A Twilight Walk Along the Wintry River And Hearty, Potato-Cheddar Soup…

January 30th, 2011 Comments Off

Winter is Soup Season: A Bowl of Potato-Cheddar Really Warms the Spirits

“The Dead of Winter”. I spent a good part of yesterday ruminating on this phrase. Is winter really dead? I suppose it might seem that way if you spend all of your time indoors. But if you are curious, and bundle yourself up properly, it’s easy to find signs of life –even in January. A walk along the river yesterday afternoon revealed green-tinted leaf-buds, browsing rabbits and flocks of noisy ducks. Reflective waterways are always gorgeous places to enjoy the beauty of sunset. And even in the chill of winter’s twilight, I choose to linger along the shoreline, basking in the pink-tinted afterglow…

Mallard Ducks Swim Along the Pink River at Sunset

Birch Against a Winter Sky

Mallards Gathered Along the Snowy Shoreline at Sunset

Of course it helps to cozy up beside the wood stove after a romp through the snow, and nothing beats a hearty bowl of potato-cheddar soup for warming the bones and spirits. I love soups and make a big pot at least once a week during the winter months. I think the key to great soups is always in the base stock, and this old family recipe is my hands-down favorite. Use good, flavorful potatoes and the best homemade stock (chicken or long-simmered vegetable). I always add a cup of rich beer (an amber style brew or dark, sweet beer) and fresh herbs to my potato cheddar, and a very fine quality local cheese. With a pot of soup waiting back home on the stove, I never seem to mind the cold weather…

Winter Walks are Nicer with Thoughts of Warm Potato-Cheddar Soup

Favorite Potato- Cheddar Soup

Ingredients (makes 6-8 servings):

5          Cups homemade chicken or vegetable broth

1          Cup high-quality amber ale or porter beer

3          Tablespoons butter

1          Cup chopped onion

3          Cloves garlic, chopped

1          Tablespoon freshly chopped sage

1          Tablespoon freshly chopped thyme

2          Bay leaves

3          Lbs potatoes, peeled & diced (I like flavorful golds for this soup)

Kosher salt to taste (about a teaspoon)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste (at least a teaspoon or more)

2          Cups grated, sharp cheddar cheese (I use Grafton VT cheddar)

Sour cream for serving

Freshly chopped chives for garnish (or sub other herb)

Directions:

Pour homemade broth and beer into a large stock pot and simmer over very low heat. Meanwhile, heat a sauté pan on medium-low and add butter. When melted raise the heat to medium and add the onions and sautee for 10 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic, sage and thyme and reduce the heat. Cook for several minutes to release flavors and then remove from heat. Add the onions and herbs to the stock pot, grind in freshly ground black pepper and add salt to taste, and toss the bay leaves on top. Cover the broth and continue simmering on low heat.

While the broth is simmering, wash, peel and dice the potatoes. Slowly add the potatoes to the broth, raise the heat slightly and cook for 20 minutes or until the potatoes can be pierced with a fork. Do not boil the soup. Remove from the heat. Fit a food processor with the metal blade and process the soup in small batches (or puree in very small batches in a blender). Be very careful when handling hot soup, and never fill the processor or blender beyond the max liquid line or you will be scalded! You can process the entire pot of soup for a very smooth texture, or leave half unprocessed for a chunkier soup.

Add all of the soup back to the pot and simmer. Now is the time to check texture and consistency. If the soup seems to thick, add a bit more broth or beer. When the soup is at the desired thickness, add the cheddar cheese and stir over medium low heat to blend and melt.

Once the cheese is melted, Remove from heat. Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and a garnish of freshly chopped chives.

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Mallards on the River at Twilight

The Shoreline’s Pink Afterglow

Time to Head Home…

And Cozy-Up Beside the Fire

***

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

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Falling for Bold, Beautiful Bromeliads: Glorious Guzmania ‘Passion’ & ‘Luna’

January 28th, 2011 § 1

Guzmania ‘Passion’

Guzmania ‘Luna’ and Guzmania ‘Passion’ – Could There Be a More Lovely Pair?

Guzmania ‘Luna’

So here we are, nearing the end of January. It’s mid-winter, and after many major snow-storms, the garden outside is now fast asleep beneath a heavy white blanket. Yes, it’s still beautiful, but the winter landscape is definitely more spare. Friends in warmer climes often ask me how I —such a complete hortimaniac— deal with the long, New England winters. Well, I could try to explain with words, but in this case, a picture really does paint a thousand of them. Images like these usually help others understand how I make it ’til April. Although I have no travel plans this year, I’ve somehow managed to bring quite a bit of South-Central America to Vermont. Now, can you imagine suffering from winter doldrums with these two tropical beauties in your house? My indoor garden is a true paradise that sustains me during the cold, dark months.

I’ve always loved the Bromeliaceae family, and with their colorful bracts and erect inflorescences, they make quite a statement in all kind of interiors; from minimalist to ornate. And at this time of year —when the outdoor world is nearly devoid of such bold color— the Guzmania species is pretty hard to resist. Two beautiful hybrids —‘Luna’ and ‘Passion’— and many others, are the result of a G. lingulata/wittmackii cross. Although these tropical bromeliads look as if they might be difficult to care for, Guzmania are very tough epiphytes (plants that, in nature, grow on and in other plants, but do not feed off them – including orchids, bromeliads and many ferns). Because they tolerate a wide range of temperature and light conditions (avoid full sun, and provide filtered, bright light and temps 55-80° F for true plant happiness), Guzmania actually make great houseplants –even for novices.

Guzmania ‘Passion’

Of course, there are some key points to keep in mind when caring for all bromeliads, including Guzmania. Always keep the rosette (the central cup of the plant), filled with water. I use lukewarm tap water from my well (use spring or filtered water if you live in a city), and gently pour/drizzle water down the center of the plant, allowing it to collect in the wells. When I fertilize (once a month during the growing season only – spring to fall), I mix the epiphyte fertilizer into my long-spouted watering can, and apply it when I am giving my Guzmania a drink. Many members of the Bromeliaceae family prefer high humidity, but this species is a bit less demanding; provided I keep the rosette moist. Guzmania aren’t particularly fussy about their soil (regular, well-drained potting soil is OK), but during the winter months, keep the root-zone on the dry-side of moist. And although they tolerate a wide range of light conditions, bright but indirect sun —and temperatures at the warmer end of their range— is essential to bring this lovely plant into bloom. In the spring, offsets form along the sides of the mother plant. These can be left in place to form colonies as the central plant dies back, or they may be divided off and potted separately. Pests are not a big problem with Guzmania, but mealy bugs (and sometimes aphids or occasionally scale) may attack –particularly if the plant is under stress. Gently sprayed applications of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil (once every 5 days or so for a month) should relieve plants of sap-sucking insects.

Looking for a bold way to brighten someone special’s day? Or perhaps you prefer to give living plants and flowers for Valentines day? Guzmania ‘Luna’ & ‘Passion’ are sure to delight. And at this time of year, bromeliads are relatively easy to find in most florist shops, and even at some larger garden centers (Recently, I spotted some fine specimens at my local Home Depot for under $25). Just look at these flamboyant, uplifting hues! I’d take a blooming bromeliad over a bunch of soon-to-die, cut-roses any day… Wouldn’t you?

Guzmania ‘Luna’

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Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of Michaela – The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced without prior written permission. If you would like to use a photo or article excerpt, please see ‘contact’ page at right. Thank you !

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Simply Lovely: Etched-Gourd Cachepots

January 25th, 2011 Comments Off

This Pretty Etched-Gourd Makes a Lovely Cachepot for Peperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’ (and on the right, Colocasia affinis ‘Jenningsii’)

Displaying plants indoors can be as creative and fun as arranging pots outdoors on porches, patios and balconies. Whenever I spot an new and interesting vessel —natural or man-made— I log it in my mental-file cabinet as a potential cachepot for a plant. Two years ago, while traveling in Vieques, Puerto Rico, I picked up this etched gourd from an artisan at a street market. Sure, it makes an interesting bowl for collecting spare change or keys, but why not use it as a cachepot? I sealed the inside of this gourd to waterproof it (wood-sealer or shellac work well) and filled it with a lush Peperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’ —and wow! The purple-red stems jump out when played against subtle golden-undertones on the surface of the dried gourd. You may remember how much I love this plant from a previous post (To read “Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name” click here).

A great mix: Crafter’s Gourds from Renee’s Garden Seeds

Like the look? There’s no need to travel to the Caribbean to get it! Growing gourds is fun and easy —a great garden project with kids— and when dried and sealed, they can be used in all sorts of creative ways. I plan to etch and carve many more gourds this year to use as indoor cachepots. Just imagine the possibilities! Of course, dried gourds can also be used as serving bowls/dishes, desk accessories or jewelry holders, and in addition, bottle-type gourds are often used as small bird houses. Gourds do require a long growing season —they are harvested in fall— so in cold climates these decorative delights are best started indoors before the last frost date. Now is a good time to order gourd seed from one of the many catalogues filling your mailbox. Renee’s Garden Seeds has a great “Crafter’s Mix” which includes larger, smooth-gourd varieties -these seeds are specially selected for creating vessels of all kinds. An excellent selection of gourd seed, as well as organic gardening supplies can also be found online at Burpee (and they sell luffa gourds: perfect for drying and using in the bath). Gourds grow on vines in full sun, and they can be trained up a trellis in a small space, or left to sprawl in a larger garden.

Read more about the lovely Pepperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’ here.

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Article and Photographs (with noted exceptions) are copyright Michaela/The Gardener’s Eden. All Rights Reserved.

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Indoor Eden: Simple,Verdant Beauty… Twisting & Twining English Ivy

January 22nd, 2011 § 3

Hedera helix ‘Glacier’ – English Ivy Twists and Twines Round a Metal Chair in the Secret Garden Room

Busy about the Secret Garden Room this morning –potting, pruning and moving plants around to make room for new seed starts– I suddenly found myself driven to delightful distraction by my gorgeous friend, Ivy. Positioned as she is –right inside the double French doors– I routinely pass my lovely Hedera helix ‘Glacier’, whenever I enter or exit the garden room. But today, something about the way the light flickered behind her verdant, porcelain-edged leaves made me stop right in my tracks. Simply beautiful…

Hedera helix ‘Glacier’ catches winter sunlight in the Secret Garden Room

English ivy likes to twist and twine, making it the ideal plant for wrapping around old metal chairs, bed frames and other ironwork. There are many ivy cultivars available, in all shapes and sizes. The colors and leaf patterns of Hedera helix range from the simple to the bold; in endless shades of gold, cream and green. I have a great fondness for the subtly variegated ivies; leaves with beautiful mottling and shadowy color combinations. Grown from a small softwood cutting, my durable H. helix ‘Glacier’ thrives in the filtered light and cool temperatures of my Secret Garden Room. Feeding –with a low-nitrogen organic fertilizer– will begin in spring and continue every two weeks through late fall. Ivy prefers slightly dry soil year round, and in winter, I reduce watering even further to prevent rot. I like to prune longer stems –especially those with large gaps between leaves– taking them back to a node located amid lush growth. This bit of regular maintenance helps keep the plant looking full and healthy. My lovely English ivy is currently insect free, however aphids, mealy bugs and scale are common ivy-pests, and can be controlled with insecticidal soap, neem and horticultural oil. And although regular misting usually keeps them at bay in my Secret Garden Room, spider mites can sometimes become a problem for ivy –indoors or out. Clip off and destroy mite infested parts where possible, and/or treat the ivy with a horticultural oil/soap mix.

Ivy is easily trained along walls with hooks and wire or fishing line. Here, Hedera helix ‘Glacier’ creeps along the rough-hewn hemlock between the double French doors.

English ivy may be common, but she’s also a stunning and remarkably versatile houseplant. In this dimly-lit indoor garden, the variegated leaves of ivy capture filtered rays of sun and enliven plastered walls. In summer, this plant lives just outside the garden room door, and in late autumn –before the hard freeze– I move her back inside. Over time, my variegated ivy has become one with her pedestal; winding her tendrils ’round the back, legs and seat of an on old metal chair. Because the seat is constructed of light weight metal, I can easily move the entire vignette back an forth with the seasons.  Ivy is easy to propagate. When pieces break off, I simply stick them in a pot of moistened soil and begin a new plant for a friend.

Much as a well-worn pair of blue jeans or fine old leather bag with a perfectly-aged patina adds character to a basic wardrobe, a lush pot of English ivy lends classic style to a low-lit room. Looking at my lovely old ivy in the sunlight today, I’m reminded to never underestimate the beauty and power of simplicity…

I love to watch sun spots dancing around the Secret Garden Room –the low light illuminating Ivy’s wild tendrils– while I’m tending to plants or working at my desk.

Discover more extraordinary ivy cultivars and find information on ivy culture at the website of The American Ivy Society.

***

Article and Photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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I’ve Got Sunshine On A Cloudy Day… My First In-Print Gardening Article for Martha Stewart Living Magazine!

January 20th, 2011 § 9

Enjoying the Fruits of my Labor in Martha Stewart Living Magazine

Some moments are worth celebrating with friends! My first gardening article for Martha Stewart Living —“Sunshine in a Pot”— has just been published in both print and electronic format. Savor the sweet moment with me and pick up a copy of February’s Martha Stewart Living Magazine or download the iPad App— it’s a beautiful issue…

Martha Stewart Living Magazine – Subscription via Amazon

Johnny Miller’s gorgeous photographs set the sunny mood for my citrus-growing article; filled with all of the horticultural information, online resources and cultural tips you’ll need to get started with these rewarding plants. Martha Stewart Living iPad edition also contains wonderful citrus recipes; including Meyer lemon butter, lemon pine-nut tart and Meyer lemon coffee cake.

A Splash of Sunny Color and Lively, Citrus Flavor Brightens Grey Mid-Winter Days and Helps Chase Away the Blues…

Imagine waking up to the scent of citrus blossoms; their sweet, delicate fragrance perfuming the air. Picture yourself stepping through the door and into the next room; plucking a plump, juicy lemon, glowing orange or shimmering lime from the branches of your own tiny citrus tree…

Slice a bit of fresh lemon for your morning tea. Close your eyes and breathe deep. Instantly, the fragrance transports you: grey clouds and dingy snowbanks disappear as you are whisked away to a sunny Mediterranean terrace; sampling a zesty lemon granita as the vespas fly by…

Have an Apple iPad ?
If you do, click to download Martha Stewart Living Digital Magazine and Mobile Apps

The pulp: “Sunshine in a Pot” contains all of the sweet, cultural details you need to succeed with homegrown citrus. Also inside this issue of MSLiving: discover the southern charm of Camellias in a feature gardening article by Stacey Hirvella —with dreamy photographs by Ngoc Minh Ngo— along with the always delicious recipes, fantastic decor and fabulous crafting ideas you know and love.

