Eating + Drinking

Mortgage Lifter Mobile

Have you noticed that vegetable gardening is hip again? I love this trend that Americans of all ages are experimenting with growing their own food. Whether their vegetables and fruit are being grown to supplement food from the grocery store or if the intent is to eat mostly from the garden, vegetable gardening (and horticulture) is having its day in the sun. Some may argue that this is not true ornamental gardening while I will counter, “Hello! This is what we have been waiting for!” Grow your own is climbing in popularity as the next generation of gardeners wants to see where their food comes from.


One of the vegetables that I love (or is it a fruit?) is Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter tomato. Almost every American loves a fresh tomato from the garden in the middle of summer. Better yet, make that tomato an heirloom tomato. Have you ever grown and eaten an heirloom variety? People talk about how it tastes differently and they are correct. In our Pennsylvania vegetable garden, we grew Brandywine tomatoes which were fabulous. The flavors are deep and intense because the fruit have not been overbred for size instead of taste. The Mortgage Lifter tomato is one popular heirloom that combines a big, meaty plant with good taste. The entire story of this tomato can be found here. The notion that one guy, Radiator Charlie, can turn a hobby into a breeding program that pays his mortgage is a remarkable story.

Learning Garden

With the popularity of vegetable gardening and farm to table eating growing exponentially, the more plants with wonderful stories like this tomato, the better. Even here on the coast of Maine, where small cherry and plum tomatoes do better because of their shorter maturity time, we are going to try growing the Mortgage Lifters this summer. They have an 80 day maturity period so we should be able to produce a few substantial fruits. Along with the ripe, plump, Mortgage Lifter tomatoes, one of our friends raises hogs so maybe we can get a few packs of locally raised bacon. Combine with this some of my wife’s homemade bread and I am already dreaming of late summer, farm to table, Mortgage Lifter BLT sandwiches.

What do you think of the vegetable gardening and farm to table movement? Do you think it will still be a big movement in 5 or 10 years? More specifically, what are some of your favorite tomato varieties?


Images: William Cullina, Rutgers, Mobile Botanical Gardens

raised beds from the farmstead via www.studiogblog.comI thought I would revisit an old post today.  Originally written back in 2008 when I first started this blog – I had the year before bought and installed raised beds from from The Farmstead.  I was a big fan then and I am still a big fan now.  I am finally able to start to clean up and get the garden ready for spring….and in 2014 – I can happily tell you that these garden beds (now over 6 years old) are still in great shape.

Original Post:  There is many a raised bed system that will serve the purpose, but being the anti-plastic purist that I am, there is only one product that I can wholeheartedly endorse and that is those of Tony Davis at The Farmstead in Leverett, MA. They ship these all over the country so don’t feel like you have to be close to get them.
Made simply of White cedar, you can stack them to help with mobility or create a more dramatic look, and they can fit in almost anywhere. I use them in my own garden instead of spending months of back breaking effort eliminating all the rocks.
The bottom picture is an herb garden tucked in behind an old New England tavern that gives a place for the chef the grow fresh goodies for the restaurant.
The farmstead handicap mobility garden beds.

Tavern Herb garden - The farmstead garden beds.

These go together in minutes.  Fill them with rich soil and you are ready to go. No tools required, and you can trust that they stay together and last – becoming more beautiful and charming with age.


Bright Lights Swiss Chard - Cullina

The closer we get to spring, the more I am longing for some bright light. Yesterday, as the kids were off from school, we spent some time out in the cold, winter landscape. Even though the ground is covered with over a foot of snow, the day was sunny and bright. I love seeing folks outside in the increasingly longer days, soaking up the sunshine in spite of the bitter cold.

Back in the office now, I have to get my plant lists finalized and sent out to nurseries. If I wait too long, I know that some of the best plants will be missed out on for the summer. A trend that I really like and am looking to do more of is mixing ornamental vegetables into the ornamental borders. From variegated corn to tri-colored peppers, several gardens are already using vegetables in the ornamental border. Before you think about cabbages and kales in the early spring or autumn planting scheme, think again. This past summer, I added a globe artichoke to an existing perennial border. It was the bold, silver statement that the border needed.

