December 6, 2006

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Apples are an important Wassail ingredient. (Photo by Chris S. Corby)

Winter wassail and stove top potpourri

By Michael Bettler
Lucia's Garden

The last of Thanksgiving's turkey bones are in the soup pot and it's time to settle in for winter. The bulbs are planted. The compost is turned once again. The yellow legal pad and pencil design the spring garden, read the books and seed catalogs. The sun rises early and goes to bed even earlier it seems. Solstice is two weeks away and it's time for planning midwinter feasts and fests through New Years.

This time of year is a spiritual time around the world, from the Winter Solstice to Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights for Jews, Santa Lucia's feast day for Catholics, the birth of Jesus for Western Christians, and Epiphany for the Eastern Orthodox Christians. Astronomers predicted the return of the sun and set bonfires across all of northern Europe to light up the longest night.

The dark of the early evening seems to want something special to drink and the word "wassail" comes to mind. Winter is the transition between the harvest and the new planting. Friends visit and toasts are given to drive the cold winter away. And the word "wassail" comes to mind. But what is this drink called wassail? Wassail is a toast to the end of one year and the anticipation of the next coming year.

Wassail, either with or without alcohol, for those not imbibing, for designated drivers and for children, is traditionally thought of as a "spirit beverage." It brings cheer to the soul and warmth to the body. It is a blending of fruit juices saved from the harvest and herbs dried and stored from the kitchen garden. It may or may not contain orange pico tea, and may or may not be fortified with red wine, hearty ales, ciders, rums, cognacs or sherry.

A classic recipe is 12 orange pico tea bags brewed in 1 gallon of water, into which are added 2 cups of orange juice, 1/2 cup of honey, 6 to 8 cracked cinnamon sticks, a full teaspoon of cloves, a full teaspoon of whole allspice berries, a tablespoon of lemon verbena leaves, a dash of vanilla extract and an apple sliced 1/4 inch thick so that the apples float on the surface of the wassail in the pot. Simmer for 15 minutes before fortifying and serve warm.

Apple Wassail heats a gallon of filtered apple cider or apple juice, a quart of cranberry juice, a full teaspoon of cloves and a full teaspoon of all spice, 8 to 10 cracked cinnamon sticks, 1/2 cup of honey and an orange cut into 1/4 inch thick slices, studded with cloves to float on the top of the Wassail in the pot. Simmer for 15 minutes and serve warm.

Mint, dried lemon peel, lemon grass braids, anise seeds, coriander seeds and even a couple of dried bay leaves have been also used. Place all the herbs in a muslin bag to simmer without having to pick out flakes and spice pieces in the cups.

For the festive winter evening with friends, depending on where you live in Texas, one can light a large Yule log in the fire place or put the DVD of a hearth fire on the TV, turn the A/C down to 60 degrees, and pretend. The wassail will help but to really make the house smell festive, make a "Stove Top Potpourri" in the kitchen to scent the whole house.

Easily done, start by purchasing a used tea kettle at a garage sale or a new one at the dollar store. Next, fill it half full with water and add cracked cinnamon sticks, a full teaspoon of allspice berries and cloves, twigs you saved from making herbal pestos and vinegars (rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, sage), the rind of an orange and 1/2 a sweet apple, plus a splash of vanilla extract. Put the tea kettle on the back burner about 30 minutes before guests are to arrive, set the fire to medium to begin and turn down to a low setting for the duration of the evening, checking the water level of the kettle occasionally. You can add more water or any of the ingredients and let it come from your kitchen into the rest of the house. (P.S. Don't plan on using this tea kettle for anything BUT "Stove Top Potpourris.")

When the evening is over, leave the kettle on the stove, fire off, and let it continue to scent the kitchen until the next morning. Then empty the kettle of its contents and store it away until your friends come back for more, to salute the change of the years, fortified with gifts from your garden.

Now pick up that pencil and yellow legal pad and start planning spring, summer and autumn crops and next year's Wassailing.


