Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Jungle Fever Exotics

I've been meaning to do another post about a local nursery for Pam Penick's Support Your Independent Nursery Month meme, which has been running every Wednesday for the month of October (I know, it's Saturday, I'm a few days late, but at least it's still October). To read Pam's final post in the series, go here.

I did one post earlier this month about Christianson's Nursery, but for most of the rest of the month the stars just haven't aligned for me to visit and write about another. Either the weather has been too cold and rainy, or I've been trying to take advantage of the confluence of a good night's sleep and good weather (i.e. no rain) to work on my own garden. But this morning I woke to blue skies, puffy clouds, and the cool, crisp, golden air of a perfect autumn day. After a quick planting of some seeds, and performing a few cursory chores in my garden, I decided it was time for a journey to Jungle Fever Exotics, in Tacoma, Washington, less than a half-hour drive from my house.

I first read about Jungle Fever Exotics over a year ago, when Loree of danger garden wrote about her visit there. Although I haven't actually started working on the gravel garden that I want to install, I've been doing plenty of research online about plants that might thrive there, and I thought Jungle Fever might be just the place to find some suitable plants. Although the nursery is small, taking up an urban plot in the center of Tacoma, the experience was overwhelming. It reminded me of my first visit to a nursery when we moved here to Washington. There were so many plants that I was unfamiliar with!

I was tempted by this girly pink Abutilon!

I really was drawn to this Abutilon, but I've been moving plants into the house lately to overwinter, and I didn't want to have to find yet more space indoors for another plant that wouldn't survive a full year outside.

I thought at first this was an Agave -- it's not, it's a Bromeliad! And it's not hardy either. But it's cool.

I might have to go back and buy this Ochagavia litoralis. I researched it after I got home, and it has a truly amazing flower! I am planning to leave space for potted plants in the gravel garden, that will have to be overwintered inside, so this one is not out of the question. The flower makes it worth finding the space.

I meant to buy this!

The first thing I did when I arrived was a circuit of the nursery with my camera out, taking photos of what I found interesting. I meant to go back and pick this Lobelia tupa up, but I forgot. Oh well, I just have to go back, I guess. We saw Lobelia tupa in flower during the Garden Bloggers' Fling in July, in more than one garden. My first Fling post included a picture of it flowering in Shelagh Tucker's garden. Even though it might not be hardy for me (I'm at a higher elevation than Seattle), it's such a striking plant, that I'm willing to take a chance on it.

Gingko biloba in autumn yellow

I've already bought two Trachycarpus fortunei for the gravel garden, but there is room for probably one more tree or shrub. I love the prehistoric foliage of gingko trees, but I'm afraid that it will just get way too big.

This Acacia pravissima caught my eye!

I was intrigued by the triangular foliage of this Australian native tree, but, once again, almost certainly not reliably hardy for my Zone 7b garden. While I'm willing to take a chance on a perennial, digging out a dead tree is not my cup of tea.

Are you beginning to sense a theme? Finding hardy plants for this gravel garden is going to be a challenge. I'm facing a steep learning curve. But learning is a large part of the fun of gardening.

So....what did I buy?

Agave parryi 'J. C. Raulston'
Agave parryi is one of the hardiest Agaves. Look at those red spikes! Do they not completely creep you out? What an appropriate purchase for Halloween weekend. They scare me.

This is protruding from the drainage hole. I thought at first it was a root, but I'm wondering if it might be a pup/offset.

Tetrapanax papyriferus

Love that leaf!'s going to have to go in a stock tank. According to what I've read, it's hardy, but it runs like crazy.

Kniphofia caulescens

I've been wanting a Kniphofia/Red hot poker for a while. This might not even go in the gravel garden. Plus, how could I resist that enormous seedhead?

That's only three plants, but according to my husband who was waiting for me in the car, as I made my way back to him, I looked like a kid who had just come from a visit to Santa.

So far, this look at Jungle Fever has been a very personal, close-up look. I'm afraid it hasn't really given you a true feel for the funky flavor of the place.

