A Rhapsody in Blue: Selecting and Planting Vaccinium corymbosum, (Highbush Blueberry), Plus a Favorite Recipe for Blueberry-Lemon Bread…

March 31st, 2010 § 11

A Rhapsody in Blue 

What would you say if I told you that I know of an amazing cold-hardy shrub, with creamy, bell-like spring flowers, glossy green leaves, brilliant fall foliage, colorful winter stems and an attractive, well-rounded form? Interested yet? It may come as a surprise that the shrub I am describing is none other than the common highbush blueberry, (Vaccinium corymbosum). Of course, the highbush blueberry is widely cultivated for its delicious fruit, but it’s often overlooked as a useful addition to ornamental gardens. Native to eastern North America, this gorgeous shrub can be found growing wild in acidic soil from central Canada all the way down to Florida, with a western range from Minnesota, south to Louisiana. Typically reaching a mature size of 8-12 feet high and wide, highbush blueberries are most commonly found in USDA zones 3-7. Although lowbush blueberries,(Vaccinium angustifolium), are also a fine and quite hardy shrub -famously grown for fruit in the state of Maine- they too are are rarely grown in ornamental gardens. This is a shame, as lowbush blueberries make a fine ground cover, producing pollinator-friendly blossoms and very sweet fruit. They also display beautiful autumn color.

If you live in a climate with lengthy cool seasons, highbush blueberries are easy to cultivate either in the vegetable garden, berry patch or mixed border. This is a relatively long-lived shrub, with few pests and diseases. When provided with the proper conditions, blueberry bushes make fantastic garden plants. Although Vaccinium corymbosum are generally trouble-free, a few growing tips will help increase berry yield and plant health…

Vaccinium corymbosum autumn color

In life, I often find that a group of diverse, mixed company creates great culture. With blueberry varieties this is especially true. When buying plants, keep in mind that for best pollination and fruit set, you should choose two different varieties of blueberry bushes that bloom at the same time. If you would like fruit throughout the season, try growing several different varieties in the same patch. When choosing plants, ask a local grower which varieties grow and produce best in your area. Some excellent early to midseason varieties include ‘Blueray’,’Duke’ and ‘Berkeley’. For later fruit try ‘Jersey Blue’ and ‘Elliot’ varieties. Again, ask your local grower for some recommendations. Remember that every variety will have a slightly different flavor.

When growing blueberries, one of the most important aspects of cultivation to consider is soil acidity. All blueberry bushes prefer a pH below 5, with an ideal range between 4.5 and 4.8. Be sure to test your soil pH with a kit. If your soil is more alkaline (even neutral is too alkaline for blueberries) you may lower the pH by adding sulfur, pine needles and/or other naturally acidic materials both to the soil and as a regular top-dressing in mulch. Blueberries are shallow-rooted plants and they require moist, but well-drained soil. Unless your garden receives at least an inch or two of rain per week, you will want to water your shrubs. The best way to keep soil moist and plants weed-free is to apply a wood chip/pine needle mulch. When planting new blueberry bushes, be sure not to plant too deeply. Keep the top of the pot level even with your existing soil, and add 1/3 peat moss to the planting mix when you backfill the dirt. Be sure to saturate the soil and peat, as well as the planting hole, with water. Do not fertilize your blueberry bushes for 2-3 months after planting. Once the plants are established, use an organic fertilizer in spring at bloom time, and again 3 weeks later while fruit is setting. Plants should not be fertilized later than this, and never in summer  or fall as the shrubs may suffer winter damage on soft wood ….

Fresh washed blueberries from the garden

In general, when grown for fruit, highbush blueberries should have 5-10′ of spacing, (depending upon variety). But if you are planting in rows, space plants 4-5′ apart in rows with 8-10′ separation. Some growers recommend removal of flowers in the first season for a better crop the second year. This is optional. No pruning is needed in the first three years, but in the fourth season, thinning may begin during dormancy, (late winter/very early spring). Remove weak branches, and any branches restricting sunlight and airflow at the center of the shrub. If fruit is your primary goal, aim for 12 healthy, strong canes per plant. The younger wood will produce the best fruit, so choose a good mix of branches, removing older sections each year.

By following these simple tips, delicious and health fruit will soon be on the way! But beware: birds love to eat blueberries too. If you grow Vaccinium corymbosum solely for ornamental value, then maybe you will leave the fruit on these shrubs for our birds to enjoy. However, if you are growing blueberries as a crop -perhaps as a hedging plant in your potager- you must cover the shrubs from the time of fruit set ’til the point of harvest. My father always used tobacco netting on his highbush blueberries, and I tend to recommend it or the modern-day equivalent, Remay. Plastic netting is hazardous to birds and other creatures, and I find Remay or tobacco netting work as well, or better.

And now, what do you say? Shall we use up some of those plump and delicious blue fruits? Oh, of course! Why not? A couple of weeks back, I featured a favorite recipe for Blueberry Hill Hotcakes and Syrup. They are scrumptious. Over the weekend, I was feeling the blues again, (maybe it was all the rain?). So I took to the kitchen. But this time around, I whipped up my favorite blueberry-lemon bread. This versatile recipe can also be used as a muffin mix, if you’re in the mood for a tasty-treat to-go. The lemony-sugar-syrup is optional, but I find it provides an extra bit of moisture and an added kiss of sweetness – plus I love the shimmery-effect on top. And although frozen blueberries work well here… there’s nothing quite like the fresh berries we will be enjoying later in the year. On a quiet weekend morning, I’m always in the mood for a rhapsody in blue…

Blueberry-Lemon-Bread-Muffins-thegardenersedenBlueberry Lemon Bread / Muffins, photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Blueberry-Lemon Bread with Lemon Syrup (or muffins)


Ingredients for one loaf of bread or one dozen average sized muffins:

2          cups all-purpose flour

1          teaspoon baking powder

1          teaspoon baking soda

1/4       teaspoon salt

1/4       cup sugar

2          eggs

1 1/4   cup sour cream

1/4      cup melted butter

1          tablespoon fresh lemon zest

2          cups of fresh or frozen blueberries

Lemon Syrup:

1/2      cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/2      cup of sugar

4          tablespoons water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°. Butter one 9″ x 5″ x 3″ bread pan or two muffin tins.

To make batter: Toss flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, combine eggs, sugar, sour cream, melted butter and lemon zest and beat until well mixed. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until just blended. Add blueberries and stir lightly to combine.

Pour the batter into the bread pan or muffin tins, (each muffin tin should be filled to 2/3 full). Bake bread for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until top is golden brown and a wooden stick comes out clean after inserted at center. If baking muffins, 15-20 minutes in the hot oven should do the trick.

To make the optional lemon syrup: combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

After removing bread or muffins from the oven, prick the top with wooden stick, (all over for bread, or in 3 or 4 places per muffin). Drizzle the lemon-syrup slowly over the surface. Allow the lemon-bread or muffins to cool for 10 or 15 minutes before slicing or removing from the tins.

