Swing Season: Falling for September’s Slow, Sultry Color Shift . . .

September 14th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

Bits of Early Color: Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’ and Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens Glow Like Stained Glass in the Last Rays of Low Sunlight

The last days of summer: golden light, cricket chorus, scampering squirrels and vibrant colors. It seems Mother Nature —ready to rest from a long growing season— has decided to stretch out in a meadow of tall grass and soak in the warmth of September’s sun. This is the swing season. Nights are getting nippier and a star-filled blanket of inky darkness spills out across the sky earlier and earlier with each passing day. In her final transition from summer to fall, the garden is slowly shifting hues and textures. Once opaque green, even the forest canopy is showing signs of early color; tints of autumnal scarlet, saffron and bittersweet kiss leaf edges and margins.

Although I look forward to all of the seasons, It’s true that I enjoy autumn more than any other. Viburnum, Windflower, Fairy Candles, Flame Grass, Yellow Wax Bells, Asters, Toad Lilies, Monkshood and Glowing Moss; at this time of year, my favorite plants are just beginning to get gussied up for for their grand, garden soiree. And I’m ready to pour myself a glass of Sweet September Sangria and join Mother Nature for a moment in the late summer sun. Here, a few of my current, swing-season favorites in the garden . . .

A Floriferous Late Summer Favorite, Bush Clover (Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Edo Shibori’), is Popular with September Pollinators as Well. I Often Include This Blowzy Beauty in My Garden Designs, and Grow Several Cultivars Here at Home; Including the Glorious, Fuchsia-Colored ‘Gibraltar’.

Windflowers are Some of the Most Beautiful Late-Blooming Perennials. ‘September Charm’, ‘Party Dress’, ‘Robustissima’ and Silver-Tipped ‘Serenade’ are Among the Loveliest. Pictured Above: Anemone x hybrida ‘Serenade’

Ornamental Grasses are Truly the Queens of the Late Season Garden. Here, Mauve-Tinted Tips of Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’) Echo the Colors of a September Dawn

I Like to Position Ornamental Grasses Where Their Late-Season Tassels Catch the Low, Golden Light. Pictured Here is Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens)

Light Filters Through Maiden Grass Tassels in the Late Afternoon, Greeting Me Home

Late Summer Colors Grow Richer in the Shade as Well. On Cool, Still Evenings, Luminous White Fairy Candles (Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’) Fill the Secret Garden with Beautiful Fragrance; Reminiscent of Ripe Concord Grapes

Though the Golden Flowers are Stunning from Late August through September, Beautiful Kirengeshoma palmata (Yellow Wax Bells) Grace the Dappled-Shade Garden with Emerald Green Foliage Throughout the Year

With Their Exotic Looks and Late-Season Resilience, Toad Lilies Have Earned a Special Place Among My Favorite Flowers. Tricyrtis hirta is Particularly Hardy (tolerating extreme cold temperatures to -30 Degrees Fahrenheit – USDA zones 4-9). Though a Bit Less Sturdy, Tricyrtis formosana ‘Dark Beauty’ Has Always Stopped Me in My Tracks

With Late Winter to Early Spring Blossoms, Leathery Green Leaves, Ornamental Berries and Vibrant Fall Foliage, Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ is a Four Season, Garden Beauty. But to Me, the Autumn is When She Always Shines Her Brightest

Garden Design & Installation: Michaela Medina Harlow

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of 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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Singing for Their Supper: Gardening to Attract Migratory Songbirds . . .

August 23rd, 2012 § 3 comments § permalink

Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’ Fruits in the Garden – A Cedar Waxwing Favorite

Late in summer, when tall grass sways in golden light and crickets sing long into morning, the garden begins to ripen in shades of red, orange, violet and plum. In August, migratory birds —making their way to exotic, tropical destinations— flock to my garden like jet-setters pausing for a gourmet meal and quick rest at a hip, mountain-top resort. Cedar Waxwings, with their high whistling calls, are the happening crowd this week; flitting about and flashing their glorious plumage and dark masks in fruity Viburnums …

Photo of the week - Cedar waxwing (MA)Cedar Waxwing ⓒ Bill Thompson/USFWS

Beautiful birds are as important to my garden as any of the plants growing within it. In order to attract and support birds, I’ve planted a wide variety of fruiting trees, shrubs and seed-producing perennials in the landscape. The Viburnum genus is especially attractive to songbirds, and with so many species and cultivars to choose from, it’s easy to find more than one to fit in any garden. Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum (featured previously here) is a beautiful shrub that provides season-spanning support for wildlife. In addition to Viburnums, I grow a number of Dogwood (Cornus) species, Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Juniper, Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Ornamental Sumac (Rhus typhina), Elderberry (Sambucus), Buckeye (Aesculus) and many other fruit-bearing shrubs.

