Plant This

I’ll Have My Aronia Cocktail Now, Please

Posted on May 28, 2013 in Botany, Plant This | 3 comments

I’ll Have My Aronia Cocktail Now, Please

Earlier this year at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show,  I was hanging out with Jessi Bloom of NW Bloom (and author of Free-Range Chicken Gardens) in her exhibit booth. She had brought a selection of edible landscaping plants — reliable, hardworking shrubs, vines, trees and the like that would behave in the landscape and provide some food. The star of the show was Aronia melanocarpa, sometimes known as black chokeberry. It’s a medium-sized shrub that puts out white blooms in spring and small dark fruit in fall. Nice enough plant, I thought. Then she brought me over to the...

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Pomegranate

Posted on Jan 6, 2013 in Plant This | Comments Off

Pomegranate

Growing a pomegranate tree just so you can make your own grenadine may sound like a completely crazy idea, but there actually are dwarf varieties that could be nursed along in a large container and sheltered through the winter. ‘Nana’ reaches only two or 3 feet tall, and ‘State Fair’ gets to 5 feet. They can actually tolerate winter temperatures as low as about 10°F, but a tree in a container should come indoors when nighttime temperatures are routinely below 40°. You may be thinking that this is an awful lot of trouble for a batch of grenadine, and you’d probably be right. The...

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Pineapple

Posted on Jan 6, 2013 in Plant This | 1 comment

Pineapple

Pineapple? That’s crazy! It is crazy to grow a pineapple, but I know that somebody out there wants to do it. If the authors of Growing Tasty Tropical Plants are to be believed, you can start one in a pot by simply taking the green top of a pineapple you buy at the grocery store and planting it so that the base is covered by about an inch of soil. Pineapples need lots of light and warmth, so this is definitely a summer project. Once the plant has produced plenty of leaves and looks like it’s about ready to fruit, there’s a weird trick you can do to move things along. Take a slice of...

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Lemongrass

Posted on Jan 6, 2013 in Plant This | 2 comments

Lemongrass

It’s easy enough to start a lemongrass plant:  get one here, or buy fresh stalks in the produce section, set them in a glass of water, and wait a few weeks for them to take root. Give the plant rich soil amended with plenty of compost, a good granular, balanced organic fertilizer, full sun, and as much heat as you can provide. Plan on watering it with a nitrogen fertilizer every few weeks throughout the growing season. (I use a mixture of fish emulsion and kelp meal.) You can also grow lemongrass in a container, which makes it easier to shelter in the winter. The plants do well in a...

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Sugarcane

Posted on Jan 6, 2013 in Plant This | Comments Off

Sugarcane

The last time I was in Miami, I ordered a mojito and it came with a swizzle stick cut from fresh sugarcane. I’ve wanted to grow my own sugarcane ever since. It’s crazy, I know, to even consider cultivating a tropical plant like this unless you live — well, in the tropics. I have not yet figured out how to pull it off myself, but how hard can it be? It’s just a big, overgrown grass, right? Sugarcane very much prefers year-round temperatures above 70°, regular water, and full sun. But really, anyone with a greenhouse could nurse a pot of sugarcane along as long as temperatures didn’t...

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Rose hips

Posted on Jan 6, 2013 in Plant This | Comments Off

Rose hips

Rugosa roses are known for producing large orange and red hips (that’s the fruit that contains the seeds) in the fall. The hips are rich in vitamin C and can be made into a liqueur. In fact, Koval Distillery in Chicago sells a rose hip liqueur. Make your own by harvesting fresh rose hips and cutting the woody ends off, then soaking in vodka for two or three months. Strain the vodka and mix with simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, heated until the sugar melts and then allowed to cool) until it’s as sweet as you’d like it to be. Then let it sit for another couple of weeks, and...

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Fuchsia

Posted on Jan 6, 2013 in Plant This | 1 comment

Fuchsia

Hey, you know that giant fuchsia you have growing in your garden? Did you know that the fruit is edible? It is! Some varieties taste better than others, so a little experimentation is in order. Fuchsia fruit enthusiasts (yes, such a community exists) prefer the fruit of Fuchsia splendens, a Central American species that can tolerate light frost and might even survive a hard frost, although it will probably die back to the ground. In hot climates, this and most other fuchsias require some shade to keep them from getting scorched. Otherwise, all they need is rich soil, regular water, and a dose...

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Citrus

Posted on Jan 6, 2013 in Plant This | 1 comment

Citrus

The most important thing you need to know about growing citrus for cocktails is that the rind is just as important as the juice. If you happen have a funky old citrus tree in your backyard and you believe its fruit to be inedible, you might be in luck. The peel might make fabulous limoncello or infused vodka. In fact, most of the great orange liqueurs like Curaçao come from Caribbean islands where Spaniards planted citrus trees, the trees produced nasty, inedible fruit, and someone figured out that the peels could be soaked in booze and still taste pretty good. Most citrus trees can be grown...

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Fig

Posted on Jan 6, 2013 in Plant This | Comments Off

Fig

I tend to think of figs as coming from enormous trees that you’d have to climb in order to harvest, but the fact is that you actually can grow a fig tree in a pot. The authors of Growing Tasty Tropical Plants recommend three varieties: ‘Petite Negra,’ ‘Chicago Hardy,’ and ‘Black Mission.’ All three will grow to about 4 feet in height in a large container as long as they have full sun and aren’t exposed to temperatures much below 25°F. Plan on giving them a balanced organic fertilizer once every couple of weeks during the growing season, but don’t feed them in the winter...

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Melon

Posted on Jan 6, 2013 in Plant This | Comments Off

Melon

If you’re growing melons specifically for a cocktail garden, it really make sense to look for small-fruited varieties. Better to have a steady supply of small melons on hand than two or three jumbo fruits that took all season to ripen. There’s a beautiful heirloom watermelon called ‘Small Shining Light’ that tolerates short, cool growing seasons and produces 10-inch fruit. ‘Sugar Baby’ is another small, icebox-style watermelon you might try. I also like ‘Minnesota Midget,’ a miniature cantaloupe bred to tolerate short seasons. No matter what variety you grow, remember to give...

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