The garden reader:
Gift-books for the over-wintering gardener

By William Scheick
University of Texas at Austin

It's the gift-giving season once again, and time to think about what might please that special gardener in your life even if that gardener is you.

Free plant catalogs are way too cheap to count as proper gifts. Most tools are way too hard to wrap. And how-to guidebooks might unintentionally hint that your favorite gardener needs some serious coaching.

The four books profiled here offer the perfect gift solution. They recount the colorful horticultural past of the plants we have come to favor. Each of these books is available, often at a discount, at

Philip Short. In Pursuit of Plants: Experiences of Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Plant Collectors. Timber Press, 2004. 351 pp. $29.95.

Dr. Philip Short's illustrated In Pursuit of Plants celebrates the undaunted passion of early botanic collectors who put their lives on the line to discover and introduce exotic floral species. Excerpts from their letters and journals detail their trials while contending with treacherous terrain, cannibals, tropical diseases, vampire bats, tigers, and a variety of other nerve-wracking encounters.

As explorer George Forrest later wrote of his nearly fatal experiences in 1905 in western China, "Few realize the great hardships and dangers which have to be faced in order to secure new plants for cultivation." Some intrepid explorers died early and quite suddenly.

Dr. Short's retelling of their life-or-death adventures the secret stories behind those delicate floral beauties in our gardens offers exciting winter reading.

David Stuart. The Plants That Shaped Our Gardens. Harvard University Press, 2002. 208 pp. $39.95.

Mr. David Stuart's The Plants That Shaped Our Gardens unveils the centuries-deep origins of the designs of today's gardens, including bedding, glasshouse, rock and water features. His colorful book also chronicles the dangerous exploits of plant collectors. But, in contrast to Short's method, Stuart mentions rather than details these ventures.

Mr. Stuart particularly emphasizes the ingenuity of men like Joseph Dalton Hooker, an influential 19th-century botanist especially renowned for new rhododendron finds in Nepal. While in Calcutta in 1848, for example, Hooker actually trained elephants to pick flowers for him. Mr. Stuart's account also never shies away from the darker side of these collectors, who sometimes exhibited a cutthroat competitiveness.

Sandra Knapp. Plant Discoveries: A Botanist's Voyage through Plant Exploration. Firefly Books, 2003. 336 pp. $60.00.

Dr. Sandra Knapp's Plant Discoveries features numerous sumptuous paintings produced by artists who participated in long-ago plant-collecting expeditions. As a coffee-table book measuring nearly 11x12 inches, its big and lush format is ideal for showcasing such exquisite botanical art.

Its size also makes Plant Discoveries a bit awkward to read without a table. This is unfortunate because Dr. Knapp's rich commentary details the folklore and garden history of more than twenty plants, including daffodil, hibiscus, heather, iris and morning glory. Typical of this wealth of information is a review of the early religious symbolism and ceremonial uses of roses, once considered the flower of Venus and later associated with the Virgin Mary.

Denise Wiles Adams. Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants, 1640-1940. Timber Press, 2004. 419 pp. $39.95.

A lavishly illustrated 9x12-inch book, Dr. Denise Wiles Adams' Restoring American Gardens is an amazing feat of historical recovery. More than a thousand flowers are profiled. Each entry spotlights the year of a plant's first American introduction and then outlines the national historical record of that plant's use in our gardens.

Dr. Adams provides fascinating design information, drawn from old books. Included are succinct, insightful direct quotations as well as a treasure trove of engravings, paintings and photographs.

Especially entertaining is Dr. Adams' recovery of the old-fashioned names of various flowers "hose-in-hose," "painted nettle," "eight o'clocks," "cups and saucers," "poor man's orchid," "old maids," "ladies delight," "jump up and kiss me." Anyone curious about which plants were once dubbed with these popular nicknames will enjoy the trip back in time provided by Restoring American Gardens.

  Readers' Gardening Tips
"Baking soda spray makes an excellent organic fungicide," writes Bo Anderson. "Just mix 2 tablespoons of baking soda in 4 pints of water. Spray as needed to control fungal diseases like powdery mildew."