Nannyberry Viburnum (V. lentago) Fruits Ripen from Citrusy Hues to Blueish Black. The Coral Colored Stems Make a Stunning Contrast to the Dark-Hued Berries. Although Birds Eventually will Pick the Shrub Clean, There’s Plenty of Time to Enjoy the Visual Feast as Well…

Creating a bird-friendly habitat also means providing water —fresh, clean birdbath or water feature— and shelter. Conifers and shrubs with dense branching patterns offer excellent cover and protection from predators and the elements. Hemlock (Tsuga), Spruce (Picea), Fir (Abies) and Cedar (Thuja) are important sources of both food and shelter for birds throughout the seasons. For more information on attracting birds, visit Cornell-University’s Lab of Ornithology here. And for additional photos and berry-good planting ideas, click back to my earlier post —Oh Tutti-Fruitti— here.

Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa) Berries Provide Sustenance to a Variety of Birds and Squirrels From Late Summer through Early Winter

Magical Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issi’ is Not Only a Beautiful Ornamental, but a Magnet for Feathered Garden Guests as Well!

Cedar Waxwing Photo is ⓒ Bill Thompson/USFWS  – Courtesy of the Photographer, via Flickr Creative Commons 

All Other Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of 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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Falling for Autumn’s Slow Color Shift …

September 21st, 2011 § Comments Off on Falling for Autumn’s Slow Color Shift … § permalink

The Brilliant Vermillion Fruits of Tea Viburnum (V. setigerum) are Striking Against this Silvery-Mauve Screen of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ in My Garden

With two large garden design & installation projects to button up before the end of the year, fire wood to stack and countless post-Irene repairs to tackle, it seems the weeks are flying by in a wild blur. Indeed, the Autumnal Equinox is mere hours away, and the last days of summer are upon us. Even with my busy schedule, it’s hard to ignore the signs of fall, steadily creeping into my garden …

Arkansas Bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) in the Wildflower Walk is Revealing Her Inner Chameleon (This delightful, spring-flowering native shifts from green to chartreuse-gold and orange as Autumn plays on)

Of course I will miss summer’s long days and balmy nights, but fall will always be my favorite season. I love observing the slow color-shifts in my autumn garden as verdant trees and shrubs come alive in shades of brilliant saffron, orange, scarlet, plum, smoke, violet and rust. The viburnum are particularly showy at this time of year —with colorful leaves and fruit— and already the cranberrybush, tea and nannyberry viburnum have started up the early show. I’ll be posting more photos of seasonal favorites as the garden’s grand finale progresses. For the early birds —settling into front-row seats, hoping for a glance of players rehearsing lines and slipping into costume— it’s never too soon to arrive at the theater …

Just a Few, Short Weeks Ago (Late August) the Stems of V. setigerum were Coral, But Fruits Held Green …

… Now Transformed to a Brilliant Shade of Orange

As Fall Progresses, North American Native Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) Fruits Morph from Kaleidoscopic Candy-Store Colors (above) to Deep Blue-Black (below)

Viburnum lentago Berries, Later in Autumn (Click Here to See More Plants with Ornamental Berries)

Bright Red Winterberries Provide a Visual Jolt in a Sea of Verdant Leaves and Blue-Green Juniper (Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’ and Lindera benzoin)

With Brilliant Fall Foliage (Starting Peachy Green and Peaking in Scarlet) and Cinnamon-Colored, Curling Bark, This Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) Has Much to Offer the Garden from Late Summer Through Winter

The Scarlet Fruits of Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ are Attractive to Many Birds (including my resident Catbird – click here to read more about this noisy little fella). This Wonderful Shrub Provides Fragrant Flowers in May, Shiny Green Leaves in Summer, Brilliant Berries, Kaleidoscopic Foliage in Autumn and Pretty, Frost-Covered Form in Winter.

