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Villa Garage Sale Plant Sale

Villa Garage Sale Plant Sale: Susie Smith is sad to report that she will not be participating in the Villa Garage sale this year or selling plants. Unfortunately personal situations have made it impossible for her to work in the garden this spring. She apologizes if she has disappointed any garden club members (and she shares that disappointment).


June 3, 2015 at 10:06 AM Leave a comment

The beautiful eggplant

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds
Thank you for having signed up for horticultural emails from Kitchen Garden Seeds, Van Engelen and John Scheepers*. Pictured from top to bottom: Black Opal; Black Beauty; Rosa Bianca and Turkish Orange Eggplants.

For the classic, lusty Italian-style Eggplant, our top pick is Black Opal. This cherished hybrid has the provocative teardrop shape, mahogany-purple skin and the look-at-me, high gloss finish of Aubergine perfection. Happily, its beauty is more than skin deep. Inside, the creamy white flesh is smooth in texture, mild in flavor and meaty enough to be the main course event. Each large, productive plant can yield six or more, 1- to 1 1/2-pound fruits. Babaganoush? Moussaka? Eggplant Parmesan? Black Opal will provide you with a bountiful harvest of Eggplant and a world of culinary delights.

So Many Shapes, Sizes and Colors
Much as we adore Black Opal, our love for Eggplants knows no bounds. We offer ten varieties, each with its own distinct fabulousness. You can choose from four other Italian varieties, each of which are OP. heirlooms and good for seed-saving. Rubenesque Rosa Bianca has the classic teardrop shape with a comely pale lavender-rose and ivory skin concealing tender, creamy flesh. Bianca di Imola is more elongated in shape with pristine milky-white skin. Thin-skinned Listada de Gandia has alabaster-white skin adorned with purple and lavender stripes and tasty, delicate creamy-white flesh. Our new Black Beauty Eggplant rivals our affection for Black Opal. Open-pollinated, it out-produces most hybrids with 1- to 3-pound bell-shaped fruits that boast of dense, firm flesh with glossy deep purple skin and spine-free stems. It is beautiful, delicious and perfect for virtually all recipes that call for Eggplant. Eggplant is one of the vegetables for which we yearn, particularly on cold winter nights when the thought of a piping hot, cheesy Eggplant Parmesan takes over our souls.

If you enjoy stir fries, we highly recommend Bride and Ping Tung. Chinese Bride has white-striped purple skin and tender, velvet-creamy white flesh. Ping Tung is beautiful rose-mauve. Each has fruit that is 8” long and just 1½” in diameter~perfect for stir-frying and grilling.

The most unlikely Eggplant is Turkish Orange although, in truth, it more closely resembles the wild Eggplants first cultivated more than 2,000 years ago. Its small, plump, egg-shaped fruits mature from green (when they are best harvested for delicious consumption) to flamboyant, shiny orange-red when they adorn the garden like so many brilliant ornaments. Young green Turkish Orange fruits are a treat when baked and stuffed with its sautéed, diced ambrosial flesh mixed with feta cheese and toasted pine nuts.

Little Orlando is an enchanting miniature with slender, 4-inch deep purple fruit in the shape of little fingers. Since these babies bruise easily, you’ll never find them at any market, so the only way to experience their innate sweetness is to grow your own for grilling, stir-frying or pickling. Louisiana Long Green Eggplant, a southern heirloom, produces slender, pale green fruits that we love to slice length wise, brush with vinaigrette, and grill or broil.

How to Pamper an Eggplant
Eggplants are heat lovers~even more so than their Solanaceae cousins, Tomatoes and Peppers. They demand an early head start and crave healthy fertilizer feedings, strong sun and abundant warmth.

When growing Eggplant, particularly in the north, it’s important to start seed indoors at least eight to ten weeks before your Frost-Free Date, so that the seedlings are as large as possible when you transplant them~then it’s 60 to 70 days until harvest. First, soak the Black Opal seeds in warm water for an hour, then sow sparingly in seed starting mix in flats or pots under lights or in a greenhouse. The warmth of a seed starting mat (70 to 90 degrees F) will help speed germination. Pamper the emerging seedlings with 12 to 15 hours of light each day, even moisture, warmth and good air circulation. Two weeks after emergence, when the seedlings are about 2 inches tall, replant the strongest seedlings in 4-inch pots filled with richer-than-average soil mix. Begin feeding them weekly with a diluted liquid fertilizer. A healthy adolescent Eggplant that is ready for the garden should be a stocky 6” to 7” tall with at least three sets of true leaves.

Before transplanting your Eggplant seedlings into the garden, harden them off by putting them outdoors in a sheltered location for a few hours each day and bringing them in at night. Do this for a week to 10 days, gradually lengthening the time outdoors. This will help them to avoid transplant shock and to thrive. No matter how warm you think it may be, hold off transplanting until well after your spring Frost-Free Date when the soil is 65 degrees F or warmer and night time temperatures are reliably above 55 degrees F. To find the Frost-Free Date for your garden, go HERE and use the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) chart. Select your State from the pull down menu to generate a PDF file with a list of local NOAA data collection sites. Prior to transplant, you can boost garden soil temperatures by covering the bed with black plastic for two to three weeks.