The beautiful sea-green glazed mug in this post is by Virginia Wyoming

Special thank you to Stacey Hirvella and Miranda Van Gelder

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Article and Photos (excepting links from Martha Stewart Living) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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A Silver-Screen Terrarium Goddess: Platinum-Dusted, Red-Velvet-Robed Begonia ‘Royal Lustre’… Hello Gorgeous!

January 18th, 2011 § 3

Hello Silver-Screen, Terrarium Goddess: Begonia ‘Royal Lustre’

Even Her Backside is Perfect – Just Look at That Red…

Begonia ‘Royal Lustre’ Inside a Terrarium, Lined with Sheet Moss…

Substance is important in life. We all know that. But sometimes, every now and again, we just want to be swept off our feet. When I find myself craving a bit of old-fashioned glamour, I click on over to the classics, and drink in the shimmering, make-believe world of Hollywood in its heyday. Back in the 30s and 40s, leading ladies were like royalty, and they really dressed the part: high heels, silken gowns, opera-length gloves, powdered shoulders, ruby lips and platinum bouffants. A movie star was a movie star, and big celebrities knew they must never let their fans down. Style and elegance both on-screen and in everyday life were simply de rigueur.

During this time, legendary photographer George Hurrell rose to fame by showcasing Hollywood stars like jewels in a setting. He knew how to play with light and dark; putting beauty in the spotlight; creating gods and goddesses from mortal women and men. Stars like Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth and Jean Harlow owed much of their power and mystique to the likes of George Hurrell and his masterful touch…

Promotional photograph of Jean Harlow (1933) for the film “Bombshell”, by legendary Hollywood photographer George Hurrell.

When I run across a stunning, botanical beauty like Begonia ‘Royal Lustre’, I can’t help but think of George Hurrell. I ask myself, how can I showcase and bring out the best in this natural star? With her seductive, silvery-pink sheen, green accents and garnet hued under-pinnings, this drama queen demands a spot-light. Of course terrariums are the perfect place to showcase stunners like this one. Begonias thrive in the humid, shady microclimates created by terrariums. And ‘Royal Lustre’s diminutive size (her tiny leaves are less than two inches) makes her the ideal star for a tiny, glass stage. Although she does produce small white flowers, this gorgeous plant’s shimmering, multicolored foliage is the real headliner.

Naturally, dark and handsome companions are the perfect choice for this beauty. But  you can also really play up her pearly-pink coloring with vibrant moss and bright, emerald-green ferns. Do keep it simple –too much clutter will distract from her shining spotlight. And we all know that no self-respecting celebrity likes to be upstaged by her supporting cast. With ‘Royal Lustre’s natural radiance in mind, I chose a tall and elegant —but of course, understated— apothecary jar for this diva. And so far, my glamorous, glass-garden goddess seems to be settling in like she was born to the stage…

With her platinum good looks and mysterious allure, Begonia ‘Royal Lustre’ is the Jean Harlow-esque star of my latest terrarium drama…

A Jewel in the Spotlight – Jean Harlow Photograph (1933) by the Legendary George Hurrell

Begonia ‘Royal Lustre’ may be found online at Kartuz Greenhouses

Find more indoor garden and terrarium ideas on the Indoor Eden page. Or visit the retailers linked below – all are known for fine garden products and terrariums.

Article and Photographs (with noted exceptions) ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden.

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Ruby-Gold Cake & Silvery Snowflakes: Warm Cranberry-Apple Buckle, with Sweet Vanilla Crumb, Kisses the Dawn…

January 15th, 2011 § 8

Cranberry-Apple Buckle with Vanilla Crumb – Lace Plate by Virginia Wyoming

Why pine for springtime when winter mornings arrive with sparkling frost and sunlight pouring across the hillside like sweet honey? I savor the slow, quiet days of winter, and I’m in no rush for spring. For now I’ll linger in my cozy chair, indulging in garden fantasies, verdant catalogues, leisurely breakfasts and steamy cups of tea. Instant gratification has its place, but waiting can be exquisite pleasure. In fact, I truly believe that anticipation is one of life’s greatest delights.

In the fall of 2009, I visited Vermont artist Virginia Wyoming‘s pottery studio for a feature article here on The Gardener’s Eden. The moment I stepped inside the artist’s work shop, I was immediately smitten by her lace-patterned plates. They were sitting out on her work table, some still in progress. I loved everything about them: the color, the texture, the hand-formed shape. I wanted one desperately, but I made myself wait. I felt I needed to earn such a lovely reward. Of course, I thought about the lace plates quite a bit; stalking them online in her Etsy shop for an entire year. And then, just before the holidays, I returned to Virginia’s studio to collect a few treasures. Anticipation… Thank goodness, the lace plate was still there…

Impossible Geometry: Crystalline Lace on Barn Boards

Morning Light Silhouettes a Mountain Silverbell on the Studio Wall

The Tree Line Glimmers and Shimmers with Silvery Hoar Frost

Even From a Distance, Each Tiny, Frost-Coated Branch Stands Out Against the Hillside’s Blue Shadow

Morning Star Dust: Rustic Charm meets Sugar-Coated Glamour

Today —with the garden and surrounding forest covered in tiny, frozen ice crystals— I remembered that frost is what first came to mind when I saw Virginia’s lace plates. With their striking textural contrast —rough-hewn shape and delicate lace pattern— and wintery color, they recall the work of my elusive friend, Jack Frost. Delighted by the cool ice crystals and the warm morning light, and the similarity in Virginia’s plate, I decided to play with the theme in my kitchen.

Rustic Fruit Desserts by Vermont-native Julie Richardson, and co-author Cory Schreiber, is one of my favorite, recent cookbook acquisitions. Given my weakness for all things tart —as well as everything apple, pear and berry— I simply had to add this delicious collection of recipes to my kitchen library. The buckle I made today is actually a combination of two recipes from Rustic Fruit Desserts. In winter, I keep local apples in cold storage in my cellar, and cranberries in my freezer. I thought the two would combine well to make a nice breakfast buckle. Indeed. You really shouldn’t take my word though, you must taste for yourself. Mmmm. Anticipation…

Cranberry-Apple Buckle with Sweet Vanilla Crumb

From combined treasures found between the pages of Rustic Fruit Desserts

Ingredients:Cranberry-Apple Buckle:

1               Tablespoon unsalted butter at room temp

1 3/4        Cups all-purpose flour

2               Teaspoons baking powder

1/2            Teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2            Cup unsalted butter

3/4            Cup granulated sugar

Zest          Of one orange

2               Eggs at room temperature

1               Tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/2            Cup sour cream

2               Cups cranberries (fresh or frozen)

1               Cup apples (cored, peeled and diced)

Vanilla Crumb Topping

1/2            Cup all-purpose flour

1/4            Cup brown sugar

1/4            Cup granulated sugar

1/8            Teaspoon fine salt

1/4            Cup cold, unsalted butter (cut into cubes)

1 1/2         Teaspoons of pure vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit. Butter a 9″, square baking dish and set aside.