Serve warm with Earl Grey tea and fresh blueberries if they are in season. If you skip the syrup, the muffins also taste great with a bit of butter and honey.

Mixy, mixy…

 For further inspiration, there’s always…

Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue/An American In Paris

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/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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Selecting Quality Gardening Tools to Last a Lifetime: Part One…

March 29th, 2010 § 1

Looks like it’s finally that time of the year: Gardening season! Time to pull out the tools and get to work. Most of my gardening equipment is in pretty good shape, but there are a few repairs and replacements I need to make this year. I can still remember shopping for gardening tools with my father when I was a kid. We bought our tools at the not-so-local hardware store, (this was the 80′s, and where I grew up, it was an hour and a half drive, round trip, to the nearest big town). There was considerable grumbling involved. My dad has always been frustrated with the declining quality of tools, and he still complains about the mass-procuced, cheap new “bargains” pushed alongside the fairly-priced , but more expensive, “good-value” tools. A country boy to the core, my father grew up working on farms and in orchards, and he’s always favored hand forged tools with good blades, and rakes, forks and shovels with time-worn wooden handles. He’s never been fooled by flimsy spot-welds and cheap plastic handles. But during the recession years, in an effort to pinch pennies, he bought a few of those tools and he quickly regretted it. When you buy cheap tools, I fast learned, they tend to break, and you soon need to buy replacements. No money saved there.

These days I turn my compost pile with an old farm fork I inherited from my father, and I have a few of his other handmade tools in my garden room. My folks live in a condo now, and although they still have a small vegetable garden and modest flower beds, their bigger garden tools have been passed on to the next generation. When I started shopping for my own hand tools, I knew that it would make sense in the long-run to buy the best quality I could afford, and take good care of my investment. As any New Englander will tell you… frugal and cheap are not the same thing! I started with the basics: Felco bypass-style pruners, and both folding and bow saws for pruning; a digging spade and fork for vegetable and perennial gardening; several good quality rakes in three styles and a basic shovel; a classic New England Cape Cod weeder, and of course the Gardener’s Supply Company garden cart and a good wheelbarrow…

Felco F-6 Classic Pruner For Smaller Hands

Felco Classic Pruner with Comfortable Ergonomic Design #F-8

Every year, I help gardeners learn how to prune their trees and shrubs. There is an article based on my pruning seminar notes you can read here, explaining the kinds of cuts you will make and the types of tools you will need, (there is another on June lilac pruning here). Bypass pruners are the most important tool in my shed. In fact, I usually have a pair in my car and/or pocketbook. Some gardeners use anvil pruners. I dislike them because they pinch-cut instead of clean-cut. So, I recommend the bypass style. There are more expensive and less expensive pruners, and I have a few other brands, but Felco is still my favorite. For smaller hands, start with the Felco #6, (top link above). For longer or wider hands, go with the #8, (lower link above). For larger trees and shrubs, you will also need a folding, (or Grecian), saw and a bow saw for big limbs…

Felco Classic Folding Saw with Pull-Stroke Action #F-600

Spear & Jackson R681 County 24 Inch Bow Saw

Many of the tools pictured here may be found in your local hardware store, but I have also linked them to two of my favorite online tool resources: Amazon.com Home and Garden and Gardener’s Supply Company. I buy many of my working tools from Gardener’s Supply Company online. This employee-owned store is located here in my home state of  Vermont, (to the north, in Burlington), and they ship tools all over the country via orders placed on their website. They carry many of the high-quality brands I know and trust, as well as some excellent products of their own. In fact, their sturdy garden cart has been such a fixture in my life that when I began building my place 8 years ago, a friend told me that she knew she found the right clearing when she saw my little wood wagon in the drive! Oh how I love that cart. I have had it for years and I constantly use it to move heavy perennial divisions, (like big clumps of ornamental grass); to tote bulky items like dog food from the car;  and to haul firewood to the back terrace. The removable back makes dumping debris easy and the entire cart tilts back for easy storage. I have never seen a better utility-wagon design. And although I have a variety of poly-bed wheelbarrows for taking with me on jobs, I prefer the two-wheel-barrow design linked below for stability when carting heavy loads of mulch and compost. And good-grief, I so prefer tires that can be filled with a bicycle pump. The other kind – what a pain!

These are the best versions of tools you will need to create and maintain your garden. I won’t lie to you – I have a few cheap shovels, rakes and wheelbarrows that I take with me to work, (where they might get lost or crushed by a dump-truck). But for pruning and work around home – I don’t mess around. I have invested in good tools, and I take good care of them. I will be reviewing more gardening essentials in April and May, and sharing some tool-maintenance tips from the old-time farmers and orchard keepers in my life. I learned a thing or two in college, yes it is true, but when it comes to everyday common-sense, it sure is hard to beat the wisdom of a farmer! Let me know if you have any time-worn favorites of your own… or new fangled discoveries I can share with my dad. I do love a good garden gadget!

DeWit Cape Cod Weeder, Right-Handed

(may be out of stock, if so, try the Amazon link below)

DeWit Dutch Cape Cod Weeder – Right Hand

DeWit Perennial Planter
(for digging and planting on your knees)

Spear & Jackson Stainless Steel Digging Spade

Spear & Jackson Stainless Steel Digging Fork (essential for dividing plants and loosening soil)

Large Gardener’s Supply Cart, Red (also available in natural color)

Poly-Tough Cart

***

Article and top photo © Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved.

Images in this post appear courtesy of Amazon.com and Gardener’s Supply Company.

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through links here. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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WORX GT 2-in-1 Cordless Lawn Trimmer / Edger

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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…

***

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…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through links here. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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***

Art Inspired by Nature: Presenting the Celebratory Work and World of Artist Roger Sandes…

March 24th, 2010 § 2

Water Garden: Sky © Roger Sandes – Acrylic on panel, (36″ x 72″)

Springtime at last! With the snow finally receding and bright sunlight warming earth, to me it feels as if the entire world is awakening at once. In celebration of the first week of spring, and as part of our ongoing “Art Inspired by Nature” series, The Gardener’s Eden presents the vibrant and beautiful work of artist Roger Sandes. Working from his home-studio, surrounded by glorious gardens in Williamsville, Vermont, Sandes creates luminous paintings on wood panel and collage works on paper. Roger and his wife, artist Mary Welsh, both belong to a professional organization know as The Rock River Artists. Regular followers of this online journal will recall the popular article featuring the raku work of Richard Foye, another member of this extraordinarily talented group…

Stream of Consciousness © Roger Sandes – Acrylic on panel, (72″ x 36″)

Last month prior to a meeting with the Rock River Artists, I was treated to an exquisite dinner at the home of artists Roger Sandes and Mary Welsh. Artist’s residences are invariably fascinating places, and the Sandes-Welsh home is no exception. Spectacular works of art hanging from brightly colored walls, beautiful moth orchids and potted primrose greeted me as I stepped inside the kitchen door, where the warm scent of Mary’s homemade curry filled the air. What a lovely evening we shared. I have been a fan of both artists’ work for years. Roger’s large-scale paintings featuring abstracted, natural imagery and brilliant color work are both beautiful and complex. Although his paintings may be enjoyed simply and immediately, his work is best savored over a long period of time; allowing for the rich detail of his multilayered stories to unfold and fully blossom. It’s easy for a nature lover to fall in love with a piece like, “Counting Crows”, (second painting, below). With it’s striking vertical composition, layers, movement -and of course it’s fascinating subject, one of my most beloved creatures, the crow- this piece is my undeniable favorite.

An artist for more than thirty years, Sandes continues to exhibit his work throughout the US and abroad. His pieces are included in fine private, as well as major corporate collections world-wide. I wish I could include all of Roger’s beautiful works here on this site, however, you may see many more original works of art, as well as a wide selection of beautiful, limited-edition prints, online at the artist’s website. Roger’s paintings and prints may be acquired directly from the artist’s studio, or in galleries linked on his webpage. And if you are lucky enough to find yourself in New England this summer during the annual Rock River Artists Studio Tour, (July 17th and 18th, 2010), be sure to stop in and visit Roger and Mary for the open-studio event. Their beautiful home and garden along the river, filled with brilliant artwork, is a feast for the heart, mind and soul…

Counting Crows © Roger Sandes – Latex, gesso and cut paper, (24″ x 20″)

Counting Crows © Roger Sandes – Acrylic on panel, (78″ x 36″)

Counting Crows IV © Roger Sandes – Latex, gesso and cut paper, (24″ x 20″)

Water Garden: Sky © Roger Sandes – Acrylic on panel, (36″ x 36″)

Natural History © Roger Sandes – Acrylic and cut paper on paper, (16″ x 20″)

Waterborne II © Roger Sandes – Acrylic on panel (36″ x 78″)

Rising Water © Roger Sandes – Acrylic on panel (30″ x 88″)

Waterborne I © Roger Sandes – Acrylic on panel (36″ x 78″)

***

For further information about the artwork, please visit the artist’s website: RogerSandes.com

Florilegium II © Roger Sandes

– A sample of the artist’s beautiful botanical prints, available here online -

And how could this feature possibly be complete with out a quick tour of the Welsh-Sandes home and gardens, (click to enlarge images below)? The artists are both flower lovers and avid gardeners, and their home is clearly a paradise for the inspirational, living creatures inhabiting Roger’s work. Thank you Roger and Mary, for opening your home and studio to readers of The Gardener’s Eden online journal. What a lovely celebration of life, and prelude to spring…

The Sandes-Welsh kitchen, filled with Roger’s botanical paintings and prints…

Roger’s paintings fill the home with the stories of the natural world, and life’s beautiful celebration…

All photos are courtesy of, and copyright, Roger Sandes and Mary Welsh

***

Article 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 prior 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 links here. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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The Sorceress of Springtime: Spellbinding Witch Hazel ‘Diane’…

March 23rd, 2010 § 11

Hamamelis x intermedia, ‘Diane’ blooms mid March in my garden. Photograph © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Today’s grey clouds ushered in the first spring rain, and with it, the slightest breeze from the south. It’s still quite chilly, but every morning I am drawn outside by the promise of chartreuse-green bulb-tips, glowing as they break ground. Distracted by emerging snowdrops as I meandered down the walkway, suddenly I stopped; halted in my tracks by the sweetly scented air. Springtime’s sorceress, witch hazel ‘Diane’, beckoned from the edge of the path. Like magic, I was drawn in, enchanted by her fragrance. Up close, hundreds of ruby to copper hued blossoms explode like tiny fireworks in the dim light. This crafty witch is a relatively new addition to my garden, and she is a real show-stopper; lighting up the dull, barren landscape.

When it comes to performance-art in the garden, ‘Diane’ is proving to be a true A-lister. Fragrance; color; elegant form: what more could you possibly ask for in a first act? But there’s so much more. This spectacular, sensory display is only half of her magic-show. Later in the year, ‘Diane’ takes the stage again, pulling out her fine autumn cloak and dazzling late into the season with brilliant, technicolor foliage. I am giving her a five star review, and if you love early reds and sweet, honey-scented fragrance as much as I do, then I know you will fall in love with her too.

Hamamelis x intermedia, ‘Diane’, (hardy from USDA zone 5a-9b), has proven herself here at the northern edge of her hardiness range, (USDA zone 4/5 with a wicked, windy exposure). A large shrub or small tree 8-12′ high with a similar spread, this early blooming witch hazel prefers moist, acidic soil and moderate sun to light shade. ‘Diane’ responds well to artful pruning and combines well with other woody plants and perennials. She is a knock-out with spring ephemerals such as winter aconite, (Eranthis hyemalis), early blooming narcissus, and snowdrops, (Galanthus). Brilliant late season pairings might include blue asters, violet-hued monkshood, (Aconitum), and chocolatey-colored Joe-Pye weed, (Eupatorium). Or perhaps you might match her up with autumn fern ‘Brilliance’, (Dyopteris erythrosora), and in a wild-garden, the hayscented fern, (Dennstaedtia punctilobulua), forms a beautiful golden carpet at her feet after the first frost.

Welcome sweet witches of springtime…

Hamamelis x intermedia, ‘Diane’ in March. Photograph © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’, autumn color varies from mixed orange hues..

to brilliant scarlet, on the same plant, (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’) Photographs © 2009, Michaela at TGE

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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 in any way without prior 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 links here. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

Shop at SpringHillNursery.com to save $25 on a $50 order!

Gardener's Supply Company

***

Is There a Cure for Spring Fever? How About a Flirty Little Cocktail to Celebrate the Vernal Equinox…

March 20th, 2010 § 3

The Strawberry Flirt – A Spring-Fling Cocktail to Celebrate the Vernal Equinox

Spring is a flirtatious season. A coquettish, unpredictable lover. We long for her, but she makes us wait. She takes her time, dropping hints; kissing flower buds with her pouty lips and sending promises on winged messengers. When she finally arrives she often comes on strong, and then she suddenly disappears, giving us the cold shoulder for weeks. In spite of her youth, she is practiced in the art of seduction. But we love her anyway. In fact, we love her all the more I think, because of her indecisive ways.

Flirtation can be fun -in fact I rather like it- especially in the garden. So to celebrate the arrival of Spring today, I have chosen a decidedly insouciant cocktail; using fresh herbs from my windowsill garden. A hint of sophisticated mint, a kiss of strawberry sweetness clipped by lime, a rumor of racy hearted rum, and a bit of champagne-bubble charm: This Strawberry Flirt is all about anticipating the delightful season to come.

