The Sweet Scent of Springtime: Bewitching Hamamelis Vernalis…

March 7th, 2011 Comments Off

Sweetly Fragrant Hamamelis Vernalis: North American Native Vernal Witch Hazel, Cut from My Garden and Forced Inside

Copper-Orange Tassels of Witch Hazel Glow in the Afternoon Light

March, much like November, is a different month every year in New England. Some seasons, March skies are grey and late winter winds are cold; heavy snow falling long past the vernal equinox. And then there are years when March is soft; weeks of misty skies, melty temperatures and warm sunshine dancing on snow banks as they slowly disappear. This morning, I awoke to yet another ice storm —a quarter inch glaze coating trees and threatening my electrical supply— and a firm reminder that the chilly season of winter yet reigns.

Still —in spite of the relentless cold, freezing rain and mountains of snow— I know that spring is slowly coming. And during this time of transition, my anticipation always reaches a fever-pitch. I stalk the woody plants in my garden, watching for hints of color and swollen buds. And this year —with so much snow on the ground— I am especially grateful for the maturing shrubs and trees in my garden, rising above the frozen terrain…

In warmer years, Hamamelis vernalis —vernal witch hazel— blooms in early to mid-March. In colder years, this harbinger of springtime may be delayed past the equinox

Many of my favorite garden plants have two stellar seasons: spring and fall. And among my favorites, the family of Hamamelidaceae (the witch hazels) ranks very high indeed. Hamamelis vernalis —sometimes called Ozark or spring witch hazel— is native to the south-central regions of the United States and hardy in USDA zones 4-8. This is a tough, colonizing shrub; tolerant of poor, scrappy soil and a wide range of moisture levels. Vernal witch hazel is a great native plant for informal hedging, naturalizing along a woodland boundary or even for something as mundane as stabilizing a steep bank. Although her flowers aren’t nearly as large and showy as those of her more flamboyant Asian and hybrid cousins (read my post on Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ here), the perfume of her early, coppery-orange blossoms is so sweet and delightful that their petite size is easy to overlook. She’s also a glorious sight in autumn, when her softly mounded form turns brilliant gold; shimmering against the blue autumn sky.

When warm temperatures arrive early in Vermont, the bloom of vernal witch hazel sometimes coincides with, or even precedes the spring equinox. But winter seems a bit tenacious this year; unwilling to loose her grip on the sleeping green mountains. Feeling a bit weary, I decided to give myself a spring prelude —as I often do— by forcing the branches of a few early blooming favorites. Late last winter, I pruned my Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ rather heavily; bringing a large armful of branches indoors for forcing. The scent was intoxicating. This year I allowed myself but a few wayward twigs from the delicious bodnant viburnum, and instead harvested a mass of Hamamelis vernalis (read more about how to force branches here)…

Freshly harvested branches of Hamamelis vernalis cut for forcing indoors

Once harvested and prepared, I placed the bundle of witch hazel branches in my cool cellar. Slowly, I am bringing branches upstairs to enjoy their honey-sweet fragrance —strong enough to scent an entire room— and delightful, sculptural form. By month’s end, various species of witch hazel will begin unfolding their blossoms outdoors, in my garden. But for now, I can enjoy a bit of spring here inside my home…

Wonderful warm color, festive form and intoxicating fragrance: who could ask for more than a visit from the good witch on a drab-grey day

Forced witch hazel branches fill my bedroom with the delicious honey-scented fragrance of springtime

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Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Come to Me, My Sweet Willow…

February 24th, 2011 § 7

Salix discolor. Pitcher by Aletha Soulé. Photo © Michaela at TGE

Salix discolor: North American native pussy willow pollen (the greenish bloom comes after the silver) is an important source of early spring pollen for native bees and honey bees  © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Salix discolor, North American native pussy willow – Pitcher by Aletha Soulé. Photo © Michaela TGE

Welcome, oh welcome sweet, silver-tipped harbinger of springtime. Is there anything that makes a heart race faster than the sight of the first pussy willow catkins? I love the beautiful, soft texture and the sculptural quality of pussy willow branches artfully arranged in a vase. Now is the time to pull on your knee-high boots and gather these beautiful branches by the armful. Just look at those softly luminous, shimmering beauties!

