Garden, Plant, Cook!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

80+ yesterday - get the frost protectors out, and chocolate flowers

Dear Folks,

As you desert gardeners know, or are learning, we tend to roller-coaster from summer to fall and winter to spring, and this year is no different.

Here we have had the most lovely high 70s and even low 80 day-time temps for the last several days and the long range forecast is for possible snow in the desert -- yes I said snow -- somewhere around February 15th.

We have a couple of systems moving in - one today through this weekend (7 and 8th) bringing clouds, cooler weather, and some rain. It is then supposed to warm up slightly then dip down - way down during the day and at night - in time for valentine's weekend.

Phoenix central area may remain warmer due to the heat island effect of all that concrete and asphalt, but all desert gardeners should have their frost covers ready. If the overnight forecast in your area is 40 or lower, you will have some frost.

There is a silver lining to these clouds, though -- we will mostly likely have a lovely wildflower season in the desert, where the hills and valleys are painted in desert colors of gold, blue, lavender and more. Look for the display to begin in ernest sometime in March and continue through at least a part of April. Last spring the hills leading up to Boyce Thompson Arboretum looked they were painted in solid gold, and sides of the road were in royal blues and purples - breath-taking.

To replace a chilly valentine weekend, promise your valentine a trip to the desert to enjoy the wild flowers and don't forget to add chocolate to the picnic.

Speaking of chocolate -- do you know there are chocolate scented flowers? There is even one that tastes like unsweetened cocoa!

Most chocolate scented flowers are not edible, but the exception is the Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata) with the flower head tasting of unsweetened cocoa and smelling like dark chocolate when opened in the morning.

Some medicinal uses were found among the Native People of the southwest (the plant is native here) along with references to use of the flower heads in sausage -- kind of like a Native mole flavoring. --(Castetter, Edward F. 1935 Ethnobiological Studies in the AmericanSouthwest I. Uncultivated Native Plants Used as Sources of Food. University of New Mexico Bulletin 4(1):1-44 (p. 19).)

This plant is also called chocolate daisy, greeneyes, lyre-leaf greeneyes, and brooch flower.

Look for seed packets or plants for sale now into late spring. They will take full sun, but for a longer growing season, find a spot in the garden where they will get some afternoon shade moving into the summer.

With the temperatures eventually moving into spring conditions here I will share tomato growing tips in the desert in my next blog.

Have a great day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady