Ephemeral Woodland Wildflowers & Return of the Ethereal Hermit Thrush…

April 25th, 2011 § 22 comments § permalink

Red Trillium (Trillium erectum)

There’s no place quite like New England for experiencing three seasons in one day. Sunday morning I rose to find a chilly house and snow covered gardens. Soon –with the sun shining brightly outside– temperatures soared to 63°. Breakfast in the snowy garden … Well, why not? I threw open the entryway doors, soaked up the warm rays, and sipped my morning coffee.

As I sat gazing upon the blushing hillside, taking in the quiet still of morning air, I heard a sweet, long-anticipated sound in the distance. Rising and falling —a mystery in shadowy hemlock boughs— the ethereal song of the hermit thrush echoed through the trees. Flute-like and gently warbling, the sound of this bird’s melancholy voice always bring tears to my eyes. All thrushes have beautiful songs —I’m particularly fond of the twilight serenade of the veery and the haunting, melodic and supremely beautiful voice of the wood thrush— but the return of the hermit to my mountain top signals spring like nothing else. The hermit thrush is the sound of childhood memory —dusky riverbeds and humid, rainy mornings— and it will always be my favorite (click on name of bird to listen to its song at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology online).

Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot) takes its name from the bright red sap of its roots

This morning, seduced by woodland’s springtime song, I pulled on my raincoat and ventured into the damp darkness —filled with the musky scent of leaf mold and dewy moss— to find an explosion of life emerging on the forest floor. Busy bees hummed about in the mist and silver-tipped fiddleheads shimmered in the dim light. The first two flowers I spotted were Red Trillium (Trillium erectum, pictured at top of article) and Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, above). Sometimes called ‘Stinking Benjamin’ due to its odor (personally, I don’t find it all that offensive, even close-up), Trillium erectum blooms a beautiful, maroon-red color. Hardy in USDA zones 3-9, the trilliums —members of the lily family— prefer moist woodland soil and make lovely shade garden plants (be sure to purchase trillium from a reputable grower – never dig plants from the wild). Due to its summer-time dormancy, this perennial is best combined with other shade plants. Red and White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) are particularly lovely companions to lady fern (Athyrium filix feminina) and cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea).

The beautiful, starry flowers of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, pictured above) are among the earliest blossoms both in my garden and surrounding forest (USDA zone 3-9). Rich in pollen, early-flowering Bloodroot flowers are an important source of food for bees and pollinating flies. Although its white flowers are lovely in combination with many early-blooming bulbs and perennials, this is one springtime ephemeral that needs no leafly companion for summer-time camouflage. Bloodroot’s intricately-edged, long-lasting leaves make an excellent ground-cover in shady situations (particularly beneath shrubs and trees, in well-drained soil).

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) – one of the earliest blooming North American wildflowers in my forest

The last flower I spotted this morning was the charming Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria, pictured above). Dutchman’s Breeches —as well as fragrant Squirrel Corn (D. canadensis), Wild Bleeding Heart (D. eximia) and other members of this lovely group of wildflowers— are an important source of springtime nectar for pollinators like bumble bees, honeybees and other long tongued bees. Various dicentra species are native to moist woodlands throughout North America (most are hardy in zones 3-8), and these delicately textured native plants make fine additions to the shade garden. Like most springtime ephemerals, the foliage yellows and withers in dormancy, so it’s best to combine these perennials with large-leafed companions (ferns, astilbe, coral bells, etc).

Trillium erectum: So what if it doesn’t smell nice! I still think it’s one of the prettiest springtime flowers

Native forest flora and fauna have always fascinated me –a childhood interest nurtured by my knowledgable woodsman father– and while growing up here in New England, I learned to identify most native plant and animal species from my dad. My love of woodland wildflowers and native plants only grows deeper with each passing year, and I enjoy sharing my passion with others. The Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center and The New England Wildflower Society are two great, non-profit, online resources for native plant enthusiasts. Learning to identify, protect and grow native plants helps support wildlife; including bee, butterfly and bird populations.

William Cullina’s Wildflowers

I’ve mentioned favorite horticultural author, William Cullina’s books here many times, and his book, Wildflowers, with The New England Wildflower Society, is never far from reach during the growing season. An excellent native plant resource for North American gardeners —including those in the west— this book serves as both an encyclopedia of plants and growers guide-book to perennial wildflowers. In honor of The Gardener’s Eden’s anniversary this month, I will be giving away a copy of this beautiful book.*

To enter, simply leave a comment on today’s post, and in your comment, name your favorite wildflower and why you love it. Be sure to correctly enter your email address so that I can contact you if you win the giveaway (your email won’t be visible to others, nor will it be shared or sold). Your entry must be received by 11:59 pm Eastern Time, Friday, April 29th. A winner will be randomly chosen from all entries received in comments, and announced 4/30 here on this post, on The Gardener’s Eden Facebook page, and also on Twitter. Due to shipping constraints, this giveaway is open to readers in the United States and Canada only.