Oh Spring, how you give me FEVER. So, go ahead – put your Peggy Lee on the play list and kick back in the warm sunshine. Welcome the first day of Spring with a tasty Strawberry Flirt. But for heaven’s sake, do try to be casual about it -don’t be too eager to please- or she will up and change her mind again!

The Strawberry Flirt – A Spring-Fling Cocktail

( Inspiration: Salvatore Calabrese and Maria Hunt )

Ingredients (makes one cocktail):

5    Organic Strawberries (fresh, small berries tend to have best flavor)

10  Organic Peppermint Leaves

1    Ounce lime syrup*

1    Ounce white Puerto Rican rum**

Dry Prosecco, sparkling wine or champagne**

Directions:

Wash strawberries, remove stems and slice. Place in a chilled, round wine glass or goblet or with 10 mint leaves and muddle. Add 1 ounce of homemade lime syrup, (see recipe below), and 1 ounce of white rum. Mix. Fill the glass to near full with cracked, (but not crushed), ice. Add Prosecco to top-off the glass and gently stir. Garnish with a wedge of strawberry and/or a sprig of fresh mint.

*Lime syrup (will keep in a refrigerator for several weeks in a sealed bottle)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Directions:

Combine both ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool.

** A non-alcoholic version of this drink can be easily made by substituting sparkling water in place of the wine. Artificial rum flavoring made also be added if you so desire.

The Strawberry Flirt

***

For more delightful springtime libations, check out these lovely books:

Denise Gee’s Southern Cocktails

Maria Hunt’s – The Bubbly Bar

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Article and photographs copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved. All content on this site 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…

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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

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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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A Prelude to Spring: Getting Intoxicated at the Smith College Bulb Show…

March 18th, 2010 § 3

Tulipa © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Lyman Conservatory, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts

Situated in one of the prettiest small towns in America -Northampton, Massachusetts- Smith College’s crown jewel, Lyman Conservatory, is a pleasure to visit at any time of the year. This beautiful oasis has always been one of my favorite horticultural destinations. When I was in college, (at the University of Massachusetts, just a short hop across the river from Smith), I spent a great deal of time at Lyman Conservatory and the Smith College Botanic Garden. One of the joys of furthering your education in the five-college area is the number of shared-resources, (known as the five college consortium), between schools. This spectacular glasshouse at Smith is one inter-collegiate-perk I didn’t miss, and I continue to enjoy it as often as possible.

Every year in March, Smith College presents a very popular spring bulb show. Although the theme remains the same, the annual displays and tandem-exhibits vary from year to year. This time around, the spring the show included an opening lecture by Lynden Miller, author of Parks, Plants, and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape, and continues with an on-going exhibition of photographs, The Inner Beauty of Flowers, (PDF catalogue link), by retired radiologist Merrill C. Raikes MD.  I will write more about the Raikes exhibit next week. Overall the show is extraordinary, and well worth visiting if you are in New England. But beware: the visual and olfactory stimulation proved quite intoxicating…

Smith College 2010 Bulb Show

Although spring-flowering bulbs are planted in the autumn, now is a great time to pull out a calendar or garden notebook and jot down design notes and ideas for next year’s show. I don’t know about you, but I am always far too busy in September to think about ordering bulbs. Usually, I order my spring-blooming bulbs before July in order to secure the best selection, and price. For example, you can save a bundle by pre-ordering “The Works”, (a top-shelf daffodil mix), before July 1st, from White Flower Farm, in advance. Attending bulb shows is a great way to familiarize yourself with newer bulb introductions as well as other spring-blooming beauties. Also, keep your eye out for some of the lovely plant-partners that will complement spring flowering bulbs. As foliage begins to yellow, it’s important to allow your bulbs to die back naturally. Never clip or braid or tie up bulb foliage. The best way to conceal the unattractive decay is with large-leafed companion plants, (think ferns, coral bells, hosta, rogersia, etc).

I will be paying Lyman Conservatory a few more visits over the coming weeks, so there will be more images and thoughts to share. To start, here are some photos I snapped at the bulb show. The experience may require a ‘caution, potentially addictive‘ warning label…

Tulipa II © 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Fritillaria © 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Tulipa III © 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Primula © 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Camellia © 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Smith College Bulb Show © TGE

On my shopping list: Bulb by Anna Pavord -Beautiful inspiration

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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 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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Organic Manifesto: Maria Rodale’s Unflinching Look at the Perilous State of Farming in America & A Call to Action…

March 16th, 2010 § 4

Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto, (available at Barnes & Noble today)

Last year, when a friend of mine insisted that I rent and watch “King Corn”, I put my name on a long waiting list, even though I am not one to get overly excited about documentaries. I’d heard about the film of course, and after watching “Food, Inc.”, I knew that a deeper look at American agriculture -particularly corn production- would be sobering. After watching both films, I began to seriously doubt the integrity of many government-run institutions and policies, which I’d always assumed benefitted American farmers, and protected us as consumers. So when Kristin, my editor at Barnes & Noble, sent me an advance copy of Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto, I thought I was already fairly well informed. I was wrong. This book was a real eye-opener, and I hope you will take the time to read my review of the book for Barnes & Noble at their Garden Variety blog linked here.

Both “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn” are must-see films, but as important as these documentaries are, I urge you to read Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto. Better yet, (if you can afford it), order a copy for yourself, and then drop it off as a donation to your local library for others to read. I think it’s that important. Rodale’s new book, with an introduction written by Eric Scholosser, takes a deeper look at some of the issues touched upon in “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn”. This throughly researched exposé bravely explores both the history and the environmental consequences of chemical, (aka “conventional”), farming, and offers realistic, organic alternatives. Do we really need man-made fertilizers and toxic chemicals to grow food, or is this a myth created by the multi-million dollar companies benefitting from this government-supported system? Rodale calls the public to action in her manifesto, urging us to act on the most basic level: demand organic produce.

Have you seen “King Corn” and “Food, Inc.”? Have they changed the way you look at farming in America?

Buy “King Corn” –  from Barnes & Noble

Buy “King Corn” –  from Amazon.com

Buy “Food, Inc.”  -  from Barnes & Noble

Buy “Food, Inc.” –  from Amazon.com

***

Article copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved.

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Dreaming of a Horticultural Harem Overflowing with Hot House Hotties…

March 13th, 2010 § 2

Hot, Hot Hibiscus © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Earlier this week in my post, “Ode to the Oscars”, comparing Oscar gowns to hot house flowers, I briefly mentioned that I am “conservatory sitting” for friends.  The owners of this small commercial greenhouse/nursery will be returning from the UK early next week, and sadly, my daily trips to their tropical oasis will come to an end. Most of my professional gardening work takes place outdoors, or at a drafting table. At this time of year, I am always rushing about, finishing up last minute pruning jobs and preparing for next month’s garden clean-ups and annual spring workshops, (TBA). I haven’t had the opportunity to log many greenhouse hours since my college days, so working in a conservatory this week has been a real treat for me. Unfortunately, it has stirred-up my passion for those hot house hotties, the exotic plants. This week’s exposure to the steamier-side of cold climate gardening has awakened my dormant lust for a glassed-in-paradise, where I can enjoy the pleasures of my own horticultural-harem all winter long.

