Art Inspired by Nature: Soleil MetalArts Exploring the Beautiful Work of Florida Artist Shawn McCurdy……

August 30th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

Ribbons Birdbath (Aluminum, 30″ tall) Shawn McCurdy

As the gardening season begins to wind down, ‘Art Inspired by Nature’ —an ongoing, seasonal series here on the blog— will be returning. And like many of you —some who have written asking about what happened to the regular artist-features— I’ve missed them! One of the things I truly love about writing this online journal is the fascinating, creative people I meet and places I visit. I discovered Shawn McCurdy’s work on The Gardener’s Eden’s Facebook page, when the artist’s profile picture (see below) caught my attention in one of the comments. I’ve always been fascinated by three dimensional metalwork, and although I’ve yet to try it myself, welding seems particularly intriguing. Drawn in by her flying sparks, I clicked over to her profile page and found a link to her studio websiteSoleil MetalArts. When I saw her work —particularly the garden sculpture and birdbaths made from recycled materials— I knew I just had to share her her art with all of you…

Sparks Fly! The Artist at Work

Artist Shawn McCurdy lives, and works from a converted barn-studio, in Geneva, Florida (near Orlando). Shawn began welding nine years ago —when she and her husband purchased their current property— out of utilitarian necessity. But before long, she found herself exploring the artistic possibilities of her new-found metalworking skills. Influenced by a love of nature and gardening, many of McCurdy’s pieces incorporate beautiful botanical and animal motifs. Some of the artist’s larger pieces —particularly the sculptural and functional birdbaths— also utilize unusual, recycled materials; such as traffic-light lenses…

Tendrils Birdbath (Recycled Glass and Steel – 32″) Soleil MetalArts

Shawn uses a MIG (metal inert gas) welding process, primarily for her steel and aluminum work. Other mechanical tools in her shop include instruments for cutting; such as a plasma cutter, metal bandsaw, oxy-acetylene torch, throatless shears, air tools and angle grinders. As project size and creative impulse dictate, Shawn may use a manual fly press (see below) for bending, shaping and texturing metal or a metal brake for making straight bends. Hand tools are, of course, essential to much of her work – particularly the more detailed repoussé and chasing work (this process involving shaping copper over a base of pitch with chisels and hammers). I particularly like her description of the old stand-by in metalwork process: “heat, beat and repeat”. That sounds like fun to me! The artist is largely self-taught. Early on in her career, she received a bit of help from a more experienced welder-friend, and from there on, her skills continued to develop through online research, experimentation, and lots of practice….

Shawn McCurdy – creating metal flower sculptures – templates

Shawn’s metal process reminds me a bit of Matisse and his paper collage cutouts – only she uses metal and ends up with three dimensional results!

Shawn’s fly press (used for bending, shaping and texturizing metal) in action

Hand formed pieces of Shawn’s sculpture

Assembly of work in progress…

Inside Shawn’s shop: amazing, giant metal flowers —stored outside to achieve a fine rust patina— ready to receive a finish coat to halt, or at least slow down, the process of oxidation.Detail of one of Shawn’s finished metal pieces

Poppy – sculpted metal with hand painting by Shawn McCurdy

Garghoul – A steel garden sculpture by Shawn McCurdy

Much of Shawn’s sculpture work, particularly her large garden pieces, is commissioned by private collectors. And although it was her large-scale sculpture that initially captured my curiosity as well, I quickly found myself captivated by her small-scale pieces and other work. On a more in-depth visit to Soleil MetalArts website, I discovered stunningly beautiful jewelry. I am just dying for one of her seaweed-like cuffs (Santa Claus, are you listening?)…

Shawn McCurdy – Soleil Studio – Black Ruffle Cuff

Shawn McCurdy – Soleil Studio – Bracelet Cuffs

Shawn McCurdy – Soleil Studio – Ruffle Cuff

Interested in seeing more of Shawn’s work, or learning a bit about her process? I highly recommend visiting the Soleil MetalArts page on Facebook. The artist operates her page like a blog, and regularly updates by posting her work in progress, news and other studio information. Here you will find beautiful examples of her metal sculpture and functional art objects, such as the metal planter boxes pictured below. Her work ranges in price; dictated mainly by size, material, and creative process. Prices for her jewelry begin around $100 for small copper cuffs (she also works in sterling silver, which has a slightly higher starting price-point); traffic light birdbaths start at $125; and larger pieces such the ribbons birdbath at top begin at around $1,200 – $1,500. Soleil MetalArts accepts all kinds of creative commissions, but does not do production work. Shawn McCurdy is an artist, and everything the she creates is one-of-a-kind…

Shawn McCurdy – Soleil MetalArts – planter boxes in the studio

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For more information about Shawn McCurdy and/or to contact her about her artwork, please visit:

Soleil MetalArts Website or Soleil MetalArts Facebook Page

All photographs in this article appear courtesy of Shawn McCurdy and Soleil MetalArts, all rights reserved.

Thank you so much for making the time for this interview Shawn, and for sharing your beautiful metalwork with The Gardener’s Eden !

