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Rhododendron and
Azalea News

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Summer/Fall 2011  Vol. 14  No. 2
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Gardens

 

Amazing edible flowers

 

Norma Senn of the Victoria Chapter walks rhododendron lovers down many paths and shows the thrills and joys, new awakenings of rhododendrons and other plants. In the sections below she sprinkles her enthusiasm...be careful...it's catching!

Over the last several years, you may have noticed many restaurants have been using flowers as garnishes...even adding flowers petals to specialty salads.  If you look around your own garden, you may find you have your own edible flowers that can be used for everything...from simple garnishes to additions to salads, flavorings for vinegars and wines, and if large enough, deep fried, or stuffed with meat or rice and baked.

most commonly used flowers...

 

Among the commonly used flowers are: nasturtiums, calendulas, small-flowered pansies, violas, borage, squash blossoms, day lilies, and lavender...but there are many others that can be used safely.

caution is the word...

 

First, if you are considering eating flowers, you MUST make sure you can correctly identify appropriate species.  While a great many are edible, many others are poisonous, and should NEVER be eaten.  If in doubt about the identification of a plant...or whether or not something can be eaten...leave the plant alone!  And, even if you know that a particular flower is edible, some flowers may cause allergic responses in some people.

Start by trying just a small amount of a given flower if you haven't had any experience with it before.  Members of the daisy family are reported to cause allergic reactions in people who have allergies to some type of pollen.

important guidelines...

 
  • Flowers to be used in cooking should be free of any pesticide residues.  This means they should not have been sprayed with any garden chemicals.
  • Plants growing adjacent to roads should not be used as they can pick up potential contaminants from car exhaust and dust.
  • Flowers from the florist should not be used as you don't know whether or not any chemicals have been used to grow the plants.
  • Flowers should be picked first thing in the morning so the petals are turgid.
  • Flowers need to be washed gently before using...and are best if used on the day they are picked.
  • Some flowers can be held for a few days by wrapping them in plastic, or standing them in a vase, as you would any cut flower.
  • Keep flowers cool and moist.
  • Usually remove the pistils and stamens as they may taste bitter.  Exceptions are violas or pansies, and some of the tiny flowers from herbs.  With these, the entire flower is eaten.

pull some flowers apart...

 

Flowers like calendula, bachelor's buttons, garden pinks, chives, and many of our garden herbs are pulled apart and the petals used to sprinkle over salads.  They provide extra color to the salad, and various taste sensations.

  • Calendula petals are orange or yellow and have a spicy taste.  They can also be used to color rich dishes...sort of a "poor man's" saffron.
  • Bachelor's buttons come in shades of blue, white, or pink.  These are sweet to spicy, and are reminiscent of cloves.  Petals from pinks also have a sweet, clove-like flavor.
  • The light mauve flower petals from chives...as you might expect...have a mild, onion-like flavor.
  • Garden herb flowers, for example, basil, lemon verbena, fennel, thyme, and mint have the same flavor as the rest of the plant...but it's a milder taste.

tips for larger flowers...

 

Pumpkin, squash, and day lily flowers are large enough to be used by stuffing them with things like ground meat, bread crumbs, cheese, and rice, and then baking them.  The flowers...by themselves...are also sometimes breaded and briefly deep-fried, and then served as a side dish.  With day lilies, the white base can be bitter...so you may want to trim this area away before eating.

use to create scented water...

 

Some flowers are used to create scented water for use in pastries and cakes.  Rose petals and citrus flowers have been used to make flavored water for use in Mediterranean cooking for centuries.  Recipes are available on the web.

Flowers can also be steeped in vinegar to make specialty vinegars.  Strong tasting peppery-flavored flowers like nasturtiums are particularly suited to this type of preparation.  Add nasturtium flowers to a good, white vinegar, and allow to steep for several weeks.  Keep the vinegar in a dark location while steeping and strain out the flowers before using the vinegar.  The flavored vinegar makes a nice addition to oil and vinegar types of dressings.   You can also steep nasturtium flowers in vodka to create a "peppery tasting" liquor.

sugared flowers...

