French Horticultural Beans

The French Hort beans are the dark green mound closer to the fence than the yellowing pumpkin leaf mound!

It’s pouring rain again, so a good time to reflect more on last year’s potager. Revisiting the monthly photos was a good way to recall crops. Realizing what is getting used often from the freezer and pantry is also influencing decisions on which crops to grow and how much of each crop will be planted. One of 2019’s new crops, French Horticulture beans was a definite success, and will be repeated in this year’s plantings. They were selected only because I felt a need for more “French” in my potager, but now that I’ve found them, they will be a staple crop.

The seeds are brown with pretty burgundy splashes.

First of all, it was SUCH an easy crop to grow, as beans generally are, and the timing of the crop worked advantageously in my garden’s succession planting. Once the peas were harvested, there were several empty fence sections, so I moved one section to the middle of 5a, where “Mary Jane” garlic had grown. Garlic is a heavy feeder, so following it with beans would help replenish the soil. A row of bean seeds was planted on each side of the 6′ section of pea fencing on July 3rd. I purchased my seed (1/4 lb. was $2.60, but there’s enough left for two more years, plus I can begin to save my own seed when I want) from a northern Indiana Amish Garden Center, E & R. Their catalog is 191 pages, without any glossy pictures, just lots of info and varieties offered! Every bean germinated and quickly began climbing the fence. Basically, I ignored them. The catalog stated that they could be used as a green bean, but since there was already an abundance of green beans in the potager, they weren’t picked. I did taste one pod early on, and wasn’t impressed with it’s tenderness or flavor, so the decision was easily made to harvest them as a shelled bean.

The bag on the left contains beans shelled from pods with some or all green exteriors. The bag on the right were from pods that were totally dry and brown.

Once frost was predicted, all of the pods were pulled from the plants and sorted. Pods that were totally brown and dried were put into one tub; pods that were all green were put into another; and pods that were beginning to brown but still in any way green were put into the third tub. This was early October, which is probably why another name for this bean is “October Bean.” The beans were leisurely shelled during football viewing, beginning with the green pods, because they would likely spoil quickest, and were put in freezer bags. The beans that were of mixed freshness/dryness were shelled next and also put into bags for the freezer. The beans from the dried pods were spread on baking sheets to finish drying completely, put in bags and stored in a large tin container. Normally, I’d just put them in jars with tight lids, but I was out of jars!

I’ve found that this sorting works great. If the recipe is being cooked for a long, slow period the dried beans can be used easily, even if not soaked overnight first. If I’m in a hurry, or just want a handful of beans to add to a soup or cassoulet, the fresh beans cook in minutes. The in-between beans work great as bean soup, with a bit of bacon or pork or ham added, slowly simmered until the “fresher” ones fall apart and become thickener, and those that were a bit drier slowly absorb liquid but hold their shape.

My 6′ row produced enough beans for at least 8 hearty meals for the two of us, which I feel is very satisfactory. They are a flavorful bean, and we are enjoying them in a variety of ways. The only thing I will do differently next year is to provide a taller fence, as they grew taller than the pea fence (but so did all the peas…it was a wet year!) The catalog described them as “Semi-runner, although some consider it a pole bean” so I should have suspected a taller height. However, they were heavy producers regardless, and the bees enjoyed their blossoms for months as they continued to set pods until frost. I hope you’ll give them a try!

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A Year in the Potager thru Pix

potager january  This was the potager in January, when it was below zero even during some of the daytime hours!  It was too cold to finish the garden clean-up.  There were only quick trips to get flats from the greenhouse for indoor seeding in the basement and to harvest the spinach growing in the polytunnel, sometimes impeded by frozen gates which required climbing the fence!  No one was sorry to see January end and we had high hopes for the next month!Potager February  February brought only 7 days of sunshine, so I captured one of them, an unusual day (the 26th) when it was clear, calm and precipitation free.  If you compare carefully, you will notice that all of the old crops have been trimmed, buckets of compost have been carried out and just general tidying has taken place.  However, there have been NO blooms yet, nothing planted other than a few seeds of larkspur and poppies sprinkled in the Cutting Garden, and nigella, lettuce and poppies sprinkled in the potager’s interior border.  Even the chives have yet to emerge and often they are 3-6″ by now.  That’s it… weeding of the berry rows, no hauling compost, nothing.  We’re pinning our hopes on the upcoming month, and feeling very thwarted by the two that have already passed.

Potager in March  Does this look familiar?  Practically the same view as in February, since March was almost sunless and unusually cold.  The garlic has emerged, the chives are up 1″ and the wintered spinach without cover is showing new growth.  The tree roses have been pruned and the greenhouse is nearly filled with baby plants.  No sign of the peas, snow or snap peas, salad greens, or shallots that were planted this month when the first crocus bloomed.  A few black-eyed Susans have begun to green in the cutting garden, but no sign of anything else.  In the Deck, Addition and Front Gardens the daylilies are about 2″ tall and one hellebore has buds.  Not a great report for March, but at least it’s not snow-covered!