Salix discolor (as our North American native pussywillow is formally called) is a North American native shrub or small, understory tree, (5-15′ tall and perhaps 8′ wide). Often found beside brooks, forest streams, low-lying thickets or swamps from Canada to Georgia, the pussy willow is hardy to USDA zones 4-7. Stands of Salix discolor form important wetland habitat for nesting birds and other creatures. Mindful of this, I carefully harvest where shrubs are plentiful, and make clean cuts with my Felco pruners.

If you harvest pussy willow for arrangements —and would like the catkins to remain in their silvery, bud-like state— place them in a vase without water to halt development. The preserved twigs and branches can be used in wreaths or other decorations, and will remain beautiful throughout the year. If placed in water, the catkins will slowly develop a greenish cast or “bloom” and eventually, alternate, oval-shaped leaves will spout along the branches. The pollen from blooming pussy willow catkins is an important source of food for bees in the earliest weeks spring (thanks to Deb reminding me to note this!). Like the idea of growing your own stand of pussy willow?

Pussy willow are easy to propagate from late winter/springtime cuttings (this is a good project to try with kids!). Simply harvest pliant, year-old branches, (approximately 18-24″ long), and keep stems in a vase of water in a sunny spot. Plant whips outside when roots have formed, right after the last frost date in your area (rooting hormone is not necessary). Be sure to keep the root-zone moist with a mulch around the base and check on them regularly. Willow naturally prefer moist garden environments (like their native wetlands), so position your young Salix discolor in a garden low spot, where it will catch spring run-off and moisture throughout the seasons.This year I harvested some branches to use in everlasting arrangements, and some to propagate for my garden. Pussy willow make wonderful, textural-interst shrubs for wetland transition areas in the naturalized landscape. I hope to propagate enough for future cutting as well as for enjoying in the permanent landscape. As well as supporting native and honeybee populations and other wildlife as an important, early source of food, these native shrubs are fantastic cover for small birds in the garden too. And I just love watching wild birds in my yard.

Salix discolor, North American native pussy willow © Michaela at TGE

Pitcher/Vase by Aletha Soulé. Images © Michaela at TGE

Photographs and cultural information in this article were originally published on this blog in 2010.

Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without written consent.

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through the affiliate-links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to The Gardener’s Eden, and will help with site maintenance and web hosting costs. Thank you!

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First Hints of Spring…

February 21st, 2011 § 4

Last Year’s Nest Remains Intact, Decorated with the Pink-Tinted Buds of Viburnum Bodnantense ‘Dawn’

Spring is exactly one month away, and eagerly, the garden awaits her arrival. Already, swollen buds, glowing bark and the sing-song voices of chickadees calling “spring’s here”, fill trees and shrubs with new life…

On Warmer Days, Blushing Viburnum Buds Near the Stone Wall, Hint at Coming Spring

Click here to here listen to the ‘typical’ sweet, spring song of the Black-capped Chickadee {via Cornell Lab of Ornithology}.

{Forced branches give the house a prelude-to-spring. Click here for more information on forcing branches, and here for details about this lovely shrub: V. bodnantense ‘Dawn’}

***

Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Seasonal Prelude: The Scent of Spring…

February 17th, 2011 § 2

Forced Blossoms: The Intoxicating Scent of Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’

Remember the fragrance of spring; warm air carrying the sweet perfume of new blossoms on the breeze? Distracted by day dreams of earth-scented pathways; chilly melt-water gurgling up from stone?  Finding yourself stalking the swollen buds of witch hazel, viburnum, azalea and other fragrant, flowering shrubs? Take heart, friends… She’s coming. The garden’s tender love letters are waiting for her; ready to burst open and unfold their sweet adoration… All for Spring.

Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ is one of the most exquisite scents of springtime. The sweet perfume of the blossoms fills my studio entryway with fresh fragrance…

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For a tutorial on how to force Narcissus (as shown in photos above), click here.

For a tutorial on how to force spring-blooming tree and shrub branches, click here.

***

Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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Must Be The Season Of The Witch…

October 30th, 2010 § 2

“When I look out my Window, Many sights to see. And when I look out my window, So many different people to be …That it’s strange, so strange.”