Have a favorite gardening tip you'd like to share? Texas Gardener's Seeds is seeking brief gardening tips from Texas gardeners to use in future issues. If we publish your tip in Seeds, we will seed you a free Texas Gardener T-shirt. Here's a chance to get published and be a garden stylist as well! Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

  Did you know...

Darkness gives a different look to the vegetable garden. "In the night the cabbages catch at the moon, the leaves drip silver, the rows of cabbages are a series of little silver waterfalls in the moon," wrote Carl Sandburg. Then in the morning they are just little spheres of slaw-in-waiting.


  Upcoming Garden Events

Festive sights and sounds will fill Moody Gardens, Galveston, at the fifth annual Festival of Lights November 18 through January 6. This entertainment-filled celebration will kick off the holiday season on November 18, with Santa Claus parachuting in to switch on the lights. Transforming its lush garden setting into a winter menagerie of lights, Moody Gardens will be adorned with more than a million twinkling lights and dozens of light displays. In addition to experiencing the lights, guests can also strap on a pair of skates and slide across the ice at the Outdoor Ice Rink or listen to holiday music performed by area bands. Indoors, visitors can take pictures with Santa or see the giant poinsettia tree. Moody Gardens will show a variety of holiday-themed films during the Festival of Lights. Several special holiday packages are also available for groups of 30 or more that can include luxury bus transportation, event admission and the holiday buffet. Special Festival of Lights packages are also available at the Moody Gardens Hotel November 18 through January 6. For more information, please call (800) 582-4673 or visit

Each year, for the last several years, John Panzarella has had a citrus tasting and open house at his home, 404 Forest Drive, Lake Jackson. The next open house will be Saturday, December 9, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Everyone is invited to taste citrus and see fruit trees. Panzarella has approximately 200 different varieties of citrus, 50 percent to 70 percent fruiting, plus several varieties of persimmon, sapote, guava, pawpaw, loquat, pomegranate, avocado, papaya, fig, peach, passion fruit, mango, and pecan trees growing in his backyard. There will be approximately 50 to 60 varieties of citrus to taste. Come taste the citrus, and see the 3rd largest citrus collection in the state of Texas and the largest collection north of the Texas Rio Grand Valley. Come see and taste the giant Panzarella orange and the giant Panzarella cluster lemon. See grapefruit, tangerines and oranges all growing on the same tree. Admission is free. Call (979) 297-2120 or e-mail for a new date if extreme bad weather is predicted, or if you have other questions.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host "Coffee Day," Saturday, January 13, 2007, 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Just in time for the crisp wintry air, this annual family day event features coffee tastings and other exotic treats. Coffee Day is a celebration of tropical plants for edible pleasure and medicinal purposes, derived from the jungle. Admission to the garden: $6 adults, $3 children 3-13, $4 students, military and senior citizens. Admission to the event is included with admission to the garden. For more information, contact (210) 829-5100 or visit

Harris County Master Gardener Fruit Tree Sale & Symposium will be held Saturday, January 13, 2007, at the Harris County Extension Office, 3033 Bear Creek Dr. Houston. Preview 8 a.m.; workshops 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.; sale 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.; lecture and demonstration topics and times TBA. For more information, call (281) 855-5600 or visit

The Texas Cooperative Extension will host the 45th annual Blackland income Growth Conference January 16 and 17, 2007, at the Waco Convention Center, Waco. Among the sessions of interest to gardeners are "Rainwater Harvesting for the Homeowner" led by Billy Kniffen, county extension agent, and "Controlling Weeds in Lawns, Flower Beds, and Vegetable Gardens" led by Dr. Paul Bauman, extension weed specialist. Registration begins at 8 a.m. Admission fees vary. For addition information, see

Urban Harvest will host its annual fruit tree sale Saturday, January 20, 2007, 9:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Emerson Unitarian Church, 1900 Bering Drive, Houston (West of Loop 610 between San Felipe and Westheimer). A pre-sale talk discussing the fruit trees available at the sale begins at 8:00 a.m. and continues until 9:20 a.m. There will be a large selection of citrus trees, as well as trees that produce peaches, plums, apples, pears, figs, pecans, grapes, blackberries, persimmons, and more. For more information on fruit varieties and directions to the sale, check the Urban Harvest website beginning in December.

The Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association will present the 6th annual Texas Conference on Organic Production Systems, "The Local Food Revolution: Bringing Texas Home" January 24 through 27, 2007, in Mesquite. Speakers include Fred Kirschenmann, Distinguished Fellow from the Leopold Center and Jessica Prentice, chef, educator and author of Full Moon Feast. Included among the activities will be farm tours, a new farmers workshop, and an organic home gardening workshop. For additional information, call (877) 326-5175 or visit

Vegetable growers, processors and gardeners can renew their production and marketing skills at the fifth annual High Plains Vegetable Conference in Canyon. The January 25, 2007, conference will feature information relevant to marketing, pest management, food safety, biosecurity and agriculture. Registration begins at 7:45 a.m. at the West Texas A&M University Alumni Banquet Facility at the corner of North Third and 25th streets in Canyon. The cost is $25 per person before Jan. 15, and $30 per person at the door. This fee covers all materials and lunch. Door prizes donated by agribusiness exhibitors will be awarded. The morning session will focus on marketing strategies, potato breeding, head and moisture stress, and integrated disease management. The afternoon session will address weed and insect control, a Texas Department of Agriculture pesticide update, biosecurity and agriculture, foodborne diseases and food safety. For registration or exhibit information contact Russ Wallace or Wendy Durrett at (806) 746-6101.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host "Chocolate Day," Saturday, February 10, 2007, 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Activities include chocolate tastings, chocolate mint plant giveaway, exotic fruits tastings, and children's crafts. Admission to the garden: $6 adults, $3 children 3-13, $4 students, military and senior citizens. Admission to the event is included with admission to the garden. For more information, contact (210) 829-5100 or visit

The Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association will sponsor the Ninth Annual Hill Country Lawn & Garden Show March 31, 2007, at the Lakeside Pavilion in Marble Falls. It is open 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free Admission and seminars. It features garden related vendors, demonstrations, a children's booth, raffle and seminars by Malcolm Beck, Bill Luedecke and the Antique Rose Emporium. For more information go to or call (325) 388-8849.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host a Spring Plant Sale, Saturday, March 31, 2007, 9 a.m. until sold out. Purchase healthy, hardy plants suitable for the San Antonio environment and get expert advice from SABG volunteers, many of whom are Master Gardeners. Admission to the garden: $6 adults, $3 children 3-13, $4 students, military and senior citizens. Admission to the event is included with admission to the garden. For more information, contact (210) 829-5100 or visit

The Greater Fort Worth Herb Society presents its 21st Annual Herb Festival May 19, 2007, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens in Fort Worth. The Festival will feature the sale of herb plants and herb-related products. There will also be a silent auction, crafts, music, demos, food and much more. Special event speakers will be Randy Weston of Weston Gardens and Mary Doebelling of Our Thyme Garden. Admission is $5 for adults. The Botanic Gardens are located at 3220 Botanic Garden Blvd Dr., Fort Worth. For more information, please visit or call (817) 966-7126.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden is sponsoring a trip to Italy September 4 through 15, 2007, featuring Italy's villas and gardens. Escorted by Bob Brackman, the Director of the Garden, an exceptional itinerary has been designed for lovers of leisurely travel and beautiful homes and gardens. Famous for their gardens, Italians still build on their ancestors' legacy with the creation of exquisite country villas surrounded by terraced, fountain-filled gardens that have become symbolic of Italian style. Experience the rich cultural heritage of Italy. Visit special gardens, famous museums, the important cities of Florence and Rome, plus the Lake District, and the small villages which make Italy so charming, such as Cinque Terre, Santa Margherita and Tuscan villages. Feast on fabulous Italian cuisine and enjoy la dolce vita. Land cost per person sharing is $3550 plus air, which includes a $100 tax deductible donation, most meals and gratuities. For more information, contact Marianne Martz of Fuller Travel at (210) 828-6311 or

The Garland Organic Club meets the first Sunday of each month in the little red school house at 1651 Wall St., Garland. All interested gardeners are invited to attend. For more information, call (972) 864-1934 or (800) 864-4445.