I’m wild about Beautyberries, and Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issai’ —a hardy cultivar I planted in my garden a couple of years ago— is a real eye-popper! Each year I am rewarded with more and more glorious purple berries, and they are an absolute, autumnal delight! Read more about Callicarpa, and my obsession with this glorious shrub, by clicking here.

Eventually the Vivid Purple Fruits will Stand Alone on Bare Branches. Beautyberry Indeed! Click here to read more.

A Simple, Low-Maintenance, Trans-Seasonal Border: Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’, Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens and Viburnum trilobum ‘J.N. Select, Redwing’ 

Photos and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of 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. Thank you!

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After the Rain …

August 16th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

The Vibrant but Subtle Detail of this Beautiful Leaf (Cotinus coggygria ‘Grace’) is Even More Striking when Sprinkled with Water Droplets on a Rainy Day

Ah, soft, sweet showers! At last, gentle grey clouds have delivered a long, cool drink of refreshing rain! I can almost hear my drought-parched garden singing a joyful song. And with silvery raindrops sparkling on trees, shrubs and vines, it’s a wonderfully romantic time for a stroll along the misty garden path, beneath a wide umbrella. Won’t you join me for a spell?

Hearts and Teardrops: The Leaves of This Old-Time Favorite, Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla), Look Fresh and Lovely After the Rain …

I’m Pretty Crazy About ‘Bonfire’ Euphorbia Any Day of the Week (Euphorbia polychroma ‘Bonfire’), But I’m Particularly Smitten with the Jewel-Toned Leaves on Rainy Days, when They Sparkle and Shimmer Like a Vintage Brooch

The Ripening Berries on this Tea Viburnum (V. setigerum) Dangle Like Diamond-Studded Chandelier Earrings

Delicate New Inflorescences on this Switch Grass (Panicum virginicum ‘Heavy Metal’) Shimmer Between Showers (Backed up by Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ aka ‘Diabolo’/’Monolo’)

One of the Great Beauties of Late Summer: Blushing Tufts of Smoke Bush (Cotinus Coggygria) Gleam and Glimmer Like a Cluster of Pale Pink Sapphires

The Simple Beauty of a Single Leaf: Silverbells are so-named for their beautiful white flowers, but after a summer shower, this over-turned Halesia tetraptera leaf also conjures a metallic finish

Near the End of the Walkway, Calluna vulgaris ‘Silver Knight’ Glows Like Lavender in the Mist

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of 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. Thank you!

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Fresh Picked Raspberry-Mint Daiquiris And Hazy Summer Reflections …

July 25th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Fresh-Picked Raspberry-Mint Daiquiri

An Afternoon Swim

Favorite Old Summertime Slides

Truth: I’m suffering from a bit of vacation envy this week. Months have passed since I’ve had a whole day to myself, and to be honest, I really need one. It’s been terribly hot, and I’ve been doing projects back-to-back. I try to “make hay while the sun shines”, as the saying goes, and during the growing season, taking time off work always feels impossible. But summer days pass quickly —at the speed of light, really— and it’s important to savor their sweetness. My nephew will soon be two years old, and I can’t remember the last time my toes touched sand. I miss my friends. I miss my family. It’s time to slow things down a little and plan a mini-vacation: pick some wild berries, kick off shoes, float in the lake and mix a cocktail or two …

Fresh-Picked Raspberries and Mint

Hazy Green Mountains at Sunset

Savoring a Bit of Summer

Never one for frozen-cocktails, I prefer my libations lightly chilled and shaken with hand-cracked ice. The classic daiquiri (made with lime juice, white rum and gomme syrup) wasn’t originally a blender drink; though on a hot day, many prefer to serve it that way. There are so many variations on the basic recipe, but in mid-summer, is there anything tastier than a cocktail made with freshly picked, juicy fruit? The heavenly fragrance of raspberries and mint, the glow of saturated, backlit color; why it’s just summertime in a glass …

Old Fashioned Raspberry-Mint Daiquiri

Ingredients (one cocktail, multiply to suit any number of companions)

