Simple Pleasures & Hard Won Treasures

July 30th, 2009 § 2

Salad of sun-ripened ‘Orange Blossom’ tomatoes and basil. The beautiful gunmetal-glaze plate is by artist Aletha Soule.

There is nothing in this world quite like the flavor of a sun-ripened ‘Orange Blossom’ tomato picked fresh from the garden. For my lunch today I enjoyed a salad of home grown tomatoes and basil, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh ground black pepper; one of my favorite simple pleasures. In honor of the first ‘Orange Blossoms’ harvest, I served my salad on one of artist Aletha Soule’s beautiful ceramic plates, decorated with purple and green basil leaves. Isn’t it amazing how such a simple thing can feel so special?

This year, I almost think I should rename my favorite tomatoes ‘Gold Blossom’, for they certainly have been a hard-won treasure. It has been a tough summer for growing tomatoes in New England. Last year at this time, I had a bumper crop of tomatoes. I harvested four different heirloom varieties as well as ‘Early girl’ and ‘Lemon boy’s to beat the band. ‘Sungold cherry’ tomatoes were so abundant I was giving them away to anyone willing to take them off my hands. No such luck this year. My tomatoes went in early this summer, (protected by small hoop houses), and were off to a fantastic start. But a cold, rainy June and soggy July soon followed the removal of my protective hoops. The weather in the northeast hasn’t been good for warm weather crops like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. My vegetable plants were all slow to establish. Then just as the tomatoes began to blossom, and in spite of all my preventative measures, I noticed the tell-tale yellow spots of early blight on my tomato foliage. Fungus is a real problem in the garden this year, and though my tomatoes have so far been spared the dreaded late blight, I am carefully keeping watch. Cherry tomatoes have been appearing on my table for about a month now, but I only began harvesting ‘Orange Blossoms’ (pictured below), last week, (late for me), and so far my yield is significantly lower. Is it human nature to want what is less plentiful? Maybe its just me, but this precious crop seems to taste even sweeter and more delicious this year.

orange blossom tomatoesOrange Blossom Tomatoes

I garden organically, and of course the best way to deal with fungal infections like Alternaria solani, (the cause of early blight), is to prevent them before they start.  I began applying copper fungicide early, (see photo below), and reapplied after every rain. However this year’s weather, (the constant wet with little sunshine), created ideal conditions for early blight. By the first week of July, I began to notice yellowish spots on the lower leaves of my tomato plants. Immediately I pruned out the diseased foliage, and removed it from the garden. I will continue to snip off diseased leaves as spots appear throughout the remainder of the season. I am certain that my methods are helping to contain the spread of early blight and preserving the unripe fruit, even if my storm-battered plants are looking less-than-stellar this year. And though I may have fewer tomatoes, I can not really complain. Due to the cooler temperatures, this is the first year I have a steady supply of snow-peas in late July, as well as abundant arugula and lettuce. I will take the greens thank you, and try to be grateful for what nature provides.

organic fungus controlSerenade and Bonide fungicides for organic gardeners.

For further information on identifying and controlling diseases and pests in the vegetable garden, see the Vegetable MD Online.  This excellent resource is available to all of us courtesy of Cornell University. You will also find the Vegetable MD link on the sidebar to the right ,(beneath garden resources and vegetable gardening headers). Many thanks Cornell !

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Article and Photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Design Inspiration: A lesson in planning, editing and restraint… my visit to the private garden of Phyllis Odessey and Peter Mauss.

July 24th, 2009 Comments Off

phyllis' garden

~ The Stone Garden House sculpture, by artist Dan Snow, at the  Mauss~Odessey Garden

Beautiful, isn’t it? Visiting this magical garden last weekend, created by my friends Phyllis and Peter, was truly inspirational. Phyllis Odessey is an incredibly talented garden designer with a knack for making large open spaces seem both intimate and calm. Her beautiful garden seduces with serpentine, alluring paths, dramatic sculpture, unusual specimen trees and shrubs, and sweeping plantings in a serene palette. Over the course of many years, Phyllis and Peter have created a living work of art on their property. This is my favorite kind of garden; designed with a singular vision, and developed patiently over time. It seems that each time I visit, a new area has been developed or refined, and yet the garden always retains its overall harmony. This garden is a perfect example of how to grow a space slowly, while maintaining an overall sense of garden style.

