Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Bistro Garden, Growing Mints: How To Grow, Harvest & Preserve Plus Lots of Recipes!

The Birstro Garden, Summer 2010

I had a vision when we moved to this abandoned old farmhouse. I dreamed of flower beds abounding, greeting my family and friends as they drove up our lane. I imagined a cozy front porch surrounded by lush colors overflowing like wide open arms ready to whisk you into their beauty... I wanted a place where peace was felt in simple things that was a reflection of me.

I'm often inspired while paging through home decor and gardening magazine's and suddenly stumbling upon that perfect element... looking with a wistful eye for anything that will shout out, 'Here I am! I'm what you've been looking for!' ...yet with an unspoken realization that when I find it, I fall in love and I've got to have it... but as I read on I discover the lucky owners found it at a flea market or antique shoppe- no resource shopper there! Yes, I think we've all been down that path a few times too many... at least I know I have. Which brings me to the story of my Bistro Garden and how it acquired it's name. You see I'd been dreaming of a little bistro table and chairs to set in one of my gardens and patiently looking for a couple years... yes years.  I can be patient with some things... I'm not saying a lot, but 'garden junque' is one of those things. In this case I knew what I wanted and I was willing to wait until I came across just the right thing. Then one day while out boutique shopping, A.K.A garage saleing I found it- a petite black wrought iron table with two matching chairs! "Perfect! Just perfect!" I thought... and the price was right- twelve bucks! Oh yeah, that baby was coming home with me and I knew right where she would be going... The Bistro Garden! The set sits on a small patio that I laid using old silo staves that were discarded behind the barn foundation at our first farm.  I'd taken several of them when we moved thinking I would eventually use them as stepping stones in a future garden... gotta have a vision! Anyway, I laid the staves and then used concrete as a 'grout' between them. I loved it... it said, "This looks like Jean!" 

The sidewalk that leads to our backdoor which divides The Side Garden
and The Bistro Garden.
The Bistro is actually the ending point of the garden off the front porch that wraps around the side of the house along a cobble stone walk we created. It is west of The Side Garden with a sidewalk dividing the two. This bed has an eight foot narrow strip that extends upward beside the house to the wall where the back door is (See photo with birdcage and Bleeding Heart). The Bistro Garden had to undergo an overhaul like The Side Garden. We dug up and replanted this bed along with a couple others and laid the black plastic ground cover. Same story... quack grass! The labor was worth it though, this bed is stunning when the lilies are blooming. As you can see in the picture of Taylor standing next to them while in bloom- she is 5'3" tall and the blooms are over her head! Fall of 2010 I planted the Spirea and last year I planted the Hydrangea, so they are not too their full potential yet. The Spirea will give me the height I need up against the wall with it's solid mass of green and beautiful pink summer blooms. Once the Hydrangea meets up with the Spirea my back drop will be quite spectacular. Gardening requires a vision that will take several years to create and a lifetime to enjoy!

Here is my rendition of The Bistro Garden as it appears today.    
Legend For "The Side Garden"
This bed is just over 150 square feet including the narrow strip.

Check out, Like and Share my Facebook page for Dragonflies for extra Tea Blend
Recipes at   http://www.facebook.com/pages/For-Dragonflies-And-Me/550000798362651

1. Day Lilies- 10 bushes. Mix of yellow and orange which bloom at different times.
2. Iris - 1 large clump - approx a 30" diameter
3. Hydrangea- white old fashioned
4. Spirea- 1 bush- pink
5. Peony 2 pink bushes
6. Delphinium- mini blue
7. Hosta- 2 variegated, 1 Blue and 1 green
8. Sedum
9. Bleeding Heart
10. Large Pot- I typically purchase a large petunia basket and plant in this pot- instant WOW!
11. Birdcage- Again a garage sale find - only five bucks!...matched perfect with the bistro table set. I typically do one of two things in the birdcage: a) plant morning glories or sweet pea around the bottom and let it climb or b) put potted sweet potato vine inside and let cascade down.
10. There are typically White Allysum cascading over the rocks along the edge.
~There are tulips planted in between the lilies. While the lilies are growing the tulips are blooming; by the time the tulips have faded the lilies hide them. There are also Crocus and Grape Hyacinths mingled here and there.
~To the left of the Iris's is a five year old red Climbing Rose (stay tuned, that's for next blog post!).