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Article ⓒ 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 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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Dinner in the Sun-Drenched Garden… New Potatoes in a Bistro-Style Salad: Pommes À L’Huile from Patricia Wells

August 29th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Pommes À L’Huile – Warm Potato Salad with Fresh Herb Vinaigrette

Late Summer Dinner on the Terrace

There’s something absolutely delicious about the last weekend in August. What brings on this delightfully hypnotic, wonderfully relaxing mood? Perhaps it’s the warmth of the sun radiating from the stone-slab terrace, or maybe it’s the color of the sky; deepest topaz blue? There are so many subtle ingredients to this hopelessly intoxicating, late-summer cocktail, I could never unravel the recipe. Let’s just say it’s pure bliss.

Knowing that we are nearing the end of this sweet season, I spend every moment possible outdoors. Lunch and dinner on the sun-drenched terrace, surrounded by the smells of warm earth and pots of aromatic herbs, is one of the simplest —yet most treasured— of my summertime rituals. And there’s so much produce to enjoy —pulled straight from the garden— at this time of year. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve begun harvesting new gourmet potatoes from the potager; gold, pink, red and amethyst jewels. These beautiful gems, grown from Ronniger’s seed potatoes, make the most wonderful salads I’ve ever tasted. Message to self —in bold letters, underlined and circled at the top of my gardening journal— “Grow Twice As Many Potatoes Next Year”…

Harvesting New Potatoes from the Potager

Potatoes Scrubbed Clean and Glowing, Bright as Easter Eggs

Potato salad, particularly with herbs and vinegar, is such a wonderfully uncomplicated, perfect summer dish. My favorite recipe comes from Patricia Wells’ classic, and brilliant book, Bistro Cooking. Do you know it? True, it’s not as flashy or glamorous-looking as some —but it’s a true treasure-trove of culinary delight. And just between us? While I grant the award for world’s best gurkensalat to my Tante Maria, this potato salad from Patricia Wells gives my Tante’s kartoffelsalat a serious run for her money (shhh. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t use the internet). The key to this salad’s rich flavor is in the warm-marination process. Allowing the potatoes time to absorb flavors of the highest quality white wine vinegar and olive oil, makes all the difference in the world. If you grow your own potatoes, this is a great way to really show those spuds off. There’s nothing like the taste and texture of fresh potatoes pulled straight from the earth; washed and steamed to perfection. Don’t grow your own potatoes yet? Well, grab some new reds from the farmers market or your CSA, and make yourself a BIG gardening note for next year: Grow Potatoes. They are a super-easy, undemanding crop (they can even be grown in bags on decks and terraces). Enjoy. And remember, there are still three and a half weeks of summer left!

Pommes À L’ Huile

Based on the recipe from Patricia Wells’ Bistro Cooking

Ingredients (Serves 6-8 as a side dish- divide or multiple to suit your needs)

3           Pounds new potatoes, washed and scrubbed clean with skin on

1           Cup plus 4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

6           Tablespoons very high quality white wine vinegar

4           Tablespoons dry white wine

2           Teaspoons Kosher salt

4           Small shallots, minced fine

Fresh parsley  (3 – 4 tablespoons) chopped fine

Fresh chives (about 3 tablespoon) chopped fine

Fresh thyme chopped very fine (perhaps a tablespoon, to taste)

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

**Other herbs may be added as substitutes or, as strike your fancy**

Directions:

Steam the potatoes with skin on for 20 minutes, or until tender when pricked with a fork. Drain and let cool. Meanwhile whisk together 1 cup olive oil, 4 tablespoons vinegar, 4 tablespoons of white wine and 2 tsp. Kosher salt. Peel potatoes and slice 1/2 inch thick. Toss with the vinaigrette and set aside for about 1/2 hour, allowing potatoes to absorb the liquid.

In a small bowl, combine remaining vinegar, olive oil parsley, shallots and chives. Add fresh pepper to taste.

Before serving the potatoes, quickly toss with the fresh herbed vinaigrette. Wonderful served warm in the sun.

Pommes À L’Huile

‘Autumn Beauty’ Sunflower (Helianthus annus) The Brilliant Color of Happiness in the Potager

Doctor Woo, Enjoying Her 11th Summer, Stretched Out on the Terrace

‘Heavenly Blue’ Morning Glory along the Garden Gate

Burgundy Hued Sunflowers in the Potager (Helianthus annus ‘Autumn Beauty’ Mix)

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Article and photographs ⓒ 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 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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Hydrangea Paniculata ‘Limelight’: Gorgeous Color & Fragrance in the Vase & Late Summer Beauty in the Garden…

August 27th, 2010 § Comments Off on Hydrangea Paniculata ‘Limelight’: Gorgeous Color & Fragrance in the Vase & Late Summer Beauty in the Garden… § permalink

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ in the studio – Beautiful color and fragrance

When it comes to romance in the garden, Hydrangea paniculata is never wishy-washy about where she stands. Voluptuous, lacy and fragrant; members of the panicled hydrangea clan are unabashedly feminine. Sometimes blushing and always glowing —the air about her buzzing with busy-bee suitors— my beautiful, chartreuse-tinted Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ overflows her boundaries; spilling into the walkway in a delightful disarray. She’s an old-fashioned bombshell, and I think she knows it. I love to gather her blossoms by the armful… Filling vases for my studio and dining room table, and a great, big urn for beside the bed. Although it’s hard to resist cutting every last bloom, I leave plenty to enjoy in the garden later; watching as they tint toward rose at the edge of summer, and then slowly bleach to flaxen blond in mid-winter…

Leather and Lace – Panicle Hydrangea and Copper Beech

But wait… Who is Hydrangea paniculata’s handsome mate? Well, opposites attract, of course. The dark and masculine, leather-leafed fellow standing beside our lacy-lady in the entry garden is…  None other than Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’; a decidedly Gothic-looking, European copper beech. Both partners in this passionate marriage are hardy in USDA zones 4-8. And while Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ will quickly attain a modest 6-10′ mature size, Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’ will continue to slowly stretch to 40′ or more —tall of course, as well as dark and handsome! Both plants prefer a relatively neutral, moist but well-drained soil, rich in organic material. Combined with late blooming blue-violet flowers, such as monkshood and asters, and a few tawny, vertical grasses, they make quite a fashionable pair in autumn…

A Gothic Love Affair – Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ paired with Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’, here in the entry garden at Ferncliff…

Unabashedly Romantic – Masculine and Feminine Extremes in the Garden

Still beautiful in the quiet season – Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limlight’ in snow…

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Article and photographs ⓒ 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 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…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. 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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What Lies Beneath: Floating Flowers Submerged in Watery Glass Bubbles…

August 26th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

A Bouquet of Floating Asters Submerged in a Glass Water Bowl

Sparkling August light sent me on a late afternoon trip to the potager, and suddenly my arms are overflowing with voluptuous, late summer blooms. The cutting garden is bursting with dahlias, salpiglossis, dianthus, bachelor buttons, and asters, asters, asters – everywhere! This week’s steady rain showers sent a number of  oversized blossoms crashing to the ground. A great way to use those shortened stems? Why not submerge them in glass bowls to create a dreamy water-bubble effect…

Glass and Water Reflect the Rich Hues of Late Summer

To get this look, I placed clear glass pebbles at the base of a globe vase, filled the bowl 3/4 full with water, then arranged the stems by forcing them deep within the hill of glass at the bottom of the vessel. No glass chips on hand? This look can also be achieved with a base of marbles (clear or colored) or river stones. Experiment with all kinds of cut flowers, foliage and fruit; from the beautifully bold to the delicate and small. Try this style of arrangement with round, square or cylindrical glass vessels. An obvious choice for celebration table settings, these floating flower bubbles can also add a dreamy water-nymph’s touch to an everyday bedside table or desk…


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Article and photographs ⓒ 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 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…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. 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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Preserving the Harvest: Fresh-Frozen Herbs in Oil, Butter, Broth or Water…

August 26th, 2010 § 51 comments § permalink

Frozen Herb Cubes with Olive Oil: Photographs Copyright Michaela Medina – thegardenerseden.com

At six o’clock this morning, I was rather annoyed to be awakened by a gang of squawking bluejays. But when I rose, I discovered a beautiful rainbow on the western horizon. Suddenly, I found myself feeling more than grateful for the wake-up call from the noisy, blue boys in my ‘hood. The rain has ended for now, and the morning sun is warm on the terrace, where I have set up my office for the day. But before I start work on plant lists for a garden design I’m working on, I have a neat garden project to share with you. Inclement weather kept me indoors early this week, providing me with a bit of free time and the opportunity to freeze fresh herb-cubes for winter. This project is simple and fun; easy as making fruit-pops and a great way to teach children about preserving food from the garden. If you also make a few juice pops at the same time —to reward the little helping hands— so much the better!

Fresh Herbs from the Garden

Begin by gathering empty ice cube trays (or egg cups or small freezer molds), zip-lock or other storage bags, and bundles of fresh herbs from the garden. Bring the herbs inside, and as you wash, dry and pick through the leaves, think about how you might like to use them over the coming months. Do you make lots of soup in winter? Set aside a few bundles of your favorite soup herbs. These can be frozen in cubes of room-temperature water, vegetable broth or chicken/beef bouillon. Do you like to fry or roast with herbs? Bundles of your favorite cooking herbs can be preserved by freezing them in vegetable oil (I like to use light olive oil for high-temp pan frying). If you like to use herb butters or herb-infused oils for bread dipping, you can freeze them in butter (softened or melted over very low heat and cooled a bit) or in extra virgin olive oil, to pull out of the freezer later and enjoy at room temperature all winter long.

Separating Fresh Herb Leaves for Simple Frozen Oil Cubes

Tear or chop the herbs into small pieces or individual leaves, depending upon how you plan to use them at a later date. Next, load ice cube trays, egg cups or other freezer molds with the clipped herbs. You can separate individual herbs into molds or you can mix them in combinations you frequently use together. I make both individual herb cubes and various combinations. I started with olive-oil cubes for pan-frying this time. Once my compartments were filled with herbs, I began filling the cubes with oil, topping each herb mold with one or two tablespoons of light (frying) olive oil. Then I made herb cups with melted butter and extra virgin olive oil. Finally I put away large quantities of herbs preserved in vegetable broth (you can use any kind of broth) and water (for herb tea and soup).

Simple Cubes of  Olive Oil with Fresh Basil and Olive Oil with Fresh Rosemary – Ready to Stick in the Freezer

Once the molds are filled, freeze them overnight. You may wish to make a note of the herb content and oil/water measurement in each tray. Once frozen, it can be tricky to identify the herbs. I do freeze in batches and make notes to avoid confusion later. Once removed from the freezer, pop the cubes from the trays and slip them into labeled plastic bags. I write the name(s) of the herbs, the fluid measurement, and the date on my bags. Then, I store them flat in the freezer (they should remain in separate units, unless they melt – so work quickly!). Now, you can enjoy fresh herbs in your cooking all winter long, at a fraction of the market cost!

