Weather Warnings

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Look at those lows, people! It’s time to start bringing in our houseplants and tropicals. (See this post’s section on First Steps of the Plant Dance for what to do.)

Also, it looks like we’re going to have a first frost alert here Friday. (See this post’s section on First Frost Alert for what to do.)

Sorry, family–it’s time to bring the jungle back inside!

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Here’s Flowers for You

First, it's all about the food--especially when I have time to plan and prepare a special meal for the occasion. I got this appetizer ready at home--cantaloupe wrapped with prosciutto and herbs (basils and mint) and even some edible flowers.

Using edible flowers at a Shakespeare picnic – 7/15/15

Here’s flowers for you;
Hot lavender, mints, savoury, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun
And with him rises weeping: these are flowers
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age.

William Shakespeare – The Winter’s Tale

I just LOVE edible flowers! Those of you who know me personally know that I also love to go to Shakespeare plays. Thus it’s natural that I should combine these two loves whenever I get a chance to have a picnic at an outdoor summer Shakespeare performance. We (husband, #2 son, and I) just enjoyed the first Shakespeare picnic of this season as we went to see First Folio‘s production of The Winter’s Tale. I hope these pictures give my fellow edible flower fans some inspiration for how to use your own blooms. (Click on a picture for the larger gallery view.)

Perfect evenings like this make me thankful to God, who created this amazing world, for the excellent gifts He has given, especially the creativity of humankind. It was an awesome delight to experience the art of the theater, the art of a great writer, and the art of food and presentation–all at the same time we were outside on a cool summer evening. This year’s summer Shakespeare season is off to a great start!

Recipes and Notes

I’ve made prosciutto wrapped cantaloupe before, but it was recipes like these two that inspired me to add the herbs (lemon basil, lime basil, Thai basil, and mint) and edible flowers (lemon gem marigolds, bachelor’s buttons, oregano) this time.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Melon with Mint & White Balsamic Vinegar

Cantaloupe and Mozzarella with Prosciutto and Basil

This recipe has become my go-to guide for making taco meat from any ground meat: Taco Lettuce Wraps. And this is the recipe that gave me the idea for taco pie, which is much easier to handle on a picnic than tacos: Easy Crescent Taco Bake.

The salad was all from my garden: kale, pea shoots, broccoli, snow peas, and radishes. The white flowers in there came off those same pea shoots.

The dessert I brought was actually a back up I pulled out of the freezer when I realized that the dessert I’d planned had failed. Either way, I wanted to use some of the raspberries my garden is producing so abundantly this year.

Raspberry-Cream Cheese Muffins

And I thought last year was a good year for raspberries! I'm getting even more this year. 6/27/15

And I thought last year was a good year for raspberries! I’m getting even more this year. 6/27/15

Those of you who are interested in the particular production we saw may want to read my husband’s review of it on his Bardwatching Facebook page.


Posted in Fruit, Herbs & Edible Flowers, Recipes | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Spring Ahead, Snow to a Stop

Before Spring Clean Up - 3/20/15

Before Spring Clean Up – 3/20/15

After Spring Clean Up - 3/23/15

After Spring Clean Up – 3/23/15

“In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,” said Alfred Lord Tennyson. But WE all know that spring is when a gardener’s fancy turns to thoughts of planting! Spring is so short and fickle here in the midwest that I have to watch the weather reports and check my schedule carefully in order to use the few available good days as wisely as possible. And as for the snowy and rainy days, I just continue with my indoor seed starting projects.

Springing into Action - 3/16/15

Springing into Action – 3/16/15

Every spring is  challenge, and this spring was a greater challenge than normal because last fall was a failure.  We hardly had any fall at all here at Chez Rea, and the cold winter weather set in before we could do any fall clean up, let alone properly prepare the beds for winter. So I had to devote the first warm days this spring to garden clean up rather than early planting. I started in the backyard flower garden because I was most concerned that I had not cleaned up the peonies last fall. I went back later and sprinkled some Gardens Alive Soap-Shield around where the peonies would be coming up in the hopes of preventing powdery mildew. Perhaps this precaution will be sufficient as my peonies have not been prone to mildew. I remember only one year in the last ten or so that they really had a problem with it.

Herb Bed before Clean Up - 3/20/15

Herb Bed before Clean Up – 3/20/15

Herb Bed after Clean Up - 4/1/15

Herb Bed after Clean Up – 4/1/15

The next step, a few days later, was cleaning up the herb bed in the kitchen garden. This did not take too long. I was glad to see that the garlic I had planted last fall was coming up, and so were the chives and chamomile.

Then I worked on the front yard perennial garden. I got it done before the next snowfall (see pictures at top). One thing I did differently this year was to cut all the Annabelle hydrangeas down. I had tried that pruning technique last year on just the one Annabelle to the right of the front door, and sure enough it had bigger blooms last year. The whole thing flopped after a big rain, however, so this year I plan to put supports around the Annabelles before their branches get too big this time.

Snow Drops - 3/21/15

Snow Drops – 3/21/15

As I was cleaning up the front yard, I discovered snow drops already blooming, and I uncovered them. More things have been popping up since then.

