Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Branching Out: How to Force Spring Blooms.

Spring is near...only 21 more days. Hooray! Still, we all know that patience isn't my forté. So, I decided to force spring's early apearance. Literally.

Nothing heralds spring's arrival like sweet apple blossoms and forsythia dripping with cheerful blooms. Although our apple trees are too young, several large forsythia bushes reside in the gardens—bushes large enough to snip a few dormant branches without harming their spring show. And those branches now happily rest in a vase on the mantle, while I check their progress each day, watching as their tiny buds begin to open.

Forcing flowering branches is a perfect way to quell your spring fever. I've meant to try it for several years, but this is the first time I've followed through.

I highly recommend it.

Any flowering shrub or fruit tree is a good candidate for forcing. Popular among florists include apple, pear, cherry, quince, pussy willow, witchhazel and, of course, forsythia. Most of the fruit trees bloom in shades of white or pink, accompanied by a light, sweet fragrance. Forsythia produces cheerful yellow, star-shaped blooms.

To bring a bit of spring into your home, look for branches in the bud stage, making certain that the flower buds show good size and color. (Flower buds are generally larger than leaf buds. If you're uncertain, just open the bud to check.) Clip branches on a mild day in February or March, depending on your zone, to ensure that the bush experienced an adequate cold period for flowering. Most flowering trees and shrubs need at least eight weeks of cold (40 degrees F or under). Clip branches so they are at least 12 inches long or longer, if you have a tall vase, and approximately 1/2-inch thick. The thicker branches retain stored sugars to support the buds. Immerse cut ends immediately in water.

To prepare your branches for arrangement, strip buds and bark from the bottom portion of the branches that will be submerged in the vase to avoid contaminating the water and enhancing the vase life. Split the bottom of the stem four to five inches to improve water absorption. Fill the vase with tepid water, and arrange the branches. Place the vase in low light. As the buds begin to show signs of blooming, move the vase to a brighter area to encourage the buds to open. Change the water, and be patient. (I know, not easy!)

Also, misting the buds with water can be beneficial to prevent them from drying out in low humidity.

Branches may take anywhere from a week to two months to bloom, depending on how close you harvest to their natural bloom cycle, as well as the types of branches harvested. Fruit trees tend to take the longest. Once your branches fully bloom, move the arrangement to an area out of direct light to lengthen vase life.

After only a few days, I've seen a few forsythia blooms opening, but I'm anxiously awaiting the onslaught of spring cheer.

Patience, I know.

While I wait, though, I think I need to snip a few branches from Kristen's birthday tree. She won't notice...right?! And maybe I'll put the cherry blossoms in her room.


Only 21 days, friends...we can make it. Right?



Thursday, February 21, 2013

Is the Grass Always Greener...? (A Giveaway!)

For years, we've bemoaned our lawn. It's patchy, weedy, and downright bare under the trees. With our very shady yard, we're in a constant battle to make it look decent. Little by little, we've reduce the lawn and increased the garden beds...mostly because of someone's plant obsession and the need to find homes for those babies. Still, the remaining lawn looks rather sad. And because I'm an organic gardener and Peter is an overall environmentally-minded kind of guy, we avoid the products that promise a lush greenscape. 

But we're in the minority. With more than 40.5 million acres of lawn across America and more than $30 billion spent on lawn care, Americans obsess about the perfect lawn. And honestly? With young kids, we'll keep some lawn for awhile. After all, we have a soccer player in the house that needs to practice his moves. However, with concerns for our water supply (more than 7 billion gallons used daily for residential irrigation) and our health (more than 30,000 tons of synthetic pesticides used annually, most of which include possible carcinogens and all of which pose a threat to the environment), a lawn-free society sounds Utopian. 

Less toxins? Reduced water consumption? A Saturday spent in the hammock instead of behind a gas-powered mower? (800 million gallons of gas is burned annually mowing lawns--and 17 million gallons are SPILLED refilling gas mowers. To compare, the Exxon Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons, for goodness sake.)

Sign me up! (Statistics are from here.)

And with drought conditions affecting much of the country last year, it's time we all examine our gardening and lawn care practices.

Lucky for us, we have the perfect resource:

Author Pam Penick's visually stunning book isn't just another gardening reference dust collector. Instead, she provides practical, real-world ideas to replace lawns with natural, environmentally friendly alternative designs. 

