Monday, June 11, 2012

There's a new plant in town...

By: Lorenzo Parisi, Senior Assistant Gardener
From the White House Gardener Mysteries by Dorothy St. James

 Lately everyone around the White House has been acting as if Casey Calhoun is the only gardener with an original idea in her head. Just because she is noisy (and nosy) and gets herself into impossible situations, doesn't mean that she deserves more attention than anyone else around here.

I've been gardening the White House grounds for nine years. Nine years! I'm the senior assistant gardener. And yes, I can come up with good ideas, too. Better ideas than Casey.

Just the other day the chefs were complaining that with the warm weather, the cool-weather crops have been pulled out, which means no more spinach until fall.

Spinach salad made with fresh spinach is the First Lady's favorite dish. She loves to serve it at her lunches. And she asked the chefs to continue to serve the dish throughout the summer months. So the chefs came to the gardeners and asked what we could do.

And guess who came up with the best solution?

Me. That's who!

Next week we're planting malabar spinach in the First Lady's Kitchen Garden.

Malabar spinach (Basella alba), AKA Indian spinach, Ceylon spinach, basella, vine spinach, summer spinach, isn't actually spinach. But your taste buds won't be able to tell the difference.

It's a vine that grows best when the temperatures get hot, really hot. The plant really thrives 90 degree weather.

Are you looking for the flavor of fresh spinach in your garden? Here's some tips on how to grow malabar spinach on your patio or in your back yard.

1. Grow in part-shade to full sun.
2. Since it's a vine, it'll need a trellis to climb.
3. Grow in a moist soil rich in organic matter.
4. Keeping the soil moist will delay flowering. Once the plant starts to flower, the leaves will turn bitter.
5. Harvest and enjoy your spinach salad lunches.

What are you growing (or like to eat fresh) in the garden this summer?

* * * * * * *
Dorothy St. James writes the White House Gardener Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. Flowerbed of State is the first book in the series. Be sure to grab your copy while they're still available! Visit with Dorothy on the web or at Facebook. Or follow her on Twitter.
"Credible characters, a fast-paced plot, and a light look at political life in Washington, D.C., will delight cozy fans."
~ Publishers Weekly
Order Flowerbed of State from your favorite bookseller. 
Praise for The Scarlet Pepper:
"Itching to get out there and dig in the dirt, but don’t quite have the energy to pull yourself up off the couch?  Read The Scarlet Pepper by Dorothy St. James.  It’s a heckuva whodunit, and it’s practically gardening via proxy – what better compromise could you hope to find?" ~ The Season Blog

"A potboiler of homicide, blackmail, journalism, power and sex - but one that St. James handles with taste as well as verve - “The Scarlet Pepper” fulfills the promise of last year’s series debut, “Flowerbed of State,” and then some." ~ Richmond Times-Dispatch 
 Order The Scarlet Pepper from your favorite bookseller.


  1. Hey Lorenzo... never worry about someone else getting more attention. If you hang in there, your turn will come.

    Now... malabar spinach; what a great suggestion. Will it grow on a fence?

  2. Shopping at farmstands, we're finding the last of the asparagus and the beginnings of (among other delicacies) strawberries. Fresh strawberries--yum.

  3. Hi Victoria, Lorenzo said he wasn't interested in responding to comments. He's not really a people person. So I'm here picking up the slack. That's what us writers do when our characters don't behave, as I'm sure you understand! But in answer to your question, yes, malabar spinach will grow on a fence. It's a lovely edible ornamental vine.

    Willow, yum! The strawberry season in our area is coming to an end. Nothing beats the juicy flavor of fresh strawberries. Love to put them on cakes!