1         handful fresh picked raspberries (about 20 juicy, plump berries)

6         fresh picked mint leaves, slightly crushed

1 2/3  oz Puerto Rican White Rum

2/3     oz fresh squeezed lime juice

extra mint and raspberries for garnish and nibbles

hand cracked ice

*dash of gomme or simple syrup (*optional if berries are tart)

Method: 

Place raspberries and mint in a cocktail shaker and lightly mash (*if berries seem tart, add a dash of gomme/simple syrup to sweeten the drink). Add cracked ice to the cup an pour in the rum and lime juice. Let it all sit for a minute, then cover and shake it all up. Set aside. Add a sprig of mint with three raspberries to a double cocktail glass. Strain contents of shaker into the glass, walk out to the deck, kick off your shoes, sit down and sip. Repeat as necessary.

 Cheers! Here’s to Summer!

Red Sky at Night – A Glowing, Raspberry Sunset

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of 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. Thank you!

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A Bolder Shade of Summertime … Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’

July 5th, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

 Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Golden’ with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ in the Entry Garden

Some like it hot. And, some wither and fade in the mid-day sun. Blossoms come and go quickly at this time of year, but beautiful foliage lasts all season long. Does your garden go through awkward phases throughout the summer; gaps between flowering, when things look a little ‘blah’? Consider experimenting with colorful leaves to add a bit of season-spanning interest in your garden. A verdant backdrop is always lovely, of course. But there’s more than one hue in your box of Crayolas, so why not pull out a few and play around?

Like most gardeners, when I began planting perennials in my first garden, I was very flower-centric. Of course, flowers have evolved to seduce us —as well as birds, bees and butterflies— so it’s hard not to focus on all of those gorgeous blossoms. Peonies, roses, iris; I adore them all. Trouble is, even when employing various cultivars for staggered bloom time, the flowering season of most perennials is really quite short. Now, when designing gardens for myself and for my clients, I am quite ruthless when selecting plants. “What’s in it for me ?” I ask. “What’s in it for me all season long?” Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Golden(aka ‘Gold’), answers at the top of her lungs: “Look at me … Over here in the flamboyant chartreuse gown!” Brilliant as a sunlit lime, from spring until frost, this gorgeous European Red Elder has become one of my favorite plants for dappled shade and mixed borders. Just look at her glowing, cut leaves…

Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Golden’s Lovely, Tropical-Looking Leaves are Saturated in Luminous Chartreuse

There are several interesting Sambucus racemosa cultivars available; including dark beauties like ‘Black Lace’. I’m attracted to them all, and after experimenting with several in my own garden (which always serves as a testing ground for my garden design work), I’ve found that S. racemosa, ‘Sutherland Golden’ is the best of the yellow-chartreuse cultivars. I love playing the striking foliage of ‘Sutherland Golden’ against coppery and maroon hued plants like Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ and Cotinus coggygria ‘Grace’ (or for more intensity, C. coggygria ‘Royal Purple’). Chartreuse foliaged plants like this one also work beautifully against dark green hedges (or dark sided houses), and blue-tinted conifers. And just imagine the perennial possibilities! Deep blue and purple flowers, like Geranium ‘Brookside’ or late-blooming Aconitum sing against the golden backdrop of ‘Sutherland Golden’. And orange flowering plants —like butterflyweed and brilliant daylilies— are stunning against this shrubs feathery, bold backdrop. Always luminous, even casual, happenstance pairings with ‘Sutherland Gold’ can be striking. Take a look at the photo below, for example. Notice how the chartreuse color of the Sambucus leaves brings out the brilliant green moss on the ledge in the background. Color works such magic in a garden design …

Treated as a Woody, Perennial Plant (cut back hard in early spring), The Fresh, Vibrant Foliage of this European Red Elder Emerges Rusty, Copper-Orange Before Shifting to a Hue Bright as the Summer Sun…