From initial considerations, such a contending with city codes and Homeowners' Associations to the aesthetics of selecting low maintenance plants that will wow the neighbors, Pam offers realistic alternatives to the traditional front lawn. Personally, I love her ideas for examining the ways a homeowner can create garden rooms through hardscaping, designing beautiful, practical spaces to enjoy the outdoors. Lounging in a lovely garden room is much more enticing than mowing a lawn, especially in July...in South Carolina.

Once you've decided to eliminate or minimize your lawn, Lawn Gone! covers various methods for grass removal. Pam includes the pros and cons of each method and reviews the tools required for the job, as well as instructions for removal.

As any good gardener know, you'll need to prepare the beds for planting once the lawn is removed. Chapter 10 reminds us that in our excitement to plant our new landscape, we need to go back to the basics of evaluating the soil. Sigh. I know, we'll be much happier if we take the time to prepare our beds correctly, but darn--I want to go buy plants! ;-)

(Follow Pam's advice. Ignore my impatience.) 

My absolute favorite part of Lawn Gone! is the regional plant recommendations. Divided into 11 regions, Pam includes plants appropriate for dry, sunny Arizona, as well as groundcovers for Maine. I like authors who take the guesswork out of a project.

Of course, I'd love to be one of those rebellious types who dig up the entire front lawn to plant a vegetable garden. Since we already push the envelope with our backyard chickens and greenhouses, I'm trying to maintain the neighborly peace. (Guess what? Pam even covers "Working with Skeptical Neighbors"!  Brilliant!)

I can feel Peter getting nervous, worrying that I have a new project for us...(Don't worry, honey...not yet. But maybe soon...)

Instead, we're having a giveaway!

To win a copy of Lawn Gone!, leave a comment below telling me how often you water your lawn in the summer. Don't be embarrassed, you're among friends.  Enter by midnight EST February 28, 2013. Of course, if you'd like to follow the blog or "Like" Garden Delights on Facebook, I'd be eternally grateful--but it won't affect your chance to win. It will just make me happy. I'll randomly select a winner and announce it on March 1. (The randomness is me, writing your names on paper and letting Mikey pull the winning entry from a hat. We're very scientific.) Please make sure I can contact you if you win--an e-mail address is always helpful!

Good luck to all! 

XO ~


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

By the time you read this, perhaps I should wish you a Happy Belated Valentine's Day! It's late. The kids are watching TV, as there's no school tomorrow, and I'm playing catch up after a week of sick kids, Valentine's festivities, and seed sowing. Tomorrow, my sister undergoes surgery to remove a large tumor from her spine. I'll be playing nurse for awhile...poor Becky! Still, I know we'll all be relieved tomorrow when her surgery is over.

So, because I'll be a bit busy tomorrow, I cheated a little and took photos of today's blooms for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by May Dreams Gardens.

First, though, a Valentine for you from my garden..

'Something Magic' Hardy Cyclamen. The foliage is as lovely as its flowers.

'Silver Leaf' Hardy Cyclamen's vibrant blooms add a nice burst of color to the gray winter garden.

Although it's only February, spring feels close in South Carolina. It's hard not to feel anxious to start planting, because the garden is beginning to come alive.

Crocuses...peeking out from under leaf litter...

'Ice Follies' daffodils, one of my favorites, are a sure sign that spring is near. I've already harvested several bouquets for the kitchen.


Paperwhites, planted late in a new bed along the side of the house. The new bed, located in deep shade under a forest border, also contains... 


...snowdrops, fraise des bois, oak leaf hydrangeas, hostas, and blueberry bushes. I'm working hard to develop a forest garden leading to the greenhouses.

Thank goodness for hellebores in the winter. Our few original plants have multiplied and spread throughout the front beds, forming thick clumps filled with blooms. A bee buzzed by me as I tried for a close up. (I abandoned my efforts, since I'm so allergic to bees.) 

The fall planted witch hazel seems on the verge of blooming. Honestly, though--it has been in this stage for a week. Will it come through and deliver its fragrant blooms? I'm crossing my fingers...

The forsythia is ready to pop. This year, I'm taking a few branches inside to enjoy their heralding of spring.

Aren't these the most adorable little irises? Iris reticulata, how I adore you. I wish I had planted hundreds of these bulbs in the garden.

Spring bulbs, in case you haven't noticed from my obsession with them for the cutting garden, are my favorite. Forced hyacinth bulbs add the loveliest sweet fragrance throughout the house...

...and soon, their fragrance will also fill the garden.

Still, nothing can beat the amazing fragrance of winter daphne. Planted in containers next to the front walk, I take a deep breath whenever I pass. My neighbors planted daphne in their front beds, and the scent drifting into our yard is incredible.

