All posts by Ann McCulloh

Mache, the fairytale lettuce 

by Ann McCulloh, contributing editor

Once, upon a time, there was a little plant that slept all summer, sprouted in the fall, and grew green and contented underneath the snow. Come the warm spring sun it flowered, scattered its seed freely and went to sleep until cool weather woke it up again. The lucky princess in whose garden it flourished, never had to plant it, or do much of anything but give it a bed of straw, and pick it for salads in the dark days of winter.

Mache (aka lamb’s lettuce, corn salad, Rapunzel, doucette, Nussler) is the most familiar name for Valeriana locusta, a delicate and delicious salad green that really does follow this topsy-turvy, through-the looking-glass schedule. I first planted the seed in springtime, in 2012, I think. It came up, promptly flowered

then went to seed, and I proceeded to forget all about it until the next September, when little green rosettes started poking through my straw mulch.

I kept an eye on it as it stayed green and grew a bit, while frosts became more prevalent. Then the first snow fell, and I assumed the worst. Sometime the next January I ventured out to the garden patch and noticed the green rosettes looked spritely. And larger. I pushed away some snow and clipped a few of them.

Mache (pronounced mahsh) has a delicate, nutty or even floral, flavor that invites dressing with walnut or hazelnut oil and sherry vinegar. It’s compatible with most anything. The French, who probably grow the most mache commercially, often dress it with hazelnut oil and vinegar, pair it with endive, frisee, thinly-sliced radishes or beets, and chop hardboiled egg or ham over it. The 4” spoon-shaped leaves have a spinach-like texture that holds onto just the right amount of vinaigrette.  I like it with orange segments, avocado slices, citrus dressing and a sprinkle of violets! Cooked briefly like spinach, it makes a decent omelet filling. Nice in a sandwich wrap, too!

Citrus Dressing for Winter/Spring Mache Salad:

1/3 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice

2 tablespoons balsamic or other good vinegar

1 Tablespoon olive, hazelnut or avocado oil

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

It’s surprising that self-sowing mache hasn’t caught on more widely with gardeners and gourmets in this country. For me, it is the closest thing to an effortless garden crop. But best of all, I can harvest tasty garden-fresh greens from January through April, and I haven’t bought a packet of seeds since that first purchase in 2012.


corn salad, lamb’s lettuce, Rapunzel salad (Valeriana locusta) Doucette, raiponce, Nussler

Europe, Africa, Western Asia

Specialty of Nantes

Vitamin C, B6, beta-carotene, iron, potassium, copper manganese

More iron than spinach

Delicate flavor, nutty or even floral, to me. Dress with walnut oil and sherry vinegar or a mustard dressing

Orange and avocado with orange dressing

Roasted beets and endive or frisee

Mix with other salad greens

Rosette of tender, spoonshaped leaves

Tiny whole plants, add a delicate crunch

Can be cooked like spinach and used to stuff omelets or pastry

Tea sandwich filling, with thinly sliced radishes

Lazy gardener alert

Germinates when soils are 55 to 68 degrees, sun, moist soil, mulch

Young plants sprout in September, remain green and succulent all winter under light straw mulch, really burgeon in March and April, start to bloom in May and seed themselves prolifically in June. Seed lies dormant until cooler fall weather. Then the cycle restarts.

Orchids Aloft!

Ann McCulloh, contributing editor

The orchids have landed! Or rather, they are hovering, given the theme of this season’s Orchidmania at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. “Hanging Gardens” are beautifully realized in a number of inventive assemblages that feature this stunningly colorful and varied family of flowers. The current exhibit reveals a sophisticated design sense in nearly every detail. And lovely details abound!