Other Spring Activities

Planting Snow Peas! 4/6/15

Planting Snow Peas! 4/6/15

New Trellises for Beans

New Trellises for Beans

Meanwhile, my husband took some time off work and prepped all the kitchen garden beds for me. He also built new tuteurs for my bean vines. I seeded cool crops in the newly prepped kitchen garden beds, and I spread corn gluten over our lawn and–for the first time ever–the perennial kitchen garden beds: asparagus, strawberries, and raspberries. Another first for me was applying an organic dormant oil spray to my apple trees at green tip stage.

Watering New Transplants

Watering New Transplants

Indoors, I’ve kept working on seed starting: watering the babies, transplanting them into cells and small pots, and planting more seeds. Yesterday I set up the shade greenhouse tent and moved the hardiest seedlings out there to harden off–broccoli, shallots (more recently started because earlier ones kept inside have faded away) alyssum, and violas (the 8 precious viola plants I succeeded in starting this year). I also moved out the small trees started last year and–ta da!–the rosemary. Yes! This year’s rosemary challenge was a SUCCESS–my rosemary is still alive!

Plants in Shade Tent - 4/14/15

Plants in Shade Tent – 4/14/15

Newly Grafted Fruit Trees - 3/27/15

Newly Grafted Fruit Trees – 3/27/15

Spring is also a busy time for going to special gardening events. This year, as usual, I went to Joliet Garden Day, the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, and the Midwest Fruit Explorers grafting workshop. I didn’t actually stay for the workshop this year; I just picked up rootstock and scions and then grafted several Asian pear trees at home. I have also been going to my own garden club‘s meetings and speaking at others–giving my presentation on Organic Kitchen Garden Maintenance. I have honed it down so well since my first time giving a garden talk that my most excellent master gardener friend Donna has been publicizing it, and she got me in to do for the Southern Cook County Master Gardeners and the Orland Park Garden Club.

I have more pictures and information to share about all of these spring activities, but I have to get back into action. There are more seeds to be planted and more little sprouts to be transplanted. Let me know in the comments if you want me to post more about any topic in particular.

Posted in Herbs & Edible Flowers, Ornamentals, Seed Starting and Plant Propagation, Tips and Tools, Vegetables | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

ON SALE THIS WEEK: 16″ Self-Watering Pots–Good for Vegetables!



If you want to grow vegetables in containers, these 16″ pots on sale for $7.88 at Menards are a great deal. They’re nice and big and self-watering, too. Just keep in mind that “self-watering” does not mean you don’t have to water them–it means you won’t have to water them as often. Also note that consistent even watering would help to prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes.

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FREE TODAY ONLY–Square Foot Gardening book

FREE Today Only 2/18/15

FREE Today Only 2/18/15

HEADS UP! This beginner book about Square Foot Gardening is FREE TODAY ONLY here: Square Foot Gardening by Jennifer Cane.

You can download it to your smart phone or computer with one of Amazon’s free reading apps.

Missed it?

Don’t worry if you missed your chance to get this book for free. You can get lots of free (and better!) information about the Square Foot Gardening method just by googling “Square Foot Gardening.” Try it!


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How Very Pinteresting!

Screenshot of my current Pinterest page - 2/12/15

Screenshot of my current Pinterest page – 2/12/15

I like to use Pinterest as my internet filing system. Whenever I find a web page with information or an idea that I’d like to file away for future reference, I pin it to one of the boards on  my Pinterest page. It’s no surprise, I’m sure, that most of my boards are related to gardening.

For those of you who are “pinterested,” here is a list of my current gardening related boards:

If you’re on Pinterest, too, you are welcome to follow me or any of my gardening boards. And if you’re not but would like to know more about it, check out Wikipedia’s explanation or Pinterest’s own nifty video explanation.

Posted in Containers, Fruit, Herbs & Edible Flowers, Houseplants, Ornamentals, Seed Starting and Plant Propagation, Tips and Tools, Vegetables | Leave a comment

The Case of the Absented Scented Geranium

Lemon Rose Geranium Pound Cake on the cutting board - 9/1/12

Lemon Rose Geranium Pound Cake on the cutting board – 9/1/12

Scented geraniums–I knew when I first heard of them that I wanted some. Back then the closest place I could find that had them was Shady Hill Gardens in Batavia, Illinois. (They have since shut down that location.) I made the trek out there with a friend and came back with several deliciously scented plants. They smelled good enough to eat, and they were good enough to eat. If grown organically, their flowers are edible–I just LOVE edible flowers! However, they don’t actually bloom much, so it is more often their leaves that are used in cooking and decorating various dishes.

My favorite one, the one that smelled and tasted the best, is the lemon rose geranium. Fortunately for me, that turned out to be the hardiest. I would bring it in every winter, and it would grow out into big scraggly plant. Then I would take several cuttings from it and start a bunch of nice new little lemon rose geraniums. I often gave my extra lemon rose geraniums to friends and shared my favorite recipe for using them, too. (Don’t worry–I’ll include it for you at the end of this post.)