Maybe this will help set the scene.

Besides its specialty of drought-tolerant and exotic plants, the nursery also features some pretty exotic sculptures and garden art.

I want this Nessie head for my water feature. It might scare away the raccoons.

I love this Venus statue too.

This mosaic head was hard to ignore.

There was a plain vanilla version too.

I'm not quite sure what this is meant to represent, but something about its organic, wavy shapes appeals to me.

While I only participated twice now in Support Your Independent Nursery, I do have a couple of other looks at local nurseries from previous blog posts. In case you're interested, here are links to them.

A Visit to Windmill Gardens Nursery

A Visit to Dig Floral and Garden


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Autumn Garden

My autumn garden doesn't just depend on foliage for interest, I do still have some flowers blooming.

Tricyrtis 'Taipei Silk'

Chocolate Eupatorium (Joe-Pye Weed)

Chocolate Joe Pye also provides a backdrop for a dark-leaved Cimicifuga/Actaea/whatever they're calling it now.

Red annual Coreopsis


Another Dianthus

A hardy Geranium called 'Confetti' has tiny flowers similar to G. robertianum, but wonderful variegated leaves.

Sheffield Pink Chrysanthemum, planted in the spring, with a backdrop of Agastache 'Golden Jubilee'

Salvia patens, started from seed, has enormous bright blue flowers, but may not be hardy here. We'll see.

I have some unknown Dahlias.

Unknown Dahlia, with the turning foliage of my oak tree

Dahlia 'Harlequin'

Dahlia 'Eveline'

Dahlia 'Arabian Night'

Buds on Mahonia 'Charity' mean I will have flowers this winter.

Autumn Foliage

Red Twig Dogwood

Cyclamen coum

Cyclamen hederifolium

Arum 'Jack Sprat'

Acer circinatum 'Pacific Fire'


And the ever-present ground cover in the PNW -- Moss.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What I Did With Too Many Tomatoes

I can already hear all my fellow PNW garden bloggers gnashing their teeth over "too many tomatoes."

This was just the first wave!

The PNW, on the western side of the Cascade Mountains, is a notoriously bad climate for growing tomatoes, which like prolonged heat. We don't get prolonged heat here, even at the height of summer. Last summer, I got no tomatoes. None, nada, zip. Actually, not true. I did bring some tomatoes into the house to ripen, but they were, each and every one, afflicted with late blight. Horrible, black, disgusting lesions.

So, this year I decided to experiment with tomatoes. I planted a wide variety of cold-hardy types, and put seven indeterminate-type plants in one of my raised beds under a hoophouse. I documented the planting of them here and their growth here.

Ukrainian Heart, an oxheart type, was a favorite this year.

I planted several others in pots, and put some on the south side of my house, and others I lined up in the veggie garden in what I thought was a sunny area. The ones in pots did ok, not great, but the really big ones here all came from the hoophouse. I planted them all out early in April, with the ones in pots under Walls-o-Water. The potted ones produced the first fruit, but were not prolific. The ones in the hoophouse fruited late, but grew huge, and produced a lot of fruit.

Sun Gold -- as sweet as candy!

The early start, helped by the WoWs and the hoophouse, was a successful strategy that I will definitely repeat next year. In fact, next year I plan to put my basil and my peppers in the ground in the hoophouse too (I left both in pots this year, and they did not fare well.)

One major change that I will make next year with the tomatoes that I cover with the hoophouse is that I will support them better, probably with sturdy cages, rather than the stakes I used. I didn't use enough stakes, and the plants became so top-heavy with their robust growth that they actually bent the stakes right over, and ended up cascading over the side of the raised bed, putting many of the tomatoes within easy reach of slugs, and smothering others to the point where they rotted from lack of air circulation. I truly did not expect such rampant growth. Despite these problems, I did get more than enough to eat fresh and to process for sauce and other uses.

The top-heavy plant bent the stake right over!

