Venny’s Garden

A shady haven

Photo by Venny Zachritz

I’m going to change things up a bit for my blog and feature special gardens, special gardeners, and special gardening techniques in addition to cooking from the garden.

One of the best finds right now is my friend Venny’s garden. She is an artful shade gardener and has a spectacular landscape. Here is her description of her garden!

Photo by Venny Zachritz

Greetings from Asheville!

I’m Venny and I am passionate about gardening. In the last 30 years I have lived in the southwest, the southeast, the mid-Atlantic Appalachian mountains of Maryland, and now the foothills of the southern Appalachian mountains in Asheville. I learned, through trial and error, how to garden in each of these locations but adding color to my landscape was never an issue until now.

My north Asheville home sits on the slope of a hill, as most Asheville homes do, and the yard is almost completely shaded by trees of various species, ages and sizes. Over the years I have thinned out some trees to open an area for a small plot of pollinator plants and a woodland area for native azaleas. But in the summer months there is little color variety – mostly shades of green.

Photo by Venny Zachritz

After spending years of buying sun-loving annuals and having them languish, I have now learned how to use different shades of green to add color and texture.

I line the edges of my garden with shade-loving variegated or chartreuse perennials. I love using hostas and am drawn to the variegated ones, in white, cream and gold, for their color. I also use chartreuse-colored Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa) and striped sedges (Carex) to add light and texture.

Photo by Venny Zachritz

I’ll drop in some caladiums and coleus for spots of color. Then, some yard art (not elves or flamingos, please) and colored pots of shade-loving annuals, and the shade garden is now filled with color and whimsy.

Photo by Venny Zachritz

Shade gardening has been, for me, one of the most challenging types of gardening to learn, and adding color to a summer shade garden has turned into a fun annual activity.

Photo by Venny Zachritz

Summer Vegetables

Heirlooms

In this high season of summer, it’s natural to write about what’s inspiring right now. Mostly summer vegetables and beautiful gardens. Squash, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers.

Summer squash, tomatoes and eggplant are delicious in a simple layered dish cooked quickly to keep the kitchen cool. Layer with rich cheese, dust with panko and parmesan, and voila – you have dinner!

Summer squash

Puree fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers to make a delicious gazpacho. Season with a chili and garlic, and drizzle with good olive oil and sriracha for a cool, filling drink or soup to start your meal. 

For a little more complicated squash dish, my favorite:

Sweet peppers

Summer Squash Cheese Custard

2 large yellow squash, sliced into ½-inch rounds (about 4 cups) 

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped 

1 large clove garlic, chopped

3 ounces goat cheese or other cheese, grated

¼ cup cornmeal 

2 eggs, beaten 

1 cup milk 

3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus sprigs for garnishing 

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Steam the squash until tender. Saute onion and garlic until tender. 

Drain squash. Add all ingredients to a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into an 8-by-8-inch baking dish or 6 individual ramekins that have been coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400°F for 40 minutes (35 minutes for the ramekins) or until golden brown on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

K.I.S.

Lettuces and chard

Keep It Simple (the implied other S is for stupid which I don’t think is nice or appropriate).

I’ve been overwhelmed recently with the intensity of some recipes, mostly because they complicate cooking. The other day a recipe crossed my desk from one of the blog sites I visit. It sounded like a delicious dish. But it had twenty-three ingredients! I immediately dismissed it, but then went back to it and realized that it was mostly a list of seasonings. The actual food ingredients were only three.

I understand that when publishing a recipe it’s important to list everything that will be used. But so often a huge list is discouraging. And I want you to cook! So, I like to keep my recipes as simple as possible, with whatever fresh ingredients you can manage to get or grow. 

Grilled asparagus

Fall and winter chilis and stews certainly call for a more extensive list of ingredients, but summer is a time to simply roast or grill a zucchini and sprinkle with parmesan, slice garden tomatoes and douse with balsamic, grated garlic and torn basil leaves, or toss fresh roasted asparagus and eggplant cubes over hot pasta. 

Butter lettuce getting ready to bolt

In my garden, lettuce is bolting so I harvested all that was left, and after offering some to neighbors, made a saute of lettuce and onion served over rice. Yes, you can cook lettuce. 

Sauteed lettuce over rice

4 cups of torn or chopped lettuce (or any green – kale, chard, turnip) – This sounds like a lot but it cooks way, way down

1 T. sesame oil or olive oil

2 T. chopped onions

1 c. cooked rice (or any cooked grain – bulgur, quinoa, farro)

Seasonings of choice:

I like spicy so I use sambal olek (garlic-chili paste), maybe some hoisin sauce, soy sauce. I also like to finish off with a couple of tablespoons of greek yogurt or sour cream to make it creamy.

Start with a large pan because of the bulk of the lettuce. Saute the lettuce in the sesame oil, stirring frequently until it is wilted. Stir in the rice and seasonings and heat gently. Stir in seasonings and sour cream if using. 

Rhubarb

Rhubarb flowers – you don’t have to remove them

Rhubarb buds actually begin appearing at 40 degrees, so it’s exploding into growth right now. I planted it last year and it’s taking off in the garden now. The best part is that it takes little care to grow as long as you give it plenty of room, and the stems can be harvested sometimes until mid-summer. Some rhubarbs have red stems, but the most common type has green stems. Both have the same taste. You can purchase roots at garden centers, or you can beg a division from someone who has a healthy plant. I’ve been known to haunt abandoned farms to dig divisions.

Rhubarb at the farmers market

Harvest while the plants have robust stems and put the excess in the freezer. Simply chop and put in a freezer bag for use in rhubarb bread and cakes. When stems become slender, stop harvesting and wait until fall. It’s not necessary to remove flower stalks from plants.

Packed with Vitamins A and C, calcium and potassium, the stems are absolutely delicious simply stewed with a little sugar and spooned on top of oatmeal or ice cream. Just remember that the leaves are not edible and can give you a pretty good tummy ache.

Rhubarb bread is a favorite in my house, and I like to combine it with apples for an extra burst of flavor.

Rhubarb streusel bread (can be made into muffins as well)

1 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 egg
1 c. buttermilk
1 t. vanilla
2 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 ½ c. fresh or frozen sliced rhubarb or a combination of rhubarb and grated apples

Note: if rhubarb is frozen, thaw and let drain, discarding the liquid

TOPPING:
½ c. sugar
¼ t. cinnamon
1 T. cold butter

In a mixing bowl, combine brown sugar and oil. Add egg, mix well. Beat in buttermilk and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; stir into brown sugar mixture just until combined. Fold in rhubarb. Pour into two greased 8 x 4 loaf pans or greased muffin tins.

For topping, combine sugar, cinnamon and butter until crumbly; sprinkle over batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 60-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Cut with serrated knife.