Even for professional gardeners and designers, it is difficult to practice restraint with plantings. Phyllis is an excellent editor, and this is one of the reasons her garden is such a success. While strolling down her newly laid stone path, (yes, she did it herself), I was impressed with the artistry of the flowing line, and the way the new walkway was planned to separate and edge a sweep of bearberry, (arctostaphylos uva-ursi), from the rest of the garden. Overall, this garden is large, and yet it is never overwhelming to the eye. Why is this? Careful observation reveals one of the keys to success is mass plantings of carefully chosen perennials in a limited palette. The Mauss-Odessey garden is a perfect example of how to successfully manage a large space.

I visit many private gardens as a consultant, and the most common design dilemma I encounter is a lack of over-all structure and flow. Many gardeners have a habit of visiting nurseries and plant sales on impulse, falling in love with a half dozen or more plants, and bringing them all home. Once back in the garden, things are hastily planted without a plan and quickly forgotten. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The end result of this compulsive shopping is often a patchwork quilt carved out of lawn; a chaotic hodge-podge rather than a soothing garden. Sometimes, a gardener is lucky enough to have an intuitive sense of space. When this happens, (and it is rare), the plant collecting becomes a whimsical but orderly garden. For most people however, it is essential to plan out a space before planting gardens, in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed and disappointed later on.

When trying to create a sense of calm in your garden, it is wise to take a cue from successful designers like Phyllis Odessey. Look at your space carefully before you head out to the garden center. Are you in the habit of buying one of this or two of that on impulse? The next time you are tempted by a plant sale, try to remind yourself of the photographs pictured here. When shopping for plants, instead of buying 14 different perennials, try buying at least seven of one kind. In order to do this, of course, you will need to do a bit of planning first. Know the size of your space. Take measurements and sketch an outline of your garden. Check your soil condition and sunlight.  Make a rough plan to help guide you in your purchases and keep it in your wallet. This will be the first step in training yourself to practice the kind of restraint you need to in order to create a garden like the one pictured here.

Considering vertical space is another important aspect of successful garden design. In a garden of any size, it is critical to think beyond ground level. Shrubs, trees, vines and structures are essential to three dimensional garden space. Many works of art are included in Phyllis and Peter’s garden. Some of the artistic structures were created by the gardeners themselves, and other pieces were created by friends. There are hydrangea-wound pergolas and kiwi vine-clad-huts throughout the garden to stroll through and pause beneath. Living works of art, such as a weeping larch and pendulous beech, are used as dramatic focal points, drawing the eye up and out. Weight and substance are given to this garden with the addition of stonework. A large sculpture, pictured above, was created as a major garden feature by artist Dan Snow.  The mass of this dark and mysterious shelter is softened by airy cat mint (nepeta), sage and delicate meadow rue (thalictrum). Climbing hydrangea, (h. petiolaris), planted on the reverse of the structure, is slowly winding its way over the top, lending an organic touch to the stone.

When I returned home from this spectacular garden I was filled with a sense of calm, (I am sure the champagne helped with this as well), and a determination to practice more restraint in my own space through careful editing. I have resolved to look around with a critical eye. Is something weak or dying? Time to get ruthless. And what about that long, chaotic border/holding tank? Time for some editing this fall.  Visiting a well-designed garden is always an inspiration, and a great-way to jump-start new plans for your own space.

phyllis garden 3

~ Masses of perennials in rich colors make for a dynamic, yet soothing garden experience ~

phyllis garden 2

~  One of the softly curving paths winding through the Mauss-Odessey garden ~

phyllis garden, upside down leaf

~ Turned~Leaf Sculpture by artist Dan Snow ~

For more information about Phyllis Odessey, and her design process, visit her website and blog at www.phyllisodessey.com. Peter Mauss and Dan Snow have collaborated on two beautiful and inspirational books, In the Company of Stone, and Listening to Stone. Both of these books are available through independent book sellers, and Amazon online. Interested in reading more about stone work? I hope to feature an article on the subject later this year. Stay tuned.

