Category Archives: Vegetables

Leeks!

One of my favorite flavors to cook with is leeks. They have a unique and interesting mild onion taste and are part of the allium family that also includes onions, garlic, shallots, scallions and chives. Last year, I found I had wild leeks (ramps) on our WI property and have really enjoyed finding, harvesting and cooking with them (see Spring Leeks (aka Ramps)).

But they are only around for a short period in the spring, and I have to be careful not to harvest too many or run the risk of wiping out the wild colonies. I’d rather err on the side of harvesting too few than too many and be sorry in a few years.

So what to do? How about grow some cultivars in my own garden? I’ve already started growing my own garlic, onions, shallots and chives. So how about adding leeks!

It seems like as with most alliums in a home garden, it’s best to start with some type of starter plant or bulb rather than seeds. In that regard, a numbers of sources sell lots of different varieties of leek seeds, but only a couple of varieties come as starter plants. I decided to make it easy on myself and ordered King Richard (Allium porrum) starter plants from Johnny’s Seeds.

It was a toss up between the King Richard and Lancelot (Allium ampeloprasum) leek plants. King Richard is an early season leek, maturing in just 75 days, is frost-hardy but will not overwinter, while Lancelot is a mid season leek, maturing in 105 days, and is winter hardy.

My packet of starter leek plants came in early spring, a few weeks before the last frost date. Leeks are cold season plants, so they should be planted before the last frost date. They’ll tolerate a light frost just fine and need the extra growing time. Like garlic, shallots, and potatoes, they have their own unique way to be cultivated. In order to keep the nice white part of the leeks white, the growing plants need to be blanched, which means that part of the plant needs to be grown out of sunlight. You can grow them in trenches that you fill in as the plant grows, or plant in holes using a dibbler. I used the dribbler method, although I had to improvise with a thick garden stake last year. I now have a dibbler and it’ll be much easier to do this year.

In early spring, in light, soil poke holes with a dibbler or thick stake, 6 inches deep, 6 inches apart, in rows 24 inches apart. 

Drop one plant in each hole leaving only 1–2 inches of the leaves above the soil surface.

Do not fill in the soil around plants, but let rain or irrigation or rain slowly fill in the holes. This allows for self-blanching of the edible white part. If need be, later in summer soil can be pushed up against the growing plant to increase the white blanched part.

I staggered my leek and garlic plants since they are opposite in growing seasons (which is why my garden above in the planting photos looks “messy”). The garlic is planted in the fall and harvested mid-summer, the leeks planted in spring, harvested in late summer/fall. Leeks can be grown in between many early vegetables, but keep away from legumes like beans since the leeks will inhibit their growth.

Leeks can be harvested anytime late summer (after they get about 1 inch in diameter) through early winter. Best way is to dig around the plant to loosen the soil, and then give a good pull.

Most leeks are winter hardy and can withstand light to hard freezes depending on variety. Harvest as you need them, they stay fresher in the ground than in your refrigerator.

Unfortunately for me, I got a little cavalier with the plants in my Wi garden and the ground froze solid before I got all of the leeks out.  I’m hoping they survive the winter and I’ll have fresh spring leeks 😔

In early winter, before the ground freezes solid, harvest whatever you have left, peel off the dead outer leaves and trim the roots and leaves. Store in the refrigerator crisper drawer until needed.

To use in cooking, trim off the roots and cut off the tops where the white is turning light green. Generally, only the white and lightest green parts are used for cooking. Then cut in half and rinse well. Because of how they are grown, dirt and sand often finds its way between the leaves and needs to be rinsed out.

They can now be blanched for freezing, or used fresh in your favorite leek recipe. A few of mine are my Thanksgiving Leek, Apricot and Chestnut Stuffing (recipe here)

Shrimp, Leek and Spinach Pasta from Real Simple is wonderful for a quick, tasty dinner.

Spinach, Goat Cheese and Leek Quiche. The original recipe calls for chives, but I like to substitute sautéed leeks for the chives, and to simplify things I often use a refrigerated Pillsbury pie crust. This is a staple in our house for holiday brunches.

I’m getting ready to order my plants for this year. I think I’m going to try the Lancelot variety from Dixondale Farms. Lots of good advice on growing onions, leeks and shallots on their website.  Johnny’s has tons of great advice too!