After Freezing for 24 Hours – Remove the Cubes from the Trays and Separate into Labeled Ziplock Bags. Store Flat in the Freezer.

There are many ways to preserve and store your garden produce. This particular method of freezing herbs has been around for a long time —my mother and grandmother used to preserve them in this way— and it works very well. If you are interested in learning more about how to preserve your garden produce, I highly recommend the two books pictured and linked below, which I reviewed for Barnes & Noble’s Garden Variety Blog in June (click here to read the post on B&N, where you can also purchase either book). Both titles contain new & old ideas —freezing, drying, root-cellaring and more— for preserving the harvest.

Buy How to Store Your Garden Produce from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble

Buy Putting Food By at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble

An Early Morning Visit to the Potager – Gathering Herbs and Edible Flowers for Lunch

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden

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CONTACT INFORMATION IS AT LEFT. THANK YOU! MICHAELA.

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

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I’ve Got Sunshine… On a Cloudy Day: Humulus Lupulus ‘Aureus’, Beautiful Golden Hops Vine

August 24th, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

Luminous Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’, the Chartreuse Beauty of Golden Hops Vines

Gloomy morning. Shifting, filtered light — melancholy as an old bow, dragging across a cello— traces murky shadows in the morning fog. The garden’s saturated colors —maroon, deep green, burgundy and rust— hint at summer’s end. There is a touch of sadness within the garden walls. A beautiful wistfulness hangs heavy in the air; clinging like raindrops to the dark, moss-covered rock. The somber mood lifts when, through the grey sky and lingering mist, a golden, chartreuse glow appears; like the light of paper lanterns filled with a million fireflies…

Tiny buds capture raindrops and glow like paper lanterns in the morning fog…

Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’, commonly known as the golden hops vine, has become one of my favorite perennial climbers. I like to use it in unexpected places —modern fences and dark, masculine structures– adding a luminous touch of feminine lace. Hardy in USDA zones 4-8, this twining, citron-beauty prefers full sun (for best color), and even soil moisture. Rapidly clamoring up walls, fences and pergolas, the golden hops vine can reach a height of 15-20′ in a single season. Brilliant in combination with dark colors —black, maroon, burgundy and dark blue are particularly lovely— Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’ brightens gloomy spaces and sings against tobacco-stained wood. Although the vine dies back each year, the papery buds persist throughout winter; adding delicate, textural interest to structures when traced with snow or ice. In spring, golden, new shoots appear from the base of the plant, rapidly covering nearby surfaces as it races to its mature height before blooming. For a neat appearance, old growth can be cut to the ground as soon as new shoots appear (usually by April here in New England). In more casual spaces, I leave some of the old vines (tidied up a bit) to serve as a guiding ladder for new shoots…

Tendrils of Golden Hops Glow Against the Blackened Siding

Although the golden hops vine is a vigorous climber, it’s no garden-thug. Easily trained, each year I encourage the vine’s shoots along each cable-rail of my balcony, where it softens the hard structure and contrasts beautifully with the rusting steel, oxblood planters and charcoal-colored siding of the studio. Wayward tendrils, weighted with little lanterns by midsummer, droop from the balcony, dangling into the Secret Garden below. As temperatures cool with autumn’s approach, the chartreuse leaves will slowly burnish to rusty-speckled yellow and orange; eventually deepening to a warm, golden brown…

Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’, off at a rapid pace, twining across the balcony in mid May

Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’ in late autumn rain

Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’, Dressed in a Cloak of Ice

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Article and photographs ⓒ 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 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…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. 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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Sweet Summer Rain …

August 22nd, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Rain… Sweet, sweet summer rain. At long last, the weather has shifted. Cool breezes have returned, bringing with them velvety air, grey skies and the softest of late-summer showers. For the gardener, a much needed day of rest; a late morning sweetened with tea and scones, and a leisurely afternoon filled with quiet contemplation. The garden’s thirst quenched by the heavens, I curl up contentedly in the sofa’s gentle folds. Surrounded by rain-speckled windows and a blurred, poetic landscape, I drink in the beautiful, melancholy of Pascal Rogé on piano; in a recording of favorite selections by composer Erik Satie…

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Article and photographs ⓒ 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 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…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. 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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Golden Days of Summer Gazpacho… Celebrate the Queen of August Gardens: Glorious, Sweet, Juicy Tomatoes…

August 20th, 2010 § 6 comments § permalink

Golden Days of Summer Gazpacho

Oh, sweet, sweet tomato. All winter long, how I long for you; how I pine for your sun-ripened sweetness and juicy flesh. Oh how I worship your delicious flavor. And now, in the mid-August heat, I kneel at your humble earthen alter. With toes stretched out in warm, golden straw and red stains streaming down my arms, I welcome you, Queen of the Vegetable Garden. Late summer afternoons—August and September— these are the halcyon days of the tomato; the cherry, the beefsteak, the roma and the heirloom. So now, at long last, let the feasting begin.

Can you imagine life without the tomato? It seems impossible that this spectacular fruit —now regarded as one of the healthiest, natural foods— was once thought to be poisonous. Rich in vitamins and minerals —as well as antioxidants, including of course, lycopene— tomatoes are one of the sweetest health foods around. This year has been a great growing year for tomatoes in the northeast. And although some areas have reported a repeat of last year’s late blight problems, most farms and home gardens in this area seem to have been spared.