Now that I have sampled a bit of Vieques in Vermont, I can’t help but picture myself overwintering in a giant, mist-covered terrarium, growing my own Meyer lemons and sweet oranges and enjoying the scent of nicotiana while the snow falls softly outside, (You may recall my terrarium obsession from this post, or this crazy post or say, this earlier post). Oh this is a very, very dangerous fantasy. I see lounge chairs surrounded by hibiscus and pots filled with calathea; lilies floating in a giant reflecting bowl, and verdant ivy scrambling up the window casings. How can I make this dream come true, without greedily gulping down hundreds of gallons of fossil fuel and driving myself into financial ruin? Surely I must be clever enough to figure it out? The building itself would be relatively simple to construct. I need to thin the trees along my drive, so I could easily harvest some timber for the frame, and perhaps I could find some recycled glass and reclaimed steel. I am a very good scavenger. Certainly the foundation could be built from my own never-ending supply of stone. But how to make the greenhouse truly green? Environmentally friendly heating, now that is the real challenge…

Buy Conservatory Style from Amazon / Buy Conservatory Style from B&N.COM

I know this is a dangerous move, but I am going to have to have a look at  Jackum Brown’s book Conservatory Style, (above). See that picture on the cover? That is close to the glassed-in Eden I have in mind, but my version goes a bit more gothic. Sigh. Then there is Diana Yakley’s book Conservatories, (pictured and linked below). Of course, for practicalities, there is the  how-to manual of choice from Roger Marshall, (also below). And just because I want to torture myself a bit more, next week I am going to spend an afternoon at the Smith College Bulb Show, in Northampton, Massachusetts. That ought to push me right over the edge. You will read about it soon… no doubt…

Zantadeschia aethiopica ‘Spotted White Giant’, © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Kalanchoe ‘Mangini’, © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Agapanthus, © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Fragrant Nicotiana alata (unconfirmed cultivar), © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’, © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Buy Conservatories from Barnes & Noble / Buy Conservatories from Amazon

Buy How to Build Your Own Greenhouse from Amazon

Buy How to Build Your Own Greenhouse from Barnes & Noble

***

Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at TGE

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

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? Please tell your friends. You can also support this site, through no additional cost to you, by shopping through the affiliate links here. A small percentage of the sale will be paid back to The Gardener’s Eden, and will help to cover costs associated with running this site. Thank you so much for your support!

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Hello Friend – WAIT – Whose Team Are You On Anyway?

March 9th, 2010 § 7

It’s easy to recognize this friend as an adult. A ladybug rests upon Peperomia. Photo © Michaela at TGE

Hello friend… or foe? In all of life it’s important to know your friends from your enemies, but as gardeners this issue is especially important. We are conditioned to think of bugs as destructive, ‘icky’ and ‘bad’. Of course this isn’t always the case. Hardly. In fact, some bugs are easy to like – especially if they are beautiful. Butterflies and moths easily charm us with their colorful patterns as they dance on the breeze, and dragonflies delight us with their bright colors and aerobatic maneuvers. Honeybees seduce us with their sweet nectar, and their bumbling cousins are equally charming as they buzz about the garden. Perhaps the most famous of all, pretty red and black ladybugs have become the pin-up girls of the beneficial insect world. In fact right now, as I type this sentence, hundreds of these helpful creatures are emerging from hibernation in my house, covering my houseplants like a smattering of little red polka-dots.

But what about the other “good” bugs? Would you know a beneficial insect if you saw one? It’s certainly been a long time since my last entomology class, and I admit that I am a bit rusty. Although I can easily recognize most garden pests, and I know how to combat them, I am not always spot-on with my identifications. Part of the difficulty lies in the nature of insect metamorphosis. What? Yes, that’s right: metamorphosis. Remember that from school? And no, I’m not talking about Franz Kafka’s famous novella, (although that is one of my all time favorite, freaky-works of fiction). Most of us become familiar with the process of metamorphosis in elementary school, when butterfly caterpillars, (particularly Monarch and Swallowtail), are collected in containers during science class. Kids of all ages love to watch as a mature butterfly emerges, transformed after weeks inside a moody, magical chrysalis. All insects live out their lives in stages, and it’s important for a gardener to know how they look in their ‘baby’, (larval, nymph, pupa), phases as well as in their mature form.

Most experienced gardeners will recognize the black and orange ‘monster’, (pictured below), as a ladybug, (or ladybird beetle, also known as Coccinella septempunctata), in its larval stage. In one of the more dramatic insect transformations, this freakish-looking creature morphs into the cute little red and black beetle we all know and love. If you have never  seen one before, do get to know this chameleon, for it is your dear, dear friend. The ladybug is a garden hero, and it does an extraordinary amount of work before it even reaches adulthood. Aphids; mites; scale: these garden pests are the ladybug’s favorite foods. In fact, a single ladybug can consume thousands of destructive aphids, mites and other insects within its lifetime. Would you have killed this creature, (pictured below), if you saw it in your garden? Many do. Sometimes the ladybug larvae is mistaken for a pest, and other times it is accidentally wiped out with an application of insecticide intended for the very aphids it is actually consuming, (warning: many organic pesticides can kill beneficials, especially in the larval stage)…

But would you recognize it as a baby? (An immature lady bug feasting upon aphids. Photo: Vejezus via Wikimedia Commons)

The first step toward becoming a responsible, organic gardener is to recognize the natural things living around you, and to learn about the role they play in the ecosystem. ‘Good’ or ‘bad’, all creatures are part of the web of life, and we should respect them. Of course this doesn’t mean that I invite aphids to join me for dinner in my vegetable garden. Heck no. I plant my garden to enjoy –  and to EAT! But, I do try to work with nature, not against her, in order to keep my garden free of insect competitors!

Like most gardeners, sometimes when my plants are under siege, it’s hard for me to decide who or what is to blame. Even the calmest gardener can start to panic when a favorite cultivar is being skeletonized. Learning to recognize the tell-tale evidence left behind during or after an insect attack is one of the keys to gardening success. Recently I posted an article, “Help! Something Is Bugging My Plants, (And Me Too)!” on the Garden Variety Blog at Barnes & Noble. There you will find some helpful diagnostic resources. I also believe that a good, easily transportable, insect ID guide book is an excellent gardening tool. Below I have linked my two favorites, in order of preference. For quick reference, I am a big fan of the indestructible, laminated Mac’s Field Guide to bugs, which hangs on my garden gatepost all summer like a wild-west “Wanted” poster. One side has “good” guys, flip it, and on the other, “bad” guys are illustrated in all stages – very useful. While you are here today, have a look at the right hand side of this blog. Scroll down until you see the “Insects and Entomology” category – there you will find a list of useful links. Explore some of the free online resources listed there. Many of these sites offer fantastic images to help you identify common, as well as uncommon insects, and some offer excellent information on how to combat backyard pests in a safer way.