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~ Article and photographs copyright Michaela H. 2009 ~

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Ode to a Fiddlehead…

July 16th, 2009 Comments Off

The woodland path at Ferncliff – Image ⓒ Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden

Call me a fiddle-head, it is true. I have a long standing love-affair with ferns. Ostrich and Cinnamon, Maidenhair and Lady, Autumn and Christmas; even their names delight me, and I can never seem to get enough of this delicate, feathery species. My affection can be traced back to the summers of my childhood; those long, hot afternoons and fading twilight hours spent exploring abandoned stone foundations and hidden brooks in the forest beyond my home. There, beneath the shade of tall trees, ferns became woven crowns and verdant skirts fit for imaginary forest royalty. To my eye, when it comes to beauty in the plant world, foliage truly equals flower. What could be more beautiful than the fern? Shimmering, silver fiddleheads unfurling from damp earth, luminous feather paths winding through dark tree-trunks, and lacy plumes softening rugged outcroppings of rock and ledge; ferns possess some of the most dramatic foliage in the forest.

Native to North America, the cinnamon fern, (Osmunda cinnamonea, pictured below), is a perfect example of the long-lasting beauty of this foliage plant. In very early spring, the fuzzy, silvery-white tipped fiddle-heads of cinnamon fern emerge from the forest floor. As the first tightly wrapped heads unfurl, (reaching upward 2-4 feet), they quickly transform into stunningly beautiful, rich cinnamon stalks, followed by rapidly emerging, bright green fronds. By midsummer, the foliage of the cinnamon fern deepens to a regal emerald hue. Later, in autumn, the bold foliage turns a brilliant gold that absolutely glows in the forest. As lovely as it is in a natural setting, the cinnamon fern is also a spectacular addition to the garden. This non-aggressive plant forms thick but contained clumps of growth. As a companion to spring flowering bulbs, and a contrast to the exfoliating bark of trees, (river birch, stewartia and paperbark maple spring to mind), the design possibilities of both the lush foliage and cinnamon-colored stalks make the cinnamon fern one of my favorites.

cinnamon-fern-stalksCinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamonea) – Image: Georgian Court University

Cinnamon fern’s close relative, the interrupted fern, (Osmunda claytonia), is another gorgeous native plant. As the fiddle-heads unfurl to a height of 2-3 feet, the foliage on this fern’s upright, fertile fronds is interrupted midway by sporing pinnae. This break gives the plant its common name, ‘interrupted’ fern. The non-sporing fronds arch away from the plant dramatically, creating an attractive, flowing green mound. Interrupted ferns prefer slightly damp conditions, where they forms natural groupings in the wild. As a garden plant, the interrupted fern is endlessly useful in dappled light and partly sunny conditions. Though large, the airy fronds of this fern combine well with many trees, shrubs and perennials.

interrupted-fernInterrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana)

The Christmas fern, (Polystichum acrostichoides), is an evergreen fern, and one of the most shade tolerant members of this species. Another North American native, this leathery-leafed plant can often be found carpeting steep banks in densely forested areas. As a garden plant, the soil-stabilizing qualities of Christmas fern make it an excellent choice for shady slopes and other places where erosion is a concern. In Northern woodlands, the beauty of this plant’s glossy, deep green foliage is well appreciated in late autumn and early winter, when most deciduous trees have shed their leaves and the forest floor has turned brown.

christmas-fernChristmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

It is easy to understand how the enormous, feathery plumes of Ostrich fern, (Matteuccia pensylvanica, pictured below), earned their name.  This gorgeous fern is also one of my favorites, and placed with care, it can be a fantastic garden plant. Ostrich fern spreads by aggressive rhizomes, making it useful as a ground cover in damp areas. If planted in a dry spot, (as it is in my secret garden), however, Ostrich fern is mild mannered and easily contained. In it’s ideal conditions, (moist, dappled shade), this fern can reach nearly six-feet in height. And although there is no autumn color, if the plant receives ample moisture, it will remain attractive and green through late autumn.

naturally-occuring-ostrich-fern-at-ferncliffOstrich Fern (Matteuccia pensylvanica) is a member of the cliff fern family.