So many ways to use these versatile, mild onions. What’s your favorite?

 

Happy New Year 2018!

Happy New Year! I hope this post finds you healthy and happy. I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus with my writing, but hopefully the new year will get me back on track. While I was still attentive to my garden all fall, I do most of my writing in the evenings and I got distracted the last few months watching all seven seasons of Game of Thrones with my husband. (In case you were thinking about watching, it was just as great as the kids said it is and the final season can’t come fast enough!)

But, that’s done and most shows don’t require that level of attention so I have my evenings back! We also did a fair amount of traveling to see visit the kids and out of town family and I’ll share some of the highlights of those trips in the next couple of months.

Lastly, I got a new laptop and the transition was pretty straightforward except for switching from Apple iPhoto to Photos. I procrastinated for a long time since I had everything organized so nicely in iPhoto for my blog, but it was time to convert. You’d think it would be as easy as say “Go”, but for a bunch of reasons, I couldn’t get it to transfer properly. Eventually I did it, but I’m still dealing with photos scattered about in a bit of a disorganized way. Does anyone use a photo manager to organize your photos? The edit features in Photos are fine, but I don’t love the organizational options.

What have I been up to in the garden? Well, like many of you it was a very strange fall with warm temperatures well into November keeping things green and growing well past normal times. Great for the vegetable garden, but probably not so great for the trees and shrubs that really need to get ready for winter. Here’s some of what I was harvesting the end of October.

I spent a lot of time this fall watering to be sure the plants were ready for winter (First Too Much Water, Now Not Nearly Enough). But, with temperatures hovering around 0°F for some time now, I’m not sure how the plants will tolerate this winter no matter what I did.

With all this cold weather, I’ve been going through a lot of bird seed trying to help the birds survive this extreme weather. Glad I bought lots of seed at the fall seed sale at my local Wild Bird Unlimited in Lisle, IL. By the way, they are currently having their January Feed sale, so if you live in the area it’s a great time to stock up. They even store it for you until you need it.

My new gardening adventure this year was planting leeks. Leeks are one of my favorite foods to cook with and growing them seemed intriguing. I’m already looking where to buy my starter plants this spring, so it definitely worked out well.  A post with more details will be coming soon.

Right now, all snuggled warm in my house I’m enjoying all the teaser emails from the seed companies and the catalogs that are starting to come in. What new vegetables to grow? What new gadgets to buy? Check out my Vendors and Resources page to see where I like to order from. I’ve recycled all the Christmas catalogs to make room for them. I have a couple of areas that need attention so I need to find some time to research what will work best in these areas. One is the swale area that seems perpetually wet, then of course dries out mid summer.

The other is under the new magnolia that replaced the Freeman maple tree that died a couple of years ago. The hostas are doing fine in the new found sun, but the ferns have gone crazy! Not sure the species, but in the shade they were kept in check, but they’ve proliferated out of control in the sun. And they are hard to pull out! Word to the wise, be careful where you plant ferns!

I look forward to sharing you more about what’s up in my garden and where I’ve been, but in the meantime I wish you all a Happy New Year and Go Bills!

While I live in Chicago, I grew up in Buffalo and will always be a Bills fan.  This has been an exciting year for us!!

So Much Planting to Do!

When I looked at the pile of fall bulbs and garlic waiting to be planted, I had to wonder what I was thinking when I ordered it all.

This year I decided to plant a little more garlic, mostly because I wanted to try a couple of new varieties.  I’ve been planting garlic the last few years and love the different varieties. No matter what you grow, it’s always better than the store bought kind.

Then there’s the bulbs I ordered. I hadn’t planted many new bulbs in a long while and it was starting to show in my gardens. I became inspired last year to add some alliums and daffodils, both at home at at the cabin in WI.

It was so pretty this spring, I decided to add more this fall and Groupon obliged by offering some great deals back in August. I’ve actually had pretty good luck with bulbs from Groupon, but I can’t vouch for all their garden offerings. If you have a special plant, bulbs or seeds in mind, I would still go to my tried and true plant and seed companies.

As it happens sometimes when I order on-line, I lose track of what I bought and then the boxes start to arrive. And then more come… Here’s just some of the hundreds of bulbs that came!

