My deep dark gardening confession is: I have a black thumb. I can kill wisteria. Yes, really.


The only things I can keep alive for any period of time are the orchids in front of my kitchen window and the ivy that grows rampant in my front yard. Plus the moss that grows instead of the multiple iterations of sod and grass seed we have paid to h ave planted or laid. The beautiful big trees in our Buckhead yard do a super job of shade, eliminating the chance of a real lawn.

So now you know why I think gardeners are magicians. I can’t imagine being able to put something in the ground and later be able to eat or admire it. My friend Jake Egolf is an organic gardener, and a “rock star” in my world. Jake does some ornamental gardening for private clients, but it’s his work with herbs and veggies that make him so special and interesting to me. That’s a flat of his organic radish sprouts in the accompanying picture. They are beautiful AND delicious. What could be better? I use them for a centerpiece when he delivers them, and then cut the sprouts to add crisp, delicious flavor and color to salads and sides.

For those of you who love gardening, I asked Jake for a few of his favorite tips for our impending scorcher of a summer.

“WATER”, he said. But water less frequently. For the novices out there like me, I asked for specifics. For hose watering, about 3 minutes per square foot of plants. “You want to water thoroughly but less frequently so that the roots grow deeper,” he explained. “Deeper roots make plants, especially vegetables, more resistant to our heat and humidity.”

Next it was all about mulch. “I know what mulch is,” I said. “But what kind of mulch and why?” “Mulch keeps the surface much cooler, so the plants are less stressed and the moisture evaporates much slower,” he said.

For veggies, his choice is wheat straw or cocoa mulch, both of which he assures me can be found easily at garden centers. For lawn and ornamentals he prefers pine bark nuggets, or for a greener approach, shredded leaves that have been ground up with a mulching attachment for the lawnmower or blower.

His parting advice? Monitor your garden often to check for pests and for plants that may be flowering.

My reaction to his insect advice was “Yuck.” His description was graphic about tomato attackers: “Large green fleshy caterpillars that munch all the leaves from the plants,” he said.

Tomato horn worms can be treated with natural bacteria instead of pesticides, but the secret is vigilance. “Check your plants daily”, he said. “Not only for pests, but to deadhead any plants that are beginning to flower, so that they will continue to produce instead of going to seed.”

I feel so lucky to include Jake as a friend. No need for me to monitor daily and look for “fleshly green caterpillars.” But if you have a green thumb, a talented friend or a Saturday haul from the farmers market, here’s a quick and easy recipe to make to show off your delicious produce.

Artichokes and Peppers with Basil Balsamic Vinaigrette

This is a perfect make-ahead recipe for an appetizer, a potluck or a casual dinner with family and friends. Full of good-for-you fiber and nutrition, the dish with its beautiful colors make it the star of any table. Change it from appetizer to salad by serving it on a bed of shredded romaine lettuce — add a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine and you have dinner!

3 Boxes Frozen Artichoke Hearts, Defrosted

1 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Tsp Each Sea Salt and Pepper

3 Red, Yellow or Orange Peppers, Roasted and Cut into Thin Strips

*Basil-Balsamic Vinaigrette

¾ Cup (¼ inch) Cubed Asiago, Fontina or other Semi Soft Italian Cheese

¼ Cup Capers, Drained

¼ Cup Kalamata Olives,Chopped

¼ Cup Chopped Basil

Step One

Toss the artichoke hearts, olive oil and salt and pepper together. Place on a sheet pan and roast for 20-30 minutes.

Step Two

Toss the peppers and roasted artichoke hearts with about half of the dressing. Place on a large platter and top with the cheese, capers, and olives and basil.

*Basil-Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 Garlic Clove, Grated

2 TB Dry Red Wine

2 TB Balsamic Vinegar

1 Tsp Dijon Mustard

½ Cup Basil Leaves, (Packed)

¼ – ½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste

Place the first five ingredients in a

food processor or blender and process well. Drizzle in the olive oil,

and season with salt and pepper.

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