeal.

Fasciation as flower head matured.

Fasciation as flower head matured.

Several seed catalogs and many gardeners refer too Romanesco as Broccoli. It is actually a cauliflower. Kale, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Collards, Broccoli and cauliflower all belong to the species Brassica oleracea. Kale and Collards most resemble the wild relative. Within the species there are seven cultivar groups. Broccoli has been placed in the Italica group and Romanesco in the Botrytis group along with cauliflower and broccoflower. Recent DNA evidence also places Romanesco into the Botrytis group. The best evidence resides in its growth habit. It looks like cauliflower.

romanesco flowering

Bolting Romanesco.

In the Ohio River Valley, Romanesco is best grown as a fall crop. It needs to mature in cooler weather to produce large tight heads. Spring plantings maturing into the warmer temperatures of summer often form small loose heads and bolt prematurely.

Seeds are sown late May to early June into plug trays, moved to 3” pots  and finally  moved into the garden in late July.

roman rossette

Broken yardstick across rosette after harvest.

Romanesco is a heavy feeder. Without ample fertility to promote luxurious  growth, small or no heading will occur. A non-brassica green manure crop tilled in several weeks    prior to planting is very beneficial.



Although the recent 14 degree weather put an end to this years Romanesco season, the 2014 seed catalogs have started arriving just in time to start planning for next years freakish fall fractal fare.




Posted in : Vegetables  •  Tags: ,

Our Hummingbird Feeders

Posted by Mark Wessel on August 29th, 2013  •  Comments Off on Our Hummingbird Feeders

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird

It has been many years since we have maintained a sugar water hummingbird feeder. Why bother when we can grow them.

Agastache "Tango"

Agastache “Tango”

One male and one female were present most of the summer. The first day a youngster started showing up was the last day we saw the male.

Salvia involucrata "Bethellii"

Salvia involucrata “Bethellii”

Salvias are our mainstays. Many of our varieties bloom from late spring till frost.

Salvia guaranitica "Black and Blue"

Salvia guaranitica “Black and Blue”

A few wait until September to start blooming.

Salvia "Black and Blue"

Salvia “Black and Blue”

Salvia "Wendy's Wish"

Salvia “Wendy’s Wish”

Salvia "Wendy's Wish"

Salvia “Wendy’s Wish”

Many over winter in our root cellar. Others I root cuttings.

Cardinal Climber

Cardinal Climber

Tubular flowers seem attract the most attention.

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Edible weeds increase vegetable garden yeilds.

Posted by Mark Wessel on July 24th, 2013  •  Comments Off on Edible weeds increase vegetable garden yeilds.



A new study finds that harvesting edible weeds, increases yields in the vegetable garden. Actually, this was no double blind, peer reviewed, university sponsored, monsanto approved study, it is mostly my observation after years of harvesting weeds in the garden.

As all gardeners know, weeds play a vital role in our lives. They are everywhere. We pull, spray, burn, till, curse…..the weeds in our gardening lives. How often do we take the time to eat them? If they are edible, why not? We spend all this time, effort and money on these fancy, fussy, over bred veggies, all while we ignore the survivors, the plants that have stood the test of time better than any other. Weeds.

The Amaranth pictured above is one of my favorite summer greens.The greens, when cooked have a nutty, earthy flavor and a melting texture. The bunch I am holding is so tender that even the roots were edible. The taste was similar to beets. Like many greens, amaranth contains oxalic acid. For this reason I always blanch the greens and discard the cooking liquid.

For recipes and inspiration, look to the many countries were amaranth is enjoyed, like Jamaica,Vietnam, The Philippines, Malaysia, Greece and India.


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Annabelle Hydrangea: Horseback ride too Horticulture Hall of Fame.

Posted by Mark Wessel on July 5th, 2013  •  Comments Off on Annabelle Hydrangea: Horseback ride too Horticulture Hall of Fame.

Annebelle and hosta’s in our garden.

A quick ride through any neighborhood in Cincinnati  will reveal the importance of Hydrangea’s in our landscapes. Oak leafs, Paniculatas, macrophylas  and climbing Hydrangeas all populate local gardens.

Hydrangea arborescens “Annabelle” is one of the hardest working member of this genus. Long lasting large white flowering heads sit atop three to four foot, slightly colonizing plants. Even after the color fades, the blooms persist, providing interest though the fall and winter months.

Annabelle in Mt. Lookout Garden

Provided with ample moisture, and shade from the hottest part of the day, Annabelle is one of the easiest Hydrangea’s to cultivate. Pruning is a dream. Prune to 18-24 inches in late winter or early spring. They can also be cut to the ground. No need to worry about losing flower buds, it flowers on new wood. Since the flowers are white, there is no angst over changing the ph of the soil to get pink or blue.