“You’ve got to pick up every stitch, You’ve got to pick up every stitch, You’ve got to pick up every stitch …Mm, must be the Season of the Witch, Must be the Season of the Witch, yea…”

“Must be the Season of the Witch…”

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) – Turns Brilliant Gold in Late Autumn

Dwarf Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii) – Radiates an Eerie Orange Glow in the Secret Garden

I caught her last night in the garden; blowing around in the wind and casting her spells in the drizzly shadows. She’s a changeling and she’s a wild thing. You never know how she will appear from one minute to the next. Red? Orange? Yellow? Perhaps all three hues will turn up in her autumn brew. Yes, she’s the garden witch, and this is indeed her season…

Witch Alder (Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’) is My Answer to Burning Bush in the Garden

Hamamelis (witch hazel) and Fothergilla (witch alder) are two of the most spellbinding woody plants in my garden. The magical blossoms of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ light up the gloomy days of March with color and scent, and later her cousins, the Fothergilla, take over with bewitching blossoms in April and May (read more about Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ by clicking here, and Fothergilla by clicking here). But it’s the witching hour — late October and November in my garden— when these sorceresses truly light up the gathering gloom…

The Wild, Red Witch (Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’) raging along the walkway in late October

The family of Hamamelidaceae is a large group that includes both spring and autumn blooming Witch Hazels (native Hamamelis vernalis and Hamamelis mollis) and their cousins, the Witch Alders (among other woody plants). Although the spring-blooming Witch Hazels tend to me more dramatic in the early part of the year, the autumn blooming species provides both stunning foliage and fragrant flowers in fall (it is definitely harder to spot the sweetly-scented yellow blossoms on my autumn blooming Hamamelis mollis behind the golden foliage). Some of the most gorgeous autumn color in the garden belongs to the Witch Hazel hybrids; particularly H x intermedia ‘Diane’, ‘Jelena’ and ‘Arnold’s Promise’. Although a separate species, Fothergilla is equally magical, and often more flamboyant in her end-of-season color display. A dwarf Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii) is planted in the corner of my Secret Garden, where she is just now turning brilliant orangey-yellow. Elsewhere in the garden, Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’ glow red, orange, yellow and every imaginable shade in between…

Witch Hazel ‘Diane’ (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’) – Autumn Color Variation

Witch Hazel ‘Diane’ (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’) – Autumn Color Variation

Witch Alder (Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’) Leaf Color Variation

Most members of the Hamamelidaceae family prefer moist, semi-acidic soil and mostly sunny to partially shady conditions (in nature, they are forest edge and understory trees and shrubs). Some Witch Hazels and Witch Alders are quite hardy in northern climates; all of those mentioned here are reliable in USDA zones 4-9. In the garden, they are enchanting in autumn when paired with late-season flowers (including anemone and aster) fall-blooming crocus, ornamental grasses, and conifers (including shade-tolerant Microbiota). Catching a rooted witch is far easier than snagging the airborne variety: no net is necessary, simply stop in your local garden center and poke around the sales aisles…

Can You Catch the Witch?

This Story’s Inspiration Comes from ‘Season of the Witch’ by Donovan

Donovan – Season of the Witch

“Season of the Witch” Lyrics are ⓒ Donovan 1967

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, artwork, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of Michaela Medina Harlow and/or The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you!

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How To Describe the Beautiful Scent of Bodnant Viburnum ‘Dawn’ ?

March 27th, 2010 § 6

Anticipation! Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ – buds swollen in cold spring rain…

I have always found it a bit frustrating that -at least in English- fragrances don’t have names of their own. Have you noticed? When we describe smells, we use similes, (smells like…), or we borrow other words, because scents have none. Often we use flavors -which have their own definitions- like “sweet” and “sour”, or “spicy” and “tart”. Sometimes we employ tactile and visual comparisons, like “soft”, “sharp” and “delicate”, or when we describe a scent, we lean on other adjectives such as “fresh”, “rotten”, “pungent”, or “beautiful”. Why are there so few words to exclusively define scents? I can’t even think of one! Can you? In fact the more unique a scent is, the harder this task becomes…

Spring rain drops shimmer like diamonds on V. bodnantense ‘Dawn’..

These thoughts occurred to me today as I paused to admire the swollen buds on my beloved Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’. It seems that her velvety, cerise petals will begin unfolding any moment now, and the anticipation is driving me crazy. I stood outside in the cold air for a long time this morning, wondering how to describe this beautiful fragrance to you. How? Words fail me, and there is no “scent” button on my laptop to transmit the odor. Clove-like with a hint of sweet berries and and musk? Hmm… it’s better than that. Pink? How can something smell pink? Yet it’s true – this blossom actually does smell pink to me. The scent is feminine and familiar, yet hauntingly, almost maddeningly elusive. It smells like a memory; something from childhood; something you know and long for, but can barely remember; something you can almost visualize, but can’t quite pull into focus; something you ache and reach for, but can’t quite touch…