To make the vanilla crumb topping: combine the butter, flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor or stand mixer: Pulse or mix on low speed until coarse crumbs form. Slowly add the vanilla and and mix briefly. Cover and set aside in the fridge.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer w/paddle (or use a hand mixer) cream the butter and sugar together with the orange zest on med-high speed until creamy and light (5 minutes). Slowly add each egg, one at a time –be sure to mix the sides in well– and then add the vanilla. Pour in about half the sour cream, then half the flour mixture. When blended, add the other half of the sour cream, and finally add the remaining flour. Mix well, making sure to stop and pull in all ingredients from the side of the bowl. Stop the mixer and stir in one cup of cranberries and one cup of apples.

Spread the mixture into the buttered baking dish. Pour the remaining cup of cranberries over the top of the buckle in one even layer. Remove the vanilla crumb topping from the fridge and sprinkle it evenly over the top of the cranberries.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a wooden stick pulls out clean when inserted in the center of the buckle.

Cool for a few minutes and serve.

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Virginia Wyoming’s Pottery may be viewed and purchased online at her Etsy shop by Clicking Here

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

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

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A Tough Broad for all Seasons: This Sulfur-Tipped, Ice-Blue Chameleon Really Knows How to Wear the Pants…

January 14th, 2011 § 7

Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ atop the Secret Garden Steps in January

It’s easy to get gardeners excited when I talk about big stars like hydrangea, azalea and viburnum. And most everyone swoons over those voluptuous and intoxicating bombshells: the roses, French lilacs and tree peonies. But junipers? Why they’re a lonely and oft-neglected group of garden workhorses who’s only claim to fame seems to be gin. It’s sad really, because once you get to know them, they’re such a great bunch of broads to hang around with in the garden…

Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ atop the Secret Garden Steps the Morning After a January Snow Storm

Take single-seed juniper ‘Holger’ for example. What a stunner. Like all great broads, she’s tough as nails, a bit cool-looking and often prickly when you try to push her around. You’d best put your gloves on if you want to mess with her. But she has a soft side of course, and in this case it comes in a gorgeous shade of mellow, sulpur-yellow; which she shows off against her icy needles in the springtime sun…

Sulphur-Tipped New Growth Glows Atop Ice-Blue Needles – Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ and a Carpet of Thymus

All the year round, Holger juniper offers stunning blue-green color; a gorgeous, cool and soothing contrast to almost anything planted nearby. A medium-sized, moderately spreading conifer (3-5′ high and wide), Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ is easy to care for and drought resistant once established. All this tough shrub (USDA zones 4-8) requires is full sun, well drained soil, and good air circulation. Useful as a ground cover, wind break, slope stabilizer and outdoor room divider, the design possibilities of Holger juniper are limited only by a gardener’s imagination. Looking for a way to enhance blue or violet hued flowers in springtime? The sulphur-yellow tips of this conifer are the perfect contrast. Want to show-off bold autumn colors in the landscape? Plant Holger juniper near deciduous shrubs and the icy-blue needles will bring out the electric orange and red of fall. Need a reliable, deer-resistant screen for a less-than-attractive air conditioning unit or other household utility? This year-round beauty could be the answer…

Holger juniper not only stabilizes this slope, but it also gives structure and soft definition to the lines of this hillside planting surrounding the Secret Garden Steps

The Ice-Blue Tips of Holger Juniper Stand Out in the Landscape, and Contrast with Other Warm-Toned Plantings Throughout the Seasons

In Autumn, Holger Juniper’s Blue-Green Needles are a Gorgeous Contrast to Red, Gold and Rust (Here with Hydrangea quercifolia and Solidago)

Sunny, cloudy, rainy or dry; Holger juniper looks clean, fresh and pulled together. Like all members of the juniper clan, Holger can be occasionally troubled by insects or disease —spider mites, scale or aphids, or perhaps cedar-apple rust, twig blight or wood rot— but such problems can usually be avoided when her humble requirements (listed above) are met. She’s got great style and requires only the occasional bit of pruning from artfully handled secateurs to maintain her shape here at the edge of the path. A great conifer like Holger juniper helps to give a garden year-round structure. Consider a grouping of juniper as an evergreen wall or low, living fence; a way to define the garden in addition to hard-scaping…

And later, during the quiet season, when most other garden plants have shed their leaves and withered to the ground, juniper carries on the show; shrugging off the ice, the snow and the cold. I have many juniper species and cultivars in my garden, but for season-spanning beauty, ‘Holger’ truly tops the list. She’s tall enough to rise above a drifting white blanket in winter, and interesting enough to hold her own beside the most vibrant of garden companions. Never underestimate the tough broads –they’ll never let you down…

Holger Juniper Holds Her Own, Draped in a New White Cloak on a Cold Winter’s Night

Holger Juniper Atop the Stairs with a Light Dusting of Snow in December

And Like Most of Her Cousins, This Tough Lady Can Carry a Heavy Load

A True-Blue Beauty Throughout the Seasons – Juniperus Squamata ‘Holger’

Come to think of it… If she were human, I think Holger juniper would be Katherine Hepburn. She’s a tough, bristly beauty and she really knows how to wear the pants. Photograph Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time & Life Pictures via Lifetsyle.MSN.com

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

All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

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Golden Light & Glistening Gardens on a Frosty Winter’s Morn…

January 12th, 2011 § 2

Sunrise on the Frosty Tufts of Miscanthus sinensis

As a winter snow storm swirls about outside, my thoughts drift back to yesterday’s frosty morning, and the glistening, pink-gold sunrise. If today she reveals her wild fury, I am reminded that this tempestuous season more often shows us her beauty…

Morning Light on Humulus lupulus (Golden Hops Vine) with Frost Crystals

Silhouetted Branches of Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ at Sunrise

Frost Crystals on Rudbeckia hirta, Gleam and Glisten in the Golden Sunlight

Gilded Korean Dogwood Branches (Cornus kousa) and Luminous Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ at the South-Eastern Edge of My Winter Garden

Silver-Tipped Twigs Strung Along a Chilly Cable-Rail (Humulus lupulus)

These Star-Dusted, Feathery Plumes Seem Fit for the Most Glamorous of Shoulders (Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens)

The Beautiful, Crystal-Flecked Tea Viburnum Berries Remind Me of Shoulder-Grazing, Ruby Chandeliers

In this Moment, Could January be Upstaged by June?

Perfect Prisms – The Delightful Geometry of Frost Crystals in Pink-Gold Sunlight

At the Edge of the Garden, Saplings Form a Crystal Curtain

The Frosty Red-Twigs of this Japanese Maple Glow Brightly Against the Native Hemlock Forest

The Stillness of a Frosty Morning and a Perfect Winter Sunrise

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The Delights of a Cozy Winter Kitchen: Warm Oven, Fragrant Herbs & Freshly Baked Focaccia with Onion & Rosemary

January 11th, 2011 § 1

Freshly Baked Slices of Focaccia with Rosemary and Onion

Rosemary Blossoming in my Kitchen

There’s just something about cold, wintry weather that makes a girl want to bake… Know what I mean? Yes it’s nippy outside, but here in the house, things sure are warm and cozy. The wood stove is popping and cracking and the kitchen oven is hot, hot, hot! When I know that I’m going to have a busy day, I try to get up extra early in order to prepare something ahead of time for lunch and dinner. And just yesterday, while flipping through my new copy of Jerry Traunfeld’s The Herbal Kitchen over morning coffee, I was inspired to harvest some rosemary from my indoor herb garden for fresh-baked focaccia…

Sunlight, Shining Like Crazy in My Kitchen

In addition to this herbal cookbook, I received two wonderful kitchen gifts for Christmas this year. I love to listen to music while I’m cooking, but my audio system was really old and cranky, and the speakers wired in the kitchen had become so scratchy that I rarely turned them on. Well, lucky me! This year, one of my gifts was a Bose SoundDock system –and it’s amazing. Now I can listen to music again in my kitchen –every single day!