Our sweet camellias continue to bloom...

...with another round of blossoms soon to appear. 


But the bloom I'm most excited about this February? My first orange blossom! Last year, I purchased six citrus trees, overwintering them in the greenhouse. And today--the first bud burst open! I'm so excited! The fragrance is delicious.

The greenhouse is quickly filling with seedlings for Garden Delights--organic heirloom herbs, tomatoes, peppers, flowers...but that's a story for another day. 

Did you do anything special to celebrate Valentine's Day? Wishing you the loveliest of Valentine's Days--and a very happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day! And, if you have a moment tomorrow, please think good thoughts for my sister. Thanks so much, friends.



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Flirting with Flowers, Part II: Bring on the Bulbs!

The daffodils are blooming like mad in the front beds, and today, while I strolled around the yard, looking at all of the weeds that need to be pulled and estimating how much mulch we should order, I found this:

Soon, soon the dutch iris will follow, along with the tulips. The forsythia is about to burst—and then the peonies should begin emerging. All of these are perfect additions to a cutting garden.

I meant to follow up more quickly with the bulbs and shrubs additions to the cutting garden, but you know how life can be—hubby and girlie had bronchitis last week, Mikey is fighting it now...and in between, Kristen rallied to compete with her Interscholastic Equestrian Team last weekend. (I'm usually the mean mom. If a child is out of school on a Friday, I won't allow any weekend extracurriculars. This time, though, I relented—it was her last chance to try to qualify for regionals, and she was feeling better. She missed it by a point. Ah well--next year!)


Excuses aside, it's time for me to get back to the cutting garden—or there won't be any flowers to cut!

Perfect Plants for a Cutting Garden, Part II: Bulbs
(Note: all of the plants listed are perennials, depending on your zone. For instance, tulips in my zone, 7b, don't last as long as in cooler zones, so I constantly add more to the garden. Make sure to check the plant's hardiness zone before you purchase.)

One of the biggest challenges we face in our garden is my nasty nemesis...the vole. Although our cats used to do well with vole control, they're getting a little lazy. (Too many treats from the kids, I think, is ruining their hunting appetites.) To help ensure that our bulbs don't became a gourmet treat for the voles, I add sharp gravel into each hole or trench that I dig for bulbs. Years ago, when battling voles, I read that they won't cross over sharp stones. Since other remedies like bobcat urine didn't work (it was like putting salad dressing on the bulbs), I tried it. Surprisingly—we rarely lose bulbs to voles now. Also, lining a bed with wire mesh works well, a fact I wish I had remembered when constructing our raised beds. I've lost several Swiss chard and bok choy plants to voles this winter. 

Take a little extra time to protect your bulbs before planting. You'll be so glad that you did.

From giant globes to small, clusters of flowers, alliums add drama to arrangements and visual interest to gardens. Also referred to as Ornamental Onion Flower, most alliums are a shade of purple, but some are also pink, white, or yellow. I've never grow alliums, and I'm excited to try them in the cutting garden—but I may also add a few to the front bed for visual interest. Alliums multiply rapidly, do well in poor or dry soil, and can grow in full sun or shade. Plant the tall varieties in an area protected from wind so that the stems don't break. Use: Blooms late spring, early summer. Harvest when 1/3 to ½ of blossoms are open. Be careful not to bruise the stem, because it will release an onion scent. Vase life: 10 days to 3 weeks.

Is there anything happier than when the daffodils pop up in the bleakest part of winter? With literally thousands of varieties to choose from, you could have an entire cutting garden filled with just daffodils. The large yellow varieties are most popular, but shades of yellow and white with green, orange, or pink highlights are also available. Plant daffodils with other bulbs in the garden. Daffodil bulbs and flowers are poisonous and will deter animals from eating your plants. Uses: Blooms mid-winter, spring. When harvesting daffodils, only pick the flower, not the foliage. Allow the leaves to die back completely in order to nourish the bulb for next year's flowers. Harvest daffodils at the bud stage, and don't cut—instead, pinch the stem at the base with your fingers. (This was new to me!) Pinching partially closes the stem and helps inhibit the latex serum from contaminating the water. The blooms will then last longer and can be mixed with other flowers in bouquets. Otherwise, only include daffodils in the vase. You can also condition daffodils by adding a drop of bleach in the vase and allowing them to stand for 24 hours before mixing with other flowers. Vase life: 3 to 5 days.

