If They Were Flowers: Ode to the Oscars Presenting The Gardener’s Eden’s Second Annual Academy Award Horticouture Fashion Review…

February 28th, 2011 § 14 comments § permalink

Dress by Aechmea tillandsioides (Bromeliaceae)

As Worn by Radiant, New Mother Penelope Cruz (Gucci) with Javier Bardem. Photo: Matt Sayles/AP via Yahoo

Last year, at the time of the Academy Awards, I was conservatory-sitting for out-of-town friends. The day after the show, while tending to the exotic beauties contained within the tiny greenhouse, all I could think about was how much they resembled the designer frocks I’d seen the night before. Like a crazed paparazza, I dashed from aisle to aisle, snapping photos of the tropical starlets in my care. I documented my red carpet observations in the post ” Ode to the Oscars: If They Were Flowers…” (click here to revisit the photos & essay from last year’s Oscars).

The dazzling display of gorgeous gowns at last night’s 83 Annual Academy Award show —red carpet blossoming with a parade of flamboyant hot-house flowers and sparkling ice-queens— inspired yet another evening of horticouture dreams. Sensational as the Oscar gowns were in silk, tulle, sequins and satin, imagine —if you will— what if they were flowers?

Dress by Camellia japonica

As Worn by Hostess Anne Hathaway (Valentino). Image: John Shearer/Getty via Yahoo

Dress by Iris

As Worn by Elegant Amy Adams (L’Wren Scott). Image: John Shearer/Getty via Yahoo

Dress by Abutilon hybridum

As Worn by Stunning Jennifer Hudson (Versace). Image: Jason Merrit/Getty via Yahoo

Dress by Phalenopsis

As Worn by Sultry Scarlett Johansson (Dolce & Gabanna). Image: Matt Sayles/AP via Yahoo

Icy Tulle Dress by Jack Frost & Rudbeckia Hirta

As Worn by Sparkling Halle Berry (Marchesa). Image: John Shearer/Getty via Yahoo

Dress by Paeonia lactiflora ‘Raspberry Sundae’

As Worn by the Sweet Hailee Steinfeld. Image: Jason Merrit/Getty via Yahoo

Gown by Kalanchoe ‘Mangini’

As Worn by Striking Jennifer Lawrence (Calvin Klein). Image: Steve Granitz/WireImage via Yahoo

Dress by Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’

As Worn by Floaty Hillary Swank (Gucci). Image: Jason Merrit/Getty via Yahoo

Dress by Hibiscus

As Worn by Last Year’s Best Actress Award-Winner: Ravishing-in-Red,  Sandra Bullock (Vera Wang). Image: Steve Granitz/WireImage via Yahoo

Dress by Allium schoenoprasum

As Worn by Ethereal Mila Kunis (Eli Saab). Image: Jason Merrit/Getty via Yahoo

Dress by Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’

As Worn by Academy Award Winner for Best Actress, the Lovely, Expectant Natalie Portman (Rodarte). Image: Jason Merrit/Getty via Yahoo

Did you watch the Oscars last night? Which star do you think was best dressed? What flower do you think they resembled?

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Article and Botanical Photos are ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All Academy Award Photos are copyright as noted and linked (click on each photo for source)

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The Scent of Homemade Bread on a Honey Drizzled Morning…

February 26th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Homemade Whole Wheat Bread and Farm-Style Butter

I Keep Dried Ornamental Grass —Miscanthus sinensis cut from the Garden– In My Bedroom Through Out the Winter Months. I Love How the Feathery Plumes and Golden Curls Catch Morning’s First Light…

Of course, I also enjoy looking at ornamental grass in the garden throughout the winter. This Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ always springs back, even after the heaviest of snow and freezing rain.

I admit, it’s tempting to jump on the anti-winter bandwagon at this time of year —seems that’s all the rage right now— but I’m not going to do that today. There’s simply too much to love about the pace of late February and early March in New England to rush things along. I enjoy watching the freeze and thaw process, and subtle changes in the fields and forest surrounding my home. Slowly now, the trees are beginning to wake up; sap running on warm days and sluggishly retreating to winter slumber each night. February snow squalls are often illuminated by bright, golden sunlight and sunset’s afterglow lingers long past five o’clock on the hills. Spring is drawing nearer every day. So, I’ll enjoy the last few weeks of hibernation from the world —weekends of sleeping in before the springtime rush begins— with homemade bread and cozy fires, and moments that linger like sweet, thick honey on a spoon.

And speaking of bread and honey… Lately my favorite spin on Jim Lahey’s famous, no-knead bread —you may remember this post about no-knead rosemary bread from last year— is a rustic, whole wheat loaf; adapted slightly to taste —at the author’s suggestion— from his fabulous book, My Bread. I like whole wheat bread served warm in the morning; fresh from the oven with farm-style butter (and by the way, I love this easy, homemade, organic butter tutorial from one of my favorite blogs, Kiss My Spatula) and a drizzle of golden honey. The scent of baking bread fills my little house with a scent I can only describe as love…

The Sweet Smell of Whole Wheat Bread Fills the House with the Most Incomparably Warm and Cozy Scent. If Unconditional Love Had a Fragrance, I Think the Scent of Homemade Bread Just Might Be It…

Whole Wheat Bread

Based upon Jim Lahey’s no-knead method from his book: My Bread

Ingredients: (makes one loaf)

2               Cups all purpose flour

1               Cup all-natural, whole wheat flour

1 1/4        Tsp salt

1/2           Tsp yeast

1 1/2        Cups cool water

Olive oil for coating bowl

Cornmeal for dusting

Directions:

First Afternoon: Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large working bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups of water, (room temperature), and blend to a shaggy looking mix. Use olive oil to lightly coat a second large working bowl. Transfer the dough to the second bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm room, (70 degrees fahrenheit is ideal), for 18 hours. Bubbles at the surface of the dough signal that it is ready to rework.

Next morning: Dust the work surface with flour and place the dough in the center. Lightly flour the top of the dough. Gently fold over a couple of times. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes. Once again, dust the work surface and your hands with a bit of flour and quickly shape the dough into a ball. Sprinkle a plain, smooth cotton towel with cornmeal and place the dough on center. Cover with a second cotton towel. Allow the dough to rise until double in size, (about 2 hours).

After an hour and a half of final rising: begin preheating the oven to 500 degrees fahrenheit. While preheating, place a  2 3/4 – 8 quart heavy, lidded pot (such as a classic Cast Iron Dutch Oven) in the center of the oven. Heat pot for 1/2 hour. Very carefully remove the hot container from oven with heavy mitts.

Slide dough into the hot pot and shake to evenly distribute. Cover the pot, return to the hot oven, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the lid and continue baking for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Oven temperatures will vary, so observe very carefully the first time you bake bread.

Remove bread from the oven. Roll the loaf out of the pot and cool on a wire rack. Homemade bread will stay freshest in a bread-bag, loosely wrapped or a paper bag. Wrapping a loaf of bread tightly in plastic will make the surface soft instead of crusty. It’s best to eat fresh bread the day it is baked. Smear with farm-style butter, a drizzle of pure honey and enjoy !

Late February light is different…


Promising us something a little bit softer on the other side…

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Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without written consent.

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Come to Me, My Sweet Willow…

February 24th, 2011 § 7 comments § permalink

Salix discolor. Pitcher by Aletha Soulé. Photo © Michaela at TGE

Welcome, oh welcome sweet, silver-tipped harbinger of springtime. Is there anything that makes a heart race faster than the sight of the first pussy willow catkins? I love the beautiful, soft texture and the sculptural quality of pussy willow branches artfully arranged in a vase. Now is the time to pull on your knee-high boots and gather these beautiful branches by the armful. Just look at those softly luminous, shimmering beauties!

Salix discolor (as our North American native pussywillow is formally called) is a North American native shrub or small, understory tree, (5-15′ tall and perhaps 8′ wide). Often found beside brooks, forest streams, low-lying thickets or swamps from Canada to Georgia, the pussy willow is hardy to USDA zones 4-7. Stands of Salix discolor form important wetland habitat for nesting birds and other creatures. Mindful of this, I carefully harvest where shrubs are plentiful, and make clean cuts with my Felco pruners.

Salix discolor: North American native pussy willow pollen (the greenish bloom comes after the silver) is an important source of early spring pollen for native bees and honey bees  © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Salix discolor, North American native pussy willow – Pitcher by Aletha Soulé. Photo © Michaela TGE

If you harvest pussy willow for arrangements —and would like the catkins to remain in their silvery, bud-like state— place them in a vase without water to halt development. The preserved twigs and branches can be used in wreaths or other decorations, and will remain beautiful throughout the year. If placed in water, the catkins will slowly develop a greenish cast or “bloom” and eventually, alternate, oval-shaped leaves will spout along the branches. The pollen from blooming pussy willow catkins is an important source of food for bees in the earliest weeks spring (thanks to Deb reminding me to note this!). Like the idea of growing your own stand of pussy willow?

Pussy willow are easy to propagate from late winter/springtime cuttings (this is a good project to try with kids!). Simply harvest pliant, year-old branches, (approximately 18-24″ long), and keep stems in a vase of water in a sunny spot. Plant whips outside when roots have formed, right after the last frost date in your area (rooting hormone is not necessary). Be sure to keep the root-zone moist with a mulch around the base and check on them regularly. Willow naturally prefer moist garden environments (like their native wetlands), so position your young Salix discolor in a garden low spot, where it will catch spring run-off and moisture throughout the seasons.This year I harvested some branches to use in everlasting arrangements, and some to propagate for my garden. Pussy willow make wonderful, textural-interst shrubs for wetland transition areas in the naturalized landscape. I hope to propagate enough for future cutting as well as for enjoying in the permanent landscape. As well as supporting native and honeybee populations and other wildlife as an important, early source of food, these native shrubs are fantastic cover for small birds in the garden too. And I just love watching wild birds in my yard.

Salix discolor, North American native pussy willow © Michaela at TGE

Pitcher/Vase by Aletha Soulé. Images © Michaela at TGE

Photographs and cultural information in this article were originally published on this blog in 2010.

Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without written consent.

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Getting Rooted: Pretty Potatoes, Colorful Carrots, Radiant Radishes & Beautiful Beets…

February 23rd, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

Now that I have enlarged the potager, I’m planning a bumper crop of colorful potatoes!

Radishes and carrots make great companions, not only in salads, but in the potager as well (see pelletized carrot seed planting tip/velvet carrot recipe here, and read a carrot/radish companion planting article here)

Colorful Salad of Red and Gold Beets Arugula and Feta (Click here for recipe)

I’m getting back to my roots this week… My root vegetable roots, that is. The first carrots of the season were sown in the hoophouses last week, and I’ve just finished ordering a half dozen colorful varieties of seed potatoes from Ronnigers/Potato Garden and the Maine Potato Lady (potatoes are planted when the soil temp. reaches about 50° F, approximately 2 weeks before the last frost date. Usually that is early May here in southern VT).  I’ve been enjoying summertime produce all winter —potatoes, carrots and leeks in particular— pulled up from my cool root cellar. This year I plan on planting even more earthy jewels —in every color of the rainbow— to enjoy throughout the summer and harvest in fall for winter storage. Most root crops are planted early in the season, and some can be repeat-sown for a second, autumn harvest. So, I like to plan out this part of my garden very carefully.

Potato Hills in My Spring/Summer Potager: Here Planted with Early Crops & Flowers (incluing chard, nasturtium, peas)

Root vegetables grow best in deep, loose, sandy loam. I plant my potatoes in trenches and then hill them with soil as they grow. Potatoes may also be planted shallowly and mulched up as they grow with clean straw or other materials, or they can be grown in containers; including barrels, wire cages and bags. Other root vegetables —such as carrots and beets— are best grown directly in deep, loose soil or in raised beds. I like to grow my vegetables in wide, earthen mounds (similar to constructed beds, but with sloped sides, exposed for extra planting space) which give my crops an extra 8-12″ of depth at the root zone. There are many ways to grow vegetable crops, and how you choose to plant your garden depends largely upon your site. Raised beds offer many advantages for gardeners struggling with limited space and/or poor soil. Some vegetable growers choose to adhere to a strict ‘Square Foot Gardening‘ planting plan —popularized by Mel Bartholomew in his book by the same name— while others continue to grow crops in straight, narrowly hoed rows. My approach to potager design is a somewhat looser; closely resembling French vegetable gardening in style, with cultural methods similar to those of garden author Ed Smith (I am a fan of his classic, The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, and always recommend it to my garden clients). I like to encourage gardeners to experiment with their space and adopt methods of cultivation that work best for them. Necessity is the mother of invention, and some of the most interesting horticultural innovations have come from creative, experimental growers.

Colorful vegetable crops delight the eye and jazz up the dinner plate

Last Year’s Delightful Potato Crop

I have two, somewhat overlapping careers. In addition to designing gardens and gardening professionally, I am also an exhibiting artist. And as a painter, my eye is naturally drawn to the full spectrum of color, form and textural possibilities in vegetable gardening. Sure, I grow orange carrots, red radishes and brown potatoes. But I also love electric yellow and rose-colored carrots, pink and white striped radishes, gold and ruby-hued beets, and potatoes in every color from yellow and pink to red, purple and blue. And why not? If I’m growing my own food, I might as well have fun with it. And with many colorful cultivars, the tastes are as deliciously varied as the hues.

This year I am planting Adirondack Blue and Red standard potatoes, and Peruvian Purple, Red Thumb and French fingerlings; among other varieties chosen for color, flavor and texture. As for other roots, I’ll be growing Atomic Red, Purple Haze, Deep Purple and Yellow carrots, in addition to the usual orange. And planned radish crops include French D’avignon, Watermelon, Purple Plum and Cherry Belle. As for beets? I am growing Golden, Chioggia and Merlin this spring, but if you know of something beautiful and tasty, let me know and I’ll put it in as a fall crop! I buy the bulk of my vegetable seed from several east coast companies; including High Mowing and Johnny’s and  I also order herbs, greens, flowers and gourds from Renee’s GardenBurpee, and Botanical Interests.

Pasta with Potatoes, Rocket and Rosemary (click here for recipe)

Getting the maximum productivity out of a vegetable garden’s usually-limited space is a goal most gardeners can relate to, and with a bit of creative planning, it is possible for a well designed vegetable garden to be both efficient and beautiful. If you haven’t visited this site’s “Potager” page in awhile (over to the left), you may want to click on over for a visit. I have been updating the page —and will continue to do so throughout the season— with links back to vegetable gardening articles and recipes for all of your beautiful garden produce. If you are looking for more potager ideas, I highly recommend the two excellent vegetable garden design books linked below, which I personally own and absolutely love…

Jennifer Bartley’s Designing the New Kitchen Garden is one of my favorite vegetable gardening resources. I highly recommend it. Bartley has a new book out, The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook from Timber Press. I have not seen it yet.

Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping is a title I chose to review for Barnes & Noble. This is a wonderful new book, filled with fantastic ideas for building a pretty potager all your own.

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Article and photos ⓒ 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.

Do you enjoy reading The Gardener’ Eden? You can help support this blog by shopping with our affiliates. A small percentage of any sale originating on this site will be paid back to The Gardener’s Eden. Thank you!

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First Hints of Spring…

February 21st, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

Last Year’s Nest Remains Intact, Decorated with the Pink-Tinted Buds of Viburnum Bodnantense ‘Dawn’

Spring is exactly one month away, and eagerly, the garden awaits her arrival. Already, swollen buds, glowing bark and the sing-song voices of chickadees calling “spring’s here”, fill trees and shrubs with new life…

On Warmer Days, Blushing Viburnum Buds Near the Stone Wall, Hint at Coming Spring

Click here to here listen to the ‘typical’ sweet, spring song of the Black-capped Chickadee {via Cornell Lab of Ornithology}.

{Forced branches give the house a prelude-to-spring. Click here for more information on forcing branches, and here for details about this lovely shrub: V. bodnantense ‘Dawn’}

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Moonlit Dreams…

February 20th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Moonlit Condensation

Gazing out through the misty window last night, February’s full moon —sometimes called the Snow Moon or the Wolf Moon— looked so warm and lovely…

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The next full moon is March 19th {Known as the Sap Moon or Worm Moon}. Do you follow the lunar calendar?

Learn more about the moon and read about lunar folklore and legend at The Farmer’s Almanac site here. More interested in space and science? For astronomy and beautiful lunar images, visit Space.com here.

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

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The Early Bird Catches the Arugula… And the Chard, Spinach & Lettuce too!

February 19th, 2011 § 10 comments § permalink

Arugula in the Hoophouse, January

Let’s start out with a bit of honesty, shall we? The four season harvest isn’t for wimps. Winter gardening  —growing plants in temperatures below freezing to sub-zero, beneath plastic sheeting— isn’t a natural act. And although I enjoy a good game of woman vs. wild, sometimes winter gets to be a bit much around here. Shoveling decks, terraces, walkways and woodpiles is a lot of work. And now that I’ve added potager path-clearing and hoophouse roof-raking to the list, I’ve created quite a snow-removal burden. So why do it? Because the taste of fresh arugula and the smell of damp earth on a cold February day is —as the people at Mastercard say— priceless. And I think a jump-start to the short, northern growing season is worth a little extra work (OK, so it’s a lot of extra work).

Look at that delicious earth! Would you believe this photo was taken just yesterday…

Inside this unheated hoophouse the smell of sweet, springtime soil fills the moist air!

Raking out hoophouse soil to prepare for late winter crop sowing

Over the past three years —cooking more at home and experimenting in my kitchen— I’ve become more and more interested in four-season vegetable gardening. And although I haven’t made the leap to a heated greenhouse yet, I’ve found that with proper timing, I can keep some crops going in my hoophouses year round. Greens sown in late fall will germinate and then continue to grow (albeit much more slowly) throughout the short, cold days of winter. Tender crops are out of the question of course, but tasty root vegetables sown in early autumn can be harvested from cold houses straight into the new year. Seedlings require light to grow —10-12 hours of daylight is a good rule of thumb— so the sowing of seed is suspended during the weeks leading up to —and about a month and a half after– the winter solstice. But come late January, February and March —when the days are getting longer, and sunlight is getting stronger — I can begin sowing cold-hardy, late winter crops in my unheated hoophouses, for early spring harvest. Yesterday I planted a variety of greens in house #3 (arugula, chard, spinach, lettuce and mesclun mix), and I pulled spent crops and turned soil in house #1 to prepare for more planting (carrots, radishes and other crops) on my next free afternoon. If you are interested in learning more about the four-season harvest and winter vegetable gardening, I highly recommend Eliot Coleman’s books. And if you’d like to build a hoophouse of your own this spring (I now have four, with three currently in use) click here for basic plans. I’m hoping to upgrade to a larger, walk-in cold house this year.

Hoophouses protecting early fall-sown crops in late December, just before the snow (automatic back vents help moderate temperatures)

Sowing crops in hoophouse #3: Mid-February

Gardening in winter is all about science, but it sure feels like magic when you can reach your hand into sweet, sun-warmed earth on a cold and windy day. And it’s even more spectacular when you’re enjoying your own salad greens and root vegetables —harvested from an icy, snow-covered garden— at dinner in January and February. Winter pasta with fresh arugula, root-cellared onions and olive-oil preserved, sun-dried tomatoes —all from the garden— now that is priceless…

Arugula harvested from the hoophouse

Pasta with freshly harvested arugula — plus caramelized onions, braided & stored in the root cellar and sun-dried tomatoes, preserved in olive oil— all from the garden…

Here’s the potager, with house #1 and #2 buried by nearly 3′ of snow and ice. I still can’t believe they didn’t collapse. And yes, I shoveled them out all by myself. Sadly, Alfred hasn’t left Batman for me yet. I can’t figure out why…

Mountains of shoveling…

Followed by more shoveling…

And bringing in wood…

But who wouldn’t appreciate the beauty that makes it all worthwhile…

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Article and photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Seasonal Prelude: The Scent of Spring…

February 17th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Forced Blossoms: The Intoxicating Scent of Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’

Remember the fragrance of spring; warm air carrying the sweet perfume of new blossoms on the breeze? Distracted by day dreams of earth-scented pathways; chilly melt-water gurgling up from stone?  Finding yourself stalking the swollen buds of witch hazel, viburnum, azalea and other fragrant, flowering shrubs? Take heart, friends… She’s coming. The garden’s tender love letters are waiting for her; ready to burst open and unfold their sweet adoration… All for Spring.

Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ is one of the most exquisite scents of springtime. The sweet perfume of the blossoms fills my studio entryway with fresh fragrance…

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For a tutorial on how to force Narcissus (as shown in photos above), click here.

For a tutorial on how to force spring-blooming tree and shrub branches, click here.

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Dreaming of Springtime’s Sweet Veggies: Planning a Lush, Welcoming Potager…

February 16th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

A tumbling jumble of nasturtiums creates a warm welcome for people and pollinators alike

Sweet seats! In June, the potager becomes my outdoor living/dining room

Wide pathways and mounded-earth beds give me plenty of room to work and maneuver about with carts and wheelbarrows

Winter is a wonderful season —I’m still having fun snowshoeing and enjoying quiet time indoors— but I have to admit that there’s one thing I’m really starting to miss about summer: leisure time in the vegetable garden. I love hanging out in my pretty little potager, and every morning —spring through fall— I head outside with a big cup of coffee to do a bit of weeding, watering and harvesting before work. My pets usually join me —rolling around in the warm, golden straw pathways— while I garden. Later on in the day, I often return to the potager and settle into my comfy wicker chair with a glass of wine to enjoy the sunset hour. On warm evenings, I sometimes eat my dinner in the garden; surrounded by the fragrance of sun-warmed herbs and the sound of summertime birds. Vegetable plots always grow best when they are frequently visited by the gardener’s shadow, and to me, this is no trouble at all —it’s pure bliss…

I like to try different varieties of vegetables and fruits every year. But some old-favorites make it into the potager every year. My favorite tomatoes include Early Girl, Orange Blossom, Lemon Boy, Brandywine, San Marzanos. I also love cherry tomatoes; particularly Sungold and Sweet 100s

Home grown hot peppers are both beautiful and tasty. I like to experiment with this crop too, but I always grow plenty of jalapeño, ancho and serrano chile peppers.

My diet is mainly vegetarian, and one of my favorite things about summer, is that I can completely avoid the grocery store for months (I buy my eggs and dairy products from a nearby farm stand). Growing basics, like potatoes, makes it easy to create impromptu, garden-fresh meals every day.

Now that I’ve begun sowing some early crops —herbs and onions indoors & arugula, spinach and lettuce in the unheated hoophouses— I’m really starting to get excited about the growing season ahead. I’ve ordered most of my vegetable seed —packages have already begun to arrive— and I just sent in my seed potato orders to Ronnigers and The Maine Potato Lady yesterday afternoon. Mid-late winter is a good time to begin planning and plotting out your vegetable garden on paper (1/4″ square grid paper works great for this purpose, with each standard box equalling one square foot of garden space), and to finish purchasing seed if you haven’t done so yet. Back in December, I mentioned that I enjoy the process of keeping an annual gardening journal and calendar. Not only is it fun to look back on my successes —and important to analyze failures— but my garden calendar & notes also remind me of things I want to plant (more potatoes and berries!), improvements I want to make (more vertical supports for peas, beans, melons and cucumbers, a new set of compost bins, and a garden shed!), and things I need to re-stock (like fish emulsion, twine and other supplies). Keeping a copy of what I planted —and where I planted it last year— is key to crop rotation (and avoiding pests and diseases). Drawing up a plan and listing everything out also prevents over-ordering or forgotten crops!

Building a pretty potager need not be expensive! My garden fence —pictured above— was built from saplings harvested on-site. And the wicker furniture in my garden was found —wearing a “free” sign— on the side of the road.

When laying out your garden, remember to include space for companion flowers and herbs. Although companion planting has become one of the more hotly debated horticultural topics —with some gardeners believing in its value, and others questioning the scientific proof of success— there is no doubt that flowering plants attract and support pollinating insects —like bees and butterflies— to your vegetable garden. And no matter where you stand on the companion planting issue, it’s pretty hard to argue with the horticultural value of pollinating insects and the beauty of flowers in the vegetable garden. Zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, shasta daisies, calendula (particularly the French marigold) and nasturtiums are easy-to-grow, and all make gorgeous vegetable garden additions. In addition to planting flowers in and around my vegetables, I grow extra blooms in my potager —just for cutting. Climbers are also pretty in the vegetable garden, especially if you have a rustic fence or trellis (vertical supports are particularly useful if you have limited space). Old-time, deliciously fragrant sweet peas are best sown directly outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked, but many flowers —including climbers like morning glories— can be started indoors for earlier bloom. And if you like to decorate with dried flowers in late summer and fall —or want to make wreaths— consider growing globe amaranth (Gomphrena), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis), statice (Limonium sinuatum), and other everlasting blooms in your cutting garden.

I love flowers in the vegetable garden, and fresh-cut bouquets in my house. So I grow plenty of beautiful bloomers in my potager.

I can’t imagine life without a vegetable garden. I grew up with horticulture —my family raised and sold organically grown strawberries and other produce— and teaching me how to grow my own food —and more importantly, the joy and value of gardening— is one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me. If you have children of your own, I encourage you to involve them in as much of the gardening process as possible. When planning your spring garden, order a few extra seed packets —both flowers and vegetables if you can make the room— just for your kids. Children will always remember early gardening experiences like sowing seed, and harvesting their first crop of peas. Even the smallest task —like carrying the harvest basket or looking for bugs— teaches children that their contributions matter to the family. With kids, it’s important to focus on the process of gardening —not so much the product— so that the entire experience is rewarding.

Sunflowers are a fun, easy-to-grow crop for children

Here, my friends Myriah and her daughter, Dharma, moisten seed their starting mix together

Make Gardening Come to Life: Sow Seeds, and Watch them Germinate

I plant my vegetable garden in 3′ x 8′, raised, earth-mounded beds. I try to keep enough space between the beds to comfortably maneuver around with a weeding basket and to pass through with a wheelbarrow or garden cart. This system works well for me, but I have seen many other successful vegetable growing methods. Urban gardeners may grow in pots or planters, and some suburban gardeners like to build wooden boxes to contain vegetables in the square-foot garden style, and many country gardeners simply till soil and hoe rows. There is no right or wrong way to set up your vegetable garden: experiment, do what works best for you, and enjoy the process. If you are new to gardening, it is a good idea to start small and grow your space as your confidence increases. Over the years, as I’ve become more interested in cooking and baking, my vegetable garden has doubled in size. It’s such a pleasure to create meals with beautiful, ripe, organic vegetables, grown and harvested fresh in my own backyard. This year, I plan on adding more hard-to-get, gourmet produce in my potager. I’ll be planting crops that store well in winter (like gourmet potatoes and onions, garlic, squash, carrots and beets), as well as seasonal, enjoy-at-the-moment produce like heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, and other unusual fruits and vegetables from around the world. I love eating fresh food all summer long, and by adding row-covers and unheated hoophouses to the garden, I’ve been able to extend my growing season; harvesting some produce —like root vegetables and leafy greens— year-round. I can’t wait to dig back in! This week, I’ll be posting more details about my spring garden plans, and I look forward to hearing about yours both here, and on Facebook and Twitter!

Remember fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes?

Helianthus annus ‘Autumn Beauty’ – Sunflower in my Potager

Remember the smell of the earth? It’s coming… Soon!

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Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his fantastic seed starting photos. Visit Tim’s site here.

Article and potager photos ⓒ 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.

Do you enjoy reading The Gardener’ Eden? You can help support this blog by shopping with our affiliates. A small percentage of any sale originating on this site will be paid back to The Gardener’s Eden. Thank you!

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What’s Love Got to Do With It ? Confessions of Lust, Longing & Orchid Obsession…

February 14th, 2011 § Comments Off on What’s Love Got to Do With It ? Confessions of Lust, Longing & Orchid Obsession… § permalink

It Always Starts so Innocently… Water Droplets on a Pure White Phalenopsis

When I say ‘Valentine’s Day’, do you think red, long stemmed roses? Many people do. After all, roses certainly are lovely and romantic. But sexy? When I think about Valentine’s Day —and that naughty, naked, imp Cupid: flitting about and firing off poison darts laced with love potion number nine— I think about lust, longing, and mind-melting passion. And roses? Well, they seem just a little bit too buttoned-up for all that.

Now the orchid —there is a sexy flower! Exotic, fashionable and elusive; if orchids could speak, they would whisper blush-inducing phrases in breathy, foreign accents. Suggestive looking? Oh yes. And to the insatiable orchidophile, this seductive flower is a much more accurate symbol of passion and desire than a prim-and-proper rose…

Paphiopedilum orchilla ‘Chilton’ at Lyman Conservatory

Phalenopsis Beside the Bath

Paphiopedilum primulinum at Lyman Conservatory

My long-standing love affair with orchids began rather innocently —sparked some years ago, by a pure-white Phalenopsis— and slowly, it has morphed into something I can only describe as obsession. The barely-restrained desire I feel for these plants is most evident on visits to the local conservatory, where —instead of relaxing and enjoying the warm, tropical environment— I find myself breaking out in a cold sweat; mentally-mortgaging my home in mad pursuit of the ultimate orchid house. From the common, easy-to-grow Cymbidiums, Oncidiums, Phalenopsis and Paphiopedilums, to the luminous-violet, musky-scented Bollea coelestis and the fiercely-fantastic Draculas: I love them all.

A Lusty-Looking Cymbidium (C. ‘Tiny Tiger’ ) at Lyman Conservatory

Orchids have a reputation for being difficult to grow. And while it’s true that some of them are indeed, quite challenging —even for experts— the degree of difficulty varies by species. Choose your love wisely, and you won’t be disappointed! Phaelenopsis are not only inexpensive as orchids go, but they are among the easiest to care for and grow —there’s a reason you find them at Home Depot— and they also offer some of the most seductive, beautifully colored flowers. Phalenopsis are tolerant of low-light conditions, which makes them a good choice for those of us living up north. This Asian tropical does like moist air, so place her on a bathroom vanity or in a steamy, humidifier-enhanced boudoir and watch her glow. The roots of this plant should be kept moist, but never soggy —bark mixtures are a good growing medium— and a liquid fertilizer (one intended for orchids and other ephiphytes is best) applied weekly will result in enhanced vigor, and healthy growth. Cool fall temperatures trigger Phalenopsis’ bloom (50 F or so), and recreating these conditions will increase the likelihood of repeat flowering.

Of course, not everyone loves epiphytes the way I do, but they certainly are sexy. So, if you are looking to inspire a bit of passion in your Valentine, consider a trip to the orchid room of your local conservatory later today. Or better yet, why not wrap up an exotic Paphiopedilum or Phalenopsis, and send a message that’s just a bit more racy than a rose-is-a-rose-is-a-rose….

Happy Valentine’s Day xo Michaela

Now Here’s a Come-Hither Glance, If I Ever Saw One!

And for the true Orchidophile, consider giving the one and only ‘little black book’: William Cullina’s Understanding Orchids

Article and photos 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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Winter’s Quiet Beauty: Soft, Powdery Mornings & Misty Mountain Tops…

February 12th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Mist Rising in the Snow-Covered, Green River Valley

Try as I might, I can think of nothing more peaceful than the quiet stillness of Vermont’s misty, snow-covered mountains at first light…

White-Coated Conifers Frame the View to the North

The Snowy Still at Woodland’s Edge

A Dusting of Snow Traces the Outline of Every Tiny Branch

Article and photos 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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Here Comes the Sun, Doo’n Doo Doo: Gettin’ Started with Seed Starting…

February 10th, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

On your mark, get set…

Twenty degrees fahrenheit. Ow… That’s nippy! Yes, the outside temperature still says ‘winter’ loud-and-clear, but the good new is that the days are getting longer, and the sunlight is getting stronger. That means it’s just about time to get a jump on the growing season by starting seed indoors. At this time of year in Vermont, I’m already sowing chives, onions and hardy herbs indoors. Cold crops like lettuce, spinach and arugula are now growing within the spring-like climate created by the hoop houses in my vegetable garden (click here for more information on how to build your own). I’m looking forward to an even more productive potager this year, with more home-grown gourmet vegetables started from seed.

Why start seed indoors when you can just pick up vegetable six-packs in early spring at the garden center? Well, first of all, it needn’t be either/or. Even though I still buy organically-grown vegetable starts from Walker Farm (by the dozen), I have plenty of reasons to start some seed here at home. Starting seed indoors gives me a jump on the growing season; allowing me to plant certain crops outdoors, and harvest before the local garden centers even open. When I start my own seed, I also have the option of experimenting with unusual, gourmet vegetable crops. Seed catalogs (and Seed Saving exchanges) offer far more variety than any local greenhouse can possibly supply (see sidebar and links below for some sources). And if you don’t have an organic grower nearby, starting your own plants from seed insures that your produce will be raised to your own high standards: you control the quality right from the start. Although there is an initial investment in grow lights and other gardening supplies, starting your own seed indoors can save quite a bit of money over the long haul. But the best part? I get to see the entire, magnificent process of life right from the beginning. If you have children, this is a great opportunity for teaching, and a wonderful experience to share.

A fine-textured medium (growing mix) is essential for seed starting. Regular potting soil is too heavy, and won’t drain efficiently. Buy or make your own seed starting mix for best results.

Seed Starting Basics

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Start your new plants the right way: Purchase fresh seed from a reliable, organic source, near your region. Seed collected close to your own geographic area tends to perform best. Farmers in my area (New England), almost always buy their seed from New England sources. And although I do buy seed from elsewhere (some from as far away as California) I purchase the bulk of my vegetable seed packets from suppliers in nearby Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. And when choosing germinating mix, remember to always use an organic seed-starter with very fine, loose particles. Never use regular potting soil to germinate seeds. Why? It’s much heavier and it won’t drain well. Seedlings need moist, but not water-logged soil.

Select your containers and trays: Many garden centers and online suppliers have plastic or peat cell-packs available for purchase. These packs are handy, because they usually come with plastic tops to keep the starter mix moist while seeds germinate. But, you can always use plastic wrap for ths purpose if you make/recycle containers. Some of my gardening friends like to make their own biodegradable starter pots from newspaper. You can also recycle old plastic six-packs or other containers, but you must sterilize those reused pots properly with warm, soapy water and a bit of disinfectant (bleach) to prevent the spread of disease. You will also need leak-proof trays to place beneath the seeds, in order to water them from the bottom (prevents washing the tiny seeds to the side of the pots and/or disturbing delicate roots). Whatever you choose to use, get everything ready —in one place— before you start.

Set up grow lights: While it’s true that you can start seed in a brightly lit window (I do this with some windowsill herbs) you will get much better results (stronger root systems, stems and overall growth) if you use grow-lights positioned close to the seed trays. You can use regular florescent shop-lights, or you can purchase grow-lights (available at many garden centers and online suppliers). If you are serious about starting seed indoors (or growing tropical houseplants) grow lights are a great investment. If you already own grow-lights, clean them and check bulbs and timers before you start your seed. Most vegetable seeds do not require heat-pads for germination. But it’s always a good idea to check the back of seed packets before you start, to be clear on requirements. Grow lights work best when they are raised up as the seedlings develop, keeping them close to (but not touching) the leaves. Crafty gardeners can try to construct their own systems, but grow-light systems —either floor or table mounted— can be purchased at all price points. Aim for durable, quality construction – with stands built to last.

Quality grow lights (like the one above, from Gardener’s Supply Company) are a great investment if you are serious about getting a jump-start on the growing season.

Time your starts: Check the back of your seed packets for the number of days to germination, and the start date. Usually the packet will list the start date by referencing the number of weeks prior to the last frost date. Do you know your last frost date? Check with your local USDA cooperative extension service (click here for interactive map) or, the awesome, easy-to-use table for common vegetable start dates on The Farmer’s Almanac website (Just enter your city and state in the pace provided – love the Farmer’s Almanac)! If you live in zone 4 or 5, February is a good time to start onions, leeks, chives, celery and hardy herbs. Later this month (or early March) you can begin cool-season crops like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages and brussels sprouts. Unless you are located in zone 7 or warmer, wait to start warm-season crops (like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant) until mid to late March, or even early April.

Moisten the starter mix and fill containers: One the best ways to insure that your seedlings have plenty of moisture is to soak your germinating mix overnight prior to planting. I like to wet the mix in a big tub the night before planting; adding enough warm water to make it damp, but not soupy. I know the starter medium is ready to use when all of the water is absorbed and the mixture is moist like a fresh cupcake, but not wet and gloppy like mashed potatoes. If you try to form a ball it should crumble apart, but still feel moist to the touch (just like natural garden soil at planting time, remember how great that smells?)

Hello baby!

Plant your seeds in the containers: Plant two to three seeds per cell (you will thin the plants later) Not sure of how deep to plant? The back of the seed packet should list planting depth. But if it doesn’t, aim to plant the seed three times as deep as it is large (measuring by diameter).

Cover the seeds and wait for germination: Once all the seeds are planted and set in their trays, cover them with the plastic tops, or loosely with plastic wrap (to contain moisture and raise humidity) and place them in a 60-75 degree (fahrenheit) room. Be sure that the catch trays are filled with water, and check the seed starts daily to insure that the soil remains moist. A plastic spray-misting bottle can be useful in the early stages of seed starting to insure that the surface of soil remains moist. Seed trays can be placed beneath grow lights, but you won’t need to turn them on until the seeds pop out of the soil. Again, unless the seed requires warmer germination temperatures (or if you are starting plants in a cool/dark spot like a cellar) you won’t need heating pads for the trays.

Sunflowers are an exciting and easy crop for youngsters to grow in recycled milk cartons. But wait a bit longer on this crop. February is too soon to start sunflowers in New England…

Light up their life: As soon as the seeds germinate, they’ll need at least 12 hours of light per day (and for many vegetables 14-18 hours is even better) In these northern parts, this is where grow-lights come in. Remembering to turn lights on-and-off can be tricky at first, and an inexpensive timer can really be your best work-buddy!

Feed me Seymour!: Once the seedlings have a set of “true” leaves (as opposed to the tiny seed leaves, which emerge first), give them their first meal: a bit of dilute, organic fertilizer (I use a very weak fish emulsion solution, diluted in water).

Biodegradable pots allow room for root development, and can be popped right into the soil (no struggling to remove tiny plants without damage!)

Transition time: Once spring closes in, seedlings will begin to really take off. As certain young plants grow, they will need thinning and perhaps later, transplanting to larger pots before being “hardened off” (process of bringing seed outdoors for short periods of time to adjust to outside temperatures and light). We’ll talk more about this process later. In meantime, If you are starting many seeds, it’s also wise to invest in a fan for air circulation. Check with some of the seed supply sources linked here for more information, or visit your local garden center. It’s also helpful to have some larger sized pots and regular potting soil on hand for later. Peat pots (or other biodegradable containers) are particularly good for the purpose of transplanting, because they can be placed directly into the soil. This reduces root-disturbance and makes for a swifter, stress-free transition into garden soil.

And although we are all anxious to get back out in the sweet earth, resist the urge to rush tender plants into a cold garden. Unless you have hoop houses, row covers, cloches or other protection for your crops, it’s too risky to push them out before the recommended date (again refer to the links at the top of this post). I’ll be writing more about the process of seed starting over the coming weeks and months.

For more information and seed sources, please visit previous posts, linked here!

Here comes the sun! It may still be a little early for most vegetable starts, but growing windowsill herbs (like chives and cilantro) is fun and easy anytime…

Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his fantastic seed starting photos. Visit Tim’s site here.

Product images are the property of linked online retailers.

Article and noted photo ⓒ 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.

Do you enjoy reading The Gardener’ Eden? You can help support this blog by shopping with our affiliates. A small percentage of any sale originating on this site will be paid back to The Gardener’s Eden. Thank you!

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