Cherry Tomato ⓒ Tim Geiss @ poltergeiss.com

Cherry Tomatoes ⓒ Tim Geiss @ poltergeiss.com

Sliced Tomato ⓒ Tim Geiss at poltergeiss.com

There are many ways to enjoy fresh, juicy, ripe tomatoes. But when the heat is on and the sun is high, there’s no better way to cool off than with a bowl of chilled gazpacho. Variations on this summertime classic abound, and everyone seems to have a favorite twist to the basic tomato-onion-vinegar base.

My version? Well, I happen to be in love with yellow and orange tomatoes right now. And, I like a sweet, pureed base of sungold cherry tomatoes for my gazpacho. Of course, you can use any tomatoes you like, and tweak the ingredients as you see fit – it’s part of the fun, really. And when you’ve had your fill of this zesty summer-soup, be sure to freeze some for later. You’ll be glad you did…

Golden Days of Summer Gazpacho

Ingredients: Serves Six

2          Cups very ripe Sungold cherry tomatoes (this recipe works with red tomatoes too – use what you have)

3          Large tomatoes (I used orange and golden-yellow, heirloom type)

1          Bell pepper (red, green or somewhere between) minced

1          Average cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped fine

1          Spanish onion, peeled and very finely minced

2          Cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (but not too fine or it will overpower the other flavors)

2          Tbs. fresh, finely chopped Italian parsley

2          Tbs. fresh, finely chopped cilantro

2          Tbs. excellent-quality, artisan, white wine vinegar

1          Lemon, juiced

1          Lime, juiced

1/4      Cup extra virgin olive oil

1          Tsp. honey (or more, to taste)

Dash   Sriracha or Tobasco sauce

Kosher salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Sungold and Sweet Cherry 100 Tomatoes, Cucumber and Bell Pepper

Directions:

Combine 2 large tomatoes and 2 cups of cherry tomatoes in a blender and blend. Remove and strain the tomato juice through a chinois or fine mesh sieve. Set aside. Seed and coarsely chop the remaining tomato,; peel, seed and chop the cucumber and pepper. Peel and finely chop the onion. Peel and chop the garlic, taking care not to chop too fine (or it will overpower the flavor of the gazpacho). Chop the parsley and the cilantro. Toss all of the vegetables into the tomato puree. At this point, if you prefer a smooth gazpacho, you may puree all the ingredients in a blender. Everyone has their own texture preferences. I like to see and taste whole bits of cucumber and tomato in my gazpacho.

Squeeze one lemon and one lime and strain the juice through a sieve into the vegetable mixture. Stir and slowly add  2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Add a dash of Sriracha chili sauce or Tobasco, and sprinkle in Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper. Taste as you go, adding more seasonings to balance flavors. Tomato acidity and sweetness varies tremendously. If the soup seems a bit sharp, try adding another tsp of honey to sweeten the flavor. If too sweet, skip the honey and add a bit more vinegar.

Chill, covered, for 2 hours. Taste again and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Serve well chilled with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt, a garnish of fresh cilantro leaves and a piece of crusty bread.

Straining the fresh tomato puree through a sieve…

Add vegetables: chop and mince to the texture you prefer – or puree the entire soup, if you like. I prefer some texture…

Golden Days of Summer Gazpacho… Ready for Chillin’

The summer meadow border, en route to the vegetable garden, bathed in morning light…

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes – The Sweetest Jewels of Summer…

Savoring the Halcyon Days with Golden Days of Summer Gazpacho…

***

Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his beautiful tomato photos – See more of Tim’s work at poltergeiss.com

Article and all other photographs ⓒ 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 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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Savoring Summer: Harvesting and Drying The Garden’s Finest Herbal Treasures…

August 19th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Drying Herbs in the Stairwell

One of the great pleasures of living in New England is, of course, the seasons. The natural world operates on a distinct schedule here, and all life flows along with it at a steady pace. On these late August days, the song of the hermit thrush —an ever-present twilight melody enjoyed throughout summer— begins to fade as flocks of songbirds gather for migration before the full moon. And the sun, shifting position and setting earlier each day on the horizon, glimmers low and gold in the trees now. Although the noontime hours of late summer can be quite hot, and evenings are still spent bare-shouldered, it won’t be long before downy quilts and lavender-scented sweaters are pulled from closet shelves.

August is a month of preserving; of putting up and setting things by. Jars of jam and pickled produce form neat rows in the cupboards, and my freezer is packed wall-to-wall with summertime’s bounty. This is the time of year when my voluptuous herb garden literally spills from its neatly-edged confines. Borders? Fiddle-dee-dee, the mint seems to say, as it runs wildly wherever it may. But I never mind a bit of excess in the garden -it’s so nice to have plenty to spare. Mint, rosemary, basil, thyme, lavender and lemon verbena; their scents perfume my fingers and fill the cellar stairwell with beautiful fragrance. …

Freshly-harvested basil – Tied with twine for drying…

Basil and Mint Bundles

With dry air and scant rain, August is a great month to begin harvesting and drying herbs for winter. In the coming months, I will be grateful for a hint of summertime’s pleasures in warm cups of tea and fragrant breakfast scones. Drying herbs is simple and economical; an easy way to trim your monthly grocery budget and add flavor to daily meals. Have a look at the price of dried, organic basil next time you visit a grocery store. If you need a bit of convincing before bundling up the harvest and making room in your rafters, that little bit of sticker-shock should do the trick.