I've never grown dahlias. I don't know why. Every time I look at the arrangements made by Erin at Floret Flowers, I drool over her dahlias. So, this is the Year of the Dahlia for my cutting garden! With more than 28 species, hundreds of varieties, and every color imaginable (except true blue), I'm not sure where to begin...but it will be fun selecting some tubers for the garden. Uses: Prolific bloomers, dahlias produce many flowers throughout summer into fall. They are frost sensitive, though, so you must dig up the tubers before the first frost and store until the following year to replant. Harvest when ¾ of the bloom is open. Dahlias last longer in arrangements if the foliage is removed. Vase life: 5 days.

I tried to grow freesia a few years ago, not realizing that it's a bit temperamental. It likes strong light and cool nighttime temperatures, which is tricky in South Carolina. Still, just for the fragrance alone, I'm going to give it another try. Uses: Blooms spring, early summer. Harvest in bud stage, with only the bottom blossom beginning to open. Available in all colors except true blue. Vase life: 5 to 7 days.

The wide range of fritillaria provides unexpected colors and textures in bouquets. From Fritillaria imperialis with its large cluster of hanging bell-shaped blossoms to Meleagris with its small, checkerboard pattern, fritillaria provides unique additions to arrangements. Some varieties, like imperialis, have an unpleasant musky scent. Uses: The bulbs are poisonous and provide good pest control in the cutting garden, and the musk odor of some varieties also repel pests. Used primarily as an accent in arrangements. Blooms in spring. Harvest: imperialis variety—harvest when most of the flowers are open. Meleagris variety—harvest when blossom is just beginning to open. Persica variety: harvest when ¾ of blossoms open. Milkowski variety—harvest when all blossoms are open. Vase life: Imperialis variety: 7 days; Meleagris and milkowski varieties: 3 to 5 days; the persica variety, 5 to 7 days.

Who can resist the fragrance of hyacinth? These little cuties perfume the entire dining room and entranceway—but it's not an obnoxious, overpowering scent. It's a promise of spring-scent. I've also planted them right outside the front door. Still, while I've used them for awhile in the beds, I've never cut them for a bouquet—I never wanted to sacrifice the fragrance in the garden. If I can keep myself from forcing all of the hyacinth bulbs I bought, I should have a few to add to bouquets this year. A couple things to note: hyacinths are poisonous. Wear gloves when handling them, because their latex is also poisonous. Also wear gloves when planting, as the bulbs can cause an itchy reaction in some people. Uses: Spring blooms become more fragrant as florets open. Harvest when most of the florets are closed, and cut the thick, fibrous base to allow water to penetrate the base. Vase life: 7 to 10 days.

As much as I love tulips, Dutch irises steal my heart. There's something about their deep colors and contrasting stripes that just make me happy. I like bearded irises, Siberian irises, and cute little Iris reticulata, too...but Dutch iris are the ones going in my cutting garden. Uses: Irises multiply rapidly and need to be divided about every three years to continue flowering. Harvest irises when they are in the bud stage, checking to ensure the bud is firm. Blooms in spring. Use as a focal point or an accent in arrangements. Vase life: 3 to 5 days.

'Casa Blanca' lilies were the focal point of my bridal bouquet, and since that day more than 13 years ago, I've always grown 'Casa Blanca' lilies in our garden. I tend to prefer Oriental varieties, but Asiatic and longiflorum are also used in arrangements. Lilies need full sun but prefer cool feet—some afternoon shade is good. Uses: Oriental lilies have strong fragrance, longiflorum (Easter lilies) have a light fragrance, and Asiatic don't have a scent. Harvest when the bottom flower is just opening and the other buds are full with good color. Bloom time: late spring through summer. Remove the stamens from the flower when it opens to make the bloom last longer. Also, the pollen may stain the flower. Handle carefully, as lilies bruise easily. Don't crowd lilies in arrangements, as the blossoms need space to open. Lilies also dislike floral preservative. Vase life: 10 days

Lily of the Valley
I love lily of the valley. Love it. I dream of little tussie mussies filled with these sweet blooms. You'd think with our shady yard that we'd have dozens of bouquets filled with lily of the valley—but no. A few stray blooms here, a few there...that's it. Somehow, I'm going to figure out the secret and try again. These won't be in the main cutting garden, since it's located in full sun, but I WILL grow enough of these adorable little flowers to make a bouquet. I will! Uses: A staple of the perfume industry, a few blooms can scent a room. The plant takes awhile to establish and requires patience. (No kidding!) Blooms in spring. Harvest when most of the bell-shaped blooms are open.The stems of lily of the valley are connected and enclosed at the base of their leaves. Pull apart and recut the stems and leaf base before putting in water to make the bouquet last longer. Vase life: 4 to 5 days.