One of the common problems with Annabelle and other large-headed Hydrangea’s is flopping. After a rain, all the stems are lying on the ground. When you cut the patch down to the ground every year there is no chance for the plant to develop  a thicker stems. This is the reason for pruning 18″-24″, the stems get thicker and are better able to hold the flower erect. Planting in groups helps them support themselves. Plant hoops, planting along a fence and branches placed around the plant early in the year also help support the heavy flowers.

Hydrangea arborescens along moist woods edge hillside.

Hydrangea arborescens is native to the eastern USA. It can be found growing on moist shaded woodland slopes and wooded edges. The flowers as a whole are a flattish umbel of fertile and sterile flowers.A corymb to be exact. On Annabelle it is the sterile flowers that provide the show. The straight species are mostly the less showy fertile  flowers. They are kind of fuzzy and not nearly as dramatic. Even though the species is not nearly as showy as Annabelle, it does have an understated beauty which I always enjoy in its native setting.

Hydrangea arborescens fertile florets with one sterile floret.

Annabelle comes from humble beginnings. In 1910 Hubbard Kirkpatrick’s mother notice the plant in the woods while she was on a horseback ride through the hills of Anna Illinois. Upon her return home she asked her sister-in-law,Amy Kirkpatrick, “Have you ever seen a wild Hydrangea with snowball blooms?” Amy was interested and the two moved the plant to their garden in town. Over the years they shared starts with the neighbors and soon it was seen growing throughout the town of Anna.

The ladies wrote to Burpee Seed Company asking if a snowball Hydrangea was known in cultivation. Burpee replied with information about the 1906 introduction “Snowhill”. 50 years passed and their Hydrangea was passed along in gardens throughout Illinois. Legendary Plantsman, Joe C. McDaniel, University of Illinois, found the plant growing in an Urbana Illinois garden and traced its roots back to Anna. He introduced it to the country in 1962.

Hydrangea “Annabelle” sterile floret flower head.

Mr. McDaniel speculated that had the 1906 Snowhill Hydrangea made it to Anna Illinois they may not have given the woodland plant a second look since it had not reached its full splendor.

Annabelle’s floriferous nature, ease of cultivation and sheer beauty definitely make her a First-Ballot Hall of  Famer.

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Forager Alert: Amelanchier is ripening around Town.

Posted by Mark Wessel on June 12th, 2013  •  Comments Off on Forager Alert: Amelanchier is ripening around Town.

Amelanchier "Regent"

Saskatoons, Serviceberries, juneberries, shadbush, or what ever you want to call them, they are ripening in the Ohio River Valley. Do not delay, the bird pressure in most of the plantings I have seen has been low. This could all change overnight. I think the abundance of mulberries are distracting the birds temporarily.

Growing at Otto Armleder Park.

A quick overview of the Genus. Beautiful white flower clusters before the leaves emerge, edible fruit, nice fall color, tolerant of many soil types and few serious diseases. Many more specifics can be found online.

Theodore M Berry International Friendship Park

The fruit of Amelanchier is unique and under used. Eaten fresh off the tree there is no big thrill. It is kind of sweet with a bit of an appealing flavor. The fruit really shines when it is cooked. Heating the seeds releases and almond or amaretto flavor. I often freeze part of my harvest to add to cobblers later in the season when the blackberries and other fruits start ripening. The rest go into jam.

Amelanchier freshly picked.

How does a person obtain fruit? There are no U-pick Amelanchier orchards around town. If they are not growing in your yard you just need to start driving around the neighborhoods. Fortunately, many landscapers have used them in commercial plantings around town. Another great source is the Park system. You may want to check on the legality of picking fruit the Cincinnati Park System. It may be terribly illegal if you get caught.Not sure, I have never been caught picking Serviceberries.

Posted in : Trees  •  Tags: ,

Harvest Thyme Plant Sale: All star Lineup of Vendors

Posted by Mark Wessel on May 16th, 2013  •  Comments Off on Harvest Thyme Plant Sale: All star Lineup of Vendors

I have promoted several plant sales through this blog over the years. Several were for Clara at Harvest Thyme and they have all been good sales with fine plant material to. The sale Saturday May 18 has more to offer than any I have championed. Not only will you have the wonderful selections of perennials from Clara’s garden, there will also be an All Star lineup of vendors selling a hole range of plants and plant related paraphanalia. It will be a whose who of horticulture excellence.

