By Kathy Roth, CSU Extension – Denver Master Gardener since 2018
Late summer native gardens offer a variety of opportunities for educational, tasty, and hands-on experiences. From preparing healthy snacks and drinks to creating a throw-back-to-the-sixties tie-dyed t-shirt, here are some activities to try with your family and friends during the dog-days of summer. And while you are at it, spread the word about the importance of native plants!
Enjoy Your Bounty
- Harvest sunflower seeds (Helianthus annuus) before the birds do! Learn more about this popular garden plant here.
- Eat woodland strawberries (Fragaria vesca) right off the vine or try your hand at making tasty preserves.
- Make rose hip tea from the native woods’ rose (Rosa woodsii). Try this recipe from “Fruits of Your Labor”, a cookbook by the Colorado Forestry Service: Combine 3-4 cups of rose hips and 2-3 cups of water; boil for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid to remove pulp. Enjoy hot or cold.
Spice Up Your Meals
- Native onions add flavor to many dishes. Examples are nodding onion (Allium cernuum), Geyer’s onion (Allium geyeri), and prairie onion (Allium textile).
- The fruit, or berry-like cones of Rocky Mountain juniper, (Juniperus scopulorum) add a flavor twist in German potato salad or sauerkraut.
- Yucca glauca flowers make a tasty addition to salads.
- Gather the red and green leaves of creeping barberry (Mahonia repens, recently renamed Berberis repens), to use as holiday decorations.
- My granddaughters and I had fun using natural dyes to create tie-dyed t-shirts.
- The stems, leaves, and petals of native yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) produce natural dyes in shades of yellow, green, or gold. This USDA publication details several more native plants and their pigment colors.
- Ready to create your own tie-dyed masterpiece?
- Start with a clean natural fiber t-shirt.
- Prepare the dye bath by combining chopped, fresh plant material and water in an enamel vessel or a pot you won’t need again. Simmer for roughly an hour, adding water as needed.
- Allow the liquid to cool. Strain and discard plant material.
- To create the design, use twine to tie tight knots in the wet t-shirt.
- Add the shirt to the dye bath and simmer for two hours or longer to achieve desired color. Turn off heat and allow to cool.
- Use rubber gloves to remove the shirt and the twine; rinse till the water runs clear, then air dry.
- Tie-dyed items should always be washed separately as the color may bleed.
Take a Mini-Excursion
If you need a quick get-away, don’t have access to the plants for these activities, or want to take a deeper-dive into uses for natives, you may enjoy:
- A visit to The Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden at Denver Botanic Garden Chatfield Farm, a joint partnership with the Rocky Mountain Weavers Guild. Classes and workshops are offered throughout the season, too.
- “Golden Opportunities”, an exhibit at DBG’s York Street location on the variety and uses for yellow plants, including natural dyed cloth samples. The show runs through August 15th in the Freyer-Newman Center. Weekend visitors can also learn more about natural dyes at the “Hello Yellow” learning cart located in the Shady Oak Grove garden.
What ideas do you have for other simple family garden projects using native plants? Please add them in the comments section.
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