July 28, 2017

This Week It's All About The Color Purple

Purple Kohlrabi is not only beautiful, but so tasty - especially raw. My only complaint is that once it is peeled, there is no purple color left - just white. Crispy, white goodness which is one of the delights of the mid-summer garden.

I kept trying to avoid theming a post about the color purple, but the garden kept convincing me. So I'm just going for it. The truth here is that this post was neither planned nor curated - it just happened, and at that, I had to edit out at least a dozen other purple plant shots. Enjoy these violet-skinned vegetables such as the kohlrabi above to the deep, royal purple of eggplants to the muddy blackberry tints of old fashioned cut flowers such as scabiosa and salpiglosses.  I'm not getting tired of themes, but when one picks a trug of purple dandelion greens, purple beans and purple cabbage on the same day in the garden, the universe is telling him something.

These cuttings of Ipomoea acuminata, a deep violet morning glory (available at Logee's) were a gift  that  Tovah Martin left here when she was visiting us a few weeks ago - cutting off of her mother plants. Tovah said "Really - just set these in water and they will root for you.".( Not that I didn't believe her, but I was a tiny bit skeptical since these were super-tender, new growth and it was hot and sunny outside.  This is a perennial, and long-lived morning glory not the same species as the light blue ones seen everywhere. It grows best in containers and even in cold winter greenhouses - - and look - they all rooted!

Purple endives like the radicchio are maturing in the garden but not ready to harvest - that comes in late August, but purple or red dandilion is always ready to pick. We only pick the leaves to boil, stir fry and for nutritiously bitter shakes (I like bitter, Joe doesn't). Best sautéed in olive oil with a bit of garlic and red pepper flakes too. But who really likes these is our red-factor and Spanish trombetto canaries on the front porch!

The first crop of endives have kept us busy finding and creating recipes, as this is a veg which cannot be frozen or preserved. But always good sautéed in chicken stock, added to soups and as a side-dish - made with this! Thank you Mario for opening an Eatily near us in Boston. Our lives are richer, what more can I say.

So bloggy cliche to show pretty, tiny black eggplants, but I think that the flowers are almost prettier - don't you agree?
(The bees think so too, by the way).

Purple beans where once considered a lovely item, but some varieties are very special, such as this French selection which must be picked while small to avoid strings. It's essentially a purple Haricot Vert type.

Raising crops that I can't find at the store, or even at our local farmers market moves a variety to the top of my wish list. Why should the fancy 5 star restaurants enjoy all of the benefits of the short, summer season?


String beans are so delicious - I mean a completely different veg experience - when freshly picked and cooked immediately (like many summer vegetables). It's one of those butter and salt things. - like sweet corn. We just are certain to get really good quality butter (cultured Vermont butter - the type with sea salt crystals mashed into it). A bit pricey, but it's just one of the greatest pleasures of having a home veg garden.

I've planted so many varieties of beans this year that it reminded me about the work involved - not with planting, for that is the easy part, but about how hard it is to pick and clean them. What was I thinking? When I factor in the hours of bending over and hand picking beans in the hot sun it makes me think that I probably should have invested in raising some offspring as my parents did. It all makes complete sense now. We were just child labor that sometimes required school supplies in the fall. No wonder I hate summer now.

Beans are fruitful, but it is best to plant as many rows as you can, just be prepared for abundance which does seem to come at once. It's always a surprise. One day you will check the rows and everything looks as if maturity won't happen for a few weeks, then - boom. Buckets of beans on the porch. And - it will be the hottest day of the year, that's a givin.

Ceaning beans is no better, for that comes in the evening on the day that you pick your beans - again, it's hard to be prepared for this, but a few brews will help. There is no holding beans in the fridge or you will loose flavor and quality.

Of course, that leaves night time for canning (I never freeze beans - I absolutely despise frozen beans, and the rubbery, squeaky texture of frozen beans make the hair on my neck stand up. I am not alone, I know with a preference for that briny, salty flavor of super-tender canned beans). It's a 'thing'.