Hardy in USDA zones 3-8, this fast growing shrub can quickly reach 10′ tall and 12′ wide. However, I almost always treat this ornamental Sambucus as I do woody perennials like Russian Sage and Butterflybush; cutting them back hard and early each spring to encourage low, bushy, new growth. Managed in this way, Sambucus can fit into very small spaces; making it the perfect plant for semi-shaded courtyard spaces and even larger container gardens. The golden foliage can burn out in full sun, so some protection at mid-day will give best coloration. And although flowering, fruiting and golden coloration are diminished in full shade, this lovely shrub thrives in dappled light conditions. Even moisture and a pH of 6-6.5 are her soil preferences; adding woodsy leaf mold and/or good compost will encourage healthy, rapid growth. Attractive to bees, butterflies and birds, Sambucus offers the garden fragrant flowers and fruit for wildlife (beware all parts of S. racemosa –including green and red berrries– are mildly toxic when ingested; particularly in great quantities. Avoid this shrub if you have grazing pets or small children. Take care not confuse this species with our native, S. canadensis, as the black fruits of our native elderberry are commonly used for jam).

Words & Photographs ⓒ Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reused, reposted or reproduced in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Strawberries & Homemade Granola: Fresh Fraises des Bois for Breakfast …

June 9th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Fresh Picked Alpine Strawberries or Fraises des Bois (Fragaria vesca) & Homemade Granola

One of the best things about June —besides peonies— is fresh picked strawberries from the garden. I have a small but productive patch of fraises des bois (Fragaria vesca) —better known as alpine strawberries— in my potager (click here for more information about this wonderful berry). And right now, the alpine strawberry plants are producing so many plump, juicy fruits, I hardly miss the few that I know Mr. Catbird is snatching. For the past few days, I’ve been strolling down to the kitchen garden at dawn to fill a basket with these sweet, ruby red beauties for my breakfast. I love them tossed on top of homemade granola in the morning, and later —if it’s hot— they are wonderful mashed up in a strawberry mojito (click here for recipe) or a strawberry flirt (click here for that little number). Alpine strawberries are easy to grow in patio pots or window boxes; making them the perfect fruit for container gardeners.

The still, early morning hours are ideal for pulling a few weeds and watching butterflies. This week I spotted a viceroy (which looks like a miniature monarch), several painted ladies and more tiger swallowtail butterflies. All of the pollinators seem drawn to the chives and sage in particular, but also to the recently planted cosmos, calendula and ageratum. Which reminds me, I need to get back over to Walker Farm. I have a little extra space around the fence line, and I aim to fill it with more fresh flowers for cutting!

Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca) and My New Red Chair

Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are the Sweetest of June Treasures

Top Two Photos: Viceroy Butterfly.  Above: Chives for Butterflies, Bees & Me

In winter, I like to add raisins and other dried fruits to my granola. But in summer, I think fresh berries are the way to go. So at this time of year, I prefer a honey-nut granola recipe to complement the tart taste of fresh fruit. The blend below is based on a simple recipe from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, which I discovered while reading Adam Roberts’ very funny food blog, The Amateur Gourmet. This is a fun recipe to make with kids, because the granola turns out best when you mix it with your hands!

Alpine Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

Cultivated Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are Larger Than Truly Wild Fruit but Smaller Than Standard, Cultivated Varieties

Honey-Nut Granola with Fresh Alpine Strawberries

Ingredients: (makes about 3 1/2 cups, multiply and add twists, as you like)

2          cups rolled oats

1          tsp cinnamon

1          tsp salt

3 1/2   tablespoons vegetable oil

1/4      cup honey, plus extra for drizzling

1/4      cup brown sugar

1         tsp vanilla extract

1         cup (+/-) of lightly chopped nuts (cashews, macadamia, etc)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Select a large baking sheet (or cookie sheet) and line with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, mix together the vegetable oil, brown sugar, honey, vanilla with a fork or whisk. Set aside.

Mix oats, nuts, cinnamon and salt together in a large bowl.

Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients and combine. The best method for even coverage is to use your hands.

Spread the mixture out over the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake 10 minutes, remove pan and drizzle with a little more honey. Turn the granola with a spatula. Return to oven for another 5 – 10 minutes. Watch carefully, as it’s easy to burn. Remove from oven and turn the granola again. If the mixture looks less than golden brown, return to oven for another 5 minutes. Remove the granola from oven and allow it to cool completely.

Serve with fresh berries and milk or yogurt, and a drizzle of golden honey on top. Store extra granola in an airtight canister (it keeps well for a couple of weeks, if it lasts that long).