Finally there’s several shades of green in many of the potager’s beds. Admittedly, this photo was taken at the end of a very wet April, as one can see water standing in the south path. But lots more plants are emerging, more seeds have been sown, some compost has been spread, and flats of plants are hardening off on the outdoor benches. The poly-tunnel has been removed, the garlic is 8″ tall. The growing season is definitely underway!

How different it all looks with leaves on the trees!

May was a busy, busy month, as always, with lots of seeding and planting. Peas are climbing the fences, the cole crops are bursting with growth, and the edging of violas is showing good color. There’s very little empty space left as first seedings of beans, carrots, and beets emerge to fill their rows. Harvests of early crops of lettuces, spinach, baby kale, bunching onions and other spring crops are a welcome addition to the menu. Temperature were still on the cool side, and the wet weather continued, preventing area farmers from planting. So glad for raised beds.

The Monterey Jack daylilies burst into bloom in June.

Space is at a premium as the first strawberries, peas, broccoli, snow peas, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic scapes, baby cucumbers, kohlrabi, fava beans, zucchini, and purple beans are added to the harvest list. Just as soon as something comes out, a new crop goes in. The daylilies replace the color provided by early tulips, and the vine crops are just beginning to climb their trellises. Thankfully, it’s been a bit drier, but not enough to get a truckload of mulch back to the potager.

The shades of green are changing already, replacing the emeralds of spring.

July, and as the edging violas begin to stretch and rest, the marigolds shoulder the burden of providing color. The pepper harvest has begun, and beets, cipollini, the first Indigo Cherry tomatoes, Italian Red scallions, several varieties of summer squash, eggplant and green beans come into the kitchen. The peas have all been picked and frozen, so their fences have been replanted with baby pumpkins, more cukes, and French Horticultural beans. The first garlic, “Romanian Red” was dug this month, and the first onions harvested in an attempt to save them before rot set in. Yes, it’s still raining too much. See the flooded path lower left? Lots of leaves are yellowing from too much rain, and still unable to haul mulch. However, it was nice enough that the green chairs finally came out of the shed, and were enjoyed on any sunny days.

Most noticeable this month, the dying vines of melons and cucumbers.

August felt like a transition month. The temperatures finally became too hot for the early cole crops, the lettuces not eaten have gone to seed, and we’re getting tired of green and purple beans! The tomatoes have gone crazy, the melons are filling the refrigerator (our & neighbors!) and fall crops have gone into the ground as other crops were harvested. The French Horticultural beans have formed a lovely dark green mound on their pea fence, and the Wando peas across the center path from them are almost to the top of their fence, too. Nearly 200 pounds of produce were logged this month!

And finally, in September the paths are mulched!

Most noticeable to me is that finally, there are very few plants on the outdoor benches to still go in the ground. It’s too late to plant any more crops for harvest this year, so only a few perennials for the potager’s interior and exterior borders remain. The garlic and potatoes have all been dug, many of the trellis vines have been removed, although the later melons and cukes are going strong, joining the tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, and beans as the major poundage. The Wando peas have been picked, and the French Horticultural beans are beginning to have yellowing leaves. Over 300 lbs. this month!

The end of October, and the harvest is nearly over.

Can we just go back to September? It was much more promising than the emptying canvas of October. The first frosts arrived, thankfully toward the end of the month, which brought an end to the prolific melon, tomato, cucumber, squash and pepper harvests. Most beds have been tidied, although there are still broccoli and asprabroc sending out shoots, kohlrabi and carrots available, and leeks and rutabagas to be dug. The pumpkins and gourds provided lots of autumn decor, and added to this month’s 184 lb. total.

And the poly-tunnel is back!

November began and ended with a bit of snow, but overall it was a mild month, filled with laziness on my part. Other than bulb planting, storing away supplies and furniture, and a bit more tidying, I was a non-gardener! Leeks and carrots were dug, some salad greens and beets harvested.

Almost identical to last month, but less sunshine.

This snow arrived a few days before Christmas, but quickly melted. December had below zero nights and below freezing temps for nearly two weeks, then two weeks of above normal temps. Other than digging the rutabagas and the last of the leeks, and harvesting a bit of spinach, kohlrabi and broccoli, the potager was ignored. It was too cold early in the month, and I was too busy later. So ends twelve months in the potager, but I’ve enjoyed looking at it through these photos. Next year’s vantage point needs to be selected, and there definitely needs to be more color added to the potager overall. (Those blasted dahlias would have helped!!!) So, I’ll spend some time studying more colorful veggies and edible flowers before I place my last seed order. Thanks for visiting the potager in 2019!