I grow herbs in my potager amongst the vegetables, on my terrace in containers, and throughout the ornamental gardens as well. Once the morning dew has dried —usually by 10am— I head outside with harvest baskets to gather whatever tempts my eye. Some days, I focus on aromatic herbs for cooking; including basil, rosemary, thyme and mint. But I also keep other uses in mind; gathering lavender, bergamot and hyssop for scenting oils, soaps, and sachets. Dried bundles of artemisia, tansy, Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod and other herbs are also useful for wreaths, swags and dried flower arrangements. Once the cellar stairwell and loft are filled —mostly with herbs for teas and cooking— I string clothesline in my dry cellar to hang bunches of herbs, protecting them from dust with loose paper bag ‘hoods’…

Herbs in the Potager

Keep potted herbs attractive by frequently pruning. More than you need? Try drying bundles to use in recipes —including soup and salad dressing— throughout the winter…

Once I’ve collected herbs, I spread them out on the terrace and pick them over; stripping lower leaves and forming small bundles. I like to use natural twine to tie the herbs together, but I will use recycled rubber-bands as well; particularly for large bouquets of flowering herbs. Once bundled up, I hang the herbs in a dry, dark place. When they have completely dry-cured, I will strip the leaves from the stems and store the herbs in tightly sealed jars (clear is fine for closed cupboards – use dark glass if storing herbs in brightly-lit spaces). Although I try to harvest most culinary herbs before flowering —for best flavor— I do allow some herbs to blossom, in order to provide pollen for bees and other beneficial insects in my garden. Flowering herbs make great companion plants in the potager…

Bundles of herbs are picked over and thinned, then bound together with twine…

Harvesting Herbs in Late Morning, After the Dew Has Throughly Dried

Sorting and Bundling Herbs in My Kitchen

Some sage is left to flower in the potager. Other plants are kept tightly pruned through regular harvests…

Rosemary is a beautiful, as well as a useful herb. I like keeping aromatic herbs near my door, where I brush against them as I come and go. Here, I can quickly snip bits to flavor teas, salad dressings or garnish cocktails…

And as wonderful as dried herbs are in winter, there’s nothing quite like the flavor of fresh rosemary and basil —is there? I keep pots of herbs just outside my kitchen door all summer long, where I can easily access them if I need to add a sprig to a special sauce or evening cocktail. Come late autumn, I will bring the potted rosemary inside to my windowsill, and in late September, I will begin sowing flats of basil to grow indoors beneath lights.

Yes, I enjoy thinking ahead to the coming seasons, but I’ve never been much of a pleasure-delayer at heart. I believe that being prepared for the future should never detract from the importance of the present moment. From lemon-mint sun tea and caprese salad with fresh basil at lunchtime to ice-cold mojitos and herb-infused ice cream enjoyed by the light of the moon; savor the rich tastes and sweet smells of the season while you can…

Lemon-Mint Sun Tea (Click Here for Post and Recipe)

Mentha piperita (Peppermint flowering in the garden)

Cuban Mint Julep (aka the mojito) – Click here for recipe and story

Some great herb gardening resources to give as gifts, add to a wish-list or purchase for your own horticultural and culinary bookshelves…

Gardening with Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead

The Herbal Kitchen by Jerry Traunfeld

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

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Article and photographs ⓒ 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 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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Star of Secret Gardens & Shady Dells, Kirengeshoma Palmata: Late Summer’s Graceful, Golden-Yellow Waxbells…

August 17th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Kirengeshoma palmata (Yellow waxbells) in the Walled Gardens at Ferncliff

As the last wisps of fog melted in morning’s brilliant sunlight, I slipped outside through the Secret Garden, eager to gather my tools and begin the day. But there, rising from the damp shadowy walls, stood graceful Kirengeshoma palmata in a sunny spotlight; swollen-yellow buds sparkling with diamond-dew. Oh – deliriously-beautiful distraction! I simply had to stop and enjoy the moment of pure poetry…

Kirengeshoma palmata – Yellow waxbells drenched in morning sunlight…

Like most fashionably-late starlets, this beauty has perfect timing. Exotic, delicate, ethereal; held on slender, arching stems, her blossoms nod above magnificently cut, peridot-green foliage. This is true horticultural haute couture at its best. Who could have come up with such an exquisite gown; such a perfect ensemble? Valentino? Yves Saint Laurent? And where did this beauty come from? Oh, but of course —her name gives her away—  she must be… Japanese!  Kirengeshoma palmata: elegant and subtle, but show-stoppingly gorgeous, yellow waxbells; dancing in the Secret Garden like a kimono-clad geisha…

Kirengeshoma palmata – Yellow waxbell blossoms, opening in the morning dew at Ferncliff

Yellow waxbells, as Kirengeshoma palmata is commonly known, are hardy in USDA zones 4/5 to 8. This unusual, August-blooming perennial prefers partial to mostly-shady locations and rich, slightly acidic, moist (but never boggy) woodland soil. Once established, Kirengeshoma palmata will form mounding 2 1/2′ tall clumps, perhaps reaching 3-4′ wide at maturity. Here in Vermont, Kirengeshoma’s waxy, yellow bells appear in mid August and her blossoms extend through early fall, when most other perennials are wilting and withering away. She combines well with other late-season beauties; including Hydrangea quercifolia, H. paniculata, Hakonechloa macra, Tricyrtis formosana, Ucinia egmontiana, Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Brunette’, Rodgersia aesculifolia, as well as ferns and many other perennials, shrubs and trees…