Ever-Bearing Alpine Strawberries/Fraises des Bois (Fragaria vesca) Produce Delicious Fruit All Summer Long

Succession Sowing of Seed and Planting of Vegetable Starts Continues All Summer Long to Insure a Steady Supply of Greens, Root Vegetables and Fall Crops

Looking Past the Garlic Greens, Peppers, Bean Pole and Into the Heart of the Potager

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of 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. Thank you!

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Sitting in the Catbird Seat …

May 29th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Sitting in the Catbird Seat: My Resident Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)

There’s a broken branch in my doublefile viburnum (V. plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’). The leafless eyesore is driving me crazy —this otherwise beautiful shrub sits right outside my kitchen window— but I’m not going to prune it. No, I won’t touch it, because it doesn’t belong to me. That tall, naked bit of wood sticking up straight from the center of  all those lovely flower buds has become the perch of my resident crooner, Mr. Catbird. Birds are a beautiful and important part of my garden, and this musical little fellow sings —an endlessly varied and clever repertoire— from dawn to dusk. I wouldn’t dream of disturbing his stage.

Are you familiar with the Gray Catbird and his family? The species is common throughout much of the United States and Southern Canada during the nesting season. The catbird takes its name from his call; a distinctive, raspy-sounding “mew”. His song, on the other hand, is quite creative; like that of his cousin, the Northern Mockingbird, which has a similar stylistic habit of sampling bits of other bird tunes in his compositions. But the gray catbird looks noticeably different from the mockingbird —smaller and darker with a deep gray color, black cap and no white markings— and if you look closely you’ll notice a flash of rusty red feathers beneath its tail as he flits between low branches.

If you enjoy listening to catbirds, draw them into your garden by planting fruit-bearing trees and shrubs. In addition to a wide range of insect pests, the catbird and his cousin mockingbird are particularly fond of  fruiting Viburnum, Serviceberry (Amelanchier), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and Dogwood (Cornus sericea, C. alba, C. alternifolia, C. florida and C. kousa). But beware, they will also sample your blueberries, raspberries and strawberries (I cover mine with old fashioned tobacco cloth). Catbirds avoid flight over wide open spaces —preferring to hop from one low shrub or tree to the next— and they typically nest in thickets 4′ or so off the ground. I like to keep my garden neatly pruned and tidy —leaving the catbird’s branch is a test of my nature— but remember, a little imperfection in a garden is often exactly what it takes to make it the perfect place for our wild friends.

Listen to the songs and calls of the gray catbird by clicking here —Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds”— where you can research almost anything you ever wanted to know about our avian friends.

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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The Living Garden: Crow Feasting Upon Staghorn Sumac Berries…

March 13th, 2011 § Comments Off on The Living Garden: Crow Feasting Upon Staghorn Sumac Berries… § permalink

Crows feasting upon native staghorn sumac berries (Rhus typhina) in my garden this morning…

This morning while lingering over my breakfast, I heard some loud caw-caw-cawing coming from the edge of the back garden, and then noticed a pair of American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) enjoying an early meal of fruit from staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina). With its velvety branches, brilliant fall color and bright red fruits, North American native Rhus typhina will always be high on my list of favorite four-season shrubs (read my detailed plant-profile post about this under-appreciated plant here). And beyond its value as a large-scale, landscape ornamental, sumac is an important source of food for birds and other wildlife. In late winter and early sping —when natural sources of sustenance are becoming depleted— sumac fruit and seed provides food for many returning and over-wintering birds; including crow, raven, robin, thrush, cardinals, vireos, catbirds, warblers, juncos, grouse and others.

Interested in learning more about how to attract birds to your yard with landscaping? Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great site called All About Birds, with all sorts of great tips and resources. I love their free and easy to use sound-library and identification guides. Living here in the wilds of Vermont (happily without television reception) bird and wildlife watching is one of my main forms of visual entertainment, and I am particularly fond of the dark, beautiful and intelligent crow and raven. Click here to listen to the call sounds of the American Crow and take a tour of the fantastic Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Staghorn sumac fruits (Rhus typhina) persist through winter, offering sustenance to hungry over-wintering and migratory birds.

Read more about Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) here.