The delicate and airy, native maidenhair fern, (Adiantum pedatum), and lady fern, (Athyrium felix-feminina), are commonly used in gardens, and with good reason. Both of these plants are not only beautiful but tough, tolerating a wide variety of soil conditions and changing light. Although both ferns prefer dappled shade and moist soil, they will succeed under less favorable circumstances, and need not be coddled. Lady fern in particular has become popular with commercial growers, and it seems a new variety is available whenever I pick up a magazine or catalogue. Beyond the commonly available lady fern, (a member of my favorite group, the cliff ferns), I have come to enjoy the sanguine stems of Athyrium felix-feminina, “Lady in red”, as they emerge along my garden wall.

lady-fernLady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) ‘Lady in Red’ and companion Huechera ‘Green Spice’

maiden-hair-fernThe northern maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) planted with Hosta.

Many of the other ferns native to North America, such as the bracken fern, (Pteridium aquilinum), and hay-scented fern,(Dennstaedtia puctilobula), are lovely in naturalized settings, or singular landscape uses, but are far too aggressive for mixed borders or perennial gardens. Hay-scented fern forms dense carpets, and it is particularly beautiful and useful along woodland paths, hedges, walks and driveways, and beneath dense foliage trees.

natural-grouping-of-bracken-fern-at-ferncliffBracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) beautiful in naturalized areas, is an aggressive spreader.

natural-grouping-of-hay-scented-bracken-and-interrupted-fern-at-ferncliffA natural grouping of hay-scented, bracken and interrupted ferns in the forest at Ferncliff.

In addition to the many ferns native to North America, introduced garden ferns and hybrids, such as the Japanese painted fern, (Athyrium nipponicum, “Pictum”), are spectacular plants for light to dense shade situations. Beautiful, subtle color variations in fern foliage can be played against one another and in combination with other plants to create breathtakingly beautiful patterns. A ground-cover of perennial ferns can become a living tapestry to be enjoyed throughout the growing season, year after year. Athyrium x “Ghost” is a particularly beautiful fern, and I have found the color varies a bit by placement and light. The frosty white fronds are stunning at twilight in darker corners of my garden.

Athyrium x ‘Ghost’ planted to with Hosta ‘August Moon’ , Astilbe, Lamium and Cryptotaenia japonica

Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’, planted with Cryptotaenia japonica ‘Atropurpurea’

japanese-painted-fernJapanese painted fern, Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’, nestled beside Hosta and seeded Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’

Having named my garden Ferncliff, it should come as no surprise that I am a true fern-fanatic. When designing gardens here and elsewhere, I am always on the look-out for new ways to use ferns in garden settings. Ferns are remarkably versatile plants; softening formal designs and lending elegance to modest buildings and simple features. Ferns can be planted in urns to flatter classical architecture, or in geometrically precise planters to harmonize with more modern landscapes. The airy quality of ferns provides movement in shady nooks with the slightest breeze, and the textural qualities of fronds enliven the edge of still or slow-moving water features and smooth wall surfaces. The possibilities of ferns are limited only by imagination.

fern-in-courtyardOstrich Fern, (Matteuccia pensylvanica), softening the edge of the secret garden at Ferncliff.

For more information on ferns, see Martin Rickard’s The Plantfinder’s Guide to Garden Ferns, (copyright 2000, Timber Press).

Image of Cinnamon Fern: Georgian Court University

Article and all other photographs copyright 2009 Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden


Romancing the Garden: Indigofera…

July 13th, 2009 § 1

indigofera 2Indigofera kirilowii, laden with raindrops

Poetic. Indigofera absolutely glows in the damp, darkness of rainy days and the shadowy, low light of early mornings and late afternoons. This is a romantic flower; reminiscent of castle-bound heroines and hidden, walled gardens. The weeping form and cascading flowers create a slightly wistful, but classically beautiful presence. Although the habit of this little-known Asian shrub is quiet different, the long, lavender panicles of indigofera blossoms remind me a bit of wisteria. And the hue of this gorgeous flower, slightly rosier than wisteria, positively sings against rusty metal, stone and darkened wood. Striking combinations with physocarpus ‘Diablo’, (or ‘Summer Wine)’, and other burgundy-hued, foliage plants immediately spring to mind. Clearly, I have developed quite a fondness for this woody plant over the past few years. When I first sited indigofera on my windy hilltop, I was uncertain that it would survive the brutal winters here. But survive it has, proving tough as nails in spite of its delicate appearance.

