In the Garden
Drying hydrangeas, harvesting figs and attracting hummingbirds
Ciscoe Morris, Seattle Times garden writer, offers tips on drying hydrangeas, harvesting figs and growing the Agastache nectar series that offers increased flowering and fragrant blooms on compact (18-by-18-inch) plants perfect for use in containers or the front of the border.
Special to The Seattle Times
Whidbey Island Nourishes Vegissimo Tour: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. A tour of a variety of vegetable gardens. Tickets are $20 for the tour or $75 for the tour followed by 6 p.m. dinner and music (www.whidbeyislandnourishes.org).
King County Iris Society Bearded Iris Sale: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, at Crossroads in Bellevue (Northeast Eighth Street and 156th Avenue Northeast) More information is at www.kcis.org.
The traditional method to dry hydrangea flowers is to hang them upside down in a dry room. If you cut them at their most colorful, they retain too much moisture and tend to rot in the drying room. If you wait for them to dry on the plant, they're too washed out.
While director for grounds at Seattle University, I caught a woman stealing hydrangea blossoms. It turned out that her women's club was drying the flowers, selling them and using the money to help homeless kids in the neighborhood. Despite the good cause, I was upset that they didn't ask my permission, so I marched over to the club to give them a piece of my mind. Before I knew it, I was sitting in front of a plate of homemade chocolate-chip cookies and had given them "carte blanche" for anything on the campus!
After my fill of cookies, they showed me their almost foolproof method of drying hydrangea flowers. Cut them when the blooms are just beyond their peak, but still have vivid color, and put the stem of each flower in its own shot glass half-full of water. Each stem must be in its own shot glass. They'll rot if you put a bunch of stems in a vase with the appropriate amount of water. Prop the flowers up in a dark room and don't refill the shot glass. The flowers usually dry in two to three weeks. I've been using this method for years with great success. I do have one question though: Why do they have 500 shot glasses at that women's club?
Don't wait too long to harvest figs
The only thing better than eating a fresh fig, picked right off the tree on a warm sunny day in your own backyard, is nibbling on one in France. Hey, figs aren't only for the Mediterranean. Visit www.raintreenursery.com to find descriptions of several varieties of figs that are hardy and produce delicious figs reliably in the Pacific Northwest.
Most fig trees produce two crops per year, but unless we experience an exceptionally warm summer, the second set of fruit that occurs in fall rarely ripens.
If you have a fig tree, the time to harvest is rapidly approaching. Figs won't ripen if you pick them when they're still hard so you need to wait until they soften on the tree. Watch for the fruit to droop; then give it a daily squeeze to check for softness. When soft, harvest immediately. Otherwise you're liable to hear raccoons shouting "oh la la" after they've picked your tree clean.
New versions of hummingbird favorite
Agastache has long been recognized as a hummingbird and butterfly favorite. This year, the newly available nectar series offers increased flowering and fragrant blooms on compact (18-by-18-inch) plants perfect for use in containers or the front of the border. The multibranched perennials are literally covered with blossoms that smell sweetly of citrus. Included in this series are apricot, grape, grapefruit, orange and raspberry, all featuring bright, unusual colors.
The trick to keep them blooming is full sun without too much extra water or fertilizer. Deadhead by cutting any branch that stops blooming down to a node immediately below the spent flowers.
Agastaches in the nectar series are purported to be hardy down to zero, but if you're growing them in less than stellar drainage, they may not survive the winter.
Hummingbirds love these attractive plants so much it's worth growing them anyway.
Ciscoe Morris: firstname.lastname@example.org. "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.
About In the Garden
Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.
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