When the Cosmos Speaks in Orange

“Orange is the colour of truth.”

– Anthony T. Hincks

 

I’ve always loved orange. My favorite color is black, actually, but that’s for a whole separate post. (It’s not a stretch to see how someone like me would adore Halloween, huh?) But Orange. Orange somehow makes me feel grounded, centered, comforted. It’s that color that rings closest to pure for me. I’m not really sure why. The best explanation I can retrieve, from the depths of my inner self, is that orange conjures up memories of fall and memories of fall equate, in my heart, to Thanksgiving dinner around my grandparents’ table. Truth be told, a bit of sadness often wells within me when the orange is traded for Christmas red.

I think that’s one of my most favorite memories…Thanksgiving dinner. When we celebrated at my grandparents’ house, there were always ten of us. Two old, four mid and four young humans packed around a table in a dining room that had way too much furniture residing in it. And it was always just a smidge too warm in the house, but you wore a sweater anyway, and the whole space smelled like giblet gravy. And there was china on the table and laughter and delicate goblets and the clinking of silverware and pride seeping from every pore of my grandma’s skin over the quality of her cornbread dressing. And there was always pie with Kraft® Cool Whip. I remember one particular Thanksgiving in high school where I went out back by myself to gather pecans from under their massive tree. My grandma spent three-quarters of pecan season cursing squirrels in her head, but NEVER out of her mouth, so I’m sure I was out there trying to get a jump on things to help out. I was wearing a cream-colored sweater that J. had bought for me as a gift, jeans and brown Bass loafers, if any of you from the early 90s remember those. The sky was a perfect warmth of gray with a nip in the air. As I dropped pecans one by one into the paper sack, I remember feeling so thankful, so blessed, so loved and so nearest to God in the most defined place of contentment I can recall over the entire course of my life. Sometimes when I need grounding now, I go back to that place in my mind, step into that yard and just live Thanksgiving at Grandma and Grandpa’s for a few minutes. It was the one place where there were no expectations. In THAT place…you were simply embraced. You might have heard of this thing. It’s called unconditional love. It’s why, I suppose, when the universe speaks to my soul, it uses orange words.

So, you can only imagine how the color orange in my garden brings me great joy, and especially orange at this time of year. It’s like a double win! If you are looking for the perfect fall orange in your landscape, my all-time favorite winner is the old-fashioned Tall Orange Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus). I have literally been waiting for weeks now for our stand to open up in the pollinator garden, watching with high anticipation as buds began to form everywhere across the crowns of dozens of plants.  Finally, this week, after the turn of the autumnal equinox, which happened to fall on my birthday, the buds all opened into a stunning array of contentment.

 

The best thing about including this flower in your garden, is that you just don’t have to work at it. You sow seeds, sit back and watch them come up. In North Texas you can either sow in the fall before the first frost or wait until spring and sow in early March. We literally started with two or three plants last season that came up from a mixed wildflower packet, and this year we have DOZENS! I mean…why only have a sprinkle of joy when you can douse yourself in it??? And it is a true favorite of pollinators.

If that still doesn’t sell you, then let me say that the Orange Cosmos is the perfect compliment to your humanitarian efforts. If you are looking for ways to become more sustainable in your gardening efforts and not spend hard-earned resources buying plants, you can easily harvest seeds from one single plant and share them to other areas of your garden. You will even have so many seeds that you could #plantsharenow with friends! Just wait for the flowers to die back and you will see long, spear-like seeds develop where the petals once were. Just knock them off into a paper bag, and you’re done!

 

Now, I will admit that if you are a person requiring “order” in your garden, this might not be the plant for you. Our Cosmos definitely push J.’s sense of appropriate boundaries. Their stems intertwine like unkempt toddler hair, some will insist on raising their hands while the rest of the class sits quietly and they aren’t terribly considerate of stepping aside for sidewalk dog-walkers or scooter riders.

 

But, I have to say, I believe contentment often reveals itself in spaces a little less ordered and peace resides outside the boundaries, where you simply let go and embrace the tangles. So dog-walkers beware! You’ll just have to step over the Cosmos or pass around it. Or, even better, you COULD allow the petals to brush up against you…as you walk straight through.

 

All the best,

A.J.

– All Content Photos by Amanda J. Schulz

 

Falling Off the Turnip Truck – Tuesday Tip

“Thank God for good directions…and turnip greens.”