Similar to peonies and camellias in bloom shape, each stem bears several flowers. Available in both single and double forms. My floral design reference suggests that the tecolate strain is the best variety for cut flowers, as it produces the largest flowers. Available in many colors, except blue or black, as well as variegated, which is called picotee ranunculus. Ranunculus are grown from tubers, which resemble claws. Soak the tuber for 4 hours before planting to make rooting easier. Plant with the “toes” pointing down. The plants prefer warm days, cool nights, and ample light. Uses: Harvest when the petals are cupping the middle of the flower and fold inward. The stems break easily, so handle carefully. Ranunculus are heavy drinkers—check the water level often. Vase life: 7 to 10 days.

When I was fresh out of college, I worked at a publishing company. And I had the nastiest boss in the world. I'm not kidding. This woman took great satisfaction in humiliating the younger staff while she sipped her Simi chardonnay, smiling the entire time. She taught me so much—about the kind of boss I would never become. Anyway, after one of her many “coachings,” I cried. Seriously. I broke down and cried at my desk.

Thus, the “traveling tulip basket” was born.

My friend Katie, who also received the wrath of the witch, and I would leave tulips on each others' desk after a particularly nasty altercation. The basket was refilled with fresh blooms and left for whomever needed a bit of cheer after mentoring hell. We both adored tulips, and we formed solidarity by surviving a truly bad boss. The tulips on the desk did more than just brighten a gloomy office. Somehow, it felt like we were defying her, refusing to let her crush our spirits. No matter how badly she treated us, we could rally and enjoy something as simple as fresh, innocent flowers.

Wow. Just remembering those days is making my blood pressure rise!

Anyway, I've never lost my love of tulips. (And I will NEVER drink Simi chardonnay.)

With dozens of divisions and hundreds of species, deciding on varieties for the cutting garden is tough—I'd like a few of everything, please! French tulips are taller and last longer in a vase than Dutch tulips. Uses: Because of the short bloom time, plant a mix of early, mid, and late blooming varieties for continual spring blooms. Most tulips need refreshing after two years, as their blooms become smaller. Harvest when the bloom is a large size and feels firm. Check inside the blossom to make certain no pollen has developed. Make sure to leave plenty of room when arranging. Tulips continue to grow and move in the vase. They're also thirsty, so check water levels often. Vase life: 5 days. French variety lasts 7 days.

I'm so happy when I see tulips at the grocery store in January. I know they're not local, but a pretty bunch of tulips for $6.99 goes a long way to brightening my day.

And it always makes me think of my friend, Katie, and how grateful I am that we survived the witch!

You know, I think I need to go to the grocery store before the mad Valentine's Day rush begins and buy myself a bunch of tulips.

Stay tuned for Part III...shrubs for the cutting garden.

Now, quick! Go buy yourself some tulips! You deserve it!



Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Seductive Strawberries.

Strawberries and champagne—the ultimate romantic hors d'oeuvre. Honestly, who doesn't remember Pretty Woman, when Julia Roberts coyly excuses herself to floss after eating strawberries?

It's one of my favorite scenes.

(Well, that...and every image of Richard Gere.)

Strawberries and romance share a long history. With its heart shape, the strawberry symbolized Venus, the Goddess of Love. In France, newlyweds received a soup made from strawberries, sour cream, borage, and powdered sugar to serve as an aphrodisiac. And if you're looking to fall in love, just break a double strawberry in half and share it with your crush. According to legend, you'll soon be inseparable.

With its rich mythology and delicious history, is it any wonder that strawberries are a main ingredient in Valentine's Day? Chocolate covered, tarted up, or baked into a pie, strawberries are the fruit of love.

Actually, it's perplexing. Strawberries aren't in season on Valentine's Day--unless you live in Florida or California. And honestly—nothing compares to the deep, rich, sun-warmed sweetness of just-picked strawberries. So, although they're the fruit of choice for Valentine's Day, strawberries eaten on February 14 hardly compare to the backyard berries of spring.

Growing strawberries is simple. Often, gardeners become intimidated when researching how to grow strawberries. Rows or mounds? Plastic or straw? June-bearing or everbearing? While there are many options for varieties and growing methods, the process doesn't need to be complicated for a home grower.