I visited this year’s version of the Garden’s annual orchid extravaganza on a recent sunny weekday afternoon. This year the show runs from January 29th through March 5. The best times for leisurely, less-crowded visiting are weekdays after the school buses depart, around 1pm. Greeted in the lobby by a remarkably realistic oversized sculpture of the familiar Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis species), I walked under a dense arch of yellow Cymbidiums into the darkened Atrium. There, vertical towers of Moth Orchids, ferns and Spanish moss rise from fountains pouring into a dramatically purple-lit pool.

 Colorful lighting is another feature of the show.

Orchids “float” throughout the show, suspended in open grapevine spheres, on bamboo towers and levitating in baskets at nose and eye level.


Artful displays in the dark, somewhat dry interior spaces of the building rely on the familiar, incredibly durable Moth Orchid.

(Moth basket)

I have real affection for this type of orchid, which can actually thrive and rebloom in challenging living spaces, where most orchids wither, yellow and decline.

A delicious diversity of orchid color, texture and form awaits visitors in the glasshouses, where abundant light, warmth and humidity help the flowers flourish. Orchids, ferns and bromeliads (aka “air plants”) play off each other in impressive set pieces.


The key to success with orchids (well, plants of any type) is in reproducing the conditions of their original environment. Many orchids, like this blue Vanda, require very bright, but indirect light, temperatures that range above human comfort, and humidity that would cause the sofa to grow mold.


For anyone who wants to succeed with orchids at home, the American Orchid Society provides a wealth of information tailored to specific types of orchids on their website in the “All About Orchids” section The Garden will host an orchid sale with multiple vendors on the weekend of February 18th and 19th.

I fall under the spell of orchids every year in the dreary depths of February. More than any other family of flowers they invite fantastic comparisons. The odd ruses they employ to trick insects into pollinating them, the fleshy substance of their petals, and even the characteristic “nose” in the center of each blossom give them a sort of animal presence. I mean, don’t these Pansy Orchids (Miltonia sp.)

( Miltonia) make you think of the Seven Dwarves? And this Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum)

(Villain) seems positively villainous, while these two are frankly sensual?


This natural extravagance of shape, color and pattern brings out an answering creative impulse in artists of all sorts. Orchids are like candy to photographers, of course, and photo contest entries are on display, but that is just the beginning.


(Candy) There’s more orchid themed art in the Café, with tasty paintings on silk by Gunther Schwegler,



and even a pretty table setting with a lush petal-covered table cloth. A silk painting workshop is offered in March, too, more info on the Garden’s web site. A very fun feature of Orchidmania is the dozen or so orchid-inspired dresses by students in the fashion design program of Kent state University, on display in Clarke Hall.


If this season has you feeling uninspired or pessimistic, the orchid show may provide much-needed uplift! Bring your camera, and give yourself time to saunter slowly and stop often. Get lost in some fabulous detailed flower.


Seek out the sweet fragrances of the Chocolate Orchid (Oncidium ‘Sweet Sharrie Baby’)
(SharrieBaby) and the Foxtail Orchid (Rhynchostylis)


(Foxtail) It’s an invitation to take some deep, slow breaths and feel yourself float a little.


GardenWalk Cleveland will be back in 2017!

Ann McCulloh, contributing editor


In the heart of a Cleveland summer, hundreds of people stroll the city’s neighborhoods, invited to soak up the special character of each one, meeting residents and admiring their unique and welcoming gardens. GardenWalk Cleveland, a free, self-guided and volunteer-organized tour has been the vehicle for this special invitation since 2011. 

Last year (2016) Gardenwalk Cleveland took a one-year break, for a bunch of reasons that included an already crowded public event calendar (RNC, a national community gardening conference, to name two) some changes in funding sources, and the need to establish independent non-profit status. In hindsight, the break may have been an especially good idea, given the punishing drought we gardeners suffered all season long!

GardenWalk is back for 2017, and I for one am thrilled. Two neighborhoods have been chosen as definite hosts for the July 8 & 9 tour: Detroit-Shoreway and Collinwood. As many as two more will be added as planning for the event continues. A special focus on gardens that use native plants is planned for next year, too.