My other favorite gift is ‘Rosie’. See that gorgeous, red, KitchenAid stand mixer in the photo below? Mmm hmm. That’s Rosie, and she’s all mine. I am so excited! See, I’ve never owned a stand mixer before (yes, I know, I can hear the foodies gasping audibly). Well, there’s an explanation of course. Although I love to cook, until recently I haven’t been much of a baker. But two years ago, I was bitten by the bread-baking bug when I discovered Jim Lahey’s no-knead method, (see the post about it, and recipe here). And since then —particularly while experimenting with Rose Levy Beranbaum’s bread, pie and cake recipes— I’ve been having much more fun with my oven.

Meet Rosie: My Christmas Present & New Kitchen Playmate

Of course I’ve always used fresh herbs in my cooking, so it only seemed natural to involve them in bread baking. During the winter months, I grow herbs indoors both on the kitchen windowsill and in larger pots beside the glass French doors. Many of my potted, culinary herbs are located right outside on the kitchen terrace during summer, so they make just a tiny hop inside before the hard freeze in October. In addition to rosemary, I overwinter sage, thyme, mint and chives in my kitchen. I also start fresh pots of basil, parsley, cilantro and other herbs on my windowsills. During the dark, cold months, I reduce watering and hold off on fertilizing my overwintering herbs until late March or early April. Then —when outdoor temperatures begin to stabilize in May— I slowly acclimate my herbs to the great outdoors by setting them out on the terrace during the daytime and bringing them back in —and/or covering them up— at night.

Rosemary has a reputation for being a fussy houseplant, but I’ve never had much trouble with it. I think the key is to give it a bright, sunny location with plenty of air circulation, and to keep the well-drained potting soil on the drier side of moist. I have three rosemary plants indoors: one on the kitchen counter, and one on either side of the French doors. I remember being told —quite a long time ago, because I can’t remember the source of my information— that rosemary plants dislike drafts. But based on my own experience, I have to disagree. My kitchen doors are constantly being opened and closed to bring in firewood, and the rosemary plants on either side of the door look fantastic. In fact, they seem much happier than the rosemary on the counter (I need to repot that plant later this month) and are currently blooming their heads off.

Rosemary Blooming by the Door

Two Great Books for Herb-Gardening Cooks: The Herbal Kitchen & The Herb Society of America’s Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking With Herbs

Cippolini Onion Braid

Freshly harvested herbs are wonderful in breads; particularly focaccia. To create the quick bread featured in The Herbal Kitchen cookbook, I used rosemary and some of my braided cippolini onions (see my post on braiding onions here). If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can also make this bread in a food processor or even by hand. The stand mixer just makes it fast and easy. As far as the recipe goes, other than a last minute addition of parmesan cheese, I pretty much stuck to what was printed. But of course with focaccia you can add many different kinds of herbs, olives, tomatoes, etc. I did alter the method slightly, as I prefer Rose Beranbaum’s fold-over technique for herbed focaccia. When the herbs and cheese are placed just under a thin flap of dough —as opposed to spread over the top of the loaf— they remain moist and un-scorched, while the top of the bread turns golden brown. Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible is a fantastic resource for home bakers, as is her website/blog linked here. And on a cold winter day, a warm, herb-filled bread is just delicious…

Rosemary & Onion Focaccia

Rosemary & Onion Focaccia

Ingredients:

1 1/2          Teaspoons dry yeast

1 1/2          Cups warm water

1                 Teaspoon fine salt

6                 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 1/2           Cups all-purpose flour

1                  Large onion sliced (or 2-3 med. cippolini onions)

3                  Tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary

1/4               Cup freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese (optional)

3/4              Teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Attach the dough hook to a stand mixer. Add the warm water to the mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Wait a couple of minutes and stir to dissolve. Stir in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of fine salt. Turn the machine on low and slowly add the flour through the mixing chute. Mix on low speed for a couple of minutes, and then knead on medium speed for 5 minutes. The dough will look sticky. Stop the machine and remove the bowl from the mixer. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm location to rise for at least one hour (more is good —Rose recommends a 3 or 4 hour initial rise—but fast sometimes must do, and in this case I think  well).

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a skillet and cook the onions on medium heat for about 3 minutes. They will be slightly under-cooked. Add the rosemary and cook one minute longer. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

When you are ready to prepare the focaccia, preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit. The oven should heat up for at least an hour. On a lightly floured surface turn out the dough and sprinkle lightly with a bit more flour. Roughly shape the dough into a rectangle. There are two ways to assemble:

1.Herbs on top method: At this point you can coat the top with olive oil, press and poke to form indentations and sprinkle with the onions, herbs and cheese. With this fast method, you simply cover and let the focaccia rise for at least one hour before baking. If you do this, skip ahead to the last step, or try the fold-over, flap-top method…

In the fold-over method, the herbs, onions and cheese are covered up, just beneath a thin flap of dough.

2. Fold-over method: With a rolling pin, roll one long edge of the rectangle outward to form a thin piece of dough, equal in width to the rectangle loaf. This will be an over-flap for the herbs. Now spread the herbs, onions and cheese on top of the thick rectangle, and cover with the thin flap; as if you are closing a book. Roll the top of the loaf with a rolling pin until the bits of herbs are visible beneath the dough. Press at the top of the loaf with your finger tip to form indentations. Some of the herbs may press through, and some will be just visible beneath the surface. Brush off any wayward herbs and cover the loaf with a towel and let it rise for at least 1 hour (or more).

Last step: When your focaccia is ready to bake: Transfer the loaf to a parchment paper lined pizza peel (or lined cookie sheet) and brush or drizzle the top lightly with oil. Sprinkle the surface with kosher salt and slide the bread into the oven. I use a pizza stone when I make bread in my oven. Bake for approximately 30 – 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the bread to cool before slicing and serving.

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Article and Photographs are ⓒ 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.

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A Little Romance on a Winter’s Night…

January 8th, 2011 § 5

Though the holidays have come and gone, snow-dusted landscapes continue to enchant. Twinkling, candlelit stairs, luminous paths and glowing, snow-capped tabletops greet the frosty evening. Meanwhile inside, a toasty fire crackles, and the scent of red wine & mulling spices warms the air.

A Little Romance on a Winter’s Night…

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Beautiful Gardens Beneath Glass: Terrarium Care and Maintenance…

January 7th, 2011 § 7

The Allure of Moisture – Mist and Water Droplets Inside a Garden Beneath Glass. Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’ and Begonia ‘Trade Winds’ with Sphagnum moss and Ceramic Ornament in an Apothecary Jar.

We are expecting a bit of snow this afternoon in Vermont. Nothing major is predicted by way of accumulation, but there will likely be a blanket of white covering the ground tomorrow morning. I love snow, but there’s a long, cold season ahead of us, and I know that soon I will begin pining for the smell of moist, fresh earth. Already my skin and hair are crying out for lotions and potions. Of course, I’m not the only one craving moisture. Many of my houseplants prefer humid conditions, and in a dry house heated with a wood-burning stove, it’s difficult to meet their requirements.

I count Orchids (like this gorgeous Paphiopedilum hybrid) among my most favorite plants!

One of my favorite winter activities is terrarium making. I love to create and maintain beautiful gardens beneath glass. Many plants love the humid micro-climate provided by an enclosed terrarium, including some of my favorites: begonias, ferns, ivy, moss, orchids, and violets. And because they are relatively easy to care for, I often give terrariums as gifts. Over all, a simple Wardian case or glass jar terrarium is the perfect indoor container garden for someone new to horticulture. Of course most living things have needs, and a bit of care is required in order to keep all plants, including those enclosed inside a terrarium, healthy and beautiful. However, if you carefully construct your garden-beneath-glass —click here for a tutorial— you can avoid many of the more common pitfalls (stagnation, rot, fungal/bacterial infections and/or insect infestations).

Peperomia make excellent terrarium plants. This Peperomia griseo-argentea (Ivy Peperomia) would provides a lovely color-contrast amongst darker leaved species, in a larger-sized terrarium. It can be found and purchased at Glasshouse Works online here.

Choose your plants carefully. Be sure to consider the mature size of each species and cultivar you place in your terrarium; especially if you are working within a small apothecary jar or glass cloche. Look up plants online, or consult a knowledgable greenhouse grower to be sure you have the correct information about your plants’ requirements and mature size. Always purchase terrarium plants from a reputable grower. If you aren’t certain of your plants’ history, it’s best to quarantine new specimens and monitor them for pests and disease before introducing them to a terrarium.

Visiting greenhouses —like the Lyman Conservatory at Smith College, a tiny section of which is pictured here— is a great way to learn more about horticulture. It’s also a fantastic place to get ideas and information about growing plants beneath glass!

If the soil in your terrarium is properly watered at the time of planting, and specimens are housed in a fully enclosed container —such as a Wardian case or apothecary jar—  then your terrarium may not need additional moisture for months. But if your terrarium is partially open, you will need to monitor the soil’s moisture level more carefully. Gardens surrounded by glass should be checked regularly to insure that the soil remains moist, but never soggy. The riskiest season for terrariums tends to be summer, when it tends to be hotter and brighter indoors.

Some plants prefer low-light rooms. For more information about this open-terrarium, click here.

The best location for most terrariums is a warm, indoor spot with indirect light. If you choose to fill your terrarium with plants that require bright light, then your terrarium may be situated closer to windows. But keep in mind that containers located in bright, sunny spots or near heat-sources should be checked regularly for proper moisture. Most enclosed-terrarium plants prefer low-light conditions. Cases and jars containing ferns, moss, and other forest-floor plants can be located in dimly lit rooms (see an example of a low-light terrarium here). If the container receives uneven light, occasionally rotate your terrarium in order to prevent lopsided growth.

Think of your terrarium as a tiny conservatory, and tend to its maintenance with as much love as you would any other garden in your care.

Although fertilizing most terrarium plants is unnecessary, it’s important that you groom and maintain your plants as you would in any other garden. Keep things tidy inside and out by cleaning the glass and picking out debris. Remove spent flowers and yellow, withered leaves with scissors or tweezers, and prune plants when necessary to maintain attractive shape. If one or more of the plants becomes too large for a small terrarium, remove it and place it in a larger case or container. And if a plant should begin to fail, or die, extract it immediately to avoid the spread of disease. Not sure of how to identify insects or what to look for in terms of disease? The books I mentioned in my previous post (below) can help with the general care of houseplants the very-useful, What’s Wrong With My Plant? will provide even more help with troubleshooting horticultural problems indoors and out.

Theoretically, enclosing a garden should eliminate most horticultural pests and diseases. But this is only true if the plants are pest and disease free upon entry! If you follow the yellow arrow in the photo above, you will note a stow-away I discovered on this Begonia. See the tiny white dot? Hard to notice, isn’t it? That is a mealy bug! (you can click to enlarge the photo, and look at the image below for more detail)

Of course, even the most cautious gardener occasionally runs into terrarium troubles. Sometimes, tiny insect eggs, microscopic bacteria and mold spores will escape detection and —unless you monitor the plants on a regular basis— develop into serious problems. At the first sign of trouble, attack insects and diseases by either treating or carefully removing the infected specimen. If your terrarium is large enough, insecticidal soap, horticultural oils and other treatments may be applied directly to the plants contained within, but in most cases, the safest and best course of action is to remove the plant.

Here’s a closer look at the mealy bug on my Begonia. So long, pal. It’s time to say goodbye with a good hit of insecticidal soap! I’ll be back to treat your kin to another soapy bath later!

I will be writing more about terrariums and indoor container gardening —including design, planting and care— over the coming weeks. For more ideas, posts, resources, links and information, visit the Indoor Eden page. In addition, Tovah Martin’s The New Terrarium is both an inspirational and useful resource for terrarium design, construction and maintenance. I own and highly recommend this beautifully photographed, well-written book.

Ferns and Moss in a Wardian Case at Smith College Lyman Conservatory’s Fern House

Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’ and Begonia ‘Trade Winds’ with Sphagnum moss and Ceramic Ornament in an Apothecary Jar.

Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’ and Begonia ‘Trade Winds’ with Sphagnum moss and Ceramic Ornament in an Apothecary Jar

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Terrain is a great online source for terrarium supplies and beautiful, artistic containers.Click here or their image above to visit their website.

Find more indoor garden and terrarium ideas on the Indoor Eden page. Or visit the retailers linked below – all are known for fine garden products and terrariums.

Article and Photographs (with noted exception) ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden.

All content on this site (with noted exceptions) is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and may not be reproduced without written consent. Thank you!

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Indoor Eden: Trouble in Paradise… Aphids & Scale Attack the Studio Oasis!

January 5th, 2011 § 10

Pots in the Studio – Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’ (About to Bloom) Shares Space with Other Succulents (Mustard pot: Crassula ovata ‘Minimus’, Senecio macroglossus ‘Variegata’. Green pot: Kalanchoe mangini and Crassula ovata)

By now, it should be fairly obvious that I take as much pleasure in my garden during the winter months as I do during the warmer seasons. However on the grey and stormy days, when the temperature drops and the wind kicks up, there is much to be said for houseplants in January! I spend a great many hours in my painting studio at this time of year, and with its cathedral ceiling and bright, indirect light, it makes a perfect winter home for larger pots and taller plants. However this one room is hardly the limit of my indoor gardening. In fact, my entire house becomes something of a winter oasis after the hard frost in mid-October, with plants distributed throughout the studio, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, entry hall and secret garden room. In short, there are green, and multicolored things growing almost everywhere you look! And I love to admire the lush leaves and colorful blossoms against a snowy backdrop…

I Love the Contrast of Rich Green Houseplants Against a Wintery Back-Drop (That Red in the Snowy Background is Cornus alba ‘Siberica’ Beyond the Studio Door) Here, Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’ is About to Bloom, and Looks Particularly Luscious… Especially to Aphids!

Right now, my collection of Kalanchoe is about to blossom, and the various cultivars all look delightful -particularly to the aphids attacking them! It seems that sometime over the holidays —while I was too busy to notice the early signs— these nasty little freeloaders hatched and multiplied on one of my beautiful plants! Well, I caught them -and not a moment too soon. I pulled out my neem/soap mix (an OMRI approved insecticidal soap), and set to work spraying all of the foliage on this particular plant —and those sharing the space nearby— until it was thoroughly wet.  Take that you sap suckers! Experienced gardeners usually know what to look for when it comes to aphids, but just in case you are unfamiliar with them, here’s a photo to help you identify the problem…

Aphids on Kalanchoe (After Spraying with Neem) You Can Click the Photo to Enlarge & Get a Better View of Them !

Of course, this unpleasant invasion lead me to investigate my other houseplants. And lo-and-behold, there on the fine foliage of my agave: scale! Ugh! Spritz, spritz, spritz; on again with the neem insecticide. I really dislike scale, and find it difficult to eradicate. If the neem/soap mix doesn’t do it, I will upgrade to horticultural oil. Although one of scale’s natural predators, the ladybug, is active in the warmer parts of my house, this overwintering insect seems to avoid the cool studio. I always carefully check for ladybug larvae (click here for photo) before spraying, because even organic insecticides can kill beneficials like ladybird beetles as well as —outdoors during the growing season— bees, other pollinators and helpful bugs. I will have to keep close watch on this scale situation and repeat application of neem or horticultural oil weekly. Scale can become a real problem indoors unless the gardener is vigilant.

Scale on Agave geminifolia (after spraying with neem) This image may also be clicked to enlarge.

Many of my houseplants move outdoors during the summer months, but some —like the giant Ficus pictured below— are permanent indoor residents. These larger plants require regular maintenance to look their best; including pruning, which is done from a ladder in some cases. It looks like I accidentally damaged a branch while turning this tree last month, so I’ll need to get up there and make a clean cut; removing the unsightly dead foliage…

This Giant, Door-Framing Ficus Gives My Studio a True Conservatory Feel. But it Looks Like I Need to Tend to a Few Branches with My Pruners… Time to Pull out the Ladder!

After my rounds today —feeling the soil for moisture and checking all leaves and stems for pests and disease— I felt that most things were looking pretty healthy. I try to keep my houseplants on the dry-side during the winter months, but it’s important to strike a good balance between sahara and monsoon. The plants living in my studio —mostly succulents and many trees which are not particularly fond of humidity during the winter months— don’t seem to mind the dry, cool air. I keep most of the humid-air-loving tropicals —such as orchids, citrus and the mini-greenhouses: terrariums— upstairs in my bedroom, where I run a humidifier both for myself and my houseplants. I also segregate plants known and listed by the Humane Society as potential threats to my cat and dog (click here for article and links). The studio is closed up unless I am in there (where I can monitor munching), as is the Secret Garden Room.

My Feathery Sago Palm (Cycus revoluta)  —Making a Winter Home in the Painting Studio— Is Looking Healthy and Happy

Although It is the Most Commonly Grown Houseplant, Few Ficus benjamina Manage to Reach This Monstrous Height Before Getting the Old Heave-Ho. I Inherited This Specimen a Year Ago, After It Had Outgrown Its Former Home. The Weeping Fig Arrived by Trailer, and Is Now About 15′ High. The Studio is a Bit Cool for This Plant, But it Seems to Like the Bright, Indirect Light.

This Indoor-Outdoor Pot Contains Plants Recycled from a Smaller Container They Outgrew (Clockwise from top: Kalanhoe pumila, Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’, and Echeveria cvs)

I May Not Have My Conservatory Yet, But I Can Still Fake It By Creating an Eden Indoors (Cycus revoluta in foreground)

Someday, I hope to have a tiny conservatory all my own. But until then, I can enjoy most tender plants inside my home by finding the right micro-climate to suit their optimal growing conditions and by carefully catering to their needs and desires. For help with houseplants of all kinds, I highly recommend Barbara Pleasant’s The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual. I am a fan of this author in general —I adore her book Garden Stone, which I’ve mentioned here several times— and I think this book is particularly useful for indoor gardening. Pleasant thoroughly covers the essentials of growing over 150 common houseplants and —unlike some of the other books on my shelves— it is both well photographed and well written; with carefully organized, richly detailed horticultural information. Dorte Nissen’s The Indoor Plant Bible is another great resource, and with its compact size, tough cover and ringed-binder format, I find that it stays out near the houseplants where it is frequently used for quick reference. Both books are set up encyclopedia/dictionary style; with all plants arranged alphabetically by latin name. Barbara Pleasant’s book is also broken down by plant group (succulents/cacti, flowering/foliage plants). If you are new to houseplants, these two titles would be my top-shelf recommendations for indoor garden reference.

The Indoor Plant Bible and/or The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual are always on hand

It’s quite windy here today —and cold— so I won’t be spending much time outdoors. In meantime, I have my little Indoor Eden to content me and keep my color-loving eyes satisfied. My exotic houseplants bring a little bit of tropical warmth to my wintery world, and help me to more fully appreciate the stark and crystalline beauty of the landscape just outside the glass doors…

A Dusting of Sparkle-Dust on the Stone Terrace Greeting Me This Morning

And Flurries Swirled About In the Outdoor Dining Room

Reminding Me That, Of Course, Winter is Still a Beautiful Season

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Art Inspired by Nature: The Work of Vermont Artist Dan Snow…

January 3rd, 2011 § 3

Archer’s Pavilion

As an enthusiastic fan of stone sculpture, environmental art and three-dimensional landscape features, I have been long planning an article about Vermont artist Dan Snow and his work. But finding the time to actually visit and photograph the artist’s creations, and coordinate two seasonal workers during the busy summer months, seemed all but impossible. Dan Snow keeps a busy schedule. In addition to creating master works of art for both private clients and public collections, Dan has authored two of his own books —In the Company of Stone and Listening to Stone with photographs by Peter Mauss— and has contributed to several others. He also regularly writes beautiful essays for his blog, In the Company of Stone. In addition to these artistic pursuits, as a DSWA*of Great Britain- certified Mastercraftsman and DSWA*-certified instructor, Dan Snow leads workshops, talks and presentations —both here in North America and abroad— passing along his drystone walling and artistic knowledge to eager students the world over.

Fortunately, Dan is as generous with his time and talents as he is a gifted and sought-after artist and teacher. I caught up with the artist recently —on a blisteringly-cold December afternoon a couple of weeks back— and asked about visiting a few of his works for a blog-feature. Much to my surprise, Dan offered me the very enviable opportunity to take a local, personally guided tour of his work. Visiting these amazing works of art —and having the opportunity to skip, hop, crawl, walk in, on and around them with their creator— was more fun than I can possibly describe. In addition to his many talents, Dan Snow is also just-plain-good company, and his playful, unassuming nature —so evident in all of his work— made the afternoon both a delightful and educational experience.

The Beautifully Framed View from Within ‘Archer’s Pavilion’

My tour began and ended with stone work created by Dan Snow over a twenty-five-year time span, for three different collectors. Although Dan has built numerous freestanding stone walls, retaining walls, and other practical landscape features (many documented here on this blog) our tour focused on his stone sculpture and land art. Many of the artist’s stone constructions invite physical participation, and ‘Archer’s Pavilion’ (pictured at the top of the page and just above) is a perfect example of this. Although located on private property, this piece sits near the edge of the road, and is well-known and much-loved by locals; particularly children. In his book Listening to Stone, Dan notes that some of his young fans refer to this sculpture as “The Tooth Fairy’s House” when they pass it on their way to and from school. I’m certain that these daily views of ‘Archer’s Pavilion’ inspire a great deal of day dreaming throughout the school day. This fantastical creation is one of my favorites as well. While seated inside the tiny stone tent, reflecting upon the beautifully framed landscape beyond, it occurred to me how —much like other master works of art— the piece seems both impossibly complex and maddeningly effortless. Despite the weight of the stone and the hours of intense physical labor involved in their construction, Dan’s creations always appear as if magically dreamed into existence. It’s a wonderful, and completely mind-boggling paradox.

