Every year I promise my husband that I will cut down on the number of tomato plants in our backyard, but I never do it. I can’t. There are so many varieties that I feel I can’t live without: Sun Gold, Black Krim, Green Zebra and Speckled Roman, to name a few. And then friends always foist tomatoes on me that I just can’t refuse because I can’t say no to a plant that needs a home, and I’ve got room, right? Happily, some of those unexpected tomatoes that crowd our back patio often turn out to be amazing, like the Bloody Butcher heirloom tomatoes my friend Naomi gave me this year. (The name alone made them irresistible, and they’re tasty too.)
The trouble is, come September we have prepared all manner of tomato dishes, given tomatoes away to friends and neighbors and our countertops are still loaded with bounty. I’ve tried various methods of preserving tomatoes for later, making sauce — lots of sauce, and freezing. (I’m too lazy to can.) But I wanted to try something new this year and my friend Sarah suggested roasting them. Boy was she right. Roasting is easy, fast and the result seems like something that will be much more enjoyable in the middle of winter when fresh tomatoes are just a memory.
Here’s how you do it. Pre-heat your oven to 275 degrees. Cut tomatoes into halves or quarters, depending on their size. You want something about the size you would use in a salad. Lay the pieces flesh side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Don’t crowd them together too much, and make sure the baking sheet has a rim on it or you’ll have tomato juice all over the inside of your oven.
Roast the tomatoes plain or spice them up by adding fresh or dried herbs like basil, oregano, thyme or rosemary. You can also add garlic, chopped or as whole cloves, if you like. Before placing the baking sheet in the oven, drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil and sprinkle them with a bit of salt and pepper. Sarah says the longer you roast them the better, which means a minimum of three hours, but five or more will give you a more complex, caramelized flavor.
What you end up with varies depending on how watery your tomatoes were to start with. Drier varieties look and taste a lot like sundried tomatoes. While those that have more water, most heirlooms fall into this category, will be crinkly and delicious, but softer. Let the tomatoes cool on the tray and then put them in freezer bags in portions you can use when making pizza, soup, pasta, sauces or whatever you like in the winter. If you like to give food as gifts, freeze some of your roasted tomatoes in mason jars of various sizes, or just give the jars filled with tasty goodness away right away.
Perennials for Wet Soil
As I write this, we’ve just had the first rain in nearly two months — and not much, at that. So it seems kind of weird to be talking about plants that can take wet soil, or at least a fair amount of soil moisture. But I chose this topic because, despite our current drought, when I drive down Minnehaha Parkway, around the lakes or past golf courses, I’m struck by how much standing water still remains from our record-breaking wet spring. And where the water has finally receded, everything is brown and dead. It’s heartbreaking to see so many mature trees lost.
Though there are a few plants that can survive prolonged submersion in water, most die because their roots can’t get any air. So rather than talking about those few, tough water-dwelling plants, I’m going to focus this column on perennials that can tolerate moist-to-wet soil conditions. For more ideas, take a look at the University of Minnesota Extension’s list of plants that do well in rain gardens: extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/landscaping/best-plants-for-tough-sites/docs/08464-rain-garden.pdf.
I would also recommend checking out Lynn Steiner’s book Landscaping with Native Plants of Minnesota. And as I’ve said in past columns, even if you don’t have any drainage issues, you can still add water-loving plants to your landscape without driving up your water bill or wasting water on plants that don’t need it. Just group the plants that need similar levels of soil moisture together in one or more areas, and water those spots more often than you do everything else.
Here are some of my favorites:
— Boltonia asteroides
You seldom see this fall-blooming perennial and that’s a shame because it’s lovely. Commonly known as false aster or false chamomile, boltonia offers white blooms that have a bright yellow center. Plants prefer moist soil but can tolerate dry conditions once established. Grows 3 to 6 feet tall. Fun sun to light shade. Zone 3.
— Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
People always complain that they can’t grow cardinal flower, including me. The problem is probably a lack of water. If you have wet soil (they especially like bogs) these gorgeous red flowers will be happy. Blooms appear in late summer and attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Full sun to part shade. Zone 3.
— Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
Attractive and elegant, Culver’s root is a native perennial frequented by all sorts of bees. Slender spikes of white flowers top long, sturdy stems. Moist soil is best, but plants can tolerate dry conditions, too. Grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Full sun to part shade. Zone 4.
Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
Like Virginia bluebells and trillium, marsh marigolds are glorious in the early spring and then disappear for the rest of the season. A native wildflower commonly found in marshes and along streams, plants have bright yellow flowers on thick stems with heart-shaped leaves. I grow these beneath a clump of river birch, so every time I water the tree, these moisture-loving flowers get water too. Does best in partial sun to shade. Grows 1 to 2 feet tall. Zone 2.
— Queen of the Prairie (Fillipendula rubra)
Also known as meadowsweet, Queen of the Prairie looks a bit like a very tall astilbe. Delicate, fluffy-looking pink flowers top tall, slender stems that can reach 3 to 6 feet tall. Full sun is best, but it will bloom in light shade. Consistently moist and even wet soil is preferable. USDA Zone 3.
— Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnate)
Butterflies and other pollinators love the fragrant pink-purple flowers of swamp milkweed, another native that likes to have “wet feet,” as they say. Though this milkweed won’t take over your garden the way common milkweed can, it’s best to snip off the seedpods before they open to keep this beauty under control. Moist to wet soil is preferred. Grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Full sun. Zone 3.
— Turtlehead (Chelone)
Whether you plant native white turtlehead (Chelone glabra linifolia) or a cultivar like ‘Hot Lips,’ which has pretty deep-pink flowers, turtlehead is always a head-turner in the garden. Blooms appear in late summer and last into fall. Consistently moist soil is best, but plants can tolerate dry conditions. Grows 2 to 4 feet, depending on the variety. Part sun to part shade. Zone 4.
— Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
If you’ve ever grown native wild bergamot you know it is no exaggeration to say that all other bee balms pale in comparison. Fragrant, showy and pollinator friendly, this long-blooming perennial offers pretty lavender blooms and good powdery mildew resistance unless you plant it in the shade. Moist conditions are best, but water shouldn’t stand for long periods of time. Full sun to part shade. Grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Zone 3.
Get more gardening tips at Meleah’s blog: www.everydaygardener.com