Austin Organic Gardeners meet at 7:00 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin. For more information, visit

The Dallas Organic Garden Club meets at 6:45 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Fretz Park Recreation Center, located at the corner of Hillcrest and Beltline Road in Dallas. For more information, call (214) 676-4326 or visit

The Arlington Organic Garden Club meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month (except November and December) at the Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center Street, Arlington. For more information, contact David at (817) 483-7746.

If you would like your organization's events included in "Upcoming Garden Events," please contact us at Garden Events.

  Book Sale:
  Garden Bulbs for the South

In Garden Bulbs for the South, acclaimed garden expert Scott Ogden introduces Southern gardeners to more than 200 warm-climate bulbs that will perform wonderfully in their garden bulbs new, exotic, extraordinary, or unjustly neglected. A bulb for any need and any reason many of which will return to increase in beauty. With nearly 200 gorgeous, full-color photographs, Garden Bulbs for the South is an inviting way to take the guesswork out of bulb planting. This book is not available through the on-line bookstore. Limited supply available.

 $24.50 while supplies last!

  Gourds in Your Garden

At last! Ginger Summit's complete, easy-to-use guide to help you identify popular gourd shapes; plan and prepare your garden; grow, train and harvest a bountiful crop of gourds; and prepare your gourds for use, from recipes to art projects. This book is not available through the on-line bookstore. Limited supply available.

 $21.30 while supplies last!

  The Louisiana Iris

A comprehensive guide to the culture of the Louisiana Iris, Marie Caillett and Joseph K. Mertzweiller's The Louisiana Iris represents more than 200 years of combined experience of the editors and 18 other contributing members of the Society for Louisiana Irises. This book is not available through the on-line bookstore. Limited supply available.

 $29.84 while supplies last!

  Roses in the Southern Garden

In this valuable review of 100 antique roses, from and for southern gardens, G. Michael Shoup shows each rose as a separate personality. Included in Roses in the Southern Garden are hundreds of evocative photographs illustrating creative and imaginative gardens blended with Old Garden Roses. This book is not available through the on-line bookstore. Limited supply available.

 $37.36 while supplies last!

  Southern Lawns

If you're tired of your neighbor bragging about his superior lawn, this is the book for you! Southern Lawns provides complete step-by-step instructions for planting and/or maintaining every major type of southern grass lawn, including Bermuda Grass, Centipede, St. Augustine, Zoysia, Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass. In addition to a special "month-by-month" section with activity lists for every month of the year, author Chris Hastings includes a complete glossary of lawn care terms. This book is not available through the on-line bookstore. Limited supply available.

 $26.62 while supplies last!

  Texas Wildscapes

Noreen Damude and Kelly Conrad Bender's Texas Wildscapes helps gardeners design gardens to provide habitat for native wildlife. More importantly, it furnishes lists of beautiful and useful native plants appropriate to the specific region of Texas in which you live. This book is not available through the on-line bookstore. Limited supply available.

 $26.63 while supplies last!

Order any of the above books by calling 1-800-727-9020.

(Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)

  Fiber Row Cover valuable year-round

Grow-Web encourages plant growth and development, and also provides protection from insects, birds, diseases and frosts. It is also air and water permeable and allows for ventilation. Grow-Web provides excellent protection to seedlings when applied directly to the seedbed.

 $30.64 per 12.3' x 32.8' roll (includes shipping!)

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020. Not available through on-line bookstore.

(Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)


Texas Gardener's Seeds
is published weekly. Suntex Communications, Inc. 2006. All rights reserved. You may forward this publication to your friends and colleagues if it is sent in its entirety. No individual part of this newsletter may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.

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Publisher: Chris S. Corby Editor: Michael Bracken

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