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December in Review

December was a month of mood swings! Record cold and record heat. This lovely snowfall early in the month, and then a balmy Christmas!

December started off cool and dreary, so we were happy to escape to Tuscany for a while. By the time we returned Christmas decorations were everywhere, so I had to hurry to get the snowmen and garlands placed in the potager’s exterior border, just in time for a pretty snowfall. That’s about all the decorating I did this year, other than putting a nutcracker collection on the fireplace mantle. Most of the month has felt more like March or April than December, with very little sunshine (only 10 days) and balmy spring-like temperatures in the mid-50’s and mid-60’s! Winds and dampness made it unpleasant to be outdoors much of the time, so it was good to be indoors writing Christmas cards and reading the newly arrived seed catalogs. There were also lots of good sports to view, both basketball and football, plus holiday movies and extra cooking and baking.

Not much work has taken place in the potager this month!

Between travel, the holiday and the weather, not much has been accomplished in the potager. I should have spent a day cutting down frozen broccoli plants and trimming back some perennials, but I was lazy. The rutabaga crop was dug, and some harvest of leeks, broccoli, kohlrabi, parsley, and spinach occurred. The spinach came from open rows, so that growing inside the poly-tunnel remains for next month! More planning was done for the potager’s beds, and the third seed order was placed. More about that later.

For the number folks, December’s harvest totaled 8 lbs. All the storage carrots were dug in December of 2017, which boosted that total to 15 lbs. 2018’s total of 7 lbs was mostly parsnips, which never got planted this year! Total harvest for 2019 is a whopping 1,015,25 lbs! I didn’t set a goal of more production (639.5 lbs. in 2017, 693.5 in 2018). In fact, I’d decided the potager had produced too much, so I was just trying to smooth out the gluts and famines, and have a broader variety of fresh food daily. However, it was a good growing season, with timely rains and decent temperatures, and although spring was late coming, so was autumn! The addition of the poly-tunnel made a significant difference, as did the really bountiful melon crop.

Doubtless there will be more winter ahead, with time for setting new goals, reading through the garden journal to make changes and seeding plans, and more seed catalogs to peruse. Meantime, we need to make a dent in the pantry and freezer food, or there won’t be any empty cans for preserving next season!

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Historic Clifton Nurseries

This unassuming entrance is a rabbit hole…fall into a wonderful plant experience!

During an autumn trip to London, I was fortunate to finally visit historic Clifton Nursery and its shops. One of the main reasons I travel is to see new gardens, discover new plants, and be impressed by innovative displays. This was definitely worth the trip! Located in the city, with land space at such a premium, I anticipated a small shop, so I was in for a surprise!

If you look carefully, the Christmas shop has just been restocked inside the old Fern House.

The original site began as an ornamental garden and nursery ground and in 1851 the Clifton Vilas were constructed around it. In 1880 it was purchased by Johannes Krupp, a former gardener at the Kaiser’s gardens. He turned the nursery into a thriving business, selling quality plants and supplying hotels, theaters, film sets, and wealthy individuals with exceptional, stunning plants for special events. I imagine some of these topiaries would have been used!

These little succulent topiaries were adorable.

I really am a sucker for topiary of any sort!

How to choose?
I need a larger suitcase!

At that time, the site housed seven greenhouses, and the second largest palm house in England (Kew was larger, of course.) Krupp’s son took over after his father’s death, but he was not as keen on plants and sold it to Sydney Cohen in 1944.

The selection of perennials was outstanding.
More perennials, with added display items, such as the willow trellises.

Cohen was enterprising, and established a landscaping division that increased the nurseries profits and fame. Unfortunately he died unexpectedly in 1975, and the nursery was on shaky ground for a time until Lord Rothschild took it over in 1979.

The Garden Shop has won awards. It’s easy to see why. Definitely need another suitcase!
Such a variety to appeal to any taste!
Books, seeds, bulbs, tools and more are in the second shop.

Under his guidance, the Garden Shop was established and Clifton Nursery’s garden designer installed award-winning display gardens at the prestigious Chelsea Garden Show. He also added branch stores in France and Japan!

Pansies and violas were ready for the cooling temperature of October.
These cyclamen were stunning, as were the heathers.
The orchid house was bursting with plants, and adorable potted items like the dog planter lower left.
This is a corner of the outdoor living display.

In 2003 Tad Paulchowski took over, adding The Quince Tree Cafe and the interiors shop

The Quince Tree Cafe is a popular spot for breakfast or lunch. I can attest that the Eggs Benedict are fantastic!