In our garden, for instance, strawberry plants serve as a border in our potager. As the strawberry plants in the potager grew new runners, I harvested the babies and began a new bed by the greenhouse. And when we harvested more runners, the kids planted them in their raised bed garden. We didn't mound, we don't use plastic—and we definitely don't use any spray. Our result? Hundreds of perfect, achingly sweet organic strawberries—in three small beds.

Large commercial growers, of course, treat their strawberry crops differently. Because strawberry plants decline in production after two years, commercial growers treat the plants as annuals. In our zone 7b garden, however, our strawberry plants are perennials, performing year after year, until we notice a decline. (We haven't yet.) Then, as our plants slow in production, we'll replace old plants with runners we've harvested from other beds, ensuring an endless supply of fresh starts as we need them.

Strawberries may be my favorite perennial plant.


June bearing (spring bearing) strawberries produce a crop during a three-to-four week period in the spring, with the duration based on the climate. June bearers produce flowers, fruits, and runners and are classified into early, mid-season, and later varieties. June bearing plants are ideal if you want a large harvest at once to make jams, for instance.

Everbearing strawberries produce three periods of flowers and fruit: spring, summer, and fall.

Day neutral strawberries produce fruit throughout the growing season, producing only a few runners. These plants work well for gardeners with limited space or who want to incorporate strawberries into borders or containers.

Isn't this a great idea? Strawberry baskets for space-challenged gardeners!

When to Plant

In cold climates, plant strawberries as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. In warmer climates, fall planting is ideal. 

How to Plant

Strawberries prefer well drained soil, rich in organic matter. Plant in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sun for best fruit production, and ensure the plants receive at least an inch of water per week during the growing season. Don't plant strawberries in a bed where peppers, tomatoes, eggplant or potatoes resided. Strawberry plants are susceptible to verticillium wilt, which can be spread by nightshade plants.

Like all transplants, strawberries should be planted on a cloudy day or during late afternoon, rather than in full sun. Set the strawberry plant in the soil so that the soil is just covering the tops of the roots. Do not cover the crown. After four to six weeks, the plants will produce runners and new plants.

When you research planting strawberries, all of the experts will tell you to remove the flowers of the newly planted strawberries during the first season to develop strong roots and runners. The goal is to ensure a large crop the following year.

I can't do it.

In fact, I've never pinched back the flowers. And guess what? We had a nice little, delicious harvest the first year...and the second year, we could barely keep up with harvesting the berries.


Spring frosts and freezes can wreck havoc on your strawberry patch. Mulch or row covers can protect the blossoms. In colder zones, a thick layer of straw provides good insulation for strawberries. Remove the top layers in the spring, but keep it close by in case of a late frost. Additionally, mulching with straw around the base of the plants helps retain moisture and keeps the fruit off the soil, which can promote disease and pest damage.

Always remove any damaged fruit or dead leaves to avoid pests or disease.


Wait to harvest until the berry is fully ripe. Unlike some fruits, strawberries do not continue to ripen after harvest. Leave an inch of stem attached, and refrigerate to preserve freshness. Wash immediately before use.


In honor of Valentine's Day, I baked a classic romantic dessert: Strawberry Tart. It's February, so I admit--I used store bought Florida berries. Still, it was pretty delicious. Now, imagine it with fresh, just-picked strawberries...oh my. This is definitely a recipe to make again in May.

Strawberry Tart

Adapted from Southern Living


1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup butter, cut up

2 tablespoons cold shortening

3 tablespoons cold water

½ cup sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

2 cups half-and-half

5 egg yolks

3 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 quart fresh strawberries, sliced


  1. Mix first three ingredients together, then add 1/3 cup butter and 2 tablespoons shortening. Mix until crumbly.
  2. With mixer running, slowly add 3 tablespoons water. Mix until dough forms a ball, adding more water as needed. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
  3. Roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Press into bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Line dough with parchment paper; fill with pie weights (which I don't own) or dried beans (chickpeas worked for me!)
  4. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove the weights/beans and parchment paper. Bake an additional 3-5 minutes.
  5. Combine ½ cup sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan.
  6. Whisk together half-and-half and egg yolks. Gradually whisk half-and-half mixture into sugar mixture in saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Remove mixture from heat.
  7. Stir in 3 tablespoons butter and vanilla; cover and chill at least 4 hours. Spoon into prepared pastry shell. Top with sliced strawberries and serve immediately.

So, are you ready to plant your strawberry patch? I promise—You Can Grow That!