GardenWalk 2017 has mounted a crowdfunding campaign to cover the cost of producing maps, updating the website and other expenses associated with putting on the event. Contributions are already underway through November 18th at

Inspired by a similar event in Buffalo, New York, GardenWalk Cleveland’s mission is “to build community, beautify neighborhoods, and encourage civic pride.”  As a transplant to Cleveland (pun intended) I have been delighted to discover the neighborhoods of Cleveland (Old Brooklyn Hough, Larchmere, Tremont and more) and meet the truly charming and individual gardeners who live and garden there.

daylilies GC 2015 - 2

The two times I put my own garden on the tour I met a steady parade of wonderful fellow gardeners, and had many inspiring conversations. One visitor even came back a day or two later with a gift of special plants from her own garden! You can learn more about GardenWalk, and get involved! at

Mum’s NOT the Word!

Ann McCulloh, contributing editor

Ahhh autumn! The Equinox is past. Days shorten, nights cool. I imagine most of us infatuated with gardens, ours and others, experience this season with the same poignant mix of celebration, regret and  relief.  Although we are feeling the signals to relinquish, retreat, slow down, there’s such renewed energy in the air too! So many cool-loving annuals like nasturtiums, alyssum,

photo-1-alyssumlettuce, broccoli all leap up, refreshed and re-sprouting after the baking heat of summer. Fall-bearing raspberries

photo-2-red-raspberry are bending under the weight of their fruit. Grapes, nuts, apples swell to ripeness. Tomatoes, squash, eggplants are producing on and on, holding out hopes for the Thanksgiving table.

I’ve never been good at letting go of summer, but the humming bees collecting nectar from winter savory and borage blossoms inspire me to fill my own cupboard for the long cold season.  I’m cutting tarragon, basil, Oregano and thyme to dry. Freezing some tomatoes, and putting winter squash on top of the fridge to cure in the warm air up there. I’m making cuttings of my favorite coleus to winter over, and getting my houseplants ready for their indoor sojourn.

I have to admit that I’m just not very fond of the traditional fall garden décor of pumpkins, gourds, kale and ubiquitous chrysanthemums. Instead, my affection strengthens year after year for the hardy flowers that, just like me, are perennially late to the party.  Just a sampling of what’s coming into bloom now, to cheer the cusp of the season: Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida),


hardy Cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium), Turtlehead (Chelone glabra),


Toadlily (Trycyrtis hirta), Closed Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii),

photo-5-gentianMonkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii),

photo-6-monkshoodGoldenrod (Solidago spp.),  October Daphne (Sedum sieboldii), Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans), Yellow waxbells (Kirengeshoma palmata), New England asters (Aster noviae-angliae),


and even some long-blooming roses, like Rosa ‘Iceberg’. These are the guests at my fall fete. It’s a full house! I’m very much in a festival mood, even though thoughts of the after-party cleanup are looming. Not in the mood for stiff, funereal mums!

Gardenopolis Bulletin: Keeping Your Plants Up in a Drought

By Contributing Editor Ann McCulloh

Our current dry spell in Northeast Ohio is a rather unfamiliar challenge to gardeners, accustomed as we are to a generous annual average rainfall of 39.14 inches. The United States Drought Monitor recently updated our status to “Moderate Drought”, from “Abnormally Dry” a week ago. The National Weather Service is not predicting relief anytime soon. Add unusually hot days, one after another, and the situation is getting serious for gardens, and gardeners! (Although when I Google “Cleveland drought” I get endless hits about a basketball championship, and nothing at all about weather. Hmmm?)