The garden season is on its way! It’s time to flip through the list of regular insect-characters, and familiarize yourself with the different players and costume changes you will encounter this year. Friend or foe? Before you start attacking, or laying out your welcome mat, it’s wise to spend some time getting to know your garden “guests”…

Your friend, Milkweed Assassin Bug, is one of  over 4,000 members of the Heteroptera order. (Photo credit: Ira Eskins via Wikimedia Commons)

Buy from Amazon : NWF Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America

Buy from Barnes & Noble: NWF Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America

Buy from Barnes and Noble : NAS Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders

Buy from Amazon: NAS Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders

***

Article and photographs, (with noted exceptions), © Michaela at TGE. 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 in any way without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world an link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Ode to the Oscars: If They Were Flowers Botanical Stars Shine on the First Annual ‘Conservatory Awards’ Red Carpet…

March 8th, 2010 § 9

Dress by Agapanthus, ‘Lily of the Nile’ © Michaela TGE

As worn by ethereal Rachel McAdams © Steve Gratnitz/Wireimage via Yahoo.com

The great Bard Shakespeare once wrote that “all the world’s a stage”. Well, the thought certainly crossed my mind today as I worked, surrounded by hundreds of surreal beauties inhabiting a small greenhouse temporarily under my care. Last night’s Academy Awards ceremony was attended by some of the most beautifully dressed women in the world, yet none more spectacular than the least of the lovely ladies I encountered in the conservatory today.

So as the watering wand drifted from delicate bud to flamboyant blossom, my inner paparazzo got the best of me. Snap. Snap. Snap. At each and every turn I spotted a starlet resembling one I remembered from the night before. Look there’s Demi’s dress! Oh my God, that must be Helen Mirren’s silver gown. Aisle after aisle, it was a breathless whirlwind of divas and ingenues; with diamond dewdrops-a-sparkling and heady perfume filling the air. What a rush. Best dressed? Why, I simply can not decide. They are all beauties to my eye. So you be the judge. Who is the winner here? And who did I miss as I spun my star-struck head this way and that?

Dress by Pelargonium filifolium © Michaela TGE

As worn by delicate beauty Zoe Kravitz © Steve Granitz/Wireimage via Yahoo.com

Dress by Fuchsia ‘Angel’s Kiss’ © Michaela TGE

As worn by the stunning Queen Latifa © Steve Granitz/Wireimage via Yahoo.com

Silvery dress by Kalachoe pumila © Michaela TGE

As worn by elegant Helen Mirren © Jason Merritt/ Getty via Yahoo.com

Gorgeous ruffled gown by Begonia panasoffkee © Michaela TGE

As worn by ever fabulous Demi Moore © John Shearer/Getty Images via Yahoo.com

Dress by Impatiens namchabarwensis © Michaela TGE

As worn by alluring Mo’Nique © Kevin Mazur/Wireimage via Yahoo.com

Dress by Amaryllis ‘Ema’s Grans’ © Michaela TGE

As worn by radiant Jane Seymour © Frazer Harrison/Getty via Yahoo.com

Dress by Streptocarpus ‘Black panther’ © Michaela TGE

As worn by the mysterious Kristin Stewart © Steve Grantiz/Wireimage via Yahoo.com

Dress by Phalenopsis, The Moth Orchid © Michaela TGE

As worn by the exquisite Meryl Streep © Jason Merritt/Getty Images via Yahoo.com

Dress by Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’ image via White Flower Farm

As worn by ravishing Penelope Cruz © Frazer Harrison/Getty Images via Yahoo.com

Dress, (detail), by Begonia parviflora © Michaela TGE

As worn by triumphant beauty Sandra Bullock © Jason Merritt/Getty Images via Yahoo.com

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All floral images, (with one noted exception) © Michaela at TGE

All Academy Award photos are copyright as noted, used in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine

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

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I Found My Thrill…

March 6th, 2010 § 15

Blueberry Hill Hot Cakes with Syrup

Some people never make a mess. Seriously. Have you noticed? Well, I don’t know about you, but those folks worry me. I mean, some of the best fun I’ve had in my life has involved mess. And I don’t mean a little mess. I mean a great, big, rip-roaring, sticky, gooey, staining, slobbering mess. Come on… you know what I mean. You love a real knock-down drag-out mess too, don’t you?  Is it not the very definition of a good time?

Almost every single food I love is messy: ripe, juicy peaches; molten chocolate; frosted sticky buns; cheesy chile. But my all time favorites are the stainers – especially the blueberries. On a hot summer afternoon, as you head out swinging your little bucket, you know that you’re gonna eat those berries as fast as you pick ‘em. You know it. And you are going to stain your fingers and your t-shirt too. Plus, your teeth are gonna turn blue; dark blue if you are doing it right. And who cares?  It’s so worth it. Then later, when you cook those delicious blueberries, they get all sticky and oozy, and they turn that electric fuchsia color. And the smell – oh my lordy. Is that not heaven? My I do love the blueberries. And woo-hoo, do I have the blotchy blue-stained t-shirts to prove it. Blueberry pie. Blueberry buckle. Blueberry crisp. Half of it usually ends up on my shirt. Who invented the white t-shirt anyway? Mr. Hanes? What a bad idea. I have never been able to keep one clean. Well, I’ve learned to outsmart that bleached kill-joy Hanes. Now I wear BLUE when I am eating blueberries – blue jeans and fuchsia t-shirts. Take that Mr. Tidy-Whitey…

Blue on Blue

Weekends are meant for fun and relaxation. I don’t think they should be uptight. And I’ll tell you another thing: leisurely mornings and Blueberry Hill hot cakes, with their sticky blue-fuchsia syrup, are a match made in heaven. Yes, my blueberries may come from the freezer at this time of year, but the syrup they make is no less delicious. Fresh summertime blueberries are, of course, nirvana. And blueberry bushes, (of the genus Vaccinium), are beautiful, low-maintenance shrubs. Many of you probably grow them already. But for you new gardeners, I plan to write more about selecting, planting and growing blueberries in a few weeks. For now though, I think we should set aside time to practice cooking and baking with frozen blueberries. Wouldn’t you agree?

Yes, I found my thrill. A messy thrill. On Blueberry Hill…

Blueberry Hill Hot Cakes with Syrup

(Inspired by Nigella Lawson and Marion Cunningham )

.