Do you like your plants to eat flesh or your herbs to be carnivores? Well than Chris Radcliffe is the guy for you. A major carnivorous plant nut and collector, Chris will be bringing your favorite meat eater to the sale.

Sundew Drosera aliciae

Pitcher Plant Sarracenia

Is native and non-native Rare and  Unusual Shade Perennials your thing. Gene Bush, co-owner of Munchkin Nursery not only sells these types of plants but happens to be one of the nations foremost authorities on the subject. A road trip to his Indiana nursery should be on everyones spring to do list. Now he is coming to you.

Indian Pink Spigelia marilandica

Gaultheria procumbens with frost.

You have to love a gardener who gets the most out of their favorite plants. Sandy Manteuffel, not only grows a huge collection of Scented Geraniums, she also immortalizes them on her beautifully made clay pottery. What an incredible gift Idea, buy the geranium and the pottery that matches.

Scented Geraniums

Scented Geranium Pottery

Connisuers of fine Conifers and Japanesse maples will be thrilled with the offerings from Byron Baxter. One of the regions most discriminating eyes for quality Coniferous Creations, Byron not only sells cool plants but he sells cool plants that work in our area.

A few of Byron's Selections

One of Byron's Japanese Maples

Of course after reading my last blog post, you know how I love heirlooms tomatoes. Amy Powell will be bringing her selection of heirlooms tomatoes, peppers and herbs. Ask her about her Grannies Maters.

Heirloom Tomatoes Some not to pretty, but boy do they taste good.

Kevin Collard of Pine View Nursery is making the trip from the depths of KY. The sale poster says it all. Grower and Purveyor of Fine, Rare and Unusual plants. I have seen some of his inventory. It is fine and rare and well grown.

Epimedium, Kevin will have some.

Finally, there will be a two free lectures by Jim Hansel. Jim is by all accounts one of the most well versed and valued plantsmen, gardeners and teachers the Cincinnati rejoin has to offer. If you are not fully satisfied with his lectures, you get a full refund.

Alliums in Clara's Garden

This really is the plant sale not to miss. Not only because of all the horticulture dignitaries I have mentioned above and Clara’s beautiful gardens, you will also be surrounded by a bunch of darn good gardeners with the knowledge to help you with any of your needs, free for the asking.

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Heirloom Tomato Plant Sale and Garden Mart: Trinity Episcopal Church Covington.

Posted by Mark Wessel on May 10th, 2013  •  Comments Off on Heirloom Tomato Plant Sale and Garden Mart: Trinity Episcopal Church Covington.


Friday May 10th and Saturday May 11th one of the finest selection of Heirloom tomato plants will be on sale at the annual Garden Mart at Trinity Episcopal Church in Covington Ky.

Amy Powell, co-owner of Atwood Village Family Farm, will be offering 70 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Most are tried and true heirlooms selected for superior flavor and performance. Amy has grown hundreds of varieties over the years and has few peers in our area with her knowledge and experience. In addition to many of her favorites there will be several varieties offered for the first time.

The Heirloom Tomato

You can read about many of the selections in Amy Goldman’s fabulous book, The Heirloom Tomato.


The Garden Mart will also have vendors selling perennials, annuals, herbs and many other great gift and garden products.

Posted in : Uncategorized, Vegetables  •  Tags:

Winter Aconite: Time to collect seed

Posted by Mark Wessel on May 3rd, 2013  •  Comments Off on Winter Aconite: Time to collect seed

Blooming winter Aconite.

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), is one of the first flowers to break the winter blues. It’s golden glow is a welcome sight during the dreary days of winter.

First year seedlings.

Since winter aconite is one of the  first plants to flower, it is one of the first plants to ripen a seed crop. The timing of the first blooms vary according to the weather. Some years I have seen aconite blooming in late january. Late February is a more common time of bloom in the Cincinnati area. The seed ripening also varies. In 2012 I was harvesting seed on April 2. This year I should started harvesting seed on April 29.

Second year

I have a simple method for propagating this species. Collect the seed, throw them where you want more plants and let them grow. In three to four years you will have blooming size plants.I am sure you could speed the process by sowing seeds in a containers and providing optimum  fertility and growing conditions. Unless it is a special variety of winter aconite, I will stick to my tried and true method.

Third year

They will grow and flower in many locations. Any flower bed, sun or shade, woodland or even a lawn. Shaded lawns with a thinner density of grass work best. It helps if you can hold off on the first mowing until the plants start to go dormant after flowering. Mowing will not hurt the plants in their first few years of life since they are very low to the ground.

Fourth year going to seed.

When collecting seed, I simply pinch of the main leaf with the seed capsule and through them in a bag or bucket. Pods that are not fully open will continue to ripen after harvest.