For this coming summer, we are planning to use more of the Bright Lights Swiss chard. As an annual in our Maine climate, the stem colors are remarkable. Here is the description from the Johnny’s Selected Seed catalog: “Lightly savoyed, green or bronze leaves with stems of many colors including gold, pink, orange, purple, red, and white with bright and pastel variations.” In other words, a lot of remarkable and smile-inducing colors. We have grown Bright Lights in our kitchen cafe garden for several years. This summer, I am planning on featuring it in the first bed you come to as you enter the walk to our Visitor Center. When I did a walk-through of the summer designs with our staff, they all did a collective “aaah” when I mentioned using Bright Lights Swiss chard as an annual bedding plant. I have it nestled between Phygelius ‘Devil’s Tears’ and Agastache ‘Ava.’ These colors combined will either make our guests smile and want to enter or turn around and go back to their car. You know that saying, art should elicit a response, either good or bad? If there is no response, then you must be playing it too safe. We shall see. And please do not turn away!

Bright Lights close up

In case you want to impress your friends at your next cocktail party, the entire Latin name for Bright Lights is Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla var. flavescens ‘Bright Lights’. For brevity’s sake, I will continue to call it Bright Lights Swiss chard. Plant small plants of Bright Lights when the soil is between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also direct sow the seeds when the soils are the same temperatures. In warmer climates, Bright Lights may fade in color or struggle to grow but if you live in the Deep South and you are out working in the garden when it is over 95 degrees, then that is your own fault. Consider it your retribution for making fun of New England during the cold wintertime.

Have you grown Bright Lights or any of the Swiss chards? Are you mixing vegetables into your ornamental plantings?


Images: William Cullina, Potager Blog

Is the cold getting to you?  I have to admit I was ok with it until I came home from holiday traveling to zapped plants in my sun porch (which normally is a great place to over-winter –  cool but frost free – but you know how it goes with a Polar Vortex…things change).  You should see my giant clivia.  ;(  I brought the poor thing inside the main part of the house to warm up and I am hoping there might still be some life in those limp strappy leaves.  It just got that cold.  I am looking at the upside – all our pipes are intact and I am hopeful about all the news that this deep chill will knock back or kill off a few invasive insects.

Portable Salad and herb garden in black  pots via

Now that I have probably lost a handful of lovely plant friends I feel like I need to think about new plant babies.  It isn’t quite time to start seedlings (at least around here) but I am going to give it a try anyway.  I haven’t started seeds in years (it is too much work and I have had too little time and patience) and I expect my success rate to be low.  It’s like I have mothers guilt and now that I have let down some of my children by leaving them in a too cold room I must make new ones.  (Isn’t there a terrible movie with this ridiculous plot line?)

Since last summer was a struggle (given the book), I dug through my seed stash to see what I had bought but never got into the ground.  (The pile was rather large).   Lemongrass, Costmary, Lime Balm, Feverfew and Toothache Plant (spilanthes olearcea) re-charmed me and I am planting them up.   The last frost around here is officially May 10th but I gamble with that every year….usually I chop it back by a good three weeks and hope for the best.  So going with Mid April as my target, I am about 14 weeks out.  The longest recommended date for indoor sowing on any of these guys is 8 weeks.  I figure that is perfect since I will have a few weeks to figure things out, loose everything to cat or kid damage and still be able to start all over again with time to spare.  Lets all cross our fingers that I get a few plants for my efforts!

Here are a few things I’m using to get things going:

  • Jiffy Peat Pellets (I can plant these directly into the containers or ground later and avoid transplant shock)
  • Grow Lights (this is all going down on the un-used dining room table.  I am swapping out the regular downward facing bulbs in the light fixture for grow lights – much easier than trying to rig up a grow light)
  • Rapid Rooters (because yes, I spent my holidays back home in Colorado — and now I am all over the hydroponic craze) – I’m super curious to directly compare the Peat Pellets to the Rapid Rooters – I’ll let you know how it goes.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Lowes.  This is a series that I am doing through the end of the year.   I am not an employee of Lowes and all opinions are my own.  See the other posts in this series. 


