Garden in the Parks Field Day offers a taste of gardening

| Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

What the Garden in the Parks Field Day in North Park offers the public every year is a taste of gardening — literally.

Along with seeing the rows of carefully tended flowers and getting advice from Penn State Master Gardeners, visitors to the North Park Demonstration Garden from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday can sample roasted garlic, basil pesto and tomatoes and then vote on their favorites.

Lyn Lang, a Master Gardener since 2004, is the local garlic guru. She has grown garlic for years on her Richland Township property. From fall to summer, she tends small quantities of about 25 varieties of this pungent plant. In fact, both the North Park and South Park garlic patches started with five varieties from her home.

“For years, the Master Gardeners have yearned to grow something as a food crop,” she said.

So for the last three years, garlic, shallots and potatoes have been added to the fragrant flowers and herbs. Digging potatoes during Saturday's event will offer children an opportunity to catch the gardening bug, and with the many kinds of colored potatoes on the market, they can have even more fun.

Margie Miller, co-chairwoman of the event for the third year, said the shallots and potatoes were standouts this year.

“The potatoes did very well,” the McCandless resident said. “It all looks pretty good because of the rain.”

Garlic is easy to grow in this area, said Lang, who recommends the stiffneck variety.

An Iowa native, she had been unfamiliar with garlic. But after a neighbor introduced her to the plant, she was inspired to cultivate plants from South Korea, the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe, the Republic of Georgia and other parts of the world. Each has a distinctive look and flavor from mild and sweet to rich and intense.

The magic is in each garlic clove, the “seed” of each new plant. The segments inside the parchment-like wraps have flavored foods in many cultures. It can be sliced and served raw or be cooked, sautéed or roasted. Each method changes the flavor.

“Garlic has a long history as a valuable crop,” Lang said. “It was traded in Marco Polo's time.”

She also had read that those who built the pyramids in Egypt enjoyed a diet of garlic. Back then, it was thought to give the workers energy and strength. Today, the health benefits of garlic are touted.

As garlic growers do, Lang plants the cloves in late October, long after she has harvested her other vegetables and the 30 feet of nasturtiums, also edible. The late start ensures the plants will not sprout before the ground freezes.

“Garlic needs soil with good drainage, organic matter for fertilizer and no competition from other plants,” she said.

After harvest in July, bulbs are dried, cleaned and stored for a winter of enjoyment.

Next year's crop will come from some of the largest cloves.

Lang has learned much from books, such as Chester Aaron's “Garlic is Life: A Memoir With Recipes,” and her own green-thumb experience from year to year. She always is eager to share.

“Actually, I'm amazed at how many people grow garlic here.”

Miller anticipates another large crowd for the Garden in the Parks event in North Park this year. Ten community groups are coming, she said, and the garden, at the intersection of Babcock Boulevard and Wildwood Road in McCandless, will be staffed by 50 Master Gardener volunteers.

After the tours, demonstrations and tastings, the day can end on a luscious note. She has ordered dessert from the Penn State Creamery. “August Pie,” with its peaches, nectarines and red raspberry sauce in vanilla ice cream, will be a sweet ending.

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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