I did not have as much success with propagating the other scented geraniums I got, and they eventually died. Whenever I see scented geraniums among the herbs at Ted’s and other nurseries, I have to scratch and sniff their leaves to see if any are good enough to buy and bring home. I’ve never found one that smelled and tasted as good as the lemon rose.

Citronella Scented Geranium Cuttings - 4/10/12

Citronella Scented Geranium Cuttings – 4/10/12

I did, however, find one that was as hardy: the citronella. Several years ago a non-gardener friend gave me hers at the end of the summer because she had no intention of overwintering it. I found it to be very easy, like my lemon rose geranium, to keep alive and to propagate by cuttings. I began giving those away to friends, too, whenever I had extras.

I have been happy with growing, propagating, and sharing just these two kinds of scented geraniums for the last several years. Last year, however, I failed to label them when I brought them inside for the winter. Later when I was taking cuttings, I tried to figure out which plant was which by smelling the plants and comparing the shapes of their leaves. I thought that I had half a dozen cuttings each of both types of geranium. I continued to think that until later in the summer after the cuttings had grown into fuller sized plants. It became clear to me that they were all the same variety–citronella. My favorite, the lemon rose geranium, was gone! Lost. Absent.

The Last Lemon Rose Geranium - 1/9/15

The Last Lemon Rose Geranium – 1/9/15

Alas!  I had never seen this variety for sale anywhere else since my long ago journey to Batavia. What could I do? Well, I began asking among my friends to find who still was growing lemon rose geranium from a plant I had given them. My friend April came to the rescue! She had one, she said, still in the little pot I had planted it in. I got the plant from her right before Thanksgiving. And then came Thanksgiving, of course, and then Christmas and Christmas and Christmas (we do a lot of Christmas at Chez Rea), and then New Years Day. Finally, last week–the day after I’d begun seed starting, in fact–I started a few cuttings from it.

Propagating from Stem Cuttings


Here are the materials.

Above are the materials. This is how I do it:

  1. First, label each pot with the name of the plant that will be started in it. NOTE: It’s important to know the name of the plant the cuttings are coming from–especially if it is very similar to other plants you are propagating.
  2. Fill small pots with clean potting mix, pack it down, and make a hole for inserting the cutting stem.
  3. Cut stem pieces that have several leaves at the top and 2-3 inches of stem below that. Snip off any leaves on each stem portion. Cut off or cut in half any leaves at the top which are too big. (Remember these plants are not beginning with a root system sufficient for absorbing enough nutrients for all those leaves.)
  4. Dip each stem in water and then dip it in rooting hormone that has been taken out of its container. Do not dip it into the original container of powder because you want to keep the remainder of the powder clean. (The picture above shows the empty container of the rooting hormone I’ve used in the past. I’m using a different rooting powder now because it was the one available at the store for which I had a 20%-off garden center coupon.)
  5. Place the powdered stem in the pre made hole and pack the soil mix around it.

Let the cutting absorb water from the bottom of the pots.

6.  Put the pots in a shallow container of water to water the cuttings from the bottom.


Cover the cutting with clear plastic domes.

8.  Remove the pots from the water to a tray or saucer and cover them with a clear dome or loose plastic bag. I like to use rotisserie chicken containers and the nice big boxes that come from buying 1 lb. portions of organic lettuce. For taller cuttings, I put two of the boxes together with tape at the ends.

Place in bright light.


I put two lettuce boxes together for taller cuttings.




_9. Place in bright light but not direct sun. The clear plastic cover helps to keep moisture in and protects the cuttings as their roots are developing. Once they have some roots, take their covers off.

Lemon Rose Geranium Pound Cake

This is my favorite recipe for using the lemon rose geranium leaves. I have had it for over ten years. I believe it was published in a Better Homes & Gardens magazine as “Lemon Geranium Poundcake,” and I realized immediately that I could use my lemon rose geranium. I was thrilled and have made this recipe many times since. For larger parties, I double the recipe and make it in a bundt pan.

August 2012 008

A slice of lemon rose geranium pound cake topped with a lemon rose geranium leaf and an edible flower, Bachelor’s Button


  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 20 whole fresh lemon rose geranium leaves [The original recipe called for lemon, rose, or ginger geranium leaves.]
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon peel, finely grated
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon geranium leaves, optional
  • Lavendar gelato, fruit ice cream or sorbet, or fresh berries, optional


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Let butter and eggs stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Generously butter a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan; line the bottom with whole geranium leaves. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
  2. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy, about 6 minutes. Beat in lemon juice. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating 1 minute after each egg. Gradually add flour mixture, beating on low speed until combined. Stir in lemon peel and snipped geranium leaves.
  3. Carefully pour batter atop leaves in pan. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool cake on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on rack.
  4. Serve with lavender gelato, or any fruit-based ice cream, sorbet, or fresh summer berries and whipped cream. Makes 12 to 14 servings.
Posted in Herbs & Edible Flowers, Recipes, Seed Starting and Plant Propagation | 2 Comments