Above all, nothing compares with a bowl of freshly picked and cooked string beans on a summer afternoon swimming in a pool of butter and sea salt. Yum.

It's why they invented Lipitor.

Fancy purple or proper haricot Reine des pourpres is a tiny, French bean which my parents never grew in our family garden, yet my mom would always encourage us to pick all string beans by selecting the smallest ones as they were more tender and had no strings.  French haricot vert and other French varieties often are stringy when mature, but tender at this tiny size.

I'm growing many beans this year, everything from flat Italian types to string and snap beans, limas, pigeon peas and Chinese Noodle Beans, but the most special are the French haricot - tiny, tender treats which make us feel wealthy since most of these varieties cannot be bought in stores or farmers markets - they just don't last once picked, and farmers find them too labor intensive to bother with.

Purple beans will turn green once they hit boiling water. It's fun to watch.

The variety 'Reine des Pourpres' produces full sized beans - if allowed to mature to that size, but the skill which much be practiced is to hand pick each one when the pod is small and just colored-up. The pods will be about the size of three toothpicks in width, and no longer than 3 or 4 inches. Anything larger, and you might as well let them mature and dry on the bush, for the seeds are nearly just as delightful in classic French dishes such as Cassoulet. Those French, they think of everything!

Didiscus or Blue Lace Flower attracts lots of pollinators, from bees, to butterflies, to, well, house flies for some reason.


Trachymene (Didiscus) coerulea or the Blue Lace Flower is an old-fashioned annual (introduced in 1828) but one rarely seen in the trade today - well, it's in the trade as seed, which is how one must raise it, but only the most lucky of us could ever find it at a garden center. Seed can and should be started indoors and then carefully set out into the garden once the threat of frost as passed, but as this is an annual which resents having its roots handles, dedicate a 3 or 4 inch pot for each single seed. This is how I am able to indulge myself with a tiny bed of light blueish lavender every summer. It's a treat for everything that can fly, from butterflies to bees, to houseflies - really!

An uncommon annual, in the garden, Didiscus blooms like this - not an abundance of blooms, but if one sets out a few dozen plants in one condensed area, the effect can be impressive.

It's still high lily season in the garden, and since I grow mostly mid season oriental, trumpets and inter-specific OT lilies (oriental-trumpet hybrids), the fragrance is almost unbearable along the walks. I love it. (I am including it here because when the buds are nearly ready to open with this variety 'Golden Splendor' the outer petals are tinted purple.

Old varieties of trumpet lilies are so fragrant! This is 'Golden Spendor' - see the purple tinge on the outer petals? It just gets better and better with more buds as the bulb becomes larger each year.

Red (or purple) amaranth leaves cook up as a spinach-like treat in the summer garden. It self sows around here, but it's a lovely weed that keeps us eating greens through the hotter months.

Salpiglossis is not a commonly seen annual anymore. It's just not easy to grow for many reasons - preferring warm, consistent growing temps but never too hot or humid, some even do best as a cool greenhouse plant for the winter here in the North East.


By now you know what appeals to me. Weird, hard or impossible to master.

Salpiglossis has been on my list for some time now.

If you can't find it at a garden center or if it is a seed of an annual or perennial often seen in old catalogs but never, ever seen in real life, I must try to master it. My experiments and trials with growing really fine salpiglossis - a relative of the tomato really (solanaceae) which was once quite popular as a cottage garden annual a century ago, has finally paid off. I actually have some large plantings in full bloom! The problem is, the color I chose is unexciting in the garden.

My tricks were many, and I will recap the experience later this fall when I begin my 'how to grow' posts again, but they all were based around patience, good research and paying attention to specific nutritional and cultural requirements. I guess that could be applied to achieving mastery with many things one grows, but tpypicaly most plants are foregiving of a bit of neglect or mis-steps. Not salpiglossis.

A quick arrangement with dark flower and dark foliage does prove that in the cutting garden, such  color palettes work well. The spherical seed pods are also that of a scabiosa, by the way, Scabiosa stellata - grow some from seed next year, but keep the plants in the vegetable garden, the flowers are unmemorable and the seed heads look best when picked and dried.