At 3-5 feet high, indigofera is a small, colony-forming shrub, (or a woody, herbaceous perennial in very cold climates, where it can be cut back to the ground in spring). It is rugged and undemanding, (hardy in zones 4-8), adapting to a wide variety of soil types and conditions. In spite of its sturdy constitution, it is also well-mannered and non-aggressive in the garden. Indigofera is beautiful in many design situations; as an accent or solitary specimen, in groupings, or even as a high-ground-cover. The attractive, bright green foliage, long bloom time, (late June – July here in Vermont), and unusual color makes indigofera an excellent choice for perennial gardens and mixed borders. Although this beauty can stand a bit of shade, to encourage the strongest growth, and maximum bloom, position indigofera in full sun, and give it well drained soil amended with good compost.

Because it is relatively uncommon, indigofera may be hard to find in some areas. But like most treasures, this one is truly worth seeking out.

indigoferaIndigofera blooms, as seen from above…

indigofera 4Indigofera, (two year old specimen at Ferncliff)

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Article and photographs copyright 2009 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. Inspired by something you see here? Great! 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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Maybe the Princess was On to Something: A Gardener Falls in Love with Reptiles & Amphibians, Scales, Warts & All . . .

July 8th, 2009 § 2

frogPhoto ⓒ Michaela at TGE

While I have certainly kissed my fair share of frogs in life, I can not say that any of them turned into princes. However I have never tried to kiss the warty, slimy amphibians residing in my garden, so it may be that they are the true royalty after all. And though I have always appreciated the beauty of a snake from afar, I am afraid I must be honest about my instinctive feelings toward those slithery creatures made famous by the Garden of Eden. Let’s just say we haven’t, historically speaking, been chums. But times change and people change, and sometimes it turns out that the creatures you find most repulsive can truly become your best friends.

garter-snakeEastern garter snake – Photo ⓒ John Miller

Take my new pal the garter snake for example. Mild mannered and rather shy, this helpful reptile is now a most welcome guest in my garden. Truth be told though, correcting my attitude toward the garter wasn’t exactly easy. Although it isn’t fair, we often pre-judge individuals by their kin, and the snake family and I have a somewhat checkered past. Our trouble began long-ago, in a childhood incident with a black rat snake. Playing in the backyard, I inadvertently stepped on or otherwise threatened this harmless creature and, in self-defense, it struck me with a painful bite. I no longer remember the details of this encounter, but apparently the bite mark on my arm frightened my parents enough to warrant a visit to the emergency room, where they were relieved to discover that the bite was non-poisonous. Perhaps if I had become a more sedentary, contemplative child, this would have been an isolated event. But no, this was not my destiny. As the years of my country-childhood went by, my arms and legs were punctured on various occasions by serpents, not that they were in any way to blame for our quarrels. I am afraid that on each and every instance, the snake was either stepped on or mishandled by yours truly. Eventually my curiosity turned to aversion, and from there it slid on down to genuine dislike. By the time I began gardening, I had come to loathe all snakes, (this attitude due to fear and ignorance on my part), and considered them my enemy.