Ingredients for Hot Cakes (makes about 4 dozen mini pancakes):

4       large eggs

1/2    teaspoon salt

1/2    teaspoon baking soda

1/3    cup cake flour, (this makes light and fluffy hot cakes. use slightly less if your eggs are smaller)

2       cups sour cream, (light or fat-free is OK)

2       tablespoons grade A Vermont maple syrup

1       tablespoon lemon zest

powdered sugar for serving

butter or grease for griddle or skillet

Ingredients for Blueberry Hill Syrup:

1 1/2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen berries thawed overnight)

1/2    cup grade A Vermont maple syrup

Directions:

Crack the eggs Into a medium sized mixing bowl and stir them together. When blended well, add the cake flour, salt, baking soda, sour cream, maple syrup and lemon zest. Continue blending until you have a smooth, well-mixed batter. Set aside.

On burner one: Pour the blueberries and 1/2 cup of maple syrup into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook on high heat for a few minutes until the berries start to bubble, then reduce heat, mash the berries just a bit, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Smells good, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile on burner two: Heat a cast iron skillet, griddle or pan. Add a pat or so of butter or your choice of grease. Fill 1/4 cup with batter and slowly pour small, (just a wee bit bigger than the circumference of that quarter cup you are holding), amounts into the pan. When the hot cakes form bubbles, it’s time to flip them over with a spatula and cook them for a couple more minutes. Don’t flatten with your spatula. You want the air!

Portion the hot cakes out on, (white!), plates and ladle on hot blueberry syrup. Look at that gorgeous fuchsia syrup run! Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and serve hot with extra blueberry syrup on the side.

Tiny bubbles in the cast iron skillet say ‘Flip me’…

Heavenly-scented stickiness …

Blueberry Hill Hot Cakes – Go Ahead  - Make a Mess

***

Want more inspiration? Try this: Louis Armstrong – Blueberry Hill

Article and Photographs copyright 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved.

All content on this site is the property of The Gardener’ Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior 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 this site? You can help support The Gardener’s Eden at no additional cost to you, by shopping through the affiliated links on this page. Each sale will net The Gardener’s Eden a small commission, and help to cover the costs associated with running this web site. Thank you !

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Hello, I Love You. Won’t You Tell Me Your Name?

March 5th, 2010 § 1

Peperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’

Look at this dark, smoldering beauty ! Have I introduced you to my latest crush? The mysterious, maroon-hued Peperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’ ? No ? Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve been so distracted, I think I forgot. Shame on my recent preoccupation with mundane, practical things like snow removal. Well, here she is now- and isn’t she something ? Meet the gorgeous, tropical thief of my melting heart. You’ve likely seen her pretty sister, commonly known as ‘Emerald Ripple’, here and there; perhaps on a friend’s windowsill or maybe tucked beneath a misty cloche or glass terrarium. She occasionally produces subtle, white, bottle-brush flowers. But of course it’s her foliage that really steals the show.

Peperomia caperata, easy-care relative of the pepper plant, comes from a large family; stalwarts of greenhouses, conservatories and every-day households. These rugged little Central and South American beauties rarely grow taller than 6″, making them perfect plants for desktops, brightly lit bedrooms and other indoor spaces. Delicate looking ? Hardly the case. Peperomia may occasionally be pestered by mealy bugs, but generally, if kept moist but not soggy, these plants are very trouble-free.

Surprisingly seductive isn’t she? Yes, I’m just mad about this moody P. caperata cultivar, ‘Raspberry Ripple’. And I’m obsessively searching for the perfect, burnished-gold pot; one that will bring out the violet undertones of her leaves and her ruby-hued stems. I think she’d be a knock-out beside the bed, don’t you? Or perhaps in a mid-sized Wardian case filled with shimmering bronze orbs or cherry-colored blossoms. She wants something glamorous, but subtle. This is no shimmy-shimmy-ra-ra bombshell. She’s the sexy but understated, sneak-up-on-you type. If she were human, I think she might be a young Rita Moreno.

Where did I find her? Where? Where? Where? Well, I spotted this particular gem at The Old School House Plantery, (They sell rare plants online at their shop, Eclecticasia on Etsy). The owners are friends and they happen to have a great little greenhouse located near me. I don’t think they have resumed seasonal shipping just yet, but they will soon. Their plants are well worth the wait.

And that perfect pot? Let me know if you see something. All in good time my pretty. All in good time…

Peperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’

Peperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’

Peperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’

Heart shaped face with dark waves and Latin American roots? Why I think this beautiful plant may be part Rita Moreno

Article and photographs © 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 permission. 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, at no additional cost to you, by shopping at the affiliated companies linked here. A small percentage of every sale goes toward The Gardener’s Eden’s maintenance costs. Thank you!

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Functional Art, Inspired by Nature: Many Thanks to Talented Ana White and Knock-Off Wood…

March 3rd, 2010 § 32

My new, home-built, farmhouse style work island, in my very own kitchen, (before finish oil)

Want to know a secret? I stash glossy magazines under my bed. And sometimes, late at night, I pull them out and let my fantasies run wild. Do you do it too? You know the ones I mean. The naughty catalogues taunting and teasing you as they spill out of the mailbox: Restoration Hardware; Pottery Barn; West Elm; and the incongruously named Design Within Reach, (not within my wallet’s reach, friends). The tables, bookshelves, lawn and patio furniture whisper like Greek Sirens from the Rocks of Financial Ruin: “Oh look at me, look at me – aren’t I pretty ?”. You want them. You need them. They make you ache inside. Then, you take a peek inside your checkbook and you know you can’t have them - four thousand dollars has three zeros Michaela, not two. Those beautiful designs are not within reach – or so you think, (well, so I thought, anyway). Then I stumbled upon Ana White, and her brilliant blog, Knock-Off Wood. Suddenly, I found myself shallow-breathing. OH MY GOD, I can make these things myself?  Where have you been all my life Ana White?

But I am getting ahead of myself. What does this have to do with The Gardener’s Eden, right? Time for some back-story. So, it’s winter. Yes, (go ahead, roll your eyes), you know that. And if you read this blog regularly, you also know that I really like to make and do things. This urge to create is long-standing. First I tried to build a fort from a dishwasher crate when I was a kid, (sad, but true). Then I moved on to a tree house, (dismal failure). You see, my dad is an amazing gardener, but he’s never been much of a carpenter. And my mom is great with sewing and knitting, but I am not so sure she is familiar with a jig-saw. So, along the way to adulthood, I found myself picking up a little bit of this and a little bit of that in high school wood-shop class and from handy boyfriends. Gradually, I learned a few basic carpentry skills, and eventually I picked up some power tools and a passion for homemade things. I assisted with building various structures, from raised vegetable bed planters to rose trellises and even a garden shed. I was hooked. Then, my crafty compulsion blossomed into full-blown, do-it-yourself mania when I bought a piece of land, and designed and built my own studio/home. As the general contractor on my building project, I learned a great deal about how things work. And, I was fortunate to find a team of carpenters willing to let me work along side them, (thanks guys)!