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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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Birds, Bees & Butterflies in the Garden: A Seminar on Attracting Winged Beauty! Brattleboro Garden Club in Vermont

March 11th, 2011 § Comments Off on Birds, Bees & Butterflies in the Garden: A Seminar on Attracting Winged Beauty! Brattleboro Garden Club in Vermont § permalink

I’ll be presenting a free gardening seminar with slide show & discussion: “Gardening to Attract Birds, Bees & Butterflies”

Please note that the Brattleboro Garden Club has changed the time of this event to 6 pm. Thank you!

This event is sponsored by the Brattleboro Garden Club and will take place Monday, March 14th at 6pm, Green Mountain Chapel, 480 Western Avenue, Brattleboro, Vermont. The show & talk are open to the public.

For information on my gardening seminars, or to schedule a workshop, please see the “Garden Workshops” page at left. Workshop & Seminar information will be updated regularly as the spring schedule becomes available.

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Sparkles, Drifts, Patterns & Shadows: The Beauty of a Frosty Winter’s Morn…

December 30th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Frosty Holiday Decorations

Oh, the shimmering, glimmering glamour of a frost-covered garden! After days of howling wind, I awoke to a still hush and brilliant sunrise. I simply had to rush outside to greet the glistening morn. Of course, there was no time to change into snow boots and jacket. Oh no. So I grabbed my camera and ran, bundled up in my fluffy robe and fuzzy slippers, to enjoy the first light of day. If it was cold, I never noticed. Such is the power of beauty. Even in winter, the garden beckons her faithful servant with a seductive call. And even in the quiet season, she never disappoints…

Sparkles, Drifts and Shadows (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’, Juniperus sargentii and Rudbeckia hirta shadows)

The Frost Covered Fire Sculpture Awaits New Year’s Eve Celebrations

Rudbeckia and Solidago Dance in Sparkling Snow

Frost-Coated Furniture on the Stone Terrace

And Color? Oh Yes. The Garden Still Sings in Red, Green and Gold (Cornus alba ‘Siberica’ and Kalmia latifolia)

Golden Miscanthus sinensis Shines Against the Violet-Grey Mountains, Bare Tree Branches and Cerulean Blue Sky

The Delightfully Shiny, Bright-Red Fruit of Viburnum setigerum

Rudbeckia Hirta Seed Heads Soak Up the Sun

Two Paths Diverge – Dramatically

A Wind-Blown Patch of Bare Textured, Lawn

And Piles of Sensual, Sparkling Snow

The Tippy Tops of Hosta Seem to Rise from Winter Slumber to Greet the Shimmering Morn…

Winter Borders Gleam, Greeting the Wandering Gardener

A Beautiful Way to Begin the Day…

With Sparkles and Shadows on Snow Drifts

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

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Red Riding Hood’s Delightfully Tart Cranberry Christmas Cake…

December 9th, 2010 § 6 comments § permalink

Red Riding Hood’s Cranberry Christmas Cake

For an adult, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about fairytales (as you may have noticed). And no, I don’t mean those saccharine, watered-down characters you find at Disney amusement parks. I’m talking about the dark, weird, fantastically-twisted and sometimes frightening characters from the Grimms Märchen (Grimms Fairytales, in German, by the brothers Grimm). I grew up reading and listening to the original, shadowy tales of Black Forest terror -and they haunt my dreams to this day. Little details from the individual stories often blur together in my mind with characters, drawings and narratives by Edward Gorey and Tim Burton, creating a delightfully strange and slightly Gothic/Medieval blend of inspiration.

One of my favorite fairytales has always been Rotkäppchen (aka Red Riding Hood), and I am definitely looking forward to the new Warner Brothers/DiCaprio film —which releases in March 2011— starring Amanda Seyfried as Red, Julie Christie as Grandma and Gary Oldman as the Hunter. In spite of the not-so-awesome trailer, from what I’ve read, I expect it to be quite entertaining. I understand that the film is actually something like Sleepy Hollow —one of my favorites— and the set and costumes look amazing (would you get a load of that cape in the photo below)? When we were kids, my sister and I used to beg my dad to “read” this story to us, because his version was particularly imaginative. My father is a brilliant storyteller, which came in handy because our copy of the Grimms Märchen is written in German, and although the vast majority of my extended family lives in Europe —where my mother is from— my father speaks only a handful of foreign words.