When I dig down and find powder dry soil at a depth of 12”, I know that annuals, perennials, shrubs and even trees are in trouble and even in danger of dying. The ones that survive will show the results of stress with slowed growth, fewer flowers, shoot dieback and increased susceptibility to pests and diseases.

photo 1 crispy white pine_resized

(Crispy white pine, a recent casualty)

Bottom line: we need to water. Alot! Most people just are not watering enough right now. Since it’s hard to know if you’re doing it correctly, here are some tips that I find helpful:

  • Established plants need a minimum of 1” of rain per week for optimal growth. Newly planted ones, more like 2” per week.  If you are using a sprinkler, set an empty tuna can within the range of the spray. Check the amount of time needed to fill the can as the sprinkler runs. That’s how long the sprinkler should run each week to supply that critical 1”. 
  • Even established trees need supplemental water during a drought. A soaker hose or sprinkler run for about an hour will usually saturate the soil to the needed depth of 10”. Doing this even once or twice during a drought event will be beneficial.
  • Water deeply and infrequently (just 1-2 times a week for established plants, 5-7 times a week only for the smallest, newest seedlings.) This allows for development of deeper, more drought-resistant roots.
  • Large tomato plants, full grown hostas, small shrubs and so on need about 1-2 gallons of water per week. Count the seconds it takes to fill a watering can with the hose. That’s how long to hold the hose on each plant.
  • Water the soil at the base of the plant, soaking the soil, not the leaves! Plants absorb water through their roots, while wet leaves allow diseases to thrive. A long-handled watering wand attached to the hose with a shutoff valve is my favorite tool for this. 

Photo 2 watering wand_resized (1)

  • Watering in the evening conserves some water as it can soak into the ground rather than evaporating into the warmer daytime air.
  • Cover bare soil with a 2” layer of mulch at all times! Shredded bark, pine nuggets, pine straw, wood chips, dry leaves, or straw are all good options.

And be sure to keep the gardener well-hydrated too! I recommend plentiful iced tea and occasional dashes through the sprinkler.

Special GARDENOPOLISCleveland Alert!: The Devil’s Parakeets – coming soon, to treetops near you! (But not to dine)

by contributing editor, Ann McCulloh

The Locusts are coming! The Locusts are coming! Scary-looking, strange-sounding insects will soon be descending on Northeast Ohio in large numbers any day now. LATE-BREAKING NEWS – a few were spotted in Hudson on May 23 rd ! But unlike the Biblical plagues of locusts, and the hordes which devastated settlers’ crops on the Great Plains, this invasion is expected to have minimal impact on our gardens. Small fruit trees and newly planted trees and shrubs are somewhat vulnerable.

Wikipedia Devils ParakeetPublic Domain,

The short version: a brood of periodical cicadas is just about to emerge from their 17-year dormancy/pupation underground. These are large (1-2” long) shiny black insects with bright orange wing veins and big red eyes – spooky-looking! The adults crawl out of holes in the ground in the morning, crawl up the nearest tree or shrub to dry out and harden their wings and bodies, then fly off to begin mating rituals which include a deafening chorus of keening from the treetops.

They emerge in LARGE numbers in late May when soil temperatures 8” below ground reach 64 degrees Fahrenheit. The adults fly, sing and mate (but don’t eat plants) until around the end of June. They can literally carpet the ground in places where they are prevalent, and the males’ song is incredibly loud, especially during midday. Outdoor weddings and graduation ceremonies may be memorably disrupted by these unearthly looking and sounding visitors.

Protecting your plants: The adults feed minimally, sucking a small amount of sap from twigs. Damage to plants is caused when the females scratch slits into smaller twigs on trees and shrubs, in order to lay their eggs. According to an article on the Morton Arboretum website plant-advice/help- pests/periodical-cicadas , the trees most frequently affected are oak, hickory, apple, peach and pear. Young trees, especially fruit and nut trees, can benefit from protection during the June egg-laying period. Wrap fine-mesh netting over the branches, securing it tightly to the trunk to prevent the cicadas from crawling under it. Some insects may be discouraged by wrapping the trunk smoothly with a band of aluminum foil, but the majority will just fly to the branches instead.