Plant the seedlings in a hot spot with fertile, well-draining soil, to which you have added compost, well-rotted manure and/or slow-release organic fertilizer. Space the seedlings in rows 18 to 24 inches apart with each plant 12 to 18 inches apart. Water moderately after planting and apply a 2” layer of mulch to help conserve moisture later on. If cold night time temperatures are predicted, cover the seedlings with individual cloches or floating row covers to retain protective warmth. In fact, young transplants like to be coddled with a light blanket of garden fabric for their first three to four weeks in the garden. It keeps them warm, shades them from scorching sunlight and protects them from flea beetles.

Pinch off the flowers at planting time and for the first month in the garden to keep the plant focused on growing larger and bushier for more productive yields later. Keep the plants well fed during the first half of the growing season with side dressings of compost and a weekly dose of half strength liquid fertilizer. The discovery of the first little fruits peaking out from under its foliage always feels like a celebration. Harvest individual fruits when they are firm, shiny and not much longer than 6 inches long (before serious seed formation has begun). Pressing the flesh with your finger should leave a very slight indentation. Though ripe Eggplants look tough, they should be handled as gently as eggs, as it’s easy to dent the skin and bruise the flesh. Harvest carefully with a sharp blade without disturbing the whole plant.

If you have a sunny deck or terrace, consider growing Eggplant in containers. They love the extra heat and special attention.

A Diva in the Garden, A Star in the Kitchen
Eggplant’s meaty texture has made it a natural for meatless dishes coveted around the globe. Substantial and nutritious, Eggplant is a great source of fiber, manganese and potassium as well as phytonutrients that work as antioxidants to protect our bodies from toxins.

We love Eggplant and cherish each and every one of them. At harvest time, we enjoy them grilled until tender after brushing them with basil- or garlic-infused olive oil. We cut thick meaty rounds to grill and dress like classic burgers. Or, we cut long one inch-thick Eggplant teardrop-shaped slices that we carefully grill and move to a platter where we top it with a thin layer of soft goat cheese spiked with our favorite fresh salsa du jour. Then, we roll it into a savory jelly-roll, top it with homemade tomato sauce and grated Parmesan, and serve it with a lofty, lightly dressed green salad and crusty bread. Leftover grilled Eggplant, mozzarella and Tomatoes also makes one terrific pannini, hot or cold. Cubed Eggplant is a wonderful companion veggie in our Roasted Vegetable Mélange. Eggplant features large in so many global cuisines: Indian and Thai curries, Japanese stir fries, and Greek and Middle Eastern dips and salads. Ping Tung Long Eggplant is absolutely wonderful in Elizabeth Schneider’s Eggplants Baked in Gingered Red Pepper Puree, excerpted from her masterful book, The Essential Reference: Vegetables From Amaranth to Zucchini.

I suppose that my favorite pre-fall nesting ritual is to make tray after tray of Oven-Baked Eggplant that I freeze in airtight freezer bags for use over the winter. I use them for my own special Aubergine Lemon Chicken or classic Italian recipes like the essence-of-comfort food Eggplant Parmesan, Eggplant Lasagne, Eggplant Rollatini or Chicken Sorrentino. When I prep the Eggplant for freezing, I always peel it. Sometimes I salt and weigh down the slices on a cookie cooling rack over a roasting pan to remove excess water, and sometimes I don’t, depending on how much time or Eggplant I have. If I ever pan-fry breaded Eggplant (usually avoided), I drain the slices on paper bags to remove excess oil and to preserve the breading layer. At day’s end, all of those bags of Eggplant-in-waiting makes me feel like my freezer is a treasure chest.

We share our best-of-the-best recipes so you can feed your family and friends well without feeling frenzied. Take a look at our practical, hands-on horticultural tips to demystify gardening with seeds (it need not be tricky or difficult. Truth be told, it is a bit more like easy magic.) If you need help with anything, our office hours are Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You can email us at or call us at (860) 567-6086. We can help you make your garden more easily tended and productive which in turn will help to keep gardening a happy, essential part of your family’s life. Lance Frazon, our seed specialist, is happy to help you in any way possible. He loves to talk seeds.

-To see our seed collection click: Flowers, gourmet fruits & vegetables and aromatic herbs.

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-To look at our yummy recipes, like Chico Hot Springs Resort’s Vegetable Tower, click: Recipes.

-Or, call us at (860) 567-6086: we will help you in any way we can!
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John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds

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February 14, 2014 at 10:05 AM Leave a comment

The Essential Seed-Starting Timetable

Did you ever wonder why certain varieties of seed are started indoors? It is usually because the days to mature harvest exceed the amount of time between your spring Frost-Free Date and your first fall frost.

Continue Reading January 17, 2014 at 10:15 AM Leave a comment

Help build the new YMCA play ground. 10/18 and 10/20.

