As you can see from the photos, my Oriental Poppies are gorgeous this year! They are so heavy with buds – I counted 18 buds on one of the plants – that I have to keep tying them up to stakes to keep them from dragging in the mulch. Their color contrasts beautifully with the iris and the daisies, but by the end of the week, the peonies will steal the show. This is why gardeners dig in the dirt.
The poppies have multiplied from two plants I purchased four or five years ago, but so many of the other perennials were gifts from gardening friends and, when we built our current home in 2005, I also moved some favorite plants from our last house. They spent that first summer heeled into a huge dirt pile at the side of the lot and as the beds were designed and the landscaping took shape, the plants were slowly moved in.
Back in 1970, when we bought our first house, I took some old fashioned purple iris from my mother’s yard in Massachusetts and have moved them twice since then. They are a very sweet connection to my mother and although they are not the showiest iris in the garden, they mean the most to me.
That emotional connection is the reason I was so distressed two years ago when I realized that violets had squeezed themselves between all the rhizomes and were slowly choking out the iris. I have never bought violets. They just showed up, uninvited, and I allowed them to stay because I thought they were sweet. And because they are nearly impossible to get rid of! I ended up lifting and re-setting all the iris in order to eradicate most of the violets and have sworn I will never let them get ahead of me again.
There are still some violets in corners of the garden and every couple of years I do a batch of candied violets that I use to decorate cakes and cupcakes. They are incredibly easy to do.
First, pick some perfect violets after the morning dew has dried. Put their stems in a glass of water so they stay fresh while you work.
If you have white violets, you will probably want to use plain white sugar, but if you are candying purple violets, they look best with colored sugar. Just put a cup or two of sugar in the food processor or blender with some purple paste food coloring and blend thoroughly. Put the sugar in a wide dish.
The first few times I did them, I used beaten egg whites to coat the flowers but I now rely on a Wilton (www.wilton.com) product called Meringue Powder because it is much easier to manage. It is available in most cake decorating stores and at the big box craft stores that sell cake decorating supplies. Just mix the powder with water to make a thin syrup then use a small artist’s brush to coat all surfaces of each flower with the mixture. Make sure you keep the petals separate and open so that the finished violets still looks like a violets, rather than lumps of sugar.
Place each coated flower face down in the sugar and use a spoon to sift more sugar over the back of the flower. The entire flower should be buried in sugar, which will be absorbed by the meringue. I leave the stems attached because they make it easier to handle the flowers.
I let each flower sit in the sugar while I make the next ones and when I start running out of space in the sugar dish, I transfer them to a parchment covered cookie sheet or the racks of my dehydrator. Then I clip off the stems.
You can dry violets on a kitchen counter if you live in a very dry climate, but Connecticut being as humid as it always is in the summer, I need some low heat to do the job. Before I had a dehydrator, I used to leave them in my oven with the door closed and the light on for two days. The dehydrator dries them overnight on the lowest setting.
Once fully dried, they will be crisp and firm. Store the finished violets in a tin with a tight fitting lid where they will keep indefinitely. I usually line the tin with some crumpled up parchment paper to support the flowers so they don’t break. They look gorgeous on top of a frosted cake!