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Cucuzza Squash, Peony, & Mandevilla

What to do with all those Cucuzza squash; peony plants that do not bloom; bringing in a yellow Mandevilla which is more likely an Allamanda; and how best to take advantage of rock in the garden!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale

email: art@artdrysdale.com

Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at http://www.artdrysdale.com


October 2, 2005


Above: a medium-sized Cucuzza squash and Golden Trumpet (Allamanda cathartica). Below, two shots of the rock presence on the Fairwinds lot I owned back in 2002, in nearby Nanoose, Vancouver Island. Author photos, except Cucuzzo squash which is courtesy CMC Foods, world’s largest producers of the unusual squash [www.cucuzzasquash.com ].

Ursula Zurcher, of unknown location, wrote, with some humour, on September 16th, “I have cucutz squash growing crazy in my garden The plant has to be at least 20 feet long by 10 feet wide. It's growing up the tree beside it. They're about 3 ft long and 2" diameter. I don't know how to prepare them or if they can be frozen. Help! They're going crazy.”

First, I assume she means the Italian Cucuzza squash, pronounced ku-KOO-za. They have a light green skin and pure white flesh and can grow anywhere from 36 to 90 cm (15”-3’) in length and be 8 cm (3”) in diameter. The long stem that is attached is generally left attached for up to a month as it continues to nourish the squash.

Used mainly in dishes that require cooking, this squash must be peeled and usually should be seeded. When cooked, this squash retains its firm texture. Because they have a hard shell and unique shape, large Cucuzzas are sometimes made into festive drinking gourds. To store, place the whole squash in a plastic bag; it may then be refrigerated for up to one week.

As to whether they can be frozen or not, I was not able to find much specific data, but they may by used in various ways; according to Christopher Marco Cordaro (CMC Foods) who owns and operates the largest Cucuzza farm in the USA (located in Ruston, Louisiana) small squash are best for stewing, medium best for frying, and large squash are best for stuffing. He also advises that small and medium squash have very tender, edible seeds while large squash may have firm seeds that should be removed before cooking.

If the seeds are soft, steam or use these squash as a substitute for zucchini in recipes. If the seeds are hard, use Cucuzzo like winter squash by baking, stuffing, or stewing in chunks. Add to casseroles and stir-fries, or make a superb Cucuzza soufflé. This squash makes delicious quiche, stew, or gumbo. A perfect accompaniment for fish, meat, or soup, it even makes great muffins. Prepare whole, in chunks, or sliced. It may be fried, steamed, sautéed, or microwaved. Top with butter and a squeeze of lemon juice to enjoy its natural flavour. Herbs that complement summer squash are curry, basil, oregano, chili powder, parsley, and garlic.

AM740 listener, Irene Hoinkes, of Paris Ontario said she tried to get through to me on the air on September 19th but was unsuccessful. She sent this note instead: “We planted a red peony three years ago and it produced wonder-ful blooms in the last two years. Two years ago we planted a second peony, this one with rather long stems three feet away from the first and it has not bloomed or shown any sign of producing a bud. There are ants around! What can we do to persuade this peony to bloom? We find your show easy to follow & full of good info. All the best.”

Almost always, the reason a peony plant(s) does not bloom is the roots are planted too deep. It never has anything to do with ants.

The depth of planting for peony roots is no more than 3 cm (1”) of soil on top of the sharp-pointed curled buds emerging from the roots. You should be able to dig yours up even now, and replant it at least slightly higher.

Dorothy Haley wrote from somewhere within the AM740 listening area on September 18th, with the following query: “My Daughter bought a yellow mandavilla (I think that's how you spell it) this summer and she was wondering if you can cut it back to bring it into the house for the winter.”

Dorothy, I do not know of any yellow-flowered Mandevilla varieties. I think what your daughter has is likely a Golden Trumpet (Allamanda cathartica), also known by the common names Golden Trumpet, Yellow Bell or Buttercup Flower. The photo included with this article was taken last December in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park conservatory.

This is a fairly common vine/shrub, but like Mandevilla, not hardy over winter in Ontario. Yes, it can easily be brought in (after spraying it thoroughly for insects--upper and lower leaf surfaces with Doktor Doom House & Garden) and cut back severely. I would leave the cutting back until the flowering ceases (if it is still in bloom when you bring it in) and then place it perhaps in a basement plant room where the temperature can be relatively cool. Since this is one plant I never did over-winter while I was in Toronto I cannot give you specific advice. Sometime in March you should bring it up to a warmer room, with good sunlight, and give it some fertilizer such as Liquid Growth, any one of the Garden Starter, Garden Bloom or Garden Growth formulae.

Allen Lewis, from Nanaimo B.C., wrote with an interesting ‘problem’ on September 19th. “I was wondering if you might know of sources for ideas for making use of all the rock we have in our yard--large, tall boulders, beautiful in their own right. I wish to add some accent by planting into the cracks. How to anchor and what to plant, etc. Thoughts most welcome. Thanks.”

I think the ideal answer to this situation is an alpine/rock garden, such as I was planning to create myself when I owned a lot that was solid rock in the Fairwinds subdivision in nearby Nanoose. The best guide for this would be the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS), and for starters, their Website at www.nargs.org. The Fairwinds site for me provided what I thought was the perfect opportunity to create such a garden, even though I have not observed anything like what is possible at any of the hundreds of new homes constructed in that subdivision. There has been plenty of use of the blasted rock, but all I see are basically just “rock piles’ not rock/alpine gardens!

Coincidentally, NARGS is holding their annual “Western Winter Study Weekend” (the 31st such) in Sidney, B.C., March 3-5, 2006. The theme is “Rounding the Rim” and topics to be covered are Pacific Rim Plants for the Rock Garden, Woodland, and Alpine House. The host for the meeting is the Vancouver Island Rock & Alpine Garden Society. More information is available from the Website.

If you had been in Ontario, I would have suggested joining the Ontario Rock Garden Society, which is affiliated with the North American group. They meet regularly at the Toronto Botanical Garden, Lawrence & Leslie. Others in Ontario who read this and have similar interests might wish to contact either my old friend Anna Leggatt in Toronto at alexander.leggatt@utoronto.ca, or Christine Gill at krisgill@idirect.ca or 905-986-0310 for further information.

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