Stone Sphere. A hollow-centered orb sitting at the far edge of a wind-swept field.

Star Shrine. Inspired by Japanese ‘Hoshi Jinja’, created to house and worship fallen meteors, this is also one of my favorite pieces.

Pyramid. The bright red-orange color of bittersweet berries adds a bit of natural poetry to this study in contrasts. Here, Dan has used round field stone to create a remarkable work of geometry; all straight planes and angles.

Because he works in stone, and his pieces are anchored to the land, the connection to nature is inseparable from Dan Snow’s work. But many other elements and influences are also at play, as evidenced by the diverse works pictured here. Stories about the inspiration and creation of the individual pieces, collected in Dan’s books, are as fascinating as the stonework itself.  “Star Shrine” (above) and “The Keep” (below) were both created in response to works of land art in other cultures. As Dan and I walked to the far end of a stark and barren field —the perfect gallery for his work— a large grouping of boulders called out. I remembered hearing about this piece long ago, and I had the vague recollection that there was some connection to historic tombs.

As it turns out, Dan’s collectors had been traveling in Ireland when they encountered what he describes as a ‘megalithic tomb’. Upon their return, they asked Dan if he would construct a similar structure for them on their property. Portal tombs, or stone burial chambers, exist throughout the world and are known by a variety of common names; including dolmens, stazzone, hunebed, cromlech, dysse and others. These structures share some common characteristics, such as upright stone ‘orthostats’ and large, cap-stone roofs. There are no human remains located in ‘The Keep’, though it is a fantastic and haunting work of art, as well as a fabulous playground for the living.

Entrance – The Keep

The Keep

Inside ‘The Keep’, Looking Out at Woodland’s Edge

Although Dan is often commissioned to create functional objects —benches, fire pits and bridges among them— the utilitarian purpose of these projects is merely a launch point for this artist’s imaginative interpretation of the structure. A bench is simply a place to sit, but a work of art designed for seating is an entirely different thing. The gravity-defying beauty of Dan’s arched, stone foot-bridge, and the fascinating, flame-mimicking points of his fire sculpture, make it clear that in the hands of a master, art need never play second fiddle to craft.

Stone Seating Area

Fire Sculpture

Arched Footbridge

Not only do Dan’s stone creations blur the culturally designated line between art and craft, but many of his environmental art pieces also challenge conventional, Western ideas about what it means to have a garden. Located on the same Brookside property as the ‘Arched Footbridge’ and ‘Star Shrine’, a beautiful and meticulously maintained dry garden sits at woodland’s edge. Most European and American gardeners and landscape designers have fixed ideas about what defines a garden. For many such traditionalists, horticulture must be the primary focus in an outdoor space in order to meet the definition of ‘garden’. And although xeriscaping and rock gardens have become more commonplace over the past twenty years —mostly in response to ecological factors like water conservation and the rise of minimalist aesthetics— dry gardens are still relatively scarce in North America.

Of course in the larger world, ideas about gardening are as varied as the cultures in which this activity takes place. Japanese gardeners mastered the art the dry garden long ago, and in the traditional Zen garden —where the stone itself becomes a distilled, symbolic landscape— these three-dimensional, highly disciplined works of art become the focus, not the backdrop, of the garden. In Listening to Stone, Dan describes how he came to accept a commission for an Asian-inspired dry garden in Vermont, and an inspirational encounter with his Japanese friend and former student, Taheshi Hammana. This is one of my favorite essays in the collection; perfectly describing the yin-yang relationship between student and teacher, and how in the best of circumstances, the learning flows both ways. Like many of Snow’s stories, this one reveals an essential part of the multilayered process art making, and how individual experiences develop and shape that process, and the artist himself.

Dry Garden Detail – In a traditional Zen garden, each object within the composition represents a corresponding object in nature.

Dan Snow’s Modern American Dry Garden, Inspired by Japanese Tradition

Dry Garden Detail. Vertically set stones represent the edge of the raked stone ‘water’.

As daylight began to fade, Dan and I made our way to the last stop on our short tour. Located on this private property are two large, physically engaging works. Dan’s ‘Walking Wall’, which spans the length of the field and is comprised of both restoration and new stone work, and ‘Rock Shelter’ were created to draw the landowner out for a stroll. The story of how these two related pieces came to be, and their connection to the history of the place, adds to the poetic beauty of both works. Does the collector stroll upon the ‘Walking Wall’, and pause for a rest beneath the roof of ‘Rock Shelter’? Based upon my experience there, scrambling atop the stone lean-to roof with Dan and skipping along the trio of bridges at the start of the long wall, I imagine the owner must regularly visit and delight in his private playground…

Walking Wall

Walking Wall

Rock Shelter at Twilight

Rock Shelter – Front Side View

Rock Shelter – Backside View

Dan Snow atop his ‘Rock Shelter’ piece in Vermont – December, 2010

This amazing collection of stone work offers only the tiniest of peeks into the world and work of Dan Snow. But if this short, virtual tour has sparked your interest and imagination, you may be interested in viewing ‘Stone Rising’, a beautifully filmed documentary of Dan’s work and process, available for purchase through Fuzzy Slippers Productions (online here). Dan’s schedule of workshops and lectures can be found on his blog (here), and his books, “In the Company of Stone” and “Listening to Stone” are both available online from Amazon.com as well as at Barnes & Noble, Borders and most independent book stores.

Although much of Dan’s work is held in private collections —with some properties occasionally opened for tours of the artist’s work— several pieces exist in public locations; including collaborative works at Kansas State University, and the English Harbor Arts Centre, Newfoundland, Canada. Recently, Dan created a stone seating sculpture, “Rock Rest” (pictured below) for the new Brattleboro Museum and Art Center Sculpture Garden. This new public garden —which I designed as part of a volunteer project honoring Linda Rubinstein and Dan Freed for their life-long contributions to the arts in this community— will break ground in spring of this year. Dan is currently seeking a sponsor for this work of art, in hopes that it will be installed for the enjoyment of the public (the Brattleboro Museum is located at the far, southeast corner of the state; where the Vermont line meets the southwestern tip of New Hampshire and the northwest boundary of Massachusetts). If you are interested in sponsoring this work of art (pictured below) —or know of a potential sponsor— please contact Dan Snow via his website, In the Company of Stone.

Rock Rest – Photograph ⓒ Dan Snow

Notes and Links of Interest:

* DSWA is an acronym for the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain, linked here.

The Drystone Conservancy – Lexington, Kentucky

The Drystone Guild of Canada

“Stone Rising” Clip on YouTube

Dan Snow’s Blog – In the Company of Stone

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A Very Special, Heart-Felt Thank You to Dan Snow and Elin Waagen, for Your Time, Generosity and Friendship.

Article and Photographs (exception noted) are copyright 2010, Michaela Medina at The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used for any purpose without my consent.

All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

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Hummingbird - (Animated)

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