The nursery is now owned by Martyn Mogford and Will Clark, who have improved the London location and added another, expansive nursery near Weybridge in Surrey.

Of course, I had to check out the herb selection.
The culinary herbs were so appealing and fresh.

This fall display was full when we arrived, but by the time breakfast was over, most of the center plants had been snapped up!

You can visit them at or better yet, go visit them in person, but take a big suitcase and be sure to plan to have breakfast or lunch there!

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Rutabagas! A First!

My very first rutabagas!

To experienced rutabaga growers, this crop of rutabaga “Laurentian,” an old (pre-1920) heirloom variety, is certainly not impressive, but I’m happy. Just harvested today, after record cold weeks including a week of single digit nights and below-freezing days, the temps then jumped into the 50’s (welcome to Indiana weather!) melting the snow, thawing the ground, allowing me to dig. I suspected they would have frozen to mush, having never grown them before, but was relieved to see that they were still firm.

What I learned from this year is that rutabagas need more water than I was giving them. The only big one (about 5″ diameter) was growing close to the melon plant that I watered daily. Secondly, they are members of the cole crop family (think cabbage and broccoli, kale, kohlrabi) and therefore subject to cabbage worms, so I should have been spraying them with Bt (an organic bacteria, “thuricide” used to kill leaf-eating caterpillars.) And, I should have thinned them to the suggested 6″ apart distance, but I didn’t.

I experienced my very first rutabagas in Atlanta, Georgia last year during a visit to my cousin. For some reason, I thought rutabagas only grew in the North, like Minnesota or North Dakota, so I was surprised to find they are common in the South as well. At her favorite barbecue place, I had mashed rutabagas and discovered that I loved their sweetness. They reminded me of butternut squash in color and texture. Then I had rutabagas that had been sliced and steamed, served with butter, salt and pepper, and those were delicious as well. I want to try some of this crop roasted.

Now that I know I can grow them, I’ll give them better care. I should have replenished the soil with a layer of compost before seeding them in early August, and sprinkled a bit of lime to mix into the soil. Rutabagas like 6.8-6.9 ph. And next time I’ll mix the seeds with a little sand so they aren’t sown so thickly. The seeds are tiny round balls, much smaller than cabbage or radish seeds.

Traditionally, rutabagas are harvested after at least two hard frosts, which increases their sweetness. They are an excellent crop to store for the winter. Just trim off the leaves and roots, give them a quick rinse and store at around 32 degrees F in a plastic bag to retain moisture. In olden days, they would have gone into the root cellar, but a plastic tub or garbage can will do just as well in an unheated garage or basement.

Rutabagas were a new crop for me in 2019. Now I’m looking for something new to grow in the potager for 2020. Any suggestions?

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Holiday Blessings!

“Garden Closed for Freezin Season!”

On this special holiday, a heartfelt “thank you” to each one of you, my readers. Many of you have become friends, even though we’ve never really met face to face, but we’ve shared our joys, heart aches, triumphs and failures throughout each gardening year. We’ve supported one another, given advice, taken advice and shared tips and seeds. Your comments have spurred me on; your encouragement keeps me growing new things, and to continue to write. So, thank you one and all. May your holidays be filled with love and laughter, hugs and fun. Herbal blessings, Carolee

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Dahlia Update, long overdue

Remember way back when, when I ranted in a post about my disappointment in the Swan Island dahlias I ordered? If not, you can see it here! Well, it’s now December, and time to reflect on last year’s successes and failures. The BIGGEST disappointment was definitely the Swan Island dahlias. I waited all season for the first flower on a Swan Island dahlia, and never a one appeared!!! In fact, by frost, only two plants were still alive. Thankfully, the dahlias from Brent & Becky’s that grew beautifully last year, were stored in the basement over winter, and were replanted late spring are bloomed well and filled in the potager’s interior border. That’s one of them above. Here’s another one called “Sylvia,” which produced bouquet after bouquet of perfect flowers all season.

Dahlia “Sylvia” from Brent & Becky’s bulbs…I wish they had more offerings in my color scheme!
Dahlia “Sunny Reggae” from seed!

And just in case, you might suspect that I don’t really know what I’m doing and thus the Swan Island fiasco, here’s a dahlia flower that I started from seed in February, blooming well, as did all its kin. If a dahlia from seed blooms, shouldn’t an expensive tuber?

I’ve dug all the live tubers, cleaned them and stored them in a bucket in the basement. In February, I’ll divide them and plant them in individual pots and keep them in a bright location indoors until the weather permits moving them outdoors to harden off. Once danger of frost has passed, they’ll go back into the gardens to provide lots of bloom for the 2020 season. Meantime, I’ll be searching for another supplier with more “apricot-toned” and orange dahlias and hopefully get better results. Any suggestions?

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