Humans can be so foolish. As the years passed, and my work and studies took me further into horticulture, I found that avoiding snakes was all but impossible. Fueled by a desire to conquer my fears, I decided to investigate the snake, and educate myself about the various kinds I might encounter in the wild. As it turns out of course, snakes are pretty wonderful and amazing creatures. Some snakes, such as the brown snake, live on a diet consisting mainly of slugs and snails. Brown snakes are not biters; usually they will release a foul, musky-odor in order to defend against attack. Likewise, the passive ring-neck snake is an excellent predator of that ruinous garden slug. The common garter snake, as well as the smooth green snake, northern red belly and worm snakes are all serious insect eaters. How fantastic is that? Non-toxic, environmentally friendly and all-natural: these snakes are the perfect garden-guardians. Even larger snakes, (such as the black racer, eastern hognose, and my original “enemy” the black rat snake), are extremely helpful to gardeners because they control populations of destructive mice and moles. Rodent-eating snakes are more likely to strike at humans when threatened, but in spite of an unpleasant sting, most are quite harmless. Unfortunately countless snakes are killed every year. Often this violent action is a knee-jerk response to the same fear and ignorance I carried with me for years. Now that I am a friend to the snake, I try to educate my friends and neighbors whenever I can. Most snakes provide us with natural control of insects and rodents, creatures human beings often attempt to eliminate with toxic substances that poison our air, food, soil and water. Helpful snakes will make themselves at home in stonewalls, woodpiles, stumps and other cool shelters in your garden. From these safe-havens, they will patrol for insects and slugs, helping protect you and your garden while maintaining a balance in the natural world. If you want to attract beneficial snakes to your yard, observe potential spaces to create snake-friendly habitat. Keeping some “wild” zones on your property and safe, cool hiding spots will encourage snakes to make a home in your garden.

Of course, not all snakes are as defenseless as those I have just mentioned. Some snakes have highly toxic venom, and they should be considered quite dangerous. In New England, where I garden, hike and play in the outdoors, poisonous snakes are virtually non-existent. The timber rattlesnake and the copperhead are the only two poisonous snakes living here, and they are considered rare or even endangered in some states. This is not true however, for other parts of North America or the world.  In fact in some areas, poisonous snake populations are a serious threat to pets, small children and adults alike. If you live in an area with poisonous snakes, it is best to educate yourself about their preferred habitat and environment in order to deter their presence near your home.  It is always a good idea to learn how to identify the creatures living around you, and respect their rightful place in the world.

The amphibian is another unsung garden hero. Unfortunately, many people are still repulsed by the thought of slimy pond-water filled with tadpoles and slippery frogs. While I have always liked salamanders, frogs and toads, I have only recently become interested in working on their PR campaign. Frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and their cousins are all excellent insect hunters. Some research claims that a single toad can consume over 100 insects per day!

Frogs are identified by their smooth, slippery skin, webbed feet, long hind-legs and bulging eyes. They like to live in and around water, where they lay clusters of eggs. Toads, conversely, have dry, warty skin, squat, stubby bodies, short hind-legs and glands between their eyes. Toads lay eggs in long chains in and around water. These two amphibious creatures are mainly carnivorous, and eat an extraordinary number of insects every day. In order to encourage their presence, some people like to place purchased toad-houses in their gardens, to provide these garden-friends with cool shelter from the sun and protection from predators. Toad shelters can also be created at home with old flower pots tipped to the side and concealed with twigs an branches, or naturally, with piles of stones and logs. Beware that toads can become ‘trapped’ inside houses without backdoors when pursued by snakes or other hunters. So, be sure to provide your warty friend with a second exit to the shelter. Frogs are most attracted to gardens with water features. Ponds and garden-pools are ideal for frogs of course, but even a sheltered water-bowl or dish will provide the moisture a frog needs. The same conditions attractive to frogs and toads are also pleasing to salamanders. As organic gardeners, the environment we provide is much safer and more hospitable to amphibians and reptiles than places where toxic pesticides and herbicides are used. Many of the chemicals in these products, as well fertilizer combinations used in inorganic lawn care, can kill amphibians, make them sterile or drive them off. A few minutes spent watching a frog capture mosquitoes should be enough to convince anyone to protect this garden prince from a toxic world.