Yes. I have had a bit of experience building things; big things even. But until last week there was one thing I’d never tried to do: design and build a piece of furniture. And boy do I really, really need furniture. Fortunately, I regularly read, (and adore), a blog called Young House Love. A few months back, authors John and Sherry featured a do-it-yourself furniture making site called Knock-Off Wood, written by the generous and talented Ana White. A stay-at-home mom and homemaking Alaskan, Ana describes herself as “obsessed with furniture”. And lucky for her readers, she definitely is! Yes, take one look and you are sure to notice that Ana is beautiful, but she’s a lot more than meets the eye. Ana is smart as a whip, (I think she’s a complete math whiz), and she is also one talented carpenter and furniture designer. Plus, her blog is ultra-approachable, tons of fun and easy to use. But here is the best part of her blog: she posts self-created building plans for some of the most coveted, name-brand furniture items… for free. The woman has single-handedly restored my faith in humankind. You must visit her site, even if it’s just to dream. Ana considers our moral support, (spread the word), our thank you –  and it’s also her motivation.

So now, this brings us back to my kitchen island, and to last week’s three-foot snow storm. Take another look at that farmhouse-style kitchen island at the top of this post. That island, (minus the two very handy drawers and added middle shelf), retails for nearly $3,000 from a certain catalogue company. Want to know what it cost me to build, (using sustainably grown and harvested douglas fir)? Just $165. Yes, you read that right. One hundred and sixty five dollars. That’s less than the cost of shipping and handling, and/or tax on the original, RH-inspired item. Ana posted two designs on her blog, and I fused them into one. The dimensions and basic building plan was taken from Ana’s W.S. inspired kitchen island design and the salvage-style and construction details were taken from Ana’s R.H. inspired farmhouse table. This island took two days and two sets of hands to build, (thank you Billy!). Warning: it’s not a beginner project. But plenty of the beautiful furniture plans on her site are suitable for beginners. Ana has created a “bragging board” and “suggestion board” on her blog and on her Flickr® site, (this island, and many other reader-built projects are featured there), where you can find and/or upload home-built examples of her plans.

So, just to bring this full circle –  Ana has really inspired me to get on some garden-related building projects to help The Gardener’s Eden’s readers. Some of you will remember that late last summer I posted plans for home-built hoop-house cold frames. Basic carpentry skills and building projects can really open up your gardening options, (think vertical, retaining, etc.). So what’s up next? Well, hopefully there will be project plans for trellises, planter boxes, raised beds, potting benches, outdoor furniture and more. Yes, I have some big ideas. And if Ana posts anything for use in the great outdoors, you bet I will link it here for you, because The Gardener’s Eden is a huge fan of Knock-Off Wood.

Thank you Ana White of Knock-Off Wood !

Knock Off Wood

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Article and Photographs © 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 this blog? You can help support The Gardener’s Eden, at no additional cost to you, by shopping through the affiliated links on this site. A small percentage of every sale will go toward the maintenance of The Gardener’s Eden page. Thank you!

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Sowing the Seeds of the Future: Starting Early, In More Ways Than One…

March 2nd, 2010 § 1

Dharma’s Sunflower Seeds, Photograph © Tim Geiss

Is it just me, or does it seem like there are babies everywhere right now? While visiting my sister last week, we stopped in at her local bakery for a quick lunch and the place was just packed with expectant mothers, infants, toddlers and little children. Everywhere I go these days, from the post office to the grocery store, when I look around, I see dozens of tiny faces staring back at me. I don’t know what’s going on in your circle, but almost all of my friends are either raising small children, pregnant or trying to get pregnant and feathering their nests. Of course my sister’s son, Morgan, is just six months old. So when I first began noticing all the little munchkins, I thought I was simply becoming more aware of babies because of my nephew. But from what I am reading, it’s not my imagination, there’s actually something of a baby boom going on…

Dharma in the Family Garden, Photograph © Tim Geiss

So why am I writing about this on The Gardener’s Eden ? Well, even though I am currently childless, I really like kids and I think about their future all the time. As a horticulturalist, I worry about the way we treat our earth today, and what we will leave for our children and the children of tomorrow. For better or worse, we are leading the generations that follow us by our own example. We reap what we sow. What kind of seeds are we planting, if we’re planting them at all ?

Dharma and the Seeds, Photograph © Tim Geiss

Do you remember starting seeds for the first time? I do. It felt like a miracle to me then, and it still feels like magic today. One afternoon in mid March, my Kindergarten teacher announced that we would be planting seeds to take home in spring. She had us save our milk cartons every day for a week, to use as starter pots. After our daily graham crackers and milk, we rinsed the red and white containers and dropped them into a large bin. I can still remember the slightly sour smell as I cut the tops off my cartons with round-tipped scissors, and filled them with potting soil. I pushed tiny holes into the dark dirt and carefully settled my little seeds – I was so excited. Although I’d helped my mother and father direct-sow vegetables and flowers in our garden at home, I’d never started plants indoors while snow still sat on the ground outside. Every day, first thing when I entered the classroom, I would rush to the wide windowsill to check on the pots marked with my big letter “M”.  Where are they, where are they ? A week seems like forever when you have lived less than a decade. Knowing this, my teacher wisely chose fast germinating plants for her little green thumbs to grow. Soon, the sunflower and zinnia seedlings began to burst forth, pushing up from the soil…

Dharma’s Sunflower Seedlings, Photograph © Tim Geiss

Do you want to encourage a love of nature and gardening in the next generation? Why not start some seed indoors with a child you know. If the gardener is very young, (like my friend Dharma, pictured here in the garden she planted with her mom and dad), choose something simple and fast germinating, like sunflower, zinnia or marigold seed. Try not to complicate matters too much. Get a bag of seed-starting mix and a few trays of pots, and/or recycle some milk cartons of your own! Remember, the idea here is process, not product. Focus on the miracle of germination, and the beauty of photosynthesis, not blue-ribbon plants. Water the seeds and watch them together; sharing the joys and rewards of effort, diligence, discipline and patience. Need some help explaining how things work? Pick up a copy of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Gardening with Children, Sharon Lovejoy’s Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots, and/or Patricia Kite’s Gardening Wizardry for Kids. These books are filled with easy and inexpensive project ideas and simple scientific explanations for children. Looking for more ? I’ll be back with other kid-friendly gardening ideas soon – but for now, check out my earlier post on gardening books for children here.

Emerging Carrots, Photograph © Tim Geiss

Article © 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. Photographs © Tim Geiss. 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 this blog? You can help support The Gardener’s Eden, at no additional cost to you, by shopping through the affiliated links on this site. A small percentage of every sale will go toward the maintenance of The Gardener’s Eden page. Thank you!

Shop the one-cent sale at SpringHillNursery.com!

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