In the darkness and closeness, these rotted, and became slug fodder. There is nothing like reaching in to get what you think is a ripe tomato, only to have your fingers sink into slime.

Gogoshari Striped -- a strange, knobbly, hollow tomato with very little pulp, made good sauce.

Despite the early start, we never got a long string of days all summer where the heat got much above 80. Until I went away at the beginning of September, when we got over a week's worth of hot, sunny days. The day I left, I had gotten maybe three ripe tomatoes. There were no red toms on the plants when I left. When we returned, they had started ripening like gangbusters!

Tigerella -- small fruit (bigger than cherry toms), but incredibly prolific.

They slowed down, but they didn't really stop ripening until yesterday, when I pulled all the plants in anticipation of frost, which will most likely hit some time in the next couple of weeks. The last few days we've had some nice weather, a string of not-rain and not-cold, so even though I'm not expecting a frost in the next few days, I took advantage of the comfortable weather and cut down all the plants, and brought in all the green ones that hadn't been chewed by slugs.

If I had chickens, I could feed this nasty bugger to them!

The aftermath of the tear-out is so disheartening. I have to come back soon and really clean up all the carnage.

So, what did I do with my embarrassment of ruby riches, once it became obvious that we could not keep up with eating them fresh?

Roasted them and turned them into sauce!

Sliced in half if small, or cut into chunks if large, then drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and roasted on a tray in a 450 degree F oven for about an hour.

Charred or caramelized, then scooped into a cup and given a whir with a stick blender, they make a great basic puree, which can then be turned into tomato soup or marinara.

Some of this became cream of tomato soup, the rest was portioned into smaller containers and frozen.
Cream of Tomato Soup

2 TB olive oil
2 leeks, washed well and chopped
4 cups of roasted pureed tomatoes
1 tsp dried thyme (or a handful of fresh thyme, stripped from the stems)
2 bay leaves
4 cups of vegetable broth (or 2 14-oz. cans)
12 oz. fat free evaporated milk
1 TB dried basil
1/8 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1/8 tsp. black pepper (or to taste)

Coat a large saucepan or soup-pot with the olive oil and set pan over medium heat. Add leeks and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and thyme, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are heated through.

Add broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low nd simmer, covered for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Puree tomatoes and leeks with a stick blender (or process in batches in a regular blender). Return to low heat.

Stir in milk and heat it just enough to where it is warm throughout (you don't want the milky mixture to boil). Remove from heat and stir in basil, season with salt and pepper. Serve with a garnish of herbed croutons, and shredded Parmesan cheese.


That first batch required a cooking marathon, about 6 or 7 hours of chopping and cooking and blending. I followed that up a week later with another 6-hour cooking spree. At that point, I thought I had enough sauce to last the winter, but I still had tomatoes. So, I made tomato jam.

I've never made it before, and it turned out sweeter than I thought it would. I was hoping for something with a savory, salty/sweet vibe to it, and it turned out very sweet, and not very tomatoe-y, with a stronger flavor from the spices and the brown sugar than from the tomatoes. It was yummy on a biscuit, though.

Here's the recipe I used. I actually used less chile powder and cayenne than called for here, cause I don't like things too hot.

Tomato Jam

1 pound tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 TB olive oil
1 TB red wine vinegar
1/4 cup  plus 1 TB brown sugar
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chile powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground allspice

Add all the ingredients to a medium saucepan and bring  to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have dissolved and what remains is a thick, jam-like consistency, about 1 hour. Cool before storing. The jam can be stored in an airtight mason jar for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.


My source for this recipe was actually the Food Network site, here. I've been looking for other recipes to try. Here are some I'm planning to have a go at, maybe over the weekend.

Panini with Fontina, Tapenade and Tomato Jam

Tomato Jam

Savoury Tomato Jam

And now that I've hauled in so many green tomatoes, I'm probably going to spend the weekend Googling recipes for Green Tomato Jam, Pickled Green Tomatoes, and Fried Green Tomatoes. If you know a good way to use green tomatoes, please let me know.