For some people that’s not an issue, but planting bulbs isn’t my favorite thing to do and I’m a terrible procrastinator.

After sitting in the house for a couple of weeks (or maybe a few) while it was weirdly hot for September, I finally got all the garlic in the ground last week. This year I planted two varieties that grew well for me before; Music, a hardneck porcelain type, and Susanville, softneck artichoke type. I also planted two new hardneck varieties, a rocambole Spanish Roja and a purple stripe Duganski, all from Territorial Seeds.

The garlic cloves are in their holes ready to be covered up for the winter and that’s my leeks looking awesome in the background!

I was careful this year to mark every row. I have a bad habit of planting and forgetting. This way if the garlic doesn’t come up, I know something should have been in that row, plus I’ll know what I’ve harvested. I often have to guess.

While I was at it, I got the french shallots planted as well. They’re one of my favorites to cook with!  Here they are all ready to be covered with about an inch of soil. My Sloggers garden clogs are perfect for this kind of muddy work.

Once that was done, the bulbs started calling my name to get them in the ground. I do love my bulb digger for planting bulbs in our hard clay soil. Using it speeds things up, ensures that I’ve dug my holes deep enough and saves my back. Still need to get the smaller bulbs in and for those I’ll use a trowel or dibber (I just ordered this one, so I’ll let you know if I like it).

Did you add any bulbs for spring this year?

 

July Vegetables

My spring vegetables really took a beating from the rabbits and the weather. Even though I had shored up the rabbit fence around the yard, all it took was a couple of holes and I had a nice happy family of rabbits devouring almost everything I planted. Radishes, swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, kale, beets and carrots were all gone. The last straw was when my bean plants were each bitten cleanly off at the base.

Since this spring was a loss, I put up a rabbit fence around these two beds to protect what was left.

By now the weather has turned too warm to replant any cool weather seeds, so I’ll have to put my focus into what’s remaining and plan for some fall planting.

The Gourmet Gold Hybrid Summer Squash (Burpee) is truly a beautiful bright yellow summer squash and seems to be an early and heavy producer. A great addition when trying to eat a “rainbow of colors”. The Emerald Delight Zucchini has just started producing and so far I’m liking what I’m harvesting. Both are wonderful on a fresh veggie platter!

The garlic was ready to harvest last week and it’s now curing on the porch! I’m so spoiled by the amazing taste of homegrown garlic, that come late spring I dread having to buy garlic.

I planted the hardneck varieties Music and Purple Glazer, and the softneck Early California from Botanical Interests this year. My WI garlic is a little bit behind and probably won’t be ready for a couple more weeks. Want to know more about growing and harvesting garlic? Check out my previous garlic posts or search for the tag “growing garlic” on the right sidebar.

The Early Girl tomatoes have lived up to their name and already been producing tasty tomatoes perfect for salads and sandwiches, and the Better Boys aren’t too far behind. The Super Sweet 100’s cherry tomatoes are just starting to ripen as well. Tomato season is here!

Last but not least are my potatoes. I planted a lot of Yukon Gold and Dark Red Norland potatoes. Even had to buy more potato bags to plant them all. They look really healthy this year since they’ve had plenty of rain. Want to grow your own next year? It’s really easy to do and fun to find all those potatoes in the fall. Check out my how-to’s on planting, growing and harvesting potatoes.

How are your vegetables doing? Have weather or creatures been a problem for you?

Maybe since it’s been cooler in WI, and the garden fenced in better, I’ll have better luck with the mid-summer harvests of my spring planted seeds that I planted there. I’ll be checking on that soon.

 

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Checking on the Seedlings

Why didn’t I buy grow lights before?? My seedlings have always been “fine”, but after seeing my mom’s lush healthy seedlings under her grow lights, and with a little nudge from my husband I decided to take the plunge. I am so glad I did!

I bought two 2 ft Hydrofarm T5 Grow Light Systems.

I decided against the single 4 ft light so I would have more flexibility. They came safely packed and were easy to assemble. I did have a little trouble with placement since my table is a 4 ft one and each lamp is actually 26 inches. Got it figured out with the help of a tray table.

I started the peppers back in March and then planted the rest of the seeds at the right time based on my last frost date.

I usually add a couple of weeks to the last frost date to be on the safe side, so I’m aiming to plant the week after Mother’s Day. I keep track of what I’m doing on these handy Botanical Interests Month-to Month planner sheets.