Kirengeshoma palmata (Yellow wax bells) from Heronswood Nursery

Although this lesser-known plant can be hard to find, I located it online at Heronswood Nurseries. Click on the photo-link above —image from Heronswood— for more information or to order this plant (The Gardener’s Eden is not an affiliate of Heronswood Nursery, however, I am a indeed a happy, long-standing customer). Inspired by the gem-like beauty of Kirengeshoma palmata? Whenever I look at her, I can’t help but think of Keira Knightly in Atonement; floating across the lawn in her impossibly lovely, emerald-green gown. Like Keira draped in verdant silk, this ethereal garden beauty whispers and enchants, lingering at the edge of summer like the dreamy, sparkling starlight of August memories…

Keira Knightly wears a bias-cut gown by Jacqueline Durran in the film,  Atonement

Like a flower in the night garden – just look at the moonlight on Keira’s beautiful gown…

All movie-stills are from the film Atonement, produced by Working Title Films and distributed by Universal Pictures

***

Article and all photographs (with noted exceptions) © 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? 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? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. 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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Simple Storage Solutions with Style: Beautiful Braided Onions…

August 15th, 2010 § 8 comments § permalink

A Sweet Onion Braid – Drying on a Late Summer Day

Warm, dry air and sparkling blue skies; here in Vermont, these are the first golden days of late summer bliss. As I swing in my big, old hammock —surrounded by the meadow-song of crickets and chattering finches— my mind drifts to nothing more important than the thought of spicy gazpacho and homemade crackers for lunch. Mmm… Gazpacho – one of my summertime favorites. I love the flavor of fresh, pungent onions, herbs and garden-ripe tomatoes. And speaking of onions, with the nights growing cooler —filled with showers of shooting stars— and the days growing shorter, it’s time to think about digging up those tasty bulbs and putting some up for winter…

Wondering when to pull? You can begin to harvest when most of the tops have flopped…

I’ve been harvesting baskets of onions from my potager this week; taking advantage of the long, dry spell to cure them on the sunny terrace. (Click here to read more about growing and harvesting onions, and find my favorite French Onion Soup recipe in a post from last year)  Cippolini, Walla Walla and Ailsa Craig —sweet members of the Allium cepa species— are my favorite garden onions. Because these mild onions are poor candidates for long-term, winter storage, I braid them and hang them in my kitchen and basement for immediate and continued use throughout late summer and fall (pungent, globe-type onions in red, white and yellow are the best long-term, winter-keepers in my root cellar). Shallots, garlic and onions are all easy to braid, and I find this short-term method of storage to be both practical and aesthetically pleasing in my kitchen…

Sweet Onion Style…

Many readers of this blog are long-time gardeners and cooks, with years of experience growing and storing produce. But for those of you who are new to putting food by —or with curious, young gardeners-in-training— onion braids are a great, creative way to begin preparing a pantry of stored produce. I start the process by gently pulling onions from the garden during a clear-weather stretch (carefully loosening them from the soil by rocking the earth with a fork positioned at least 6-8″ from the bulbs), dry-curing them on my terrace (or, if rain is in the forecast, spread out on newspaper in a protected porch or shed) for a week. As the onions dry, I gently turn, brush and shake them to remove dirt (be careful not to bruise the tender flesh). While the tops of the onions are still green and pliant, I gather bunches in groups of 6-12 for braiding. The smaller onions (especially the coin-like Cippolini) look particularly attractive in long braids with 12 or more bulbs per chain. The larger onions —such as the Walla Walla— need a bit more room, so I braid these bulbs in groups of 6-8…

Start with three onions…

Are you familiar with the classic French braid? My hair is quite long, and I often wear it pulled back in this manner when I am working. Braiding onions is quite like French braiding hair. The chain starts out like a normal braid, (see photo above) with three onions layered one on top of the other. A slight tapered angle looks nice, varying the start lengths, but this is a subtle detail and it isn’t necessary for beginners. Begin by making one braid chain from the onion greens as you would with hair, yarn or rope. Simply pull greens from the outside edge, holding them at the center to make an ‘x’, alternating sides as you go. If your onions are very large, you may want to make two or three links before you begin to add more onions…

Add onions as you go – alternating sides, just as you would with a French braid…

Now here is where the process begins to resemble the French braids that girls use to tie back their hair. Do you remember how you pull sections of hair from alternate side of the head, adding them to the main braid as you go? The same method applies when you are braiding onions or any other bulb. When you bring the onion greens toward the center to make an ‘x’, add another onion (as shown in the photo below. Hold this in place with the fingers of one hand as you bring greens from the other side, making the usual cross at the center. Once you have one link (or more or larger onions), repeat the process on the other side. To make your braid attractive, keep your link pattern even as you go…

Spacing can be one onion per link, or skip a link or two if onions are very large…

You can make your onion braids as long as you want, that part is up to you. Once you have reached your desired length, it will be easier to tie the onions with twine if you make a few links with greens only and hold the end together tightly. Once you have the hang of it, you can simply tie the onions at the base if you like, without adding extra links. That is a creative decision. You can also make your braids from different varieties of onions, or add bits of dried herbs. It’s all up to you…

Stop the braid when you have reached the desired hanging length. I usually aim for 8-12 onions per braid, depending on variety and size…