Good Luck! xo Michaela

*This is an unsponsored giveaway- book purchased by Michaela. All reviews are purely editorial, and are based on the personal experience and opinions of this author.

congratulations to wendy, winner of william cullina’s wildflowers!

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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

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Hazy Color Drifts Carpet the Garden: Tiny Gifts of Early Spring…

April 16th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

Spring Heath (Erica carnea) Begins Blooming in Early April (click here to revisit my Erica carnea plant-profile post from last year). Here, Sprawling Across the Ledge  in the Entry Garden…

The Pink, Hazy Blur of Spring Heath is Particularly Lovely Against Grey Sky and Cool Stone. On a Blustery Day, I Can’t Help but Think of Katherine and Heathcliff, Wandering the Bluffs of Wuthering Heights.

In New England, sparkling blue skies and warm, sunny days are few and far between during the month of April. More often than not, the heavens are filled with dusty grey clouds, and the tawny, bare land lies chill and dormant, waiting for milder days. Such is the scene this weekend, with cold, raw air nudging me indoors every half hour or so, to huddle beside the warmth of a blazing fire.

Yet despite the blustery wind and cool temperatures, there are signs of spring here, and color has begun to return to my cold-climate garden. Tiny, early-flowering bulbs and ground-covering blossoms —mass planted in drifts for effect— carpet the walkways and ledgy outcrops. Spring heath (Erica carnea) is the earliest of the low-growing woody plants to blossom here. You may recall my post about spring heath, “Love on the Rocks”, from last April. Bold sweeps of spring heath and various heather ( including Calluna vulgaris ‘Multicolor’ & ‘Silver Knight’) were planted in the shallow pockets of soil between the stone; combined with ‘Sea Green’ juniper (Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’), and creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug) along the entry walk. These tough, resilient shrubs and ground-covering woody plants wake up from winter slumber looking every bit as beautiful as they did when they retired for their nap. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all roll out of bed looking so lovely?

Opening at About the Same Time as Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Crocus, Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa) Carpet the Shrub and Perennial Borders Along the Walkway in my Garden…

On the other side of the entry garden, where the soil is deep, moist and rich, a mixed border of shrubs and perennials springs to life from the ground up. Eager to greet the new season, the tiny blue blossoms of Chionodoxa —commonly known as ‘Glory of the Snow’— begin forcing their way through the frozen earth before it has had time to thaw. A welcome sight to these weary eyes after such a long winter, I note that honeybees and other pollinating insects happily greet my emerging drifts of early-blooming bulbs and ground covers as well.

Native to the alpine regions of Tukey, Cyprus and Crete, Chionodoxa (a member of the hyacinth family) is extremely cold tolerant, and tough (USDA zone 4a-9b). When mass planted in moist, well-drained soil in autumn, the blue, pink or white bulbs will slowly multiply, naturalizing beautifully beneath trees and shrubs (this bulb prefers neutral soil, but will tolerate slightly acidic to slightly alkaline conditions). In cool seasons, blossoms will last approximately 4 weeks, and when planted between later-emerging perennials, glory-of-the-snow’s foliage will fade and wither without drawing attention, as it slips into summertime dormancy. This low, ground-covering bulb (2-6 inches high, depending on species and cultivar) is one of my springtime favorites. For such a tiny flower, it sure makes a big impact. In particular, I find  blue Chionodoxa especially lovely when planted in great sweeps across lawns. Viewed from a distance, masses of these blue, starry flowers form a moody haze; ethereal, wistful and undeniably romantic in a rainy landscape…

They Remind Me of Fallen Stars, Scattered on the Garden Floor.

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Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Fresh Starts & Colorful Patterns at Walker Farm in Dummerston,Vermont…

March 24th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Like Farm Fields Viewed from Above, Flats of New Seedlings at Walker Farm Create Brilliant Geometric Abstractions

Yesterday, I spent a few happy midday hours and an exciting lunchtime meeting with my friends Karen, Jack and Daisy at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. The 241-year-old farm has long been a popular and beloved local resource for organically grown produce and vegetable starts. But in its more recent history —having been featured by Anne Raver in The New York Times and other well-known publications—  family-owned Walker Farm has become well-known amongst horticultural connoisseurs throughout New England and New York as an insider’s source for high-quality, rare and unusual annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs.

Inside nineteen greenhouses along the Connecticut River, each year Walker Farm grows more than 1,200 varieties of annual and perennial plants from seed. Walker Farm will be open on April 8th*, and at this time of year, the farm is literally buzzing with activity; with seed starting and vegetative propagation of plants in full swing. I’ll be writing much more about Walker Farm in the coming weeks, but for today here is a sneak peek at some of the young annual and perennial seedings and colorful succulent starts growing at the farm. As my eye took in the abstract, geometric shapes, patterns and delightfully saturated colors, I couldn’t help but compare the greenhouse landscape to that of agricultural fields, viewed from above.