Have you ever come across an image whose contents elicit a whole host of mental questions?

I’m still sourcing images for the book (only one more week!) and in my work, I came across this:


It is from a stock photography site and the only real description for it is the word ‘Russian’.  This obviously incites even more questions. Mushroom shot

What kind of mushroom grows like a bowl? Where does it grow?  Can you eat it? Can you dry it in to cool shapes for interesting craft projects or floral arranging? Does it only grow in Russia — what about elsewhere?  Is this a freak occurrence or can you just go for a hike and have a reasonable chance of finding one of these things (in Russia)?

And what about the little guys inside? Are these edible? Are they the same (but smaller) version of the big bowl mushroom?  If you can eat them what are they like?  So many questions….but I soooo want to go into the woods and harvest a giant mushroom bowl that I can fill up with other baby mushrooms.

Mycologists…what do you know?

images Dmitriy Tereshchenko

I know I’ve shared with you my general ambivalence towards roses.  But I am softening – a little – primarily because I love rose hips.  And if a rambling flower can come along with those abundant fall fruits, well then perhaps I can get over my rose cringing.

The last few years I have been foraging in the woods for wild rose hips at this time of year but I am longing for a wider selection and greater variation than the tiny little hips of the wild roses near me.  As I am shopping for plantable varieties, I pulled together this list of rose varieties that have particularly beautiful hips and I paired it with the flower — in case you too are into that sort of thing.

Ethyl Rose Wichurana Rose with hips via www.studiogblog.comEthyl Rose (Wichurana Rambler) is quite a climber that has great scent too.  This rose is available from Peter Beals Roses .

Lyda Rose Shrub Rose with Hips via

Lyda Rose is thornless and apparently does well in shade.  Orange hips are as gorgeous as the red ones and I am fascinated by how the flower seems to give no indication to what the hip will look like later.

Available from Rogue Valley Roses.

Purple Pavement hybrid rugosa rose with hips via

Purple Pavement Roses have large ruffled blossoms that give way to large fat juicy hips.

Available (in Canada) from Old Heirloom roses.

crimson floorshow rose groundcover rose with hips via

Crimson Floorshow roses grow low and can be used as a groundcover.  It is surprising to me that I had no idea that there were groundcover roses…my interest is growing – plus these clusters of orange hips are playing their siren song.  (I haven’t yet found a shopping source)

sweet briar rose rosa elegantine or rosa rubiginosa via

Sweet Briar Roses are old (date back to the 1500s) and are generally what I think of when someone says wild rose.  I am curious to know how closely related these are to the actual wild roses that grow nearby?

Available from Annies Annuals.

father hugo rose with hps via

Father Hugo Rose blooms in the early spring with primrose yellow single flowers.  But in the fall when the hips come into their own, they are uniquely deep purple and sometimes even black.

Available from Flowering Shrub Farm.

Want more ideas of varieties of rose with interesting hips?  Check out these.  I am trying to find a variety that has green hips to round out the collection of colors and shapes.  Any ideas?

Further Reading:

Great list of Roses with Hips

The best producing Roses for Hips.

Images from Flowering Shrub Farm, Heirloom rosesAnnies AnnualsRose LocatorOld Heirloom rosesPeter Beals Roses , and Rogue Valley Roses

Last week I held an early little holiday preview party with Lowes (who sponsors a monthly column on this website)  which I am excited to tell you about (later).  The event was a pre-season sort of get-ready thing that comes with the territory of being involved in the media (logically, holiday stuff is done way before the holidays). Despite my initial hesitation to start thinking about christmas even before the Halloween costumes were finalized, I am now without hesitation ready for festive strawberries and bluenerries food spray for the holidays via

So when I stumbled across these silver and gold food sprays (that also come in blue and red) I immediately started thinking about foody christmas presents and possibilities for photo shoots.  Golden strawberries and blueberries and just beginning.  I want to do lovely things to cookies and cakes, and I think it would be fun to actually gild lilies (did you know you can eat daylilies? how fun would that be?).

What sorts of interesting things would you do with edible golden and silver food spray?

Images from the deli garage where you can also order the spray.