I also believe that its common name doesn't help build a fanbase here - 'Bearded Tongue' - which may have been appealing back in 1835 when this plant was enjoying a big following, but today, perhaps only the most kinky hipster might find a bearded tongue appealing (not that I don't, however - don't judge me.).

I'm succeeded with this variety sold as  'Black Trumpets' which I suppose is dark enough to be considered 'black' in the floral world, but a better name may have been "Gooey Blueberry Pie Filling" as that is exactly what the corolla's look like - especially after it rains I should add. This is a flower which looks its finest on a warm, sunny evening.

Don't get me wrong, I love unctuous, dark and broody colors in the garden, but this one may need some help when it comes to display. A purist when it comes to container planting, I prefer to plant my annuls limiting one variety and one color per container to really make a statement, I think some lime green foliage might have helped these containers.

With my new macro lens, you can appreciate why the Victorians called annual scabiosa the 'Pin Cushion flower'. Many smaller blooms create each 'flower' and the pistils extend beyond each tube. This happens to drive hummingbirds and butterflies mad, by the way!


I am  generally always pleased with the results that annual scabiosa brings, at least in most years. This summer seems to be perfect for their culture, maybe it was the rain, or the cool temps - maybe both. 

A few mixes available seem to be offering 'barratry tints' but I went all 'old-fashioned' this year. This is a genus where I do prefer the darkest selections, and while not truly black, they are black-berry-ish flowers which always play well with others. In arrangements, they are helping my salpiglossis show off.

The plants are nearly 4 feet tall,  but never too much in the garden for they are wirey producing lots of thin, yet strong stems which reach tall. The foliage stays lower which is nice, as who needs all of that green getting in the way. Its a plant that likes to be staked however, but it does well if planted thickly amongst other annuals held up by either nearby plants or some well-placed bamboo canes,. There is just no good or natural way to stake them. 

Scabiosa can carry through the mid-season summer annual border with both the benefits of cut flowers as well as border color. "Black' or horticultural black adds depth to most mixes. 

Red, black and purple in the garden? Then I cannot forget some of the okra varieties, three of which this year have red pods, and a bit of red foliage.


I've been collecting recipes for okra - Indian, southern, and many Asian recipes for I just know that when the okra starts coming into the kitchen (we have 12 different types this year!), that I will be pressured to create numerous dishes which I've been promised may help persuade even the those repulsed by the slime to convert into okra lovers. If not? Then okra pickles, I say.

I have so many okra plants planted here and there, plus a dozen or so in large clay pots that it's beginning to look more like southern Georgia here than central Massachusetts. I really have no idea how well they will do, but each plant appears healthy and tall, with many blossoms beginning to open. The flowers themselves are attractive, with their hibiscus-like structure (they are related), but the pods promise some excitement around here as this is the first time that we've invited this plant into our garden. So daring!

What looks like an echinacea, isn't, for native the thistle-like leaves? This is a rarely seen perennial, a lavender colored treat in the summer garden - it's Berkheya purpurea 'Zulu Warrior', you can find seeds at Chiltern Seeds in the UK, and it produced a most incredible color for a daisy - like black raspberry ice cream.

That's enough - for I could go on and on with the color purple. Butterflies on Verbena bonariensis, gloxinia, phlox, both annual and perennial, agapanthus......time to stop and have a margarita!


  1. You have a very beautiful garden! greetings from Argentina!

  2. My missing friend from Japan gave me her trick to cook the okra (that we name gombo here): just rince it ( don't cut it) , wok it , add a bit of soy sauce in the pan and sesam seeds for serving: it's ready, delicious and not too sticky . You can eat it hot (with white rice) or cold in salads (just like haricots verts as we do in France, you could even mix both!)



  3. Have you tried growing purple peas?
    I grew some in the Community garden and they started many conversations.
    They where yummy too!
    Carol S.

  4. Anonymous7:39 AM



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