Join me next time for The Banister Garden... see you there!

Growing Mints: How To Harvest, Preserve, Make Tea Are you a tea drinker but never imagined you could grow your own? It is so easy you'll wonder why you ever bought the stuff when you could have had it in your own back yard! Please note that yes it is super easy to grow, and it is super easy to get way out of control. It's root system is very invasive and you will have it everywhere if you do not take serious yet simple precautions when planting it.  Don't be mistaken that the only thing your mint is good for is making tea either... there is a world of culinary uses for this wonderful, versatile garden herb... read on for just a few yummy recipes! 
So here are some tried and true planting tips-
~Planting behind or beside a garage works well if it doesn't matter where it goes and can be mowed if it gets in the lawn.
~If you want to put some in a garden, think container.  My tea bed is in my Potager. It is in an elevated area where we laid black ground cover down and up along the inside of the rocks; filled with dirt and planted. Even with these precautions the roots still manage to weave their way through the woven plastic and end up in areas where I don't want it. It is more manageable, but still needs to be dealt with and removed.
~Use tires: Dig a hole about 6 inches deep where you will put the tires. Lay black plastic in hole and let lay over the edges of the hole about 3" - 6"; place two to three tires stacked one upon another over the plastic covered hole; fill with dirt to about 3" from top. Plant 1 tea plant- it will be enough! You will need to thin it out regularly. If you have access to tractor tires, even better but plant 2 plants.
Where ever you decide to plant your tea, be sure it has good drainage and full sunlight.
You can see to the right the elevated Mint Tea bed. It measures about
15'W x 12D.  I would say I harvest about 8 -10 bushel of tea off this bed.
***see below recipes for several shots of The Birstro Garden during different stages over the last few years.***

 Harvesting your tea can be done repeatedly throughout the growing season. First in spring, wait for the tea to reach at least a foot in height, cut back about six inches. Try not to cut back so far that you don't leave any leaves. You can harvest your tea right up to fall.

There are three options to preserve your tea leaves, choose one or all!

1. Use the leaves to make concentrate- see recipe below "Garden Tea Concentrate". You can store your concentrate in plastic freezer containers to enjoy all winter long!
2. Dry the leaves: Lay de-stemmed leaves on a cookie sheet and bake in a 200 degree oven for about 45 minutes to an hour or until the leaves are brittle.  Crumble leaves and store in airtight glass jars or plastic containers. Follow recipes when ready to use.
3. Freeze dry: I love to use this method. Simply remove leaves from stems, wash and pat dry; place 2 cups of packed leaves in freezer quart size bags and freeze for up to six months. To use, simply remove bag and use as directed in your recipe!

There are more Mint Varieties than you can shake a stick at. My personal favorites are not listed in the Richter's catalog, but they are Lemon Balm and Balsam.  As I mentioned a few post's ago, Richters has one of the best mint varieties I have ever found.
Here are all the mints listed in their catalog.  www.Richters.com
Spearmint Group: English, Moroccan, Spearmint, Improved Spearmint, Scotch, Vietnamese
Peppermint Group: Chocolate, Peppermint, Variegated, Swiss
Other Mints: Applemint, Banana, Corsican, Ginger, Grapefruit, Mojito, Orange, Pineapple, Menthol, Pennyroyal
The Westerfield Mints: Hilary's Sweet Lemon, Berries & Cream, Candied Fruit, Candy Lime, Pink Candypops, Citrus Kitchen, Cotton Candy, Jim's Fruit, Fruit Sensations, Fruitasia, Italian Spice, Julia's Sweet Citrus, Margarita, Marilyn's Salad, Marshmallow, Oregano, Thyme Mint, Sweet Pear, Wintergreen, Korean Mint, Mountain Mint


Now that you know how to grow, harvest and preserve mint along with the many options in varieties there are, what else can you make with it other than tea?  Here are some easy and interesting recipe's that will get you started using the Mint you have grown and harvested.  Enjoy!