I’m growing Cosmos and Marigolds in my APS system trays, and this year all my vegetables in Botanical Interests small 1 1/2 in Recycled Paper pots and larger 3 inch Recycled Paper Pots.

I’ve always ended up with root bound squash and cucumbers in the smaller APS trays and they are really tenuous when transplanting, so I decided to grow them in the 3 inch pots this year. As a bonus, using these Botanical Interests Paper Pots they can go right into the ground when ready–just tear off the bottom strip and all set to go. The paper will just decompose and the roots aren’t disturbed when transplanting.

So far I’m really happy with the BI paper pots.  Plants have grown great and watering has been easy, even when I’ve been gone on vacations. I was a little worried about that, since I had always used self watering plant trays.

What I ended up doing while I was away was to place the paper pots in a baking pan and fill the tray up with water. The plants just soaked up what they needed. I did figure out I needed to fill the tray the day before, and again right before leaving since the soil soaked up so much water right away. That has seemed to work well for 4-5 day trips. I don’t keep them this damp too long so I don’t encourage mold/fungus to grow that could damage the seedlings. (What’s my favorite indoor watering can? The Oxo 3 liter Indoor Pour and Store)

The squash is healthier than I’ve ever grown!

Marigolds!

Cosmos!

Sunflowers are about 8 inches tall!

The kohlrabi, basil and coleus is getting there and maybe should have been started earlier.  This was a couple of weeks ago and they’ve since been thinned to one plant per pot. Best to thin by cutting the unwanted plants rather than pulling them out. Pulling one can pull them all out.

Can you tell the difference between the purple and white kohlrabi?

Can’t wait for the weather to get warm enough to think about planting. We keep having frost warnings so this year things are going to be a little delayed. In the meantime, this weekend I’ll put up the mini greenhouse and begin transitioning them to the outdoors (also known as hardening off). Seedlings have to be gently introduced to the outdoors or it’ll be too much of a shock for them.

How’s your seed growing going?  Has it been a tough year for you?

 

What Am I Growing-2017

It’s always fun to spend time in January and February going through all the seed and garden catalogs to see what I am going to grow this year.

It’s also during that time, I wish I had bigger gardens and more sun to really plant huge vegetable and flower gardens. But I have what I have, so I’m limited in what I can plant and can honestly barely take care of that. After many years of experimenting, I’ve settled into growing particular vegetables we like best, but often changing up the varieties, and then throwing in a few new things for fun.

Now’s the time to get started with any indoor sowing that needs to be done to give plants a head start in my northern climate. As in prior years, I’ve printed out my very handy planting guides from Botanical Interests and noted the sowing dates by counting the weeks backwards from my average last frost date.

If you don’t know your average last frost date, you can find it easily on Dave’s Garden.

Like usual, I’ll get my tomatoes and sweet peppers from a local nursery (shout out to Vern Goers Greenhouse) who grows multiple varieties of both. Pretty much any variety I want I can get from them, and they’ll be stronger and healthier than anything I’d grow.

So what am I growing this year? I usually get my seeds from Botanical Interests and Burpee, depending on who has my favorite varieties. This year, I have also ordered some seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds since I was already ordering leek plant sets and seed potatoes from them.

Inside, I will be starting:

Vegetables that I will starting outdoors directly:

I’m also trying something new this year, seed tapes. Seed tapes are supposed to make it easier to plant small seeds and reduce the need for thinning. It’s biodegradable and can be cut to fit your space. Looks handy! I’m going to try it for spinach and radishes this year.

Since we don’t have any spring parties scheduled, I’m going to grow more of my own annuals from seed.   As always, I’m growing marigolds and plenty of my new favorite cosmos.

I’ve described how I start seeds using the Gardener’s Supply Company APS System (which has been replaced by the GrowEase System) in “Time to Sow Seeds Indoors“. This year I’m also adding some new recycled paper pots from Botanical Interests which look perfect for the plants that don’t like to transplant so well.

Plants can be grown right from seed and when time to transplant, the bottom tears off and the remaining pot and plant go right in the ground.  Sounds great for my cucumbers and squashes.