There’s plenty of information about the fascinating 17-year cicada in a booklet produced by the Ohio Biological Survey. In Ohio’s Backyards: Periodical Cicadas (Gene Kritsky, 1999) includes detailed biology, historical accounts, superstitions, maps of various emergence years all over Ohio, and a recipe for Cicada Pie from a 1902 issue of the Cincinnati Enquirer! I’m putting my fellow foragers on notice! If I can collect enough recently-emerged cicadas (they need to be collected early in the morning before their shells have fully hardened) I plan to try pan-roasting some. Recipe-share, anyone?

Spring Plant Sales 2016

spring plants

by Ann McCulloh, contributing editor

The great plant grab is on! Suddenly it’s May, and the best and freshest of plants are offered in all corners of our region. There’s always a sense of urgency about getting around to the various sales (many on the same weekend) and making your selections before they sell out. My best advice: 1) look at offerings online ahead of time (when available) and make a realistic list 2) Plot a route that lets you visit several on one day 3) Go early 4) Bring cash (and set a budget) 5) line your car with a tarp or old shower curtain.

This is a list of 2016 plant sales by not-for-profit groups in Northeast Ohio. Some of them emphasize annuals and vegetables, others focus on native plants, perennials or shrubs, others offer some of everything. Despite my best efforts, this list is not comprehensive, so additions are welcome in your comments. Please do keep it to promotions to not-for-profit organizations, though.

Sat May 7 9am – 4pm Larchmere Community Association

Corner of East 127th and Larchmere Blvd

Sat May 7 9am -1pm, Shaker Lakes Nature Center

May 7 and 8, 10 am-4pm, Cleveland Metroparks Native Plant Sale

North Chagrin Nature Center Auditorium 3037 SOM Center Road, Willoughby Hills, OH 44094 

Sat May 7 2-4pm, Lakewood Earth and Food Community

Lakewood Garden Center 13230 Detroit Rd., Lakewood. Several local seedling vendors, local food and craft vendors, too.

Thurs-Sat May 12-14 10am – 4pm, Rockefeller Park Greenhouse

750 East 88th St., Cleveland, just off Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. Free, secure parking.

Fri-Sat-Sun, May 13, 14, 15, Holden Arboretum

Sat May 14 10-4pm, GardenWalk Cleveland

12541 Cedar Road, Cleveland Heights, OH.  Parking in the Cedar Hill Baptist Church lot.

Sat May 14 9am-1pm, Secrest Arboretum

(Sat May 20 and Sun May 21 are scheduled pickup days for Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s member’s only native plant sale. There’s still time to join and pre-order. More info at

Sat June 4 9am-2pm, Master Gardeners Plants in the Park

City of Independence Complex, 6363 Selig Drive, Kiwanis Pavilion

What We Are Eating Now: Nettles for Breakfast (and Lunch, and Dinner!)

Ann McCulloh is a contributing editor, whose motto is “Eat Your Yard”


The fresh young shoots of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) are one of my favorite spring greens to sauté and eat with eggs. This delicious, mild, nutty-flavored wild vegetable has more nutrition than spinach, and pretty much grows itself, unlike fussier garden greens.


I like to chop and sauté’ the leaves (for about 8 minutes) with mushrooms and garlic, or combine them with dandelion greens and garlic mustard as a side dish, a soup base, quiche or savory pastry filling. The stems can be tough, so I use mostly the leaves.


About the “stinging” part! The sharp, hollow hairs on the leaves and stem contain formic acid which causes a rather brief but intense sting when touched. Cooking or thorough crushing destroys this stinging capability, drying the leaves does not! So nettles are not traditionally eaten raw. I harvest and clean them with gloves on, and recommend you do the same. 