I tie the ends of my braids with garden twine. You can also use recycled rubber bands…

Tie the end of the chain tightly with twine, ribbon, string or looped rubber bands. Hold the chain by the greens and give it a good shake to be sure it’s solid and to remove any loose dirt. Hang the onions in a dry, sunny spot for another week or so to continue curing. Then bring them indoors to store in your kitchen for immediate use, or in a cool, dry spot (floor joists in cellars work well). Onions can also be stored in a cool, dark, dry place in baskets or woven bins (for airflow) once they are dry cured and their greens are removed…

The Braided Onions – Tied and Ready for Storage…

Cippolini Onion Braid – This storage method works for all kinds of onions, and for garlic as well…

Cippolini Onion Harvest and Braiding…

I think braided onions, garlic and shallots look beautiful hanging from the beams in my timber-frame home. As the harvest season continues, herbs and dried flowers will join the onion braids hanging in my kitchen, bringing wonderful, warm and pungent smells, earthy colors and attractive textures to the room. Even if you don’t grow your own onions, you can make braids for your kitchen by asking a local farmer to sell you uncured bulbs with greens attached. And, some markets sell cured onions in braids or bunches at the early part of the season. Be aware that because kitchens tend to get hot and steamy, unless you plan to use your onions and garlic immediately —and regularly— it’s best to store them out of the kitchen, in a cool, dark place.

Cippolini Onions Hanging from a Beam in the Kitchen… Ready for Roasting!

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Article and photographs ⓒ 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 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…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. 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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Midnight Maroon: Dark, Mysterious Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’…

August 13th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

When you’re strange, no one remembers your name – Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’

Oxblood, maroon, deep violet and ebony; dark plants are one of my greatest horticultural passions. From the statuesque Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ gracing my Secret Garden, to the massive, dark cloud of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ forming a shadowy hedge at the back of my perennial borders, I wholeheartedly embrace the gothic beauty of black foliage. Earlier this year, in my posts, “A Heart of Darkness” and  “The Gothic Gourmet: Black Beauties and Dark Delights of the Potager”, I revealed a bit about my obsessive preoccupation with these strangely curious and hauntingly beautiful plants. But you needn’t be Edward Gorey to appreciate the darker side of horticulture. Deep, rich hues are incredibly useful in garden design; offering a counter-point to subtle silver and sophisticated chartreuse, as well as a striking contrast to variegated foliage and boldly colored flowers. Dark, elegant plants enrich a garden’s beauty  in much the same way as late afternoon shadows enhance a sun-drenched landscape. Think of them as the minor chords in your favorite song…

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ at the back of my casual, mixed meadow border in August

One of my favorite native plant cultivars, Physocarpus opufolius ‘Diablo’, (as well as cultivars ‘Center Glow’ and ‘Summer Wine’) is just such an endlessly versatile plant. Stunning as a single specimen within a mixed border, I like to take the drama up a notch in larger gardens, combining this burgundy-leafed shrub in groups of three or more to form a dark and mysterious backdrop for other plants (particularly gold and chartreuse-leaved specimens, as well as those with variegated foliage). Perennials in shades of blue, violet, gold, magenta —as well as many other bold and subtle colors— stand out against the intense, maroon-leafed ‘Diablo’. One of my favorite, striking garden combinations plays the nearly black color of Physocarpus opufolius ‘Diablo’ against the feathery, chartreuse leaves of Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold‘ (Golden elderberry).

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ forms a soft, dark cloud at the edge of my terrace

Physocarpus opulifolius (also known as common ninebark) is an extremely hardy shrub (USDA zones 2-8) native to North America. The dark, burgundy-leafed cultivar ‘Diablo’ (sometimes listed as ‘Monlo’ or ‘Diabolo’) will reach a height of 6-10 feet, with a similar spread. Physocarpus opulifolius presents a graceful, upright-vase shape in the garden, with softly arching branches. Adaptable to many garden situations, ‘Diablo’ offers dramatically dark foliage throughout the growing season, burnished shades of rust to bronze in autumn, and textural, peeling bark in winter. The pinkish white blossoms appear in late spring, and are a favorite, natural food source for honeybees and butterflies. Later in the season, as the tiny red fruits ripen —strangely beautiful against the dark foliage— common ninebark becomes a living feeding station for birds and small mammals. Physocarpus prefers even moisture and neutral, well-drained soil. This native cultivar is an easy to please, disease and pest resistant plant suitable for sun to partial shade (if worms/caterpillars become a problem in late spring, defoliating branches, treat the leaves with OMRI approved Btk only as necessary).

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ Leaf and Stem Coloration

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’s’ Beautiful, Peeling Bark

Autumn Color Variation Ranges from Oxblood Red

To Sun-Burnished Bronze…

In addition to its striking presence in the garden, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’s’ leaves and branches add sophisticated beauty to floral arrangements. When combined with citrus-colored flowers —such as the Bells of Ireland shown below in a vase by raku artist Richard Foye— ‘Diablo’ is a real knock-out. The sturdy stems also offer excellent support for more delicate flora, and a lovely vertical compliment to blowzy hydrangea blossoms — Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ is especially lovely with the maroon leaves of ‘Diablo’.

A vase by Richard Foye, filled with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo, Bells of Ireland, Baptisia foliage, Queen Anne’s Lace and Apricot- Hued Foxglove

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Article and photographs © 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? 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? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. 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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