 

Sugared flowers make pretty decorations for cakes and pastries.  Flowers are dipped in egg white (or processed egg white, if this is a concern for you), and then dipped in sugar.  Allow the flowers to air dry before use.  Violas, tiny marigold, and borage flowers are particularly pretty when done this way.

gourmet treats at all time...

 

The web has lots more information about selecting and using edible flowers.  There are many recipe sources available to give you more ideas about how to use flowers.  The fun part of all this, is that you can enjoy these flowers in your garden...but then you can enjoy these "gourmet treats" in the kitchen, too.

a website for reference...

 

A good website to get a comprehensive list of poisonous plants and flowers...as well as a list of flowers that are considered safe to eat is:  http://homecooking.about.com/library/weekly/blflowers.htm

   

Rhododendron 'Black Widow'

 

It's Halloween again!  I can't think of a more appropriate plant of the month than 'Black Widow'.  This new hybrid rhododendron is causing quite a stir in circles of collectors...as it has a flower that is as close to black as we have seen so far.  Also, to add even more interest...the stamens are white against the black petals.

created by Roy Thompson, Waldport, Oregon...

 

This unique plant was created by Roy Thompson, Waldport, Oregon, by first crossing the dark purple, flowered rhododendron 'Frank Galsworthy' with 'Leo', with its rich, dark-red flower.  He called this hybrid 'Gal-Leo'.  He then crossed this plant with the maroon-flowered rhododendron 'Warlock'.  In order to increase his chances and a 'black' flower, he planted out several hundred seedlings of this cross.  The best one in the field was named 'Black Widow'...and truly lives up to its name.  The foliage and habit of the plant are quite good, too, making it even more valuable.

won place in Greer's Garden catalog...

 

Roy's 'Black Widow' won a place on Greer Gardens' catalog last year, and, was told...every plant was sold!

- Don Wallace, Eureka Chapter

   

Companion plant: Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn'

 

The winter-flowering Bodnant viburnums are tall, fairly narrow shrubs which have bunches of tubular pink flowers on leafless stems.  They bloom in late winter and have frost-resistant blooms which stay for weeks and are quite fragrant.

characteristics...

 

The species name 'bodnantense' refers to Bodnant Gardens, North Wales, where the hybrid was raised in 1935.  The Bodnant vibumum grex is a cross of the Chinese viburmum farreri with the Himalayan viburnum grandiflorum and, includes the cultivars 'Dawn', 'Charles Lamont', and 'Debian' (a grex denotes all the offspring of a particular cross).

'Dawn'...often called 'Pink Dawn'... is commonly grown in the Lower Mainland and is widely available.  'Charles Lamont' has dark pink flowers which are somewhat larger than 'Dawn'.  'Debian' is tall and has a stiff habit with slightly fragrant whitish flowers which turn red with age.

'Dawn' is a deciduous upright shrub, 2-4 m. (6-12 ft) in height.  It blooms in Fall and Winter after the leaves have fallen.  Before they fall, the leaves turn a burnished bronze color.  Red buds open to fragrant pink flowers that fade to white flushed with pink as they age.  Wet weather and frosts may limit flowering display.  Branches can be forced inside for a winter bouquet.  The fragrance indoor may be somewhat overpowering.

location...location...location...

 

'Dawn' is not particular as to its location, liking sun...but also doing well in partial shade.  It enjoys acid, well-drained soil...but does well enough in other soils.  It is fairly cold-hardy...but requires a protected placement where the chilliest winds won't hit it at temperatures below zero degrees F.  Overall, this hybrid is very adaptable.

The pink and white scented blooms of 'Swan' contrast well with interesting crusty bark on the old stems.  Apart from practical considerations of form, it does not require pruning but grows and blooms well.  The correct time to prune is...just before the leaves burst into growth in Spring.

Since the plants are fragrant, grow them near a path you are like to use frequently.  You will be rewarded!  Otherwise, you won't appreciate the scent at a time of year when you're less inclined to go down a damp cold garden to smell it.  The flowers have a pleasing perfume.  The new leaves get so large that the blooms occurring the rest of the year can pass unnoticed.  The leaves smell like citrus if crushed or bruised.