One of the earliest greens to harvest, nettles satisfy my longing for fresh fare at a time when most garden plants are awaiting balmier weather. Their delicate flavor is accompanied by a whole alphabet’s worth of nutrients. According to the website, nettles are particularly rich in protein, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Silica, Vitamins A &K, beta-Carotene, Lutein, as well as significant amounts of other vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. Rather than buying powdered green “superfoods” for super bucks, I prefer to pick my own in the form of this humble and prolific backyard perennial “weed.”

I started with just one plant a couple of years ago, and it has spread to an 8’ x 8’ patch. That suits me fine. I also harvest and dry big bunches of the leafy stems to have for tea and add to soups throughout the year.

Nettles5hanging (1)

Experts advise picking it before it starts to flower in midsummer, although herbalists also collect nettle seeds for medicinal uses. The plant will take off and spread like mint if planted in damp, rich soil in partial shade. Control it by sinking it in a pot in the ground or just harvest it vigorously and often, like I do!

Controversy: Relax, Its Just Permaculture

by Ann McCulloh

The word “permaculture” rears up like a mighty monolith: imposing, enigmatic, encoded with a message that will change the world, if we can just decode it and get our heads around it…

My own struggle to define permaculture amuses me, really, because some of the inherent joy in this wonderfully empowering design philosophy/practice is in ceasing to struggle. When we slow down and begin to really observe and understand how the natural systems around us are functioning, we begin to see how we can just fit ourselves into those existing ecological processes with minor adjustments to them and us.

I’m a concrete thinker who appreciates material examples more than intellectual constructs. So, a small example:

Ann's permaculture photo

The Ithaca Children’s Garden was fighting a perennial flooded soggy place in the lawn where the sloped parking lot channeled water into the grass. What to do? Fill it with gravel? Add dirt, level it and seed with grass? Build a dam or install curbing? Dig a drainage system? All solutions that involved expense,  long term maintenance, and commitment to an extended struggle.

Instead, their permaculture perspective suggested digging out a little more, planting bog-loving plants at the edges, building a little boardwalk, and, Voila! A mini-wetland that attract dragonflies, birds, frogs -and children- in droves. As usual, the problem WAS the solution.

On my property, I use all of my autumn leaves as mulch and fertilizer. (Rather than blowing, raking, bagging and hauling, then purchasing commercial fertilizer and mulch.) Dandelions, purslane, violets and other “weeds” are groundcover, bee forage, butterfly hostplants, food and medicine for me, and green manure for the compost. (I could drive myself nuts digging them out or killing them with toxic herbicides, I guess.)These are small-scale adjustments, not permaculture design on a grand scale. But practices like these keep me in the right frame of mind: observing, appreciating and working with the incredible systems of abundance that surround us.

Make Your Own Kale Chips!

 by Ann McCulloh

It’s easy, yummy, low-carb and there’s no foil-lined bag to throw away.

5Kale finished resize

Kale is prolific, cold-hardy and very ornamental.

1Kale plant resize

It’s so full of nutrients that it’s consistently included in lists of the Top Ten most nutritious foods.  Crispy kale chips are a revelation – a delicately crunchy treat that have replaced potato chips in my almost-paleo diet.

Crispy Kale Chips Recipe:

Take 1 bunch of curly kale greens. Wash and dry very thoroughly. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Tear kale leaves from the midrib,

2Kale midrib resize

rub gently all over with olive oil and then sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.

3Kale oiled resize

It’s easy to overdo the salt, so just a touch-you can add more later. Adding fresh garlic to the oil, or a grind of fresh black pepper are fun and easy variations. Spread the pieces loosely on a foil-lined cookie sheet and toast for 10-12 minutes in the oven.  It’s best to use several cookie sheets to avoid crowding the chips. Leaves will get crisp and just browned at tips.

4Kale crisp resize

 You may need to remove the most-browned ones from the edges, and put the pan back in the over for another minute to crisp the ones in the middle of the pan.

I chop the leftover center ribs, and add them to my next stir fry or batch of sautéed greens. You can even freeze them if you aren’t using them right away.