Amanda Seyfried as Red Riding Hood

Dad often used the exquisitely illustrated Grimms Märchen as an inspirational launch-pad for a far more modern —but equally dark— improvisational rendition of “Red Riding Hood”. So, how weird can this possibly get, you wonder? Well, to begin with, the Wolf always wore black leather and rode a Harley. Sure, he was nasty as all get-out, but he was also seriously cool (I picture him as Clive Owen). And Granny, well, she wasn’t the nice little old lady you probably remember… No, not at all. This Granny was actually pretty crotchety, and she wasn’t very attentive to personal hygiene or home upkeep either. Of course, the Hunter was heroic in my father’s version of the story…  I assume this is because at the time, my dad was an avid hunter, and he probably wanted to give the dude a PR-make-over due to the whole ‘Bambi’ thing (don’t worry dad, we won’t go there today). But it’s my father’s heroine, Red Riding Hood herself, that I always found most fascinating. Red was of course exotically beautiful and sweet -but she wasn’t overly sweet. She had a bit of an edge to her. In fact, you might even go so far as to call her tart. Smart, savvy and quite skilled in marshall arts and of course botany, Red was no shrinking violet. I thought she was an excellent role model. And then, there was the swoon-worthy, crimson velvet cloak -who wouldn’t want that? Plus, Red was clever enough to carry some lip-smacking goodies in her basket, in addition to the carefully marked, poisoned cupcakes she handed over to the bad guys. After all, most forest-dwelling heroines know that the way to the Woodsman’s heart, and ‘happily-ever-after’, is usually through a slightly-tart, ruby-glazed sweet cake…


Red Riding Hood’s Delightfully Tart, Cranberry Christmas Cake

For the Cake:

2          Eggs

1          Cup Greek yogurt (I use full-fat)

1          Cup sugar

1/3      Butter, melted and then cooled slightly

1          Tsp vanilla extract

1          Tablespoon golden rum

2          Cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2   Teaspoons baking powder

1/2      Teaspoon baking soda

1/2       Cup of freshly washed cranberries (or more, as you like)

1/2       Teaspoon nutmeg

1/2       Teaspoon of cinnamon

Butter for greasing the pan

For the Cranberry Sauce Glaze:

1/2       Pound freshly washed cranberries

1           Cup sugar

1/4       Cup water

1/2       Cinnamon stick

1/4        Teaspoon ground nutmeg

Zest and juice of 1 orange

Don’t worry, no one will kick you into the oven while you’re checking on the cake… That’s a different Fairytale.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Melt the butter and set aside to cool down. Grease a 10″ round ceramic dish with butter. Mix the yogurt, eggs, vanilla, rum, sugar and melted butter together in a large bowl. In another, smaller bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and baking powder. Combine the dry and wet ingredients and stir until just blended. Add the fresh cranberries and turn them in gently. Pour the mixture into the greased baking dish. Sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon and slide the dish into the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile start preparing the cranberry sauce…

In a medium size sauce pot, combine cranberries, water and sugar. Bring to a medium boil while stirring. Add the spices and reduce the heat. Simmer for just under 10 minutes. Mash the mix up a bit, leaving some whole berries and add the orange juice and zest. Remove from the heat and fish out the cinnamon stick. Allow the mixture to cool and gel up slightly.

Round about now…

After 40 minutes, remove the cake from the oven and test for doneness with a stick. If the stick comes clean, allow the cake to cool for about 1/2 hour.  Glaze and cool in a chilly room, outside or in your fridge to set the sauce up. Carry through the woods in a basket covered with a red-checked cloth and serve at room temperature. Be sure to avoid the wolves. They will gobble you and your cranberry cake right up.

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‘Tis the Season for Ruby Fruit and Candlelight

You may also enjoy this Golden Version of the Cake, Fragrant with Spice and Bartlett Pears (click image above or here)

Rudbeckia hirta with ice crystals

Hydrangea paniculata with frost and snow

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) in Snow

The Ice-Cloaked Blue-Green Dragon Stands Sentry at the Secret Garden Door (Acer Palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’)

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Article & Photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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