First off, lets look at how to make tea!
Garden Tea Concentrate
Use any flavor Mint Tea Leaves

1 1/2 c sugar
5 c water
2 c packed tea leaves, stemmed and washed
1-2 tbsp lemon juice- optional

Boil water and sugar together for 5 minutes.  Add washed & stemmed leaves-turn heat off.
Put lid on and let steep—leave the leaves in the syrup for 5 hours.
Remove leaves and wring them out.  Add lemon juice if desired
COLD: Add 1 cup tea concentrate to 3 cups water.  Chill and serve.  Very refreshing on a hot summer day.
HOT: Add hot water and a bit of honey
Go to my Blog Spot at www.fordragonfliesandme.blogspot.com to get a Raspberry Lemon Tea Recipe- my favorite!

Brown Rice Salad with Mint Leaves
1 c brown rice
1 c fresh peas
2 tbsp chicken broth
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp Olive Oil
1/4 c fresh mint leaves
Salt & pepper to taste

Prepare rice according to package directions.
Add peas and cook 2 more minutes.
Meanwhile, mix broth, lime juice & olive oil together.  Add mint, salt & pepper to taste.
Add dressing to  rice and peas.

Watermelon, Feta & Mint Salad

4 c 1-2 inch chunks melon
1/4 c (4oz) crumbles feta cheese,
1/4 c loosely packed fresh mint leaves, torn & washed
2 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
120 macadamia nuts, chipped (optional)

in a large bowl combine watermelon, feta cheese, mint & olive oil.  Season with pepper & sprinkle with nuts.  Cover & chill for up to 4 hours.

Minty Hot Fudge

1 c water
1 c sugar
1/2 c thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
2/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
4 tbsp butter, room temperature
Mint chocolate chip ice cream

1.  In a small, heavy saucepan, stir together water and sugar over medium heat until sugar dissolves; bring syrup to boil.  Remove from heart.  Stir in mint leaves.
Let stand 1 hour.
using a slotted spoon, remove mint leaves from syrup.  Whisk cocoa into syrup.  Bring to a boil.  Add butter and whisk until smooth,’
Refrigerate sauce, uncovered, until cold.
Serve over mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Cover and refrigerated to store.

Happy Day,
This photo was taken in early April, 2012. The weather was beautiful and so we decided to get busy 'ahead' of schedule! The boys will often help clean up in the spring. Here you can see their is not much to look at yet, but...

Here it is all cleaned up, mulched and ready to start showing off. You can see some of the tulips in between the lilllies, the hostas and sedum.  This photo is actually from 2010.  If you look underneath the large window with the flower pots, notice there is no rose bush to speak of... keep watching though!
You can see the patio that I made using the silo staves well in this picture.
Here is a shot of the narrow strip that goes to tghe back door; one in early spring in one in early summer. My bird cage stands 4' tall if that gives you an idea of the size of this Bleeding Heart. She will blooms prolifically in spring and then continues all summer long with a few blooms here and there.  She loves this spot and I am able to take babies off her every year. You can see a Sweet Potato vine in the bird cage in photo to the right.
Notice in the photo (2009) to the left the arbor in the back ground is not covered yet and there is no sign of the rose bush under window shelf. This is a beautiful shot of the hostas. Now the photo to the right only two years later (2011). The arbor is well covered and the rose bush is enormous
This garden is located on the east side of the house therefore it only gets the morning sunshine so the hosta's and bleeding heart do well! You can also the delphiniums. This is one of my favorite gardens.
Photo to the left (2009) you can see the small rose bush peaking up behind the iris's. In the photo to the right, notice the potted petunias. As I mentioned earlier I am patient over some things... but waiting for planters to explode with colors is not one of them. I always purchase several extra hanging baskets to put in my large planters around the gardens... instant wow! ;-) 
Here you can see the new Sprira I planted in 2011. She will eventually get almost as tall as the rose bush.  The Hydrangea is in between the two. It will not get as tall therefore giving a hilly feeling. 
Here are the lillies in full bloom... as I mentioned earlier, Taylor is 5'3" and the blooms are over her head. This photo was taken in 2010.

The Bistro Garden, early summer 2012


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