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, within hours of opening…

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ in winter – buds encased in icy globes…

The bodnant viburnum is a gorgeous shrub, not so much because of its form -it can be quite coarse and should be softened with other plantings- but because of its beautiful foliage and flowers. One of the first, and most fragrant flowering shrubs to bloom in my garden, Dawn’s ice-coated buds often glow bright pink in winter – even on the darkest days. On a warm January afternoon, this shrub’s magical buds dangle like glassy-globe ornaments from snow-covered branches at the Secret Garden entry. It’s possible, with even the slightest bit of imagination, to gaze into those crystal-blossom-balls and see the future – a beautiful springtime just around the corner. Impatient by nature, I often cheat a bit and force cut branches of V. bodantense ‘Dawn’ in late winter…

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, foliage in autumn, here paired with golden Lindera benzoin, (spice bush)

I’ve certainly waxed poetic enough about this viburnum’s delicious blossoms – but there is more. In autumn, the brilliant foliage of ‘Dawn’ slowly morphs from bright-red maraschino to dark-cherry-fizz; glorious in combination with golden spice bush and technicolor witch alder. Although this plant can be gangly and awkward in adolescence, (aren’t we all?), with proper pruning it will achieve an attractive and shapely mature form. Climate and growing conditions will influence overall size of course, (V. bondnantense is hardy in USDA zones 5-9), but at maturity, something in the neighborhood of 8-10′ high and wide can be expected from this shrub, (my zone 4/5 specimen has grown to 8′ in as many years). Position this treasure where you will pass her frequently in the early days of springtime, and I imagine you too will stop and wonder why we have never created specific words for scents…

Forced branches of Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’…

How I wish it could be click-and-sniff…

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Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Welcome, Soft Harbinger of Spring: Oh Come to Me, My Sweet Willow…

March 19th, 2010 § 4

Salix discolor: North American native pussy willow © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Salix discolor, North American native pussy willow – Pitcher by Aletha Soulé. Photo © Michaela TGE

Welcome! Oh welcome sweet, silver-tipped harbinger of springtime. Is there anything that makes a heart race faster than the sight of the first pussy willow catkins in March? I should probably install a blinking sign on the back of my vehicle; “Warning: I break for pussy willow”. Yes, it’s true. I am quite the springtime roadside hazard. Fortunately, the mud-slicked trails I travel in search of Salix discolor, (as our North American native pussywillow is formally called), are usually avoided by traffic at this time of year. Yesterday afternoon, after a bit of swampy adventure, I returned home with a flush in my cheeks and armfuls of downy-budded branches. I love the beautiful, soft texture and the sculptural quality of pussy willow arrangements.

Salix discolor is a North American native shrub or small, understory tree, (5-15′ tall and perhaps 8′ wide). Often found beside brooks and forest streams, or in low-lying thickets and swamps from Canada to Georgia, the pussy willow is hardy to USDA zones 4-7. Stands of Salix discolor form important wetland habitat for nesting birds and other creatures. Mindful of this, I have been carefully harvesting where shrubs are plentiful, and making clean cuts with my Felco pruners.

Pussy willow are easy to propagate from springtime cuttings, (this is a good project to try with kids!). Simply harvest pliant, year-old branches, (approximately 18-24″ long), and keep stems in a vase of water in a sunny spot. Plant whips outside when roots have formed, right after the last frost date in your area. This year I harvested some branches to use in everlasting arrangements, and some to propagate for my garden. Pussy willow make wonderful, textural-interst shrubs for wetland transition areas in the naturalized landscape. I hope to propagate enough for future cutting as well as for enjoying in the permanent landscape. Remember, these native shrubs are fantastic cover for small birds in the garden too. If you harvest pussy willow for arrangements, and would like the catkins to remain in their silvery, bud-like state, place them in a vase without water to halt development. The preserved twigs and branches can be used in wreaths or other decorations, and will remain beautiful throughout the year. If placed in water, the catkins will slowly develop a greenish cast or “bloom” and eventually, alternate, oval-shaped leaves will spout along the branches. Plant Salix discolor in a garden low spot, where it will catch spring run-off and moisture throughout the seasons…

Salix discolor, North American native pussy willow © Michaela at TGE

Salix discolor – vase by Aletha Soulé. Photo © Michaela at TGE

***

Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through the affiliate-links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to The Gardener’s Eden, and will help with site maintenance and web hosting costs. Thank you!