Snakes and amphibians do not get particularly good PR rap in our culture. Its really up to all of us to change that. These days, when I see a child instinctively recoil from a reptile or amphibian, I think of my own experience and try to encourage a more positive, cautious curiosity. I like to point out that these animals will not harm us, (and in the case of snakes, will not strike unless we threaten them), and that they are helpful to us by eating the mosquitoes biting us and the slugs destroying our vegetable plants. The seeds of my irrational fears were sown in childhood, and it took many years of self-discipline and education to overcome my dislike of snakes. I would like to spare others from such a fearful relationship with any animal. While a fast moving serpent can still make me jump, (OK, perhaps even scream), I now quickly recover and laugh at myself as I return to my work in the garden. The snake may surprise me, but I know it is a natural helper and garden-friend.

ribbon snakeA Northern ribbon snake on my front terrace. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

For help with identification, or for more information about snakes in New England, visit The Snake Lady of Rhode Island‘s website. For information about all North American reptiles, including snakes, turtles and more, visit the National Biological Information Infrastructure website. In addition, information and help with identifying snakes in North America may be found by visiting the excellent snake identification webpage developed by Doug Henderson and Dennis Paulson for the Slater Museum of Natural History.

For more information on amphibians, such as the frogs, toads and salamanders of North America, visit the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center’s Checklist of Amphibian Species and Identification Guide.

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1st garter snake photo copyright Diane and John Miller, courtesy of The Old Schoolhouse Plantery

All other photos and article copyright 2009 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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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. Inspired by something you see here? Great! 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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Stop! Put Down That Hoe, and Let’s Eat! Great Food Blogs to Stir Your Imagination and Wet Your Appetite…

July 1st, 2009 § 2

11June harvest: red chard, arugula, oak leaf and red rumple lettuce..

As I walked back from my kitchen garden on this wet afternoon, colanders and baskets filled to the rim with chard for rissoto and mixed greens for salad, I felt a deep gratitude for all that I have in this life. I can not pretend that this focused awareness is with me all of the time, and I will not paint you some rosy picture of perfection. Still, on this day, after reading news of more uprooted families and lost homes, I am keenly aware of my good fortune in the midst of tough times all around.

It is no secret that with the arrival of this economic recession, vegetable gardening has seen a remarkable surge in popularity. People everywhere are looking to save money, simplify and learn new skills. Growing a few basic crops, perhaps some tomatoes and lettuce in raised beds, has become a popular place to start. From the neighbors down the street to First Lady Michelle Obama, it seems that just about everyone has planted a backyard potager this year. And now that June has arrived, hopefully all of that hard work, planting, weeding, and battle with mother-nature, has produced something edible in those little vegetable plots. It comes as no surprise to most green-thumbs that with this fresh, new crop of gardeners comes a renewed interest in home cooking. The direct link from hand to mouth is a natural one for gardeners, and for many of us, consuming organic produce can be as simple as washing and tossing a salad of new greens or steaming a bowl of broccoli on the stove. Somehow though, I have a hunch that all the bright colors, fresh fragrances and delightful tastes in the garden are stirring more creative culinary urges.

Like most vegetable gardeners, I am interested in learning the secrets of kitchen-alchemy that will turn my organic produce into gourmet gold. But in all honesty, Giada De Laurentiis I am not. With a busy schedule and competing demands of work, home and garden, lately I find myself searching the internet for simple summer recipes and inspiration.

Food sites have become incredibly popular on the web; so much so in fact, that New York Times writer Mark Bittman recently ran a post in his column, Bitten, requesting recommendations from readers on favorite culinary blogs. In my own experience, late night web-log-surfing has resulted in some delicious discoveries for both mind and palate. My new-found love affair with food blogs began with the Edible Boston website and Facebook page. It was there that I discovered a link to one of my favorite new food blogs, Poor Girl Gourmet. Poor Girl Gourmet is written by Amy McCoy, a talented photographer, culinary-whiz and soon-to-be-published author of a new cookbook from Andrews McMeel. The recipes on Poor Girl Gourmet are imaginative, but easy to follow. And best of all, in these challenging economic times, Amy McCoy is indeed frugal-minded. Yet for me, there is more. Beyond the great recipes, what truly separates Amy’s blog from the virtual sea of online cooking journals is quite simply her engaging, entertaining style of writing. Poor Girl Gourmet is witty, conversational and fun. As a gardener, I caught myself laughing-out-loud while reading methods of squash-bug control in her recent post “Memories of Zucchini Blossoms Past“. Recipes on the site are always served up with a perfect side dish of short stories and personal anecdotes. From the beginning, the combination was enough to stir my appetite and imagination, and to keep me coming back for more. I am eager to try all of the new recipes on Poor Girl Gourmet as the gardening season marches on. In meantime, I can now personally recommend her delicious French Breakfast Radish Bruschetta, and also the delightful Toast with Sour Cream and Jam, (with fresh thyme from your garden, of course).