I’m also finally investing in a grow light. I tend to grow very leggy seedlings that do ok, but a grow light is going to help the seedlings grow faster, healthier and better for transplanting. My mom Peggy bought the Hydrofarm JumpStart JSV2 2-Foot T5 Grow Light System a couple of years ago and had great luck with it. Her plants looked great when I was visiting last week, so I just ordered the same light set. Looking forward to not having a leggy, tangled mess of plants 🙂

 

 

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Grill Roasted Potatoes

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Now that I’ve planted and grown all those potatoes last year, what was my favorite way to eat them?  Roasting on the grill! This is a great simple recipe that can be adapted for the grill or the oven.  Pick … Continue reading

Potatoes Part 2: Growing and Harvesting

Earlier this week, I wrote about planting potatoes in both in bags and potato hills (Growing Potatoes Part 1: Preparation and Planting). That was the work part, watching them grow and harvesting was the easy part.

Two important things to remember as the summer wore on. Keep them watered (!)  and keep adding soil periodically until the bags are full. They do get a bit messy, so I’m glad I had them in an out-of-the-way spot in the yard.

Nice healthy plants…

Hmm, mid-July and probably need a little more water….

Very uneven watering…Mid-August and the different bags all performed fine, but I didn’t pay enough attention to them. Bags in general need more watering than ground gardening, and potatoes take a lot of water.

Two of the bags, the Geopot Geo-potato bag and polyethylene Gardman bags had velcro openings so that you could harvest baby potatoes out of the bottom while the plants are still growing. Maybe I waited too long so the bags were completely full of dirt, but I found that I mostly just spilled a lot of dirt and didn’t get that many potatoes. After trying once, I decided to just let the potatoes grow.  Anyone have better luck with early harvests?

Potatoes are ready to harvest in early fall when the leaves start yellowing and the stems wilting.  At this point, stop watering and wait a week or two. Then it’s harvest time!

To harvest potatoes from a bag, I pulled out the plant and emptied the remaining dirt into a garden cart and began searching. This was fun! Kind of like a treasure hunt.

You can store and reuse the dirt for next spring, or in my case, my raised beds needed more soil so I emptied the dirt into them and blended it in. Be sure to look closely, every time I thought I was done, there were more.

In the garden, I again pulled out the plants and then carefully started turning over the dirt with a shovel. This was a little tricky since I didn’t want to damage any potatoes.

So many yummy potatoes!

Once the potatoes are harvested they need to cure for a couple of weeks to improve their storage life. I laid mine in a shallow box, still covered in dirt and all, in a cool (50-60°) location covered with dark towels to allow for air circulation but keeping them in the dark.  Sunlight at any time will cause the potatoes to turn green. As I mentioned before, the green color is actually chlorophyll which is harmless, but it signifies that there is a high level of the toxin solanine. A little green isn’t harmful, but it’s generally a good idea to peel off any green skin or cut away green sections before cooking.

After a couple of weeks, rub off any clumps of dirt, but don’t wash.  Separate out any bruised or damaged potatoes and use them immediately since they won’t store well. Finally, put them into a container like a bushel basket, paper bag or cardboard box with ventilation holes punched into it to allow air flow. Potatoes should be stored in the dark between 40-50°. Be sure to check them frequently, remove any rotting potatoes and they’ll stay good for a few months.

It’s now January and I still have plenty of delicious homegrown potatoes to eat!

 

Potatoes Part 1: Preparation and Planting

Each year I like to try something new in the garden. Potatoes sounded like a fun and pretty easy experiment, so I became a potato farmer last spring.

I bought Yukon Gold and a Red, White and Blue blend of seed potatoes from Home Depot and French Fingerlings from a local nursery.  Like garlic, you can’t grow potatoes from grocery store potatoes since they’ve been treated to prevent sprouting. You also want certified seed potatoes to be sure you are getting a healthy disease free and healthy variety. I kept them cool and dark until it was warm enough to plant. Potatoes are cool weather plants, but I still needed to wait for the soil temperatures to be above 45.

About two weeks before planting, it’s time for “chitting” the potatoes.

Chitting is the process of growing shoots on the potato tubers prior to planting. This helps ensure faster growth and heavier crops. Lay the seed potatoes on a tray or in egg carton in a cool, frost free location out of direct sunlight. Set them so that the “rose end”, or the end already sprouting immature shoots, is facing upwards. After a week or so, it’s time to cut the tubers into pieces and let the cuts heal for 3-4 days.

