Saturday, October 10, 2009

LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Sale

Aquiduct/water garden at the LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center

We went to the LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center's fall plant sale today. I had actually never heard of their plant sale till this year, but I'm delighted to have discovered it. While they had a lot of the obvious things (beautyberry, Mexican feather grass, scarlet sage...), they also had some surprises.

They were selling blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium), which I've admired in the wild but have never seen for sale (check out its ineluctable adorableness), and which I'll be putting in the blue-and-purple bed.

The vibrant, trampy red of the heartleaf rosemallow (Hibiscus martianis)

They had a particularly brilliant red hibiscus that loves shade, heartleaf rosemallow (H. martianis), which I will plant at the foot of the cottonwood.

The funky green flowers of the wild shrimp plant (Yeatsia platystegia). Do click to see the picture at maximum bigness--these flowers are best appreciated close up.

And, perhaps niftiest of all, they had a "wild shrimp plant," which looks very much like a tame shrimp plant, but is green and belongs to a different genus, Yeatsia platystegia (formerly Tetramerium platystegium). This one is so obscure that Google can only find two pages mentioning the plant! The newsletter of the Native Plant Project says that it is the host plant to the rare elf butterfly. (Had you been looking for a host plant for the elf butterfly? You're in luck, if you hurry down to the LBJ Wildflower Center tomorrow.) Would make a nice, perverse pairing with the Green Rose.

They also had a wealth of seed mixes for different, highly specific kinds of meadows. One of the grass seed displays read, "Escape from the Bermuda Triangle." Ah, if only I could believe it! But it's going to take more than some blue fescue and buffalograss to drive the bermudagrass population off our property. Climate change on the scale of The Day After the Day before Tomorrow (or whatever it was called) might do it, but probably only temporarily. Generations from now, Mexican anthropologists excavating pre-cataclysm Texas will find dormant rhizomes of the stuff and be thrilled and amazed at its ability to spring back to life once pulled from the permafrost. Poor fools.

The graceful, delicate flowerheads of the (unimaginatively named) "giant muhly" (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri)

The display gardens had a several more interesting specimens. This one, giant muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), is all over their grounds, but was unfortunately not for sale. I love its lacey gracefulness. We don't really have any established gardens that go with ornamental grasses, but if I could find one of these, I'd make a garden for it.

I also quite liked this weird, spiky little beauty. They look like tiny purple pineapples. It's an eryngo of some kind or other. (Here is an exponentially better picture.)

Interesting mystery gold spike*

And there was this neat gold spike. I have no idea what it is (naturally it was unlabeled--there is a special subsection of Murphy's Law dictating that the plant you are most interested in at any given botanical garden will inevitably be the one without a label or the tree, herb, or water plant ludicrously claiming to be a Berberis trifoliata.) Although it the flowers don't look at all lily-like to me, the strappy foliage looked like classic liliaceae.

CSA: What Do I Do with All This... Chard and Peppers?

My CSA in Burnet, Hairston Creek Farm, finally got some rain, which means our boxes are fatter than before. This is not an unmixed blessing. You would not believe the quantities of peppers I've been receiving every week, and guess what started up again? That's right, everyone's favorite quasi-edible stringy, bitter leafy green that leaves a weird residue on your teeth! CHARD! I thought that perhaps this stuff might be more endurable since the weather is cooler (cooler weather = less bitter leafy greens). Besides, I don't like being defeated by some upstart Swiss, for crying out loud--the country that couldn't pick a side even in one of the most morally unambiguous wars in modern history.

Long story short, I tried again, and this time, I threw everything I had at the stuff. The result was actually not horrible. I call it "Chardage" (chard + sausage). It's not for the faint of heart.

1 bunch rainbow chard, freshly washed, ribs and leaves separated
1 Tbs butter
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 small onion (~1.5" diameter), finely chopped
~1 Tbs brown sugar (I used demerara)
1/2 lb bulk sausage
2 roasted sweet peppers (rec: cubanelles or banana peppers) coarsely chopped
garlic salt to taste
1/3 c heavy cream
1/4 c grated parmesan

(1) Finely chop a small handful of chard midribs; discard remainder. Coarsely chop chard leaves.

(2) Heat butter in skillet. Add chopped chard stems, carrots, onion, and brown sugar. Saute until lightly caramelized and tender.

(3) Add sausage to skillet and break up. When crumbled, stir in chard leaves. Cover skillet and cook on medium low until wilted (~10 min.).

(4) Stir in garlic salt, roasted peppers, and cream. Cover skillet and cook on medium low until cream is completely absorbed, peppers and carrots are barely distinguishable, and chard is reduced to a mushy tenderness (~15-20 min.) Stir in parmesan and serve.

Nutritional value: can't be much left by the time I'm done with it. Still, probably contains a week's worth of stringy fiber.

I roasted enough peppers for two chile-based soups, and I still have heaps of the stuff left over. Every salad is topped with peppers. Every sandwich contains peppers. When I make eggs, I stir in or top with peppers. What do I do with all these peppers? The answer is I don't know.

Here, at least, is one recipe that made a tiny, tiny, barely perceptible dent in the mountain: Cheddar and Roasted Pepper Soup. Note that I endorse all of the recommendations make by reviewers in terms of cranking up the flavor.

What do I do with all these leeks? Wait a minute--what leeks? For some reason, my CSA never gives me leeks. In my opinion, the most useful vegetable there is after onions, potatoes, and lettuce. Perhaps we're out of season? But the chard (which no sane person would use in staple Chez M recipes like bubble-and-squeak or vichyssoise) keeps coming, mocking me, while I look in vain for leeks. Very frustrating.
* Update 16 Oct 09: I was browsing the inventory at Yucca Do when I happened upon this exact same plant. It IS a member of the lily family: Echeandia texensis, the Texas craglily. So now you know.

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