While visiting Poor Girl Gourmet, I happily discovered some other internet gems; among them, the incomparable Orangette.  Although the author, Molly Wizenberg, is currently taking a break from her blog-writing, the site and accompanying archive are worth visiting for the evocative photography and addictive journal entries alone. The posts on Orangette are exquisitely written; as poetically rendered as any novel I have ever read. But there is so much more to this gorgeous blog, and I haven’t even touched on the recipes yet ! For a quick look at what Orangette has to offer, click on over to her recipe index. Vegetable gardeners, (like most of you, dear readers), will love the quality, variety and ease of the author’s selected recipes. Her site will help you make use of your tender greens, sun ripened tomatoes and just about anything else you harvest from your potager. Molly has also published a book, “A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table“, and you can bet it is already on my wish-list. Equally compelling, the writing style of Tea and Cookies is at once mysterious and personal. With a cup of Earl Grey and a warm blanket, cozying up with Tea’s journal feels like an intimate tete-a-tete. I can imagine sharing evening hours in my garden room with the author, swapping stories and homemade delicacies. This blog is simply delicious.

There are so many new sites I have yet to explore on rainy weekend afternoons. But another spot I must mention here, Sassy Radish, is also becoming a personal favorite. This snappy web log is written by the lovely and talented Olga Massov, a Russian immigrant with a flair for “all things pickled, herring, pelmeni, cabbage and sour cream”. Like the other blogs recommended here, what makes this one a stand-out is the combination of great, easy-to-follow recipes and distinct, personal style. Olga’s entries are charmingly conversational. Within a few posts I felt like a new friend; a virtual guest in her tiny on-line kitchen, listening to her sweet stories while watching her prepare exotic, European-inspired dishes. The memory of her latest post,”Pasta with Stinging Nettles and Ramps Pesto”, stopped me in my tracks yesterday afternoon as I was about to string trim a weedy patch at the edge of my meadow. “Why waste those nettles”, I thought, newly educated, “when they can clearly become a great meal”?

On each of the sites mentioned above, (as well as on the fabulous 101 Cookbooks, and Cheap, Healthy, Good, or the myriad others popping up on my blogroll under the cooking section), you will find lists of more like- minded cooking blogs. Search these fantastic sites for ways to creatively use the fruits of your kitchen-garden labor. Along the way you may encounter the names of a few new vegetables, herbs or fruits you might like to try-out in next year’s potager.

For now, I will leave you with an early summer favorite from my own recipe box. Although it will take a bit more sun, (please!), before I can harvest my beloved sungold cherry tomatoes and basil from the garden, I certainly have a bumper crop of arugula on hand!  Hopefully the weather here in the Northeast will improve, as I am eager to taste the sweet and spicy flavors in this quick no-cook recipe I copied with minor adaptations from Martha Rose Shulman‘s original on the New York Times website last year. Bon Appetite !

arugula-and-sungold-cherry-tomato-pasta

dinner from the vegetable garden…

***

Pasta With Sungold Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Arugula


1 pint sungold cherry tomatoes, (halved, or if larger, quartered)

1 plump garlic clove, minced (more to taste)

Salt to taste (try coarse sea salt or fleur de sel)

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 cup arugula leaves, chopped coarsely

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3/4 pound fusille or farfalle pasta

1/4 cup freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese, (more to taste)


Combine the cherry tomatoes, garlic, salt, balsamic vinegar, arugula, basil, and olive oil in a large bowl. Set aside at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings accordingly.

While the mixture rests and flavors blend, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a salt and cook the pasta al dente, (still firm to the bite). Drain the pasta, and toss with the tomatoes. While the pasta is still hot, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and serve.


Serves 4 as a light dinner or first course.


*** Article and Photographs copyright  2009  Michaela H.  ***

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