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Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: Force Early Blooming Branches for a Bit of Springtime on a Winter Day…

January 21st, 2010 § 3

Forced Blossoms – Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’

An Early Whiff of Spring

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’,  forced in a turquoise vase…

What a gift! A beautifully warm, clear, blue-sky day in midwinter. I am itching to pull on my boots and go play. The frost coated snow drifts outside sparkle and tempt like cream-puffs with sugar icing. I have so much mid-winter pruning to do. This week, I will begin with my own garden, and next I will move on to a few others in my care. One of my favorite parts of midwinter pruning is the left-overs. Oh how I adore all of the gnarly, crooked branches loaded with swollen buds: pink apple blossoms; vibrant purple redbud; intoxicatingly fragrant vernal witch hazel; and my favorite, the spicy-seductive bodnant viburnum. My cellar is already loaded with branches, and I am greedy for more, more, more!

So, out come the hand pruners, the bow and folding saws, the oil can and whetstone. This is prime-time for thinning and shaping the branches of deciduous fruit and ornamental trees. If there is any garden task I truly adore, (and I am passionate about many!), it is pruning. I love the art of sculpting living things and I am eager to get outdoors after so many weeks of cold weather. One of my clients has nick-named me Edwina Scissorhands. It’s no joke. Edward and I have a lot in common. I frequently write about pruning and last year I presented my first seminars on the subject. You can read last year’s essay and notes on pruning basics by clicking through here…

Of course, you needn’t be an obsessive pruner to enjoy forcing blossoms. All you need is a pair of sharp, clean by-pass pruners and a spring-blooming tree or shrub, (see some good candidates below). This is the perfect time to harvest yourself a little bit of May in January. Now, because I am a professional gardner, I am going to emphasize that you must do this correctly, especially if you are working in your garden, (remember never take too many branches from any one specimen!). But even if you are harvesting wild pussy willow in an abandoned lot, think of this as an opportunity to learn or practice an important horticultural skill. Have a good look at the branch that you are about to cut before you snip, snip. Do you know what it is? Try to id your branch before you cut. Are the twigs or buds lined up opposite one another on the branch, or are they alternating like a pole ladder? If they are opposite, cut straight across the branch, ( about 1/4 inch or so), just above the pair of buds beneath the length of branch you are cutting, (not too close or you may injure the buds, not too far away or the stem will die-back leaving an unsightly stub). If you are cutting from a specimen with alternating buds, cut at a shallow angle, sloping away from the bud, (this is for shedding water, to prevent rot of the bud ). If you are intimidated, just go on out and practice on some scrub or brambles first, then move on to more desirable plants. This is fun – trust me …

If you have never forced branches before, be on the look out for swollen buds on warm January days. Sweet-scented witch hazel, early blooming viburnum and forsythia are all great choices for forcing. Crab apples and other ornamental fruit trees are very popular with florists, but you may also want to try quince, azalea, redbud, juneberry, magnolia, and of course, fuzzy pussy-willow. Leave the lilacs and summer bloomers alone, (you want small flowered, early blooming shrubs like plum, for example, with full, swollen buds), and remember that you will get better results if you harvest on an above-freezing day, (the work is also more pleasant this way!).

Once you harvest your branches, bring them inside and pound the stems with a mallet or hammer, (see picture below). Not only is this kind-of fun, but it’s also important to help the branch with water uptake. Collect the branches in a bucket of slightly cool – room temperature water, and place them in a cool room with low light or, ideally, a cellar. After a few days, bring out a few branches at a time, and arrange them in vases filled with water. Once moved to warmer rooms, the buds will swell and the petals will slowly unfurl. This is such a beautiful process, and if you keep your house on the cool-side, you can prolong the show. If you change the vase water every few days, many forced flowering branches will last a month or longer. Adding a bit, (just a teaspoon per gallon), of environmentally safe bleach-substitute will keep the water fresh and also aid in extending the life of the blossoms…

Pounding woody stems helps with water uptake in the blossoming branches

Felco 6 by-pass pruners for small hands

How lovely to enjoy the beauty of two seasons in one! I wish you should smell the bodnant viburnum blossoms in my kitchen. I wonder if there will ever be a way to transmit fragrance via the internet? Only the good smells, of course! Well, I am off to harvest more branches now. I will meet you back here soon…

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Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express, written consent. Please contact me before using images or text excerpts from this site. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you!

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