– “Good Directions,” by Billy Currington

 

Welcome to Tuesday Tips! This will be a stopping place of interest for all you readers to gain some insight into what I am doing at the moment in my own outdoor world. Hopefully you will find these periodic quick tips and suggestions to be helpful tools for you to grow tall in your own outdoor knowledge and skills.

Today we’re taking on (drum roll, please)…the turnip.

You know how sometimes you just put energy out into the universe and the signals immediately bounce back to confirm that you’re on the right track? That happened to me early this week.

I had decided, in the quiet of my own private mind, to write about turnips because (number 1) that’s what I’m handling in my garden at the moment and (number 2) Tuesday Tips needs to be authentically about what I’m doing, right? I won’t lie, though. I absolutely second-guessed myself on this one. I literally thought, “Do people REALLY want to hear about turnips?” I mean, come on. Turnips are those things that your great-aunt, who you only see once a year, shows up with for Thanksgiving dinner in a blue-rimmed floral bowl, everyone peering down at them on the buffet with that utter look of uncertainty as to what to do next, someone three people behind you graciously saying, “Oh, who brought turnips? I love turnips!” I get it. Turnips confuse people.

The funny “universe signal” was that, after I had landed on the odd topic of turnips, I picked up a book on Beatrix Potter and began reading where I happened to have left off several weeks ago. The initial paragraph went…

“The cool-weather crops are ready to go in. Cabbages like the cold,
along with their cousins, broccoli and cauliflower, and Beatrix
plants all three. Turnip seed can be planted. After they germinate
and grow on for a few weeks, when she has time, Beatrix “single[s]
the turnips,” pulling out the extras to give each seedling its
own space, room for their roots to fill out.”

 

Well, that pretty much sealed the deal. I figured I was meant to talk turnips. I mean, seriously? What are the chances I would think about turnips and then immediately read about turnips??? (If you’ve been paying attention to this blog since the beginning, yes…this is the SAME Beatrix Potter book that I mentioned back in my October post on mushrooms…and, yes…I am the SLOWEST reader on the planet.) I digress.

So, turnips it is! And here are my glorious tips…

Here in North Texas we have two short growing seasons instead of one long season, like you might have in, say, Indiana. For the fall, we plant our turnip seed from about Valentine’s Day through about the second week in March.  Unlike Beatrix, though, I don’t usually “single” my turnips as seedlings. “Singling” simply means to thin, so that each plant has full room for the root to bulb out. I just really don’t need that many turnips. Turnips go a long way, you know! You can typically get two rounds of greens here before the plant is completely done.  So I sow a bunch of turnip seed and let all of the plants come up until the greens are a nice medium size. Then I give the greens a haircut, as I call it, and use the first cutting to cook with collards and mustard and even Swiss chard.

Turnip greens get a haircut.

 

A harvested trio of first-round collards, red mustard and turnip greens.

 

When you give the haircut, here is where the tip on “singling” comes in.  Invariably, there will be turnips scattered throughout, often on the edges, that are beginning to bulb. When I see those, I pull entire plants out that are surrounding them so that those roots have more room.  That then leaves a bunch of tight plants still left to produce another round of greens, but also, now, a solid selection of singled plants that will form nice, healthy roots.

 

Example of a young turnip under tight foliage, a perfect candidate for nearby thinning.

 

The haircut and thin happened in my garden on April 22.  Here we are today, roughly three weeks later, and I have harvested the full grown turnips and a second round of greens!

 

Plump turnip harvest.

 

So, what do I do with my turnips???  Well, I cook the second round of greens just as I did before, and turnip roots actually make a great thickening agent for soups, if you don’t like them prepared other ways. I have cooked and puréed them and then added some of the mix to various soups many times. I also go ahead and harvest any little bite-sized turnips, because the outside temperatures will be getting too hot now for the plants to continue to grow well. I haven’t tried it before, but I intend to pickle those with some other small veggies. I’ll post a turnip recipe or two coming up, along with the pickling tips that I try.

If you didn’t plant turnips this spring, not to worry. File this article away for future use. In areas of the south, anyway, with the two short growing seasons, you’ll have the opportunity to plant turnip seed again for the fall between late August and the end of October.  Try it this fall, and when your friends ask you all about what you’re planting, simply share your wealth of knowledge and jest, “You know, I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday.” You’ll have instantaneous garden street cred. Trust me on this one. 😉

 

All the best,

A. J.

– All content images by Amanda J. Schulz.

 

 

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