With much of the outside world still covered in snow, I found the fresh rush of color particularly uplifting…

Just Imagine These Beautiful Colors, Trailing from Baskets and Balconies…

Endless Spring Planting Combinations and Container Design Possibilites Spring to Mind When Gazing Upon the Gorgeous Succulent and Begonia Starts at Walker Farm

A Bird’s Eye View of the Landscape Inside the One of the Many Greenhouses at Walker Farm

* Walker Farm‘s early opening date is for sale of cold-hardy pansies, seeds and garden supplies. The sale of annual vegetable & flower starts and perennials will begin as local weather permits. Please see the farm’s website here for details, plant lists, directions and other helpful information including a free, seed germination guide.

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

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A Warm Welcome to Spring: Blossoming Beauty at the Smith College Bulb Show…

March 20th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Tulipa ‘Blue Spectacle’

Narcissus, tulips, hyacinth, freesia, iris and clivia; from the brash and bold to the delicate and ethereal, all of spring’s finest ladies were on display this week at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The Bulb Show at Smith College’s Lyman Conservatory —where thousands of bulbs are carefully arranged and artfully displayed with flowering trees, shrubs and exotic plants— is an annual rite of spring for this gardener. Never one for crowds, I notice that somehow I always convince myself to brave the sea of curious characters, enthusiastic gardeners and focused shutterbugs in order to take in this annual floral exhibit. The Vernal Equinox marks the beginning of spring today —March 20th at 7:21 pm ET (23:21 UT)— and in honor of her arrival, I thought it fitting to share some highlights from The Bulb Show at Smith College. Enjoy… Soon the bulbs will be in full bloom outdoors and I can hardly wait!

Welcome Sweet Springtime. We Greet You with Open Arms and Unfolding Petals!

Delicate Charm: Narcissus ‘Hawera’ (one of my favorite garden bulbs)

Wild Color: Red Hot Tulips and Violet-Colored Anemone

Exotic Beauty: Veltheimia bracteata (South African Forest Lily, Sandui)

A Stunning Combination: Iris ‘Blue Magic’, paired with Tulipa ‘Jackpot’ (must remember to try this one)

Always Elegant: Clivia miniata ‘Grandiflora’

A Rhapsody in Blue: Hyacinth, Muscari, Anemone, Ipheon and Tulipa

Color-Saturated Flamboyance: Tulipa ‘Sensual Touch’ (I love growing the more outrageous tulips, particularly the parrots, for cutting)

Dark Drama: Tulipa ‘Queen of the Night’ (one of my all-time favorites)

Exquisite Edging: Tulipa ‘Lucky Strike’ in a sea of pink, rose and purple

Delicate and Lacy: Tulipa ‘Cool Crystal’ (so girlish)

Thank you to the faculty and staff of Smith College for such a beautiful and inspirational show.

Wishing You All a Very Beautiful Spring!

xo Michaela

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

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Oh Sweet, Sweet, Sugar Moon: Celebrate The Vernal Equinox & Celestial Beauty With a Seasonal, Maple Syrup Cocktail…

March 19th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

The Sugar Moon: A Maple Syrup Cocktail to Celebrate the End of Winter & March’s Full Moon at Perigee

With the full moon at perigee, Winter’s end and Spring’s beginning, it seems there’s plenty to celebrate this weekend. Last night —eager for a preview of tonight’s celestial events— I took a tour of the local Connecticut River Valley, seeking a spot to watch the big moon rising. I wasn’t disappointed. With the sky still blue and clear, La Luna rose proud and full on the horizon. What a spectacular dress rehearsal. And tonight —with beautifully clear conditions in Vermont— I am looking forward to bundling up and taking my front row seat on the terrace here at home.

Moonrise is at 7:23 pm ET tonight, and as the glowing orb inches over the horizon, objects in the foreground will have a tendency to magnify her already super-sized appearance (click here for an article explaining tonight’s “super-moon” at perigee from Space.com). With the silhouetted maple trees —swollen buds on full view— for inspiration, I decided to concoct a special end-of-winter/super-full-moon, cocktail. And at this moment of seasonal transition*, it seemed only natural to combine the sweet flavor of locally produced maple syrup with the earthy, warm taste of bourbon; creating a special, celebratory drink. Meyer lemon adds a perfect floral note to this delicious, golden cocktail, and offers the slightest hint of sour to contrast with maple’s rich sweetness.

So enjoy the evening, whatever your pleasure. And wherever you may be, I hope the skies are clear and the moon is bright and the new season brings you health and happiness

Cheers! xo Michaela

*The Vernal Equinox will occur at 7:21 pm ET tomorrow, March 20th (23:21 UT), making today the last full day of Winter in North America.

The Full Moon Over Budding Trees

The Sugar Moon Cocktail

Ingredients

(makes one cocktail)

2 Ounces of Bourbon

1 Ounce Fresh Squeezed Meyer Lemon Juice

1 Ounce Grade A Vermont Maple Syrup (+/- for sweetness)

Lemon peel for garnish

Method

Pour maple syrup, bourbon and lemon juice into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake, shake, shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a bit of sliced lemon peel (or a twist).

Toast as the Full Moon Rises