Once the seed ripens on the plant, they do not hang around long. Rain and wind easily knock them out.

Posted in : winter bloomers  •  Tags:

Would you eat this? Two cabbages from the Root Cellar.

Posted by Mark Wessel on April 18th, 2013  •  Comments Off on Would you eat this? Two cabbages from the Root Cellar.

Napa Cabbage straight from the cellar.

To many of my readers this may look as appetizing as a six month old crock of Kimchi unearthed in the Korean hillsides.In this age of lacto-fermentation some of you may truly understand what I am talking about. This picture is not from a fermentation vessel or any other well controlled environment. This ball of slime is straight from the fungal and bacterial playground I call my root cellar. The root cellar is actually our garage which is built into the side of the hill. The humidity levels stay incredibly high and the temperature never drops below freezing.

Napa peeled of rotten layers.

This is a Napa cabbage which I picked in November 2012. Who would have thought such a tender leafy vegetable would last this long. I should not be too surprised. When I store them in the refrigerator, they never seem to go bad. Just peel a few layers off and good as new.

Storage #4 before

The other cabbage in the root cellar is the more traditional european cabbage. This variety was specifically bred for storage. It was also picked in november 2012 and still has many months left in the tank. They are solid as rocks, with not even a hint of space between the layers. In our two person family, one goes a long way.

Storage #4 peeled

Even though this is the time to start planting early season cabbage, with six still in storage I do have my reservations about adding to the cabbage load. However, the storage cabbage has lost a bit of its appeal and something fresher may be in order.

Storage #4 sliced.

I raised both cabbages from seed. The Storage #4 was started in late may and planted in the garden in July. The napa cabbage, Rubicon, was started in late july and planted in early September. Both were purchase from Johnny’s Seeds.

Napa from storage starting to bolt or flower.

Posted in : Vegetables  •  Tags: , ,

Two Hellebore Sales: Clara Berger and Yew Dell Gardens

Posted by Mark Wessel on April 5th, 2013  •  Comments Off on Two Hellebore Sales: Clara Berger and Yew Dell Gardens


Just in time for a weekend that might actually feel like spring, there are two excellent Hellebore sales in our area. The timing could not be better. Usually by sale time, the plants are well past their peak. The cold, late winter and spring has delayed the bloom and extended the season. They are beautiful!

Helleborus x hybridus "Branywine"

The first sale is this Saturday from 10am -12pm, April 6th, at YewDell Gardens in Crestwood Ky. Yew Dell is located just 14 miles north east of Louisville Ky. A bit of a drive from Cincinnati, but well worth the effort. I could wax on endlessly about how diverse and wonderful the gardens are, but I feel it would be best to use the description from their website.

Helleborus x hybridus "Pine Knott Seedling"

“Yew Dell is a nationally-recognized center of gardening and sustainable horticulture that offers extensive display gardens, a diverse slate of educational programs, family-oriented community events, ongoing research into new and better garden plants, and a wide range of private event facilities. All of this activity is offered in a unique setting that artfully combines elements of Kentucky’s rural heritage with modern, cutting-edge architecture.”

Helleborus x hybridus unknown stock plant

Yew Dell’s collection of Hellebores is quite extensive with at least 90 to 100 varieties planted. They will be offering  at least four varieties from the Winter Jewels series developed by the hottest Hellebore breeder in the USA, Marietta O’Bryne.Red Sapphire, Amber Gem Sparkling Diamond and Onyx Odyssey.

I was told that the sale opens at 10am and they sell out by 10:30am. Don’t be late!

The second sale, Sunday, April, 7th, will take place at Clara Berger’s on State Road in Anderson Twp. She is located across from El Coyote.

Clara has had her finger to the pulse of the Hellebore world for 20 years. Her passion for Hellebores started with seeds from the legendary U.K. collector, Will Mclewin. Will scoured the Balkans as some of its native populations were being bombed into oblivion during the Balkan war.

Although the species and regional varieties from Mr. Mclewin lack the glitz and glitter of the new hybrids, they offer a sublime beauty that is wonderfully displayed in Clara’s Garden.

Helleborus ?

As the Hellebore renaissance has advanced, Clara has continued to keep up with all the new introductions.

This years selections include Rose Quartz,Double Ellen series, Hellorus x Ballardiae and the incredible Helleborus niger “Jacob“.

Helleborus x hybridus "Goldfinch"

She will also have a small amount of other plants for sale. The cool spring has limited the amount of non-hellebore offerings.

Between the weather and a few great plant sales, inspiration for the garden should be plentiful.

Posted in : Perennials, Uncategorized  •  Tags: