Inspiration Provence: Romantic Gardens, Casual, Country-Style Furnishings & Candlelit Dinners Beneath the Stars…

July 29th, 2010 § Comments Off on Inspiration Provence: Romantic Gardens, Casual, Country-Style Furnishings & Candlelit Dinners Beneath the Stars… § permalink

Michel Klein’s Garden – Image ⓒ Provence Interiors by Lisa Lovatt-Smith

Provence… What an incredibly evocative word. Even the sound of the letters, rolling sensuously across the tongue, seems to magically slow time. The Mediterranean landscape seduces with golden light; teasing as it flickers through massive plane trees. My memories of southern France are bound by sun-warmed fragrance; lavender, rosemary, ripe olives and red earth. And in this romantic setting — seated at a cloth draped table, surrounded by shadowy gardens at the end of the day— the taste of fruity rosé and peasant bread dipped in tapenade has never been more delightful. A meal shared in a beautiful outdoor room is one of life’s richest pleasures.

Currently, I am working on two projects involving plein air dining spaces. The first is a new garden planned to enhance the outdoor seating area of a lovely local restaurant. This project is in its early stages, and at the moment I am gathering inspirational ideas from favorite books, travel journals, photo albums and scrapbooks.  I absolutely adore enclosed garden spaces, and this particular location —surrounded by brick and stone on three sides— is the perfect spot for festive family gatherings, intimate tête-à-têtes and romantic dinners for two. The second project on my agenda is a private dining terrace; an open space in need of a bit more privacy and transportive mood. Both places are calling out for softening elements — vine clad pergolas and trees to filter light, as well as plants with dramatic foliage to add sensual movement and color.  Both in the courtyard and on the terrace, I long for living canopies —  filter for the sun and frame for the stars.

Over the years —since finding them in my favorite book shop— Lisa Lovatt-Smith’s Provence Interiors and Barbara & René Stoeltie’s Country Houses Of France have provided me with more inspiration for outdoor rooms than many of my garden design books. Beautifully photographed and richly detailed, both books are excellent, stylish resources for casual, elegant living. I highly recommend either title for further study and inspiration. Why not take a cue from these authors and blur the boundaries between inside and out in your home and garden? It seems quite natural to me (perhaps it’s just my European roots) to think of the outdoor spaces surrounding a home in much the same way you might think of an open-plan dining room and kitchen inside the house. Potted plants and shade trees help relax outside architecture, of course. But by adding casual cafe-style or flea-market furniture —movable tables and chairs, comfortable weather-proof pillows, twinkling chandeliers, lanterns and/or strings of tiny lights— the space becomes infinitely more inviting. In this way, a garden or back terrace becomes a three or even a four season extension of your home; a part of your living space as opposed to merely your ‘backyard’. Can you envision such an outdoor room in your own garden? A shadowy nook for quiet lunchtime conversation, or later in the evening, a place for candlelit rendezvous; filled with the sounds of music and secrets shared beneath the stars?

Jacques Grange Garden – Image  ⓒ Provence Interiors by Lisa Lovatt-Smith

Christiane &  Serge Cagnolari’s Beautiful Garden Dining Room – Image ⓒ Provence Interiors by Lisa Lovatt-Smith

Antique French Iron Chair with Twisted Metal Detail $298 from Terrain

Antique French Metal Chair with Scrolling Detail $228 from Terrain

Antique French Folding Chair $198 from Terrain

The French Country Garden of Jean-Marie & Jennifer Rocchia – Image ⓒ Provence Interiors by Lisa Lovatt-Smith

Foundry Style Candleholder with Teardrop Shaped Votive Lamps $68.40 via Amazon

Marrakesh Wrought Iron Pillar Candle Chandelier – $155 at HomArt via Amazon

La Buissaie, France – Image ⓒ Country Houses Of France by Barbara & René Stoeltie

3 Piece White Metal Bistro Set, only $79 at Amazon.com

The Garden of Siki de Somalie, Provence, France – Image ⓒ Country Houses Of France by Barbara & René Stoeltie

3 Piece Red Metal Bistro Set – $79 at Amazon.com

The Garden of Siki de Somalie, Provence, France – Image ⓒ Country Houses Of France by Barbara & René Stoeltie

Pretty Metal Bistro Set in Blue – $79 at Amazon.com

Tiered Plant Stand in Blue Metal – $129 from Gardener’s Supply Company

Beautiful Blue 3-Piece Bistro Set – $179 from Gardener’s Supply Company

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Image excerpts from reviewed publications and/or products are copyright as noted and linked. To purchase reviewed books via Amzon.com, click on the image or text link below.

Article © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden.

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

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

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Adorn: Flea Market Finds, Discarded Pots and Vessels, Inexpensive Lamps and Found Objects Enhance the Garden…

July 20th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

An Eclectic Collection: Pots, Urns, Vessels and Lamps – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Most gardeners are obsessed with beautiful flowers, and as you’ve probably noticed, I am no exception. But in truth, there’s more to a great garden than plants. Adding a few artful objects to your garden can bring color, texture, structure and style to your outdoor space throughout the seasons. Over the years I have accumulated quite an eclectic collection of pots, vessels, urns, lanterns, old chairs and other three dimensional curiosities in my garden. And while it is possible to spend a fortune on garden art, you needn’t be Daddy Warbucks to decorate your outdoor space with style.

The Rudbeckia Seat at Ferncliff – Created from a Cast-Off Chair Salvaged Long Ago – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Found objects from the roadside or town dump, bargains from flea markets and tag sales, and treasures from old Aunt Agnes —yes have a look in that cluttered basement, garage, barn or junk pile— can be repurposed and recycled into great garden art. Rusty old metal drums make great annual planters (be sure to drill drainage holes and perhaps insert a plastic liner pot) as do old wood or metal desk drawers and post boxes. Virtually anything that can hold soil will work as a garden container, and with a bit of paint, recycled junk can flatter most any decor. Old chairs make great trellises for small annual vines, and those with missing seats can be used to support tall, floppy plants. And when brightly painted, chairs of all kinds can add a cheerful splash of color to a garden.

Rust and Nicked Edges add History and Charm to Tiny Garden Vignettes – Image ⓒ Ingram/Holt – BHG – Flea Market Decorating

We are at the peak of flea market season, and besides being great entertainment, Sunday stops at swap meets will often yield end-of-weekend bargains. Though out-of-print, Vicki Ingram’s Flea Market Decorating remains a great resource for both do-it-yourself ideas and inspiration. The back section of the book contains a wealth of flea market listings, many of which remain accurate-to-date. I love the garden section in the final chapters of this book, which features simple and inexpensive flea-market-style ideas (a few of which I have scanned here as an appetizer). Tiny tot chairs, old toys, rusty bed frames; all can add character and a touch of mystery to the garden…

Outgrown Objects from Childhood are Repurposed in the Garden – Image ⓒ Ingham/Holt – BHG  – Flea Market Decorating

Recycled ‘Junk’ Drawers, Postal Boxes and Metal Bins Work Great as Planters with Pot Inserts or Drilled Drain Holes – Image ⓒ Ingham/Holt BHG – Flea Market Decorating

Red Chair – Image ⓒ Ingham/Holt – BHG – Flea Market Decorating

As an artist, I love the idea of recycling found objects into new work. Broken fountain at the landfill? Why not take it home, paint it, and turn it into a giant, three tiered planter like the one below? Creativity knows no bounds! I found this inspirational project in (the no-longer-in-publication) Budget Living’s Home Cheap Home, along with dozens of other inexpensive landscape design ideas…

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure – Recycled Fountain Becomes and Herb Garden – Image ⓒ Home Cheap Home

And of course, to continue this month’s garden lighting discussion, it bears mention that inexpensive lanterns —whether purchased new or at tag sales and flea markets— can add a touch of artistic ambience to outdoor rooms by night as well as by day. A quick search on Amazon yielded dozens of pretty options. Here are a few of the charming, bargain lamps that caught my eye…

Moroccan Birdcage Candle Lantern$16.90 at Amazon.com

Metal Star Lantern, $10.99 at Amazon

Amber Glass Moroccan Lantern, $11.44 via Amazon

Cupola Tin Lantern$31.99 via Amazon.com

An Urn Beside the Wall Brings Subtle Color and Texture to a Quiet Garden Setting – Image ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Guardian of the Forest at Fercliff – Image ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Chips and Cracks in Old Pots Add Character and History to a New Garden – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Image excerpts from reviewed publications are copyright as noted and linked. Article and all other photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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

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

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The Art of French Vegetable Gardening in Honor of La Fête Nationale…

July 14th, 2010 § 5 comments § permalink

A Country-Casual Potager from The Art of French Vegetable Gardening by Louisa Jones with photographs by Gilles Le Scanff & Joelle Caroline Mayer

A Formal French Garden of Culinary Herbs, Fruits and Vegetables featured in The Art of French Vegetable Gardening (image ⓒ Gilles Le Scanff & Joelle Caroline Mayer)

In remembering La Fête Nationale (Bastille Day), my attention has turned to the French and their spectacularly stylish potagers. Louisa Jones’ The Art of French Vegetable Gardening, with extraordinary photographs by Gilles Le Scanff & Joelle Caroline Mayer, was given to me as a gift nearly ten years ago. Although it is currently out-of-print, to this day it remains one of the most inspirational books on kitchen garden design that I have ever seen. The French have an instinctive way with herbs, vegetables and fruit trees, designing beautiful, edible gardens that are so much more than practical. When planning my own kitchen garden, my goal was to create a welcoming place, where I would eagerly stroll on a hot summer day. By luring frequent visits, a garden is likely to remain well-tended, with weeding and watering chores becoming part of the daily routine. If you can find a copy of Jones’ book, I highly recommend it.

Companion planting with edible flowers and herbs is a great way to make the kitchen garden attractive both to beneficial insects and human visitors alike. Add a bench or a table to encourage prolonged visits or impromptu meals in the potager. Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead’s stunning Gardening with Herbs is another favorite title, absolutely bursting with European edible-garden style. One of my favorite images from the book, the thyme seat shown below, is but one of the book’s many great ideas for luring guests to the potager. Great kitchen garden design need not be expensive, but it does take a bit of creative thinking and resourcefulness. Keep on the look-out for recyclable furniture and containers to repurpose, or if you are particularly ambitious and crafty, visit Ana White’s Knock-Off Wood for some fantastic outdoor furniture plans and get to work building your own raised beds, planters and benches. I find my kitchen garden always performs best and is enjoyed to it’s fullest potential, when I am spending a great deal of time there. A beautifully designed space makes that easy to do…

A Pretty Destination Makes Everyday Gardening Chores a Pleasure. Inspiration from The Art of French Vegetable Gardening

Inspirational Places Lure Visitors into the Garden with a Place to Rest and Enjoy a Drink or an Alfresco Meal…

Fruit Trees, Arbors and Aromatic, Clipped Hedges Lend Structure to French Kitchen Gardens, While Ever Changing Arrangements of Pretty Pots and Herbs add Artful Accents. Images above ⓒ Le Scanff & Mayer from Louisa Jone’s beautiful, The Art of French Vegetable Gardening

An Aromatic Thyme Seat – Design Featured in Gardening with Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead

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The Art of French Vegetable Gardening by Louisa Jones
-out of print but available used-

Gardening with Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead

The Nasturtium Seat in My Potager ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Article and photographs of Ferncliff © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All other photography excerpts included in review are copyright as noted and linked below the images.

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

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

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Luminous Lanterns & Torches Set Gardens All Aglow…

July 11th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Photo ⓒ Ray Main from Elizabeth Wilhide’s Lighting: A Design Source Book

Flickering candles, swaying lanterns, and glowing orbs beneath shadowy, draped vines; an artfully lit garden sets the mood for a memorable gathering or even an everyday evening meal on the deck or terrace. Too often an after-thought —or worse neglected all together in favor of straight-ahead utility— landscape lighting makes all the difference in the creation of an alluring outdoor room. Right now, I am busy designing several landscape lighting plans for clients; all of which include low-voltage architectural wash and pathway illumination as well as more decorative, ambient features. Elizabeth Wilhide’s Lighting: A Design Source Book (image above by the edition’s photographer Ray Main) and Sally Storey’s lovely book, Lighting by Design (Luke White photo excerpts featured below) are providing some brilliant inspiration. I will be covering some easy, do-it-yourself, low-voltage lighting systems in an upcoming post. But for now, I’d like to share some quick and easy ideas using solar lanterns and string lights, as well as torches and handmade tin luminarias. The purpose of ambient lighting is quite different from task lighting. Much like candles on a dining table, solar lamps and glass orbs are intended to flicker like the stars; casting a warm and inviting glow above tables, at the edges of steps and beneath the low branches of trees…
Click here for a closer look at the  Square Solar Shoji Lanterns from Gaiam

 

Shoji lanterns are particularly appealing to me at the moment. A few years back, I received two Asian-style lanterns as a gift, and when they are lit from within by tiny candles, they completely change the night time atmosphere of my Secret Garden. I also like to float candles in water bowls, or set short pillars within handmade tin luminarias when I host a party. But for lower-maintenance (and safer) drama, I love the idea of solar Shoji lanterns like the ones pictured above and below. I’m adding a pergola to the front entrance of my studio next month, and I think a few of these will add a lovely touch beneath the twining vines of wisteria…

Click here to see the circular Solar Shoji Lantern from Gaiam

Sometimes, a combination of lighting features can work in tandem to create beautiful layers of illumination in a garden. For special events, like weddings and summer cocktail parties, low voltage landscape lighting can be easily enhanced by the beauty of glass hurricanes, tiki torches or tin lanterns (like the ones pictured below). Making tin lumniarias is easy, and they are much safer and longer lasting than the paper variety. Click here for a tutorial on how to make tin-punch lanterns, which I posted last winter. Breaking up more mundane task-lighting with strings of soft, solar glass globes (like the cool recycled-glass set from Plow and Hearth and the amber set from Exterior Accents, both pictured below) also works magic, especially when sets are strung through vertical trellising, vine-clad pergolas, tall shrubs or the lower branches of nearby trees…
Photo ⓒ Luke White from Sally Storey’s inspirational Lighting by Design
Photo ⓒ Ray Main from Lighting: A Design Source Book by Elizabeth Wilhide
Click here to see Exterior Accent’s Aurora Glow Solar String Lights (Amber)
Click here to see: Pisa Torches from Plow and Hearth

Click here for: Globe Solar String Lights from Plow and Hearth

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Article and tin luminaria photo copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All other photographs copyright as noted or linked.

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

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

Exterior-Accents 125x125 Wood Burning Stoves Page

 

The Strawberry Shortcake Facial – A (Mostly-True) Country Girl Story, Where Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest Meet Fruit Mush. Plus, a Really Great Recipe for Strawberry Shortcake. I Swear…

June 12th, 2010 § 6 comments § permalink

Strawberry Shortcake with Homemade Butter Biscuits…

I grew up in a strawberry patch. Yes, I mean that literally. My family grew and sold organic berries, and when I was a kid, my sister and I spent many hours in the strawberry fields picking and tending the crops. Once you’re a grownup, this sounds pretty idyllic. However for a couple of kids, it’s kind of boring to pick berries for hours and hours on a beautiful summer day. You have to use your imagination to break up the monotony. And since my sister and I were always pretty inventive, we found plenty of creative ways to entertain ourselves…

If you’ve ever grown strawberries -or spent time picking them on hazy summer days- you know that there is a point in late June when the berries ripen so quickly, that you can’t keep up with the harvest. Add humid weather -which we often get in New England- and a few days of steady rain, and soon all of the over-ripe berries start rotting right on the plants. My dad instructed us to pick off these mushy, often slimy berries, to protect the rest of the crops from mold. And sometimes, after a particularly wet week, we would have as many throw-away berries as market-worthy fruits. Usually we would fling these slimy rejects as far away as we could; aiming for distant trees, clanging tin pie plates, wooden stakes or the odd scarecrow. Sometimes, we would collect the mushy berries and pile them on rocks for hungry chipmunks, or toss them into the meadow for birds. But then we got another idea…

This was the 1980’s and, as country kids, we were pretty fascinated with the glam city-culture beyond our reach.  T.V. Shows like Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest, mostly airing past our bedtime -though our mom was pretty lenient about those kinds of things- were populated with sexy characters who sauntered around in puffy-shoulder pads, silky robes and high heeled mules. Talk about another world. Things like sports cars, cocktail parties, private jets, exotic spas, pedicures and facials were a big part of those fictitious women’s lives. In fact, much of their scheming seemed to take place during conversations on their boudoir telephones, while (unbeknownst to their male love-interests) goopy masks of one sort or another were smeared upon their pouty pusses. At the time, our mom was also into beauty treatments, though her’s didn’t come in Borghese or Chanel jars like those we saw on Alexis Carrington’s dresser. My mother of course made her own facial concoctions from what we thought to be truly gross ingredients; mostly things you would eat -but usually not in combination- like yogurt, eggs, cucumbers and lemon juice. Definitely NOT glam. But somehow, we must have been influenced…

I’m not really sure of how it all started. Maybe it was our mom’s idea, or maybe it was something we came up with. Maybe it was an accident, and maybe it was on purpose. Anyway, one hot afternoon, certainly following some drama, a handful of smashed berries ended up on someone’s face. And then another handful… And another… And another… Until our faces were completely covered in mushy strawberry goo. Of course this reduced us to gut-splitting giggles, and we thought it was all pretty hysterical -and outrageous – but somehow we decided it was also very, very glam. This ‘spa treatment’ came to be known as the ‘strawberry shortcake facial’, and it was all the rage that summer in the field. Yes, I know we weren’t the first -and definitely won’t be the last- kids to smear strawberry mush on our faces… But it sure is a sweet summer memory…

Strawberries are still my favorite fruit, and although my berry patch is quite small when compared to the one I grew up with, I do grow several different varieties in my garden. This year the early-bearing crops are fruiting a bit ahead of schedule, and even the alpine strawberries are beginning to turn red. Strawberries are easy to grow, and I will be posting more on the subject soon. But if you are just starting a patch for yourself, you may want to skip ahead and check out the post “Strawberry (and Blueberry and Raspberry and Kiwi) Fields Forever” I wrote for B&N’s Garden Variety earlier this week, featuring a review of Barbara Bowling’s great guide to raising small fruit, The Berry Growers Companion.

As soon as they are ripe, the first thing I always make with my fresh strawberries is shortcake. To me, this treat signals the unofficial start of summer. And to this day, whenever I pluck ruby ripe berries in the field, and slice them to make strawberry shortcake -my favorite summertime dessert- I think of my sister and our glamorous fresh-fruit facials. And you want to know a secret? Sometimes, when I am by myself, I still sneak a bit of the strawberry shortcake mash on my face as a special ‘treatment’. Truth be told, on rainy days, I might even do it while scheming on the phone. Hey, it’s like I always say: who says a gardener can’t be glamorous… ?

Freshly Washed Strawberries from the Garden…

Strawberry Shortcake

Ingredients (Serves 6)

4           Cups washed and sliced strawberries – plus extra for garnish

1           Tbs sugar, (adjust to tartness of berries)

1           Pint whipping cream

1/2       Tsp vanilla

Fresh mint leaves for garnish (optional)

Biscuits

2            Cups flour

2 1/2     Tsp baking powder

1            Tsp salt

6            Tbs unsalted, chilled butter, plus extra for serving

3/4         Cup whole milk (plus extra for brushing biscuits)

Directions:

In order to get a juicy bowl of shortcake, you need to start at least an hour ahead. I don’t hull freshly picked berries, but if you prefer to do this, hull right before you slice them, or they will dry out. Wash and pick over the berries, and slice them, (not too thin… gross), into a bowl. Mash about 1/3-1/2 of them, but don’t turn the whole bowl into mush, (again, gross). Add sugar, tasting as you go, then cover the bowl and refrigerate for an hour or so. You can whip the cream and vanilla ahead of time too, if you like, and refrigerate. Some people prefer sugar in their whipped cream. I like mine unsweetened in this instance, to create a contrast between the tart/sweet berries and the vanilla-tinted cream.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients together well. Cut the butter into thin slices, (about 10), and mix into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender. Work the dough until it’s crumbly and resembles cornmeal. Add the milk and quickly mix it together, blending well. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it just a bit.

Roll the dough out 1/2 inch thick and cut into 3 inch round discs with a cookie cutter or pastry form. You should end up with about 8 biscuits. Place the biscuits on an unbuttered cookie sheet and brush with milk.

Bake 15 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Remove promptly. Split hot biscuits in half and place them in bowls. Spread with fresh butter. Once the butter has melted, add a generous amount of berries and whipped cream to one biscuit, then top with the other biscuit, and repeat. Garnish with fresh mint and a whole berry, and serve warm.

Dallas on DVD !!!

Dynasty on DVD !!!

Article and almost all photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Photos of Messy Michaela by an Anonymous Accomplice

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

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Mother’s Day Brunch? Garden Fresh Ingredients & Ina Garten’s Chive Rissoto Cakes Help to Make it Special…

May 8th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Do you love breakfast in bed? I sure do, and when I was growing up, sometimes my sister and I would serve it to our mom as an unexpected treat – especially on Mother’s Day. Part of what made it so special was the ritual of harvesting fresh flowers and herbs from the garden, and arranging them in petite bouquets on a tray filled with fresh squeezed orange juice and homemade treats like eggs over-easy, French toast or homemade muffins. There’s something about enjoying a decadent meal, without leaving the comfort of warm covers, that can make a girl feel really special. And every mom deserves to feel like a queen on Mother’s Day…

The herbs in my potager are overflowing their boundaries this year; mainly due to the unseasonably warm temperatures we are having in the Northeast. With all of the extra chives on hand, I decided to give Ina Garten’s Chive Rissoto Cakes a try; substituting them for the usual potatoes with my eggs for brunch. Not surprisingly, I was once again blown away by Ina’s ability to turn a few simple ingredients into a knock-out dish. This rice cake recipe will definitely be added to my regular brunch -and dinner- rotation. I think the flavor and texture of these cakes make them the perfect accompaniment to almost any main course -especially fish or shrimp-  or simple light meal, such as a garden salad.

I wish I could cook something special for my sister tomorrow, since this is her first Mother’s Day with baby Morgan, but we are many hours apart, and I will be working the holiday this year. Hopefully, I will be able to make it up to them on a more leisurely weekend. Someday, I will show my nephew how to arrange a special tray, like the one pictured above, for his mom. I know she would love it.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Mothers out there. Enjoy your day. Thank you for the love and care you give to your children all over the world…

A fragrant bouquet of Viburnum ‘Anne Russell’ makes a lovely centerpiece if you decide to dine at the table… (raku vase by Richard Foye)

Chive Risotto Cakes

From: Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

Ingredients:

1             cup Arborio rice

4             quarts fresh, cold water

1/2         cup plain, Greek-style yogurt (or sub. sour cream)

2             extra large eggs at room temp

3             tbs freshly minced chives

1 1/2      cups grated Fontina cheese, (or sub. 5 oz Gruyere)

1/2          tsp fresh ground black pepper

1 3/4       tsp Kosher salt

3/4          cup Japanese panko/ dried bread flakes, (or sub dried bread crumbs)

Good quality olive oil

Directions:

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil, add 1/2 tsp salt and Arborio rice. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the grains of rice are soft. Drain and run rice under gold water in a sieve until cooled. Drain and set aside.

While the rice is cooking, mix yogurt, cheese, eggs, chives, pepper and 1 1/4 tsp salt in a medium sized bowl.

Add the cooled rice to the yogurt mixture and and thoroughly combine ingredients.  Wrap the bowl in plastic and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours until the mixture is firm.

When you are ready to begin preparing for your meal, preheat an oven to 250 degrees. Spread the dried bread flakes, (or crumbs), in a working dish or bowl with low sides. Form rice balls from the mixture using a large spoon or ice cream scoop.

Using a patting motion, flatten the balls into round patties approximately 3/4″ thick, (about 3″ diameter). Place a half dozen or so patties into the bread flakes and turn to coat both sides. Heat 3 tbs of oil in a skillet set to medium-low heat.  Add the patties to the hot oil and cook 3 minutes or so on each side until golden brown. Cook in batches and add to a heat-safe dish in a warm oven.

Patties may be kept warm in an oven for a half an hour or so, and should be served hot. Try them with eggs and a special mimosa for Mother’s Day Brunch, or with dinner anytime. The patties may be made and refrigerated in advance.

Travel back to this post to find my favorite Mimosa recipe...

Time to Relax Mom …

From Ina Garten’s Endlessly Inspirational: Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

Fresh flowers from the garden…

And chives from the spring potager…

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Words and Pictures 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 prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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

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A Coffee Break with Kick! Lee Bailey’s Sour Cream Corn Bread with Onions, Cheddar and Optional Hot Peppers…

April 12th, 2010 § 9 comments § permalink

Lee Bailey’s Sour Cream and Cheddar Corn Bread with Onions – Photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Oochie, Owie, Yowie. Those are my  biceps, triceps and trapezoids speaking. They have been getting quite the workout. Gardening can be physically intense, and I work up a serious appetite raking, dragging debris and edging my client’s gardens. I also have very little free time to cook these days, (this post should have gone up yesterday, but I ran into a bit of a sanfu entering information into TurboTax on Sunday, and well, Uncle Sam must come first). On the weekends, when I’m not working, I try to make a few hearty things in the kitchen to carry me through the week.

I am a big fan of all Southern cooking -OK, who isn’t?- and I am especially fond of Lee Bailey’s country-style recipes. Cornbread has always been one of my favorite comfort foods, but although I think it’s fabulous drizzled with honey, I don’t like for the bread itself to be sweet! I prefer to to taste the flavor of real corn -very forward in this recipe- and I am picky about a moist, springy texture. One of the things that makes cornbread special is its versatility. Sure, you can make it plain and simple -without the onions or peppers I mention here- but you can also really jazz it up with fresh things from the garden. Depending upon my main course, I might add chives, sweet onions, garlic, sweet or hot peppers, and just about anything else that strikes my fancy. Sweet onions -such a rewarding crop to grow- are one of my favorite additions. It will be sometime before I have ripe, hot peppers in my garden, but they also add a special kick to this recipe – especially if you are cooking Cajun or Tex-Mex. I will be talking more about gourmet peppers, and other potager-delights in the coming weeks.

The recipe below is taken from Lee Bailey’s Country Weekends. If the gorgeous photographs of al-fresco meals in various outdoor settings don’t inspire you, the recipes and menus surely will. Although Lee’s beautiful book has gone out of print, I believe it can still be found online, both new and used. I received my copy as graduation/first-housewarming gift in the 90’s, (from a fabulous foodie-friend), and I still think it’s a wonderful book worth seeking out.

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Lee Bailey’s Sour Cream Corn Bread with Onions and Cheddar Cheese

Ingredients:

2/3 c       Safflower oil

2             Eggs, gently beaten

8oz         Greek style Sour Cream (low fat is OK, full fat is heaven)

16oz       Creamed corn, (homemade is best, but canned will work)

1 1/2 c    Yellow cornmeal

2tsp        Baking powder

1tsp         Salt

1c            Extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1              Medium size sweet onion, grated

2              Finely chopped hot peppers, such as jalapeños, (optional, and awesome)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter an 8 or 9″ pan. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl and set aside. In another bowl, mix together the oil, eggs, sour cream and creamed corn. Mix the grated onion, (and optional jalapeno), into the wet ingredients. Quickly mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. The batter will be a little lumpy and clumpy – that is good. Pour half the batter into the pan and sprinkle 3/4 cup of cheddar cheese on top. Then pour in the remaining batter. Top with the leftover 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese. Bake 45 minutes and cool for 10 minutes before cutting into wedges. This is best served hot, and don’t refrigerate it or it will ruin the texture…

And Hooo Wee. Try it with hot peppers, such as Jalapeños or Heirloom Hungarians, for an incredible kick !

Last year’s hot peppers, (including heirloom Hungarians), on my terrace in August

2009 Onion Harvest

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Words and Pictures 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 prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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

March 18th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

Tulipa © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Lyman Conservatory, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts

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

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

Smith College 2010 Bulb Show

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

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

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

Fritillaria © 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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

Primula © 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Camellia © 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Smith College Bulb Show © TGE

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

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Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world, and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? By shopping through the ads here, you can help support this site. A small percentage of each sale will be returned to The Gardener’s Eden, helping to pay for maintenance costs. Thank you!

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

March 16th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

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

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

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

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

Buy “King Corn” –  from Barnes & Noble

Buy “King Corn” –  from Amazon.com

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

Buy “Food, Inc.” –  from Amazon.com

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Article 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 Online Journal and may not be used or reproduced without written consent.

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Dreaming of a Horticultural Harem Overflowing with Hot House Hotties…

March 13th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agapanthus, © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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

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

Buy Conservatories from Barnes & Noble / Buy Conservatories from Amazon

Buy How to Build Your Own Greenhouse from Amazon

Buy How to Build Your Own Greenhouse from Barnes & Noble

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Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at TGE

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

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

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

March 2nd, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Dharma’s Sunflower Seeds, Photograph © Tim Geiss

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

Dharma in the Family Garden, Photograph © Tim Geiss

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

Dharma and the Seeds, Photograph © Tim Geiss

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

Dharma’s Sunflower Seedlings, Photograph © Tim Geiss

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

Emerging Carrots, Photograph © Tim Geiss

Article © 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. Photographs © Tim Geiss. All rights reserved.

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

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

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A Heart of Darkness…

February 12th, 2010 § 5 comments § permalink

Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’, available online at, (and image via):  White Flower Farm

Some gardeners adore bright colors, and other plant collectors crave pastels. There are those who prefer dramatic plants painted silver and gold and a few indecisive types who seek out green tonal shifts and mottled white variegation. These hues are all quite lovely, and they occasionally catch my eye, but I fully admit that I have more shadowy desires. The truth is that deep within me, hidden from the light of day, beats a heart of pure darkness – I confess that I have a passion for black plants. Rich, dark purple and velvety red; bitter chocolate and silky maroon; ruby wine and exotic ebony: these are the colors I covet. And wouldn’t you agree that on a hot summer day, it’s easy to be seduced by a mysterious garden filled with shadows?

Cryptotaenia japonica atropurpurea backs up Athyrium niponicum var. pictum in my Secret Garden…

I love the cool, quiet of my shady, Secret Garden – but even in full sun, I like to paint shadows with dark foliage and black plants. While stunning on their own, when used in artful combination, these raven-hued beauties of the plant world can make the other flowers and foliage in a garden truly sing. Beside maroon and deep purple, sky blue blossoms sparkle, and when paired with orange and yellow, wine toned foliage is a bold and dramatic choice. Variegated plants, as well as the dusty, marbled whites and soft silver tones, all appear more striking when positioned beside darker colors. Imagine ghostly white ferns floating in a sea of dark foliage, or icy silver-tipped ivy winding about the base of black snake root, (Cimicifugia/Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ or ‘Brunette’). Dark beauty shyly beckons in the shade…

Streptocarpus ‘Black Panther’, seduces from the shadows of my garden on a hot day..

As for the dark blossoms – oh my, but how I’ve fallen; hopelessly deep, and madly in love, with all of their seductive charms. Ruby red, tipping toward blackness, the deep colored dahlias delight me, and the ink-stained petals of iris can drive me truly wild. But pair the velvety allure of maroon roses with a subtle, spicy fragrance, and I will begin to truly swoon. Yes, I know it is an obsession – but you must know my passion for plants by now. I simply can not help it. In fact , as some of you may recall, I have revealed my personal weakness for dark flowers, when I wrote about the mysterious Black Panther Streptocarpus last summer, (pictured above). So, come along with me, won’t you ? Let’s wander away on a tour of the dark-blossoming underworld. Others may only be charmed by bold birds-of-paradise or delicate little, fluttering flowers. As for me, I will always prefer the slightly sinister beauties, like the dark temptress Odile, a shadow drifting silently across Swan Lake

Ipomoea ‘Sweet Heart Purple’,(image via): White Flower Farm

Aquilegia ‘Black Barlow’, available online at, (and image via):White Flower Farm

Colocasia esculenta ‘Black magic’, (image/avail. via): White Flower Farm

Heuchera ‘Obsidian’, available online at, (and image via): White Flower Farm

Angelica gigas, available online at, (and image via): White Flower Farm

Sambucus ‘Black Lace’, available online at, (and image via): White Flower Farm

Ricinus communis ‘Carmencita bright red’, available online at, (and image via): White Flower Farm

Begonia Rex ‘Fireworks’, available online at, (and image via): White Flower Farm

Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’, available online at (and photo via): White Flower Farm

Iris chrysographes, available online at (and image via): Wayside Gardens

Ophiopogon ‘Nigrescens’ (Black Mondo Grass), available online at: (and image via) Wayside Gardens

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Odile, the black swan, as portrayed by Julie Kent. Photo by Roy Rounds via Thought Patterns.

For further exploring the shadowy side of your gardening personality, I recommend both of these dark, delicious titles…

Karen Platt’s Black Magic and Purple Passion

Paul Bonine’s Black Plants

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Article and photographs (except where noted and linked to external websites and products) are copyright 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved.

All content on this site is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent.

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Think Spring: It’s Time to Start Sowing Early Kitchen Garden Seeds …

February 5th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

The kitchen garden at Ferncliff, late May 2009 …

It’s always exciting when the first boxes of vegetable, herb and flower seed begin to arrive in the mail. I know, I know. I am a bit like a little kid – but I have to check the mail every day to see if there is something waiting for me in that big metal box at the foot of the hill. The Johnny’s package from Maine always arrives first, then Botanical Interests from Colorado, and then Renee’s Garden Seeds way out in California, (hello California, I miss you!).  The first thing I do is open the box and just pour over all the pretty envelopes. I have to get that part out of my system. Then I begin grouping the seeds in order of sowing. Since I will start the onions, leeks and herbs in a week or so, those will be bundled together in the front. The cabbage, broccoli and other cold-hardy crops will be started in waves. Some will go into the hoop houses and some will be started indoors this year beneath grow lights. Oh, so much potential. I can’t wait.

First seed packets arriving …

There will be much to do and talk about in the coming weeks. For now, I just want to go over some very basic information for new gardeners, especially for those starting their own seeds for the first time. Many seed companies also have tutorials on their sites, and I recommend you visit those pages as well. The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Ed Smith is an excellent resource for new gardeners, and a good reference book for more experienced green-thumbs…

Photo © Tim Geiss

1. Sort through your seeds: Check the back of the packets for planting information. Some seeds are best started indoors, (such as onions, leeks, tomatoes, peppers, etc), especially in cold climates, and some seeds are best direct-sown, (such as peas, beets, carrots, radish, etc). If you have left over seed from last fall, you can use those seed this spring. I have left over spinach and broccoli raab to use before I open the new packs later this year. Check expiration dates. You can and should try older seeds if you have them, but be aware that if your seeds haven’t been stored properly, (cool, dry, dark location), you may not have as much success with germination.

2. Gather free-draining containers and trays: You can buy starter cells, peat-pots or plastic cells online or at your local garden center if you like, but this isn’t absolutely necessary. Seeds can be started in empty milk and egg cartons, sliced up paper towel and toilet paper rolls, homemade newspaper pots, (more on this later), and recycled, (sterilized), six packs from garden centers. Starting seed need not be expensive or difficult. The most important thing is good drainage, so be sure to poke holes in whatever ‘pots’ you create from recycled materials. I absolutely encourage you to experiment with containers! I like to set my free draining pots in plastic or metal trays to catch water and provide moisture.

3. Purchase good quality, organic seed starting mix: It’s possible to make your own mix, of course, but if you are just starting out, I am going to suggest that you buy a good quality, well-drained  seed starting medium from a local garden center. This isn’t expensive, and starter soil is very important. Do not use regular potting soil, as it is too heavy, (doesn’t drain well), and will reduce your germination and success rate.

4. Time your starting: Look at the last frost date for your area and count the weeks back. If you live in New England, you will be starting things like onions, leeks and cabbage this month. If you live in a slightly warmer climate, you may be starting tomatoes and peppers this month. I like to use the Farmer’s Almanac online as a resource for last-frost date.

5. Get started with planting:  Begin by filling your cells with moist starter mix. I like to moisten the mix first and then put it into the starter pots. This way, I won’t be washing the delicate seeds out when I add water. Read the seed packet to get the proper planting depth, especially if this is your first time starting seeds. I like to plant 2-3 seeds per cell, filling all the cells in my flats, and then I cover them, (but don’t smother, loosely cover above the soil), with clear plastic. You needn’t purchase special covers to do this, but it can be helpful. In cold, drafty homes a heating pad is very helpful to maintain the 70 degree temperature recommended for most seed germination.  Some seeds will germinate in a matter of days, and some will take weeks, (again, check the back of your packets). Be sure to keep those cells moist, but not soggy.

6. Provide light: Once you see seeds germinating, you want to immediately place the trays beneath fluorescent/full-spectrum light bulbs. The light will need to be within a couple of inches of the seedlings, or the seedlings will grow long and spindly as they reach for the light. The grow-lights should be raised as the plants grow, keeping the light source very close. Many gardeners purchase special grow lights, but once again, this isn’t necessary. I know very successful home gardeners using shop lights or other home-built contraptions, but please be safe. Lights can be left on 24 hours, and because many fires start electrically, I encourage you to use caution.

7. Water: Again, keep the seedlings moist, but not soggy. By placing your seed containers in trays, as I mentioned above, you can water from the bottom by adding water to the tray, reducing the risk of water-logging and wash-outs as the seedlings grow.

8. Fertilize: When seedlings develop their first real leaves, as opposed to the little, itty bitty leaves you see when the plants emerge from the soil, you can begin giving the seedlings an organic starter fertilizer or weak fish-emulsion mix. Look for either of these products in a local garden center.

9. Provide air circulation: Two things will be necessary as plants grow. First, thin your seedlings. Look for the strongest seedling in each cell and then with clean, sharp scissors, cut off the one or two other seedlings right down to the soil line. Be careful, but be ruthless! This thinning will reduce competition and improve air-flow. And speaking of airflow, it may help to have a small fan nearby and run this for at least a few hours every day. Air circulation is very important for reducing the spread of fungus.

Whew. Well, that ought to get you started! I will continue with tips for transplanting and hardening off in another week or so. But for now… enjoy looking over and reading those beautiful packets and all the promise they hold. Get familiar with your seeds – it will make you a better gardener !

Some of my favorites from last fall: Renee’s Garden Seeds – Long Standing Spinach and Broccoli Raab…

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All content in this article, (with noted exceptions), is © 2010 The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved.

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Providing for our Feathered Friends in the Winter Garden – Part One…

January 12th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Dark-eyed Junco, (Junco hyemalis)

Last week when snowshoeing through the forest, I was amused by a small group of chickadees bouncing from branch to branch in a hemlock stand. With so few sounds in the woodland at this time of year, the chirping birds really stood out and made me laugh. I try not to anthropomorphize – but they really did sound like they were having a passinate debate about something very important. And who knows, maybe they were.

I love watching birds in my garden and in the forest surrounding my home, so I tend to plant trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals with birds in mind. Come autumn, instead of cutting my garden back, I always leave my perennials and annuals, particularly those with seed-heads, standing for the overwintering birds. Safe backyard-havens with conifer shelters, (such as hemlock and spruce), winter fruit, and seeds are very attractive to birds. The western side of my home is buffered by a hemlock stand, where birds congregate, protected from the wind. I have also noticed juncos and sparrows crouching beneath the ornamental juniper along my walkway. Sometimes a group of of little birds will surprise me when they take flight from the shrubs in the entry garden, reminding me that they are making use of the space even when I am not.

In addition to the many cultivars of winterberry, (ilex verticillata), viburnum, cotoneaster, and other fruiting shrubs in my yard, I have also planted native perennials for seed. Beautiful gold and purple finches are always attracted to coneflower, (Echinacea), black-eyed susan, (Rudbeckia), ornamental mint, (Nepeta), and bee-balm, (Monarda). Standing sunflower heads and other annuals left overwinter in the vegetable garden attract both small and large birds, and of course the occasional squirrel.

As winter drags on, supplemental feeders with seed are useful if you want to continue providing for, (and watching), birds in your backyard. Below I have linked some excellent resources for gardeners interested in birds, (including books and recommended feeders). If you are planning to hang feeders or scatter seed in your yard, please be sure to keep cats indoors, and protect visiting birds from neighborhood felines by siting feeders away from potential ambush spots, (cats like to lurk in shrubs or beneath porch hide-outs). Woo (my overweight, senior bird-watcher), is mainly an indoor cat. Although I allow her supervised time outdoors in summer, I don’t let her out when birds come here to feed in winter, (it’s safer for her indoors anyway). Also, be sure to keep all feeders clean, (wash at least twice a year), to prevent mold and spread of disease. Remember too that birds need access to fresh water year round. I have natural brooks and ponds on my property, but if you don’t there are plenty of water-bowl options. My father has a heated bird-bath for winter, and I have noticed birds visiting it regularly.

Of course, not everyone visiting this site lives in a wintery climate. If your are lucky enough to be enjoying mild temperatures at this time of year, then chances are good you will have hummingbirds, as well as other local and migratory birds, in your garden. There are a few hummingbird and songbird resources here as well, and there will be more to come.

Over the next few weeks I will be passing along more information on how to attract and support birds in the garden. But for now, one of the most important and trusted resources for birders is, of course, the Aububon society. The Audubon website is a great place to visit if you are interested in learning more about our feathered friends. There is a wealth of information on bird feeding and bird watching for everyone from amateurs to seasoned ornithologists.

Are you seeing birds in your garden right now? A reader, (who wishes to remain anonymous), sent in the photos of Black-eyed Junco and the Cardinal you see here. If you have taken some great bird photos, consider sending them in to be featured on The Gardener’s Eden, (with credit of course), over the coming weeks. And please feel free to share your bird-sightings in the comments here. I’d love to hear about the winged visitors to your backyard havens…

Northern Cardinal, (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Dark-eyed Junco, (Junco hyemalis)

The Audubon Backyard Birdwatcher: Birdfeeders and Bird Gardens

The Backyard Bird Feeder's Bible

The Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible: The A-to-Z Guide To Feeders, Seed Mixes, Projects, And Treats (Rodale Organic Gardening Book)

projectsforbirdersgarden200

Projects for the Birder’s Garden: Over 100 Easy Things That You can Make to Turn Your Yard and Garden into a Bird-Friendly Haven

Smith and Hawken for Target Bird Feeder

Teardrop Roosting Pocket

Avant Garden Berkshire Lodge Feeder

Avant Garden Berkshire Lodge Feeder

Thistle Feeder

Bird Quest SBF5Y 36

Natural Bird Roost : Shelter

Acorn Roosting Pocket

Hummingbird Gardens: Turning Your Yard Into Hummingbird Heaven (21st-Century Gardening Series)

Hummingbird Feeder

Etched Hummingbird Feeder

Humming Bird Feeder Glass Crackle

Bird Brain, Crackle Hummingbird Feeder, Yellow

audubon oriole feeder

Plastic Oriole Feeder

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Article copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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

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A New Year’s Resolution for Gardeners: Making Informed Choices About Gardening Practices and Products to Support a Healthy, Natural Environment…

January 5th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

We  ♥ Mother Earth

The new year often brings about a desire for change and personal reckoning. We make promises, resolutions and plans to better ourselves and the world around us. Over the past couple of years, many people have committed to building environmentally conscious, self-sufficient lives. As a result, gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, has re-emerged as a popular interest and hobby.

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This return to the earth is a good thing. But it is important to remember that even in our backyard vegetable plots and tiny rooftop potagers, the way we garden, and the products and practices we choose for our gardens, all have lasting consequences for our environment. Every action we take in the natural world must be considered carefully. Words like “organic”, “green”. “sustainable” and “eco” are being tossed about freely these days. Buzz words can sometimes be confusing and misleading.

Perhaps the single most important thing we can do as gardeners is to educate ourselves. There are many websites, magazines and books written to help inform gardeners about environmentally sound horticultural practices. If you are new to gardening, or even if you have been tending a plot for decades, publications such as Organic Gardening Magazine, and books, particularly Linda Chalker-Scott’s The Informed Gardener, and Jeff Gillman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line, are essential for up-to-date, accurate scientific information. I will be writing much more about this topic come springtime, but winter is also a great time of year to read and research these important topics, before you begin planting your garden.

If I can send one message out to new gardeners it is this: just because a product or practice is organic, it doesn’t mean that it should be applied or adopted indiscriminately. Take organic pesticides for example. Even OMRI, (Organic Materials Review Institute), approved substances such pyrethrin, rotenone and neem, can be harmful or deadly to beneficial insects, including honeybees and ladybugs. All pesticides, even organic products, should be used sparingly, and only as a last resort in gardens. The best way to avoid diseases and harmful insect infestations is to provide garden plants with the growing conditions they require, and to avoid mono-culture, (growing large numbers of only a few kinds of plants), and environmental stress.

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For new gardeners, I highly recommend learning the basics of vegetable gardening from respected teachers and authors. Edward C. Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible (10th Anniversary Edition), is an excellent place to start. In addition, Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver, by author Fern Marshall Bradley, can serve as helpful reference to all gardeners. Also remember to take advantage of free, reliable online resources, such as beneficial insect identification sites. Three great online pages: The easy and fun Insectidentification.org, the comprehensive Texas A&M University Vegetable IPM site, and of course Cornell University’s Vegetable MD Online all offer excellent photographs and descriptions to help gardeners recognize natural allies and pick up on small problems before they become large and unmanageable.

I am not a big New Year’s resolutions kind of gal, but January is a good time to turn a new leaf, (even if the trees are still naked). So if you are planning your first vegetable garden this spring, or even if you have been growing your own food for many years, I hope the first leaf you turn this year dangles from the tree of knowledge. Education is a life-long process. With the help of solid, scientific information, we can work with nature to cultivate a safer, healthier garden environment for all…

The Nasturtium Seat in the Potager at Ferncliff

Early Greens in the Potager at Ferncliff


The Informed Gardener by horticulturalist, Linda Chalker-Scott

Rodale’s Magazine, Organic Gardening (2-year)

Jeff Gillaman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line

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

This article originally appeared as a guest post at The Honeybee Conservancy Blog, please pay this important non-profit cause a visit !

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Please do not use article excerpts or photographs featured here without contacting me first. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you !

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The Calming Echoes of Nature – Soothing Sounds During a Sometimes Hectic Holiday Season…

December 14th, 2009 § 5 comments § permalink

Echoes of Nature Morning Songbirds

Echoes of Nature: Morning Songbirds

I am about to head out to do a bit of holiday shopping this evening, which unfortunately means that I will be confronted with relentlessly loud music and overbearing crowds. And you know, as much as I enjoy this season of giving, I sometimes find all the bright lights and chaos unnerving. Just thinking about this sensory overload and potential unpleasantness was giving me a bit of a headache, when all of a sudden I remembered the great CD set I received as a holiday gift last year. Oh what relief. I am taking this with me in the car! The sounds of bird song, frogs, thunderstorms, crickets, wolves and more, (recorded by various naturalists), were collected by Delta Music and packaged as a set of 5 CDs. I loaded them onto my computer, and into my ipod, and then I listened to them all winter when I was writing or painting. I am so glad I remembered those CDs – what a pleasure soft, natural sounds will be when I exit noisy Target !

I am most familiar with the “Echoes of Nature” series, which I have pictured and linked here. But there are several other collections, including “Sounds of the Earth”. My favorite from this company is the collection “Morning Birds” pictured and linked below. All of these recordings are without human voice or music – just pure natural sounds…

Morning Birds

Sounds of the Earth: Morning Birds

Thinking about the bird song and natural sound sets reminded me of an interesting gift I gave to my dad last year. My father loves birds and gardening. I was excited when I found The Backyard Birdsong Guide books, pictured below, to help him learn to identify various birds by song as well as by visual cues. These books are very easy and fun to use. You simply dial in the corresponding number to the species on the page, and push a button to listen. My father loves these books, (he liked them so much that I picked up the bird-song calendar for him later).

Almost all gardeners are bird lovers, so these books and CDs make great holiday gifts. I should also mention that these audio field guide books are produced by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, so they are also fantastic teaching tools for nature lovers and gardeners of all ages. One of the keys to preserving and protecting nature is learning about it; something I feel very strongly about. But beyond the educational and relaxation value, I have to be honest – these books are also a good time. I won’t go into all of the kooky things I do with mine, (OK, so they involve the cat), but let’s just say they are an awful lot of fun over the long, long, winter…

Backyard Birdsong Central and Western NA

The Backyard Birdsong Guide: Western North America

Backyard Birdsong Book Eastern and Central

The Backyard Birdsong Guide: Eastern and Central North America (Backyard Birdsong Guides)

Birdsong from Around the World

Bird Songs From Around the World: Featuring Songs of 200 Birds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (Push and Listen)

These other non-bird centered CDs feature the sounds of the forest, (“American Wilds” has rain showers, frogs, crickets, wolves, cicadas and ambient forest sounds), frogs and thunderstorms. I noticed when I looked my titles up online, that many others get great reviews as well – but I have only heard the ones listed here. If you are curious, you can sample the sounds online through the links, and if you enjoy them, you can always download a few for yourself as a mid-winter pick-me-up when things get really cold and silent outside…

Echoes of Nature American Wilds

Echoes of Nature: American Wilds

Echoes of Nature Frog Chorus

Echoes of Nature: Frog Chorus

Thunderstorms

Echoes of Nature: Thunderstorm

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

As a matter of personal integrity, all product and book reviews on this site are purely editorial. No payment of any kind is received for mention here. However, The Gardener’s Eden is an Amazon.com affiliate, and any purchases you make at Amazon by accessing the store through the links on this site will help to support The Gardener’s Eden, at no cost to you, by netting a small percentage of the sale. Thank you for your support!

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Sowing the Seeds of a Gardening Future: Great Holiday Gift Books to Nurture the Little Green Thumbs in Your Life…

December 7th, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

miss-rumphius

Late this fall, I was helping my client and friend Leah design and install a perennial garden at her home, (if you read this blog regularly you will recall that Leah loaned me a copy of The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, by Michael Pollan, turning me on to the author’s book). Leah has a beautiful son named Sam and she is also expecting another child very soon – any day in fact. My own sister brought a little boy named Morgan into the world this past August. You may have read a post I wrote about him earlier during the fall bulb planting season, “I Believe in the Promise of Tomorrow“. Morgan was a newborn when I began working with Leah, and as result she and I spent quite a bit of time talking about children and gardening. Leah is quite keen on creating a space that is both attractive and child-friendly for her youngsters, (little Sam displayed quite an interest in helping his mom dig while I was visiting!). I delighted in everything about Leah’s philosophy, from her interest in native plants and wildlife, to her unabashed love of botanical beauty. Often my clients become friends, and they almost always give me as much as I give them. This is very much the case with Leah.

A few weeks after we finished planting the last of her perennials, a package arrived in my mailbox. When I opened it, I was surprised at the beautiful book that slipped into my hands. Leah sent a copy of Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius as a gift for my nephew Morgan, but the book immediately captured my own interest and touched me very deeply. Is it possible that the young Miss Rumphius bears more than a passing resemblance to yours truly? It could be. Perhaps that is why I found the book so moving. But more apropos to this blog, the story touches upon all of our deep-rooted need for connection to the natural world and our universal desire for beauty. Although the book is recommended for children aged 3 – 8, I clearly enjoyed it myself !

Leah and Barbara Cooney’s fictional character, Miss Rumphius, got me thinking about the importance of inspirational and educational gardening books for children. After all, many of us develop our life-long interests at a young age. If this generation of parents, (or grandparents or friends or relatives), wishes to nurture a love of nature and gardening in the next generation, there is no better way to begin than with great stories and hands-on educational books. I hope you will consider a garden-inspired gift for the children in your life this holiday season. Together with a packet or two of seed, (and perhaps a terrarium or even a worm farm for older children), these books can truly become gifts that keep on giving. Gardening often becomes not only a skill, but a passion that lasts a lifetime.

So as we move into the gift-giving season, I thought I should pass along some personal recommendations for the youngest gardeners in your life. I am quite familiar with all of these titles – in fact some are dog-eared favorites from my own childhood. These books are a delight to read as well as to behold, both for children and the adults guiding them…

Ruth Krauss 'The Carrot Seed'

One of my favorite stories, Ruth Krauss‘s poetic book The Carrot Seed Board Book is a children’s classic written more than 60 years ago. The simple lessons of gardening and life contained within these pages are as timeless and beautiful today as they were when this book was written, so many years ago. I have ordered a copy to give to my 4 month old nephew, Morgan. This book is appropriate for reading to babies and toddlers, and as a beginning book for children learning to read…

The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

I have also, always loved Eric Carle’s books. When I was a kid, I was fortunate enough to go to school with a little girl whose family actually knew this celebrated author. This lucky girl’s parents had Mr. Carle come to their house for her birthday one year, to draw pictures and read from his books. I am so glad I was invited to the party, for I will never forget the experience of watching this artist work his storytelling magic with a group of my seven-year-old friends. Now there are people who dislike Eric Carle’s books, (what could they be thinking?). Some critics insist that Carle takes liberties with scientific facts, and claim that he can sometimes be ‘dark’. Well – bah. As and artist and a gardener, I happen to adore Mr. Carle’s books, and I don’t care a whit about his botanical or entomological inaccuracies. We read Eric Carle for creative inspiration, not for scientific study; and for the imaginative child, his books are a delight beyond description. If you are looking for science, scroll to the titles below. And if you think your young child might be scared when reading about gobbled-up seeds, then wait a few years. But, I can not imagine sheltering a child from Eric Carle’s delightful stories forever, (disclaimer: I grew up reading and loving Edward Gorey – now that is dark). The Tiny Seed (World of Eric Carle) is a wonderful book about nature, as are many of Carle’s other titles, including my all time favorites, The Very Hungry Caterpillar: board book & CD, and The Very Busy Spider. They are all appropriate for kids 5 – 8…

roots shoot buckets and boots sharon lovejoy

Sharon Lovejoy is another inspirational and popular author of gardening books for children and adults. Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children, is my favorite. This wonderful hands-on book is great fun for children and grown-ups alike. A perfect gift for a slightly older child, (aged 4-8), combining this title with a few packets of seed and perhaps some indoor seed-starting trays, would make a great introductory gardening kit for any child in elementary school…

jacksgarden

Of course a children’s garden book written and illustrated by a science teacher is bound to be a fabulous teaching tool, but in the case of Jack’s Garden, author Henry Cole manages to do far more than educate – his book is truly magical inspiration. From the gorgeous drawings to the delightfully well-chosen words, this book will quickly enchant both children and adults. Henry has a rare gift, and if you would like to spark horticultural interest an elementary school children aged 4 – 8, this is a book is a great choice…

gardening_wizardry_for_kids

Gardening Wizardry for Kids by Patricia Kite is another excellent activity book, especially for restless kids looking for something to do with their hands over the winter months. Kite teaches children many indoor gardening skills through hands-on projects. Geared toward slightly older kids, (grades 4 – 6), it includes fun windowsill and kitchen experiments, including a few squiggly, wormy ones…

Gardening with Children

The last book on my list for today is the work of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, (see link in side bar at right under public gardens). The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is home to the oldest public garden for children in the United States, and this wonderful place is worth a visiting if you are anywhere in the Northeast. Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Gardening with Children (Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guide) is an excellent guide for young families learning how to garden. Even more experienced green thumbs will enjoy the beautiful illustrations in this book, while learning more about how to introduce botanical concepts to curious kids. I highly recommend this title as a gift for families with young children, especially if they are looking to explore gardening and science.

Enjoy your seasonal shopping, and Happy Holidays !

Michaela

All of these titles should be easy to find at a local book store, or through the links provided to Amazon.com. As a matter of personal integrity, I review all books and products from an strictly unbiased view-point, (I do not receive payment or product for review, of any kind). However, The Gardener’s Eden is an Amazon.com affiliate, and this site will receive a small percentage of any purchases you choose to make through the Amazon.com links here. With your help, these commission will help to pay for this site’s maintenance. Thank you for your support!

This article is copyright 2009, Michaela at the Gardener’s Eden. All content on this site is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Cozying up by the Fire: Kitchen – Gardening Guide Books to Give or Get…

November 30th, 2009 § Comments Off on Cozying up by the Fire: Kitchen – Gardening Guide Books to Give or Get… § permalink

My favorite place to read: beside a glowing fire…

The photograph above was taken last night from a favorite old chair, where I will be spending my leisure hours reading during the months of January and February. And although a few calendar weeks remain until winter officially begins in the northern hemisphere, I have already started on my seasonal pile of gardening books. Some of the titles in my stack are new, (to be reviewed here later), and some are old favorites, (listed below).

Recently a number of new gardeners have contacted me with questions about the basics of vegetable gardening. New gardeners always have great questions. How do you learn to garden ? What should you plant in your first garden ? How much do I plant and when do I plant it ? While some of us were lucky enough to have vegetable plots of our own as children, (or to grow up on, or around, farms), many gardeners begin when they move into their first home or apartment. To a new gardener, without early gardening experiences, the horticultural world can seem mighty daunting. Phrases like, ‘she was born with a green-thumb’, or ‘he can grow anything‘, or ‘do you have the name of the cultivar in botanical latin?’, only add to the mystery and anxiety surrounding the gardening world. But the truth is, no one is born with a green-thumb, and even the best gardeners can not grow everything, (we all routinely kill things, sometimes by accident – gasp!). And please, never let language intimidate you –  I have met many a ‘gardener’, fluent in botanical latin, without a shred of gardening skill. Just because the parrot can talk, it doesn’t mean he knows what he is saying !

Learning to garden is a basic life pleasure, and it isn’t difficult at all – in fact, anyone can do it. I have been gardening professionally for quite awhile now, and I still can get really frustrated with the often haughty ‘horticultural world’s’ insistence upon academic language and off-putting ‘rules’. This is no way to encourage participation. So, for you new gardeners out there, or those of you just thinking of testing the waters – you know what I say to all that? Forgetaboutit. Seriously. Gardening is an action verb. It’s like Nike says, ‘just do it‘. The most important thing you can do is to approach your little plot of earth with with the desire to have fun and to learn. Everyone has to start somewhere. Most gardeners learn through trial and error, (and a little bit of help from more experienced friends). Remember that all professional gardeners started as novices too, and they often make just as many, (and sometimes bigger), mistakes as amateurs, (making mistakes is part of learning, no matter your level of experience).

Now that we have that out of the way, I will say that there are some very handy resources out there for gardeners; well-written guide books for everyone, from the novice to the advanced horti-maniac. Understanding how plants grow and what they need to thrive is always key to your success. Soil science, (basic natural chemistry), is important; basic entomology, (insect identification), is useful; and of course simple botany, (the study of plants), is helpful. Below I have listed the three books I most recommend to vegetable gardeners. Whether you are just turning your first vegetable plot, or working on your 25th gourmet-potager-plan, these books will help you to develop and improve your gardening skills. Because I teach and coach other gardeners, I am always reviewing the basics and making new discoveries for myself.

So, if you know a new, intermediate or advanced vegetable gardener, and you are looking for a good gardening gift, you might want to consider the three titles listed below. I give each of these books a five-out-of-five star review. So here they are, listed in the order I would assign them if I were your teacher. Now, put the tea pot on the stove, cozy up beside a toasty fire, and dig right in…

Vegetable Gardener's Bible

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible: Discover Ed’s High-Yield W-O-R-D System for All North American Gardening Regions

This is the first vegetable gardening book I would recommend to anyone. Ed’s book a perfect resource for new gardeners. Written in simple, easy to understand language, it includes step-by-step guides to composting, soil testing, amending and building, seed starting, companion planting and harvesting, and more. It is worth it’s weight in gold…

rodales-vegetable-garden-problem-solver

Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver

Fern Bradley’s book is the next title on my list. This is a great book for beginning or advanced vegetable gardeners. The author covers all of the important organic gardening essentials, and digs deeper into entomology and companion planting than many other authors. I consider this an essential title in the organic gardener’s library…

Kitchen Garden Jennifer B

Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An American Potager Handbook

Once the basics have been mastered, (or for the more comprehensive vegetable gardening home-course), I usually suggest reading this fantastic potager-design book by Jennifer Bartley. Although Jennifer’s book does touch on some basic gardening information, I consider this title more of a design and layout, (also important), resource. It is gorgeous and inspirational.

Happy Reading !

Settling into a cozy chair for a season of gardening dreams. Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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

Please do not use my words or photographs without contacting me first.

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

Thank you !

The Gardener’s Eden is an Amazon.com affiliate. Any Amazon purchases made through the links here help to support this site. Thank you !

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Holiday Brunch from the Kitchen Garden and Local Orchard…

November 28th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

Heirloom Lady Apple and Yukon Gold Potato Fry…

Anticipation is in the air. Twinkling lights. Aromatic, evergreen boughs. Crackling fires. Stories. There are so many simple things to love about the coming holiday season and winter months. For me, late morning breakfasts always top the December weekend-pleasures list. After a busy year, doesn’t it feel luxurious to enjoy a leisurely morning at the sun drenched table, sipping coffee and lingering over scattered newspapers? Or better yet, how about a half day spent sprawled out upon the king size bed with a tray of warm pastries and a pot of steaming tea?  Oh, the delights of the quiet season ahead. And while it is certainly a feast made for lovers, brunch is also a fun meal to share with family and friends during the holiday season.

This is the time of year when I begin to pull out my favorite, dog-eared cookbooks, returning to the eagerly anticipated smells of homemade brunch. Although there are many fine culinary titles collecting dust on my shelves, there is one that never needs brushing off – Marion Cunningham’s Breakfast Book Marion’s delightful little collection of recipes has long been my secret, brunch-weapon. French toast, eggs, waffles, potatoes, muffins, cakes; Marion has included everything your heart could possibly desire. She even has a brunch-defining recipe called the ‘Sunday loaf’. Exactly what I was thinking Marion – exactly.

Late last night before turning in, I boiled some homegrown Yukon gold potatoes to enjoy in my own, modified version of Marion’s ‘Apple Potato Fry’ this morning. I have altered the recipe a bit to include sweet onion from my kitchen garden and heirloom lady apples, (see photo notes below), from local Scott Farm Orchard. When I got up today, I simply fried the potatoes, added fresh diced apples, a bit of onion, and cooked it for a few minutes while I stoked the fire. When done, I topped the whole thing off with fried eggs and farm-fresh sour cream. It was pretty much heaven –  and since this is the season of giving, I felt I should let you in on it….

Lady Apple (Pomme d' Api, or Roman)Beautiful heirloom Lady Apples, (Pomme d’ Api) – tiny and tart-sweet, these citron-green apples with a rosy blush are delightful to cook with, eat fresh, or enjoy in holiday decorations such as wreaths…

Pan Fried Yukon Gold Potatoes with Heirloom Lady Apples

Adapted from Marion Cunningham’s Potato Apple Fry, in The Breakfast Book

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6    Heirloom Lady Apples, (or 3 regular sized tart apples such as Pippin or Granny Smith)

5    Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4    Tablespoons fresh butter

3    Tablespoons vegetable oil

12  Small or 6 medium sized left-over, or freshly boiled and dried Yukon Gold potatoes, (or new red potatoes)

1     Small sweet onion, (such as Vidalia)

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

6     Tablespoons fresh, whole-milk sour cream, (or whole Greek Yogurt)

Wash, core and dice the heirloom Lady apples, (about 1/8-1/4″ thick). I leave the skin on for color and flavor. Place apples into a small bowl, tossing with lemon juice. Set aside.

Peel and chop the sweet onion, medium dice.

In a small skillet, heat 1 table spoon of vegetable oil over low heat. Raise the burner temp. to medium, add the onion and cook until translucent, (about 5-7 minutes). Remove onion to a plate and set aside.

In a large skillet, (one with a lid), heat the butter and remaining oil over low heat. Meanwhile, cut up the left-over potatoes into 1/8-1/4″ dice, (or use freshly boiled potatoes, patted dry). I always leave the peels on my boiled potatoes for vitamins and texture, (I simply wash and scrub them clean before cooking). As you turn the burner up to medium, slowly add the potatoes, spreading them evenly in the skillet. Add salt and pepper. Cook potatoes on one side until crispy and brown, (5 minutes), turn and brown again, (another 5 or so).

Drain the lemon juice from the apples and pat them dry. When potatoes are a crisp, even, golden brown, add the apples and toss well. Cover with a lid and cook over high heat for two two to three minutes. Uncover, stir and add sweet onion.  Cook uncovered for a few more minutes.

Remove to a serving platter and serve hot with fresh sour cream.

Lady apples diced upLady Apples diced up…

Yukon gold potatoes in panYukon gold potatoes, pan frying to a crispy, warm brown…

Heirloom Lady Apple and Yukon Gold Potato FryLady apples added to the browned Yukon gold potatoes…

Potato Apple Fry with Egg Over-EasyHeirloom lady apple and Yukon gold potato fry with an egg, cooked over-easy, and a dollop of fresh sour cream…

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

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Discovering the Botany of Desire…

November 5th, 2009 § Comments Off on Discovering the Botany of Desire… § permalink

The Botany of Desire

The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World

Like most people, I am a fairly busy person, and I don’t have a great deal of time to wander about bookstores – especially during the growing season. In fact, most of my reading over the past few summers has been limited to the review of horticultural encyclopedias, manuals and periodicals – stuff only a plant-geek could love! Sadly, I sometimes miss a book when my desire to read it would be obvious if only it were known to me. So, I owe a big thank you to my friend and client Leah for placing Michael Pollan’s work in front of my nose. Leah graciously loaned me The Botany of Desire, which I rapidly consumed with great pleasure. I now have a copy of my own. Thank goodness for pollinating-friends.

If you haven’t read The Botany of Desire, you really owe it to yourself to make the time – especially if you, like me, are a hopeless hortimaniac. Pollan’s “plant’s eye view of the world” describes how, through selective evolution, the apple, tulip, marijuana plant and potato have used the desires of mankind for their own purposes. The book is beautifully written, and fascinating.

Although the PBS special aired for only one night on October 28th, the film is available on DVD –  it is as visually seductive as the book is charming and provocative. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, and I have ordered a copy for myself. I also intend to secure a few extra DVDs to present as gifts this holiday season. Anyone interested in the natural world, and humankind’s role within it, will love watching this film…

The DVD is available through Amazon. It would make a great gift …


Michael Pollan’s book, The Botany of Desire, is also available in paperback …


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