Help Us Build a New Neighborhood Playground at Irving Park Y:  prep day, Oct. 18; build day Oct. 20
Kaboom, McDonald’s and the Irving Park YMCA along with the community are teaming up to build a community playground.  This playground will be open to the community and neighborhood.
We need your help!  All volunteers MUST register and be 18 years or older.
Thursday, October 18th
8:30 AM – 1:30 PM
4251 W. Irving Park Road.  To register, Email Celia Stennett or Lara Pacelt or call (773) 777-7500
Organize materials, count nails/screws, dig holes and pour the cement that will be used in the build.
Saturday, October 20th
8:00 AM – 3:00 PM
4251 W. Irving Park Road
Go to and click on Register Online
Build and attach playground pieces, mix concrete, move mulch, etc.  Variety of projects of all skill and ability levels.
Breakfast, lunch and plenty of water will be provided.  The appropriate tools and gloves will be provided for the projects that need them.
If you have a reusable water bottle, please bring it with you.  Please leave your purse and/or other valuables at home.
The playground will happen rain or shine.  Please come dressed for the weather.  Comfortable close-toed shoes are a necessity; sneakers or work boots that you don’t mind getting a little dirty are advised.

October 12, 2012 at 10:06 AM Leave a comment

Pot Luck Luncheon was fun yesterday!

We had great weather and a great turnout for the annual Pot Luck Luncheon.  Even though we did not have a Garden Walk this year we still had a fun pot luck luncheon in Bob and Carol’s lovely yard.  Thanks to our wonderful volunteers Karen Wehrle, Susan Carter, Laird Larsen, Heather Milos, Sharon Graham for pitching in and setting up and breaking down the furniture after the luncheon was over.  We couldn’t have done it without YOU guys!


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July 22, 2012 at 10:13 AM Leave a comment

Q: What is the Difference Between a Spice and an Herb?

Q:  What is the Difference Between a Spice and an Herb?

A:  Many people use the words “herb” and “spice” interchangeably, but there actually are subtle differences that distinguish one from the other.  Herbs are obtained from the leaves of plants that do not have woody stems.  They tend to thrive in more temperate climates, and can be used fresh or dry.  Spices, on the other hand, can be obtained from woody or non-woody plants and are always dried before use.  Except for the leaves, all other parts of the plant are spices, including the seeds, fruits, flowers and bark.  Spices are usually native to hot, tropical climates.  Additionally, while herbs sometimes seem to have more medicinal properties than spices do, most herbs and spices have both flavoring and healing properties.  All these definitions mean that the same plant can, in fact, be an herb and a spice.  Take cilantro, for example.  Cilantro is the Spanish word for coriander leaves, and because of this cilantro could be classified as an herb.  However, dried coriander seeds (a spice) are frequently used in cooking, making it completely legitimate to refer to coriander as either an herb or a spice, depending on what part of the plant you’re using – The Herbal Companion Magazine

July 16, 2012 at 10:34 AM Leave a comment

2011 Garden Walk Pictures are finally posted.

Remember back to a sunny warm day in July when we had our Irving Park Garden Club Garden Walk and Pot Luck Luncheon.
Sorry it took me so long to get them posted.

Click on the page:  2011 Garden Walk

February 5, 2012 at 12:33 PM Leave a comment

Sorry. Here is the recipe for the lip balm.

Lurie Garden Rooftop Honey Lip Balm
Every year, the plants of the Lurie Garden are visited by thousands of honeybees. They
come from the rooftop hives on several downtown buildings, including the Cultural
Center and City Hall. You can buy Chicago Honey Co-op’s Rooftop Honey at the
Downtown Farmstand – we use it to make this balm.
1 cup sweet almond oil
1/2 cup beeswax, grated or chopped
2 Tablespoons honey
Place almond oil and beeswax in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1
minute or until mixture melts. (Alternatively you can heat the oil and beeswax in a
stainless steel pot on the stove set to low.) Whisk honey into beeswax mixture. Stir well
until completely mixed together. Carefully pour into small containers with lids. Set aside
to cool completely. Apply to lips as a moisturizer or on top of lipstick for extra shine.
Makes about 1-1/2 cups or 15 1-ounce tins..
*Sweet almond oil and beeswax can be found at natural food stores such as Whole Foods.
Local honey is preferred for this recipe. W

December 28, 2011 at 11:23 AM Leave a comment

Force Bulbs for Winter Show

Does the thought of beautiful flowers blooming during winter appeal to you? Well, you can enjoy the blooms of daffodils, tulips, narcissus, hyacinths and other bulbs indoors by “forcing” them into blooming early for you.

Continue Reading November 22, 2011 at 10:20 AM Leave a comment

Now is the time for thickening up your lawn.

Overseed this Fall for a thicker, greener lawn next spring!

The summer can be tough on your lawn. Lack of water, too much heat and traffic, and other problems can make it look worn and thin. The good news? You can bring it back to life by overseeding with Scotts® Turf Builder® Sun & Shade Mix®!

You might also want to…

Turf Builder Lawn Food Be reminded in:
We’ll be reminding you about your next application soon, so stay tuned.

September 4, 2011 at 7:15 PM Leave a comment

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