Each piece should have at least one eye with sprouts at least 1 inch long.

Where to plant? Potatoes can be grown either in the garden or in bags. I decided to try it both ways. Here at home where I have less space I grew them in bags. In my Wisconsin garden, I planted them in hills in the garden.

Growing in Bags

I bought three different bags, each having different features. I got one large 15 gallon canvas Geopot Geo-potato bag, a pack of 2 polyethylene Gardman bags, and a pack of 3 polypropylene Haxnicks Potato Patio bags.

The first 2 types had velcro access flaps, all 3 had handles and drainage capabilities and all seemed very sturdy.

The Gardman bags had a plastic reinforcing ring to keep the bag upright. Some reviewers mentioned they had trouble feeding it through, but I had no problems.  It helped keep the bag open until the soil was high enough to push out the sides. The Haxnicks Potato Patio bags didn’t have the additional support, so I just rolled down the top a few inches to keep it open.

I used a 1:1 moistened potting soil and compost mixture in the bags. Add about 4 inches of soil in the bottom of the bag and lay your cut seed potatoes, eye side on top, evenly spaced. I put 5-8 seed potatoes pieces in each bag.

Cover with about 3 inches of moist soil.

Soon after I planted my potatoes we had a late frost, so into the porch the bags went for a few days. Luckily they were still light enough to move easily. Not so easy later in the season when they were full of dirt!

Finally, I placed the bags in a sunny location and kept them watered.

The soil should be kept moist, but not soggy. After the sprouts get to be about 8 inches high, add about 4 more inches of soil to cover.

Continue until the bag is full of dirt. Potatoes grow along the underground stems, so keeping more stem underground increases yield. Keep the bags in full sun, keep the soil moist and let them grow.

To be continued….

Planting in Hills

As an alternative to growing in pots, if you have the space potatoes can be grown directly in the garden using a hill method. Dig troughs (or holes if only a few potatoes) about 4-6 inches deep and lay the prepared seed potatoes in them about 6-8 inches apart. I planted Yukon gold potatoes by this method.

As the plants grow, continue to cover the foliage with surrounding soil creating hills to bury as much stem as possible. This increases yield, and keeps the potatoes from sunlight which causes them to turn green. The green color is actually chlorophyll which is harmless, but it signifies that there is a high level of the toxin solanine. A little green isn’t harmful, but it’s generally a good idea to peel off any green skin or cut away green sections before cooking.

to be continued….

Next post–How did they turn out????

 

Last Remnants of a Gorgeous Fall

This has been quite an unusual fall for many of us.  Seems like the winter was in no hurry to arrive, so we’ve been treated to one of the warmest and longest falls in a long time.  With that, many trees are still showing colors and many plants in my garden are still going strong.  All this is going to come to a screeching halt tonight as we drop from almost 70 this morning to the 30’s overnight.  Yikes!

Until then, here’s  some of what’s still been going strong in my garden.

Tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, hot and sweet peppers and hardy herbs are still there for the picking.

stephi gardens

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hot peppers

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Even the heat loving zinnias are still hanging in there!  Their colors are blending beautifully with the fall garden colors.  I think after today, I’ll be dead heading them for next year (Fall Seed Gathering Means Beautiful Summer Zinnias).  If you look closely behind the zinnias, you can see the fall garlic shoots indicating next year’s garlic harvest.

zinnias

Despite the abundance of fallen leaves, the geraniums aren’t looking like they’re ready to be done anytime soon.

geranium

The cosmos are still blooming strong.  But, the hydrangeas behind them are ready to add winter interest to the garden.

cosmo

The Victoria Blue Salvia is in the same bed as the cosmo.  Usually this area is all salvia, but due to a mix up (well my mix up) when I ordered the annuals from a local plant sale, I didn’t actually buy any this year.  These are self seeded from last year and added a nice splash of purple to the pink of the cosmo.

cosmo

While the Purple Beautyberry bush (Callicarpa x NCCX1) is expected to look great this time of year, I thought I’d add it since it’s a fairly new shrub and thankfully doing great!  I can’t get enough of those fall purple berries and each year I’ve had more.

purple beautyberry bush

How’s your garden been this fall?