Enjoy...enjoy...enjoy!

Garth Wedemire, Cowichan Valley Chapter

   

Rhododendrons of China

 

R. trichocladum: Not one of the most spectacular of the species rhododendrons, this rhodie still has certain somewhat subtle attributes that make it attractive to a collector...that is apart from its relative rarity in garden settings...always a powerful incentive to a rhododendron "twitcher".

   

characteristics...always a blossom...

 

This deciduous or semi-deciduous bush has both precocious flowers...i.e. flowers that come out before the new leaves expand...and for a very long bloom time...often from April to July with another small flush of blossoms as the leaves turn yellow.

This means this somewhat rounded shrub with bristly branchlets is almost never without a blossom or two during its entire growing season.  The edges of the leaves are fringed with hairs and the new growth often an attractive bronzy color.

color is lovely...

 

Although the blossoms are small and located in terminal inflorescences of only two to five flowers, the more attractive color forms are a rich sulphur yellow...sometimes with green spotting in the throat, and funnel-campanulate in shape.  It is interesting to note that the type species has only terminal inflorescences...and the many forms discovered with both terminal and axillary blossom are almost certainly natural hybrids between R. trichocladum and R. racemosum.  The stigma of the flower is characteristically stout and sharply bent...almost at a right angle.

where it came from...

 

R. trichocladum has been collected many times...starting with Delavay in 1885 on the slopes of the Cangshan Mountains in Yunnan.  It is hardy and fairly vigorous...although not large...usually attaining only about 5 feet in height and width...so one must assume it is only its lack of dramatic flair that prevents it from being more widely grown.

Another member of Subsection Tricoclada, R. lepidostylum, is a more frequent garden choice due to its flat-topped mounding habit and wonderfully blue-green glaucous new foliage...even though in this case the very similar flowers are often almost completely hidden by the emerging leaves.

Trichocladum does not seem to have been particularly attractive to hybridists either...even though the only cross notes in Salley & Greer, R. 'Chink' (R. keiskei x R. trichocladum) looks quite attractive.

- Brenda Macdonald, The Yak

   

Poets in the ARS!

 

John Fry of the Eugene Chapter has written an appropriate poem for Fall:

I feel Fall in the air
as it comes tiptoeing in
close on the heels of late Summer

Unpretentious,
sending signals
to prepare for shorter days
and longer nights.

I sense a growing awareness
of a change in seasons
as colors begin to dot the trees
along the streets where I travel,

Faint yellows among the greens,
a twinge of gold
with hints of red

As cooler nights shake the leaves,
encouraging them
to leave their parent limbs
to which they have clung
so happily

On so many warm, summer days.

   

Fall is for pumpkins

 

Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America.  Seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico dating back to 7000 to 5500 B.C.

References to pumpkins date many centuries.  The name pumpkin originated from Greek word of "large melon" which is "peopon".  "Peopon" was changed by the French into "pompon". The English changed "pompon" to "pumpion".  American colonists changed "pumpion" into "pumpkin".

Native American Indians used pumpkin as a staple in their diets centuries before the pilgrims landed.  They also dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats.

Indians would also roast long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and eat them.  When white settlers arrived, they saw the pumpkins grown by the Indians and pumpkin soon became a staple in their diets.  As today, early settlers used them in a wide variety of recipes from desserts to stews and soups.  The origin of pumpkin pie is thought to have occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top...removed the seeds...and then filled it with milk, spices, and honey.  The pumpkin was then baked in the hot ashes of a dying fire.

- Mason Dixon Newsletter, Fall 2009

   

Shakespeare speaks...

 

Shakespeare in Othello said: 
Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners.

   

American Rhododendron Society
Executive Director: P.O. Box 525,  Niagara Falls, NY 14304
Ph: 416-424-1942   Fax: 905-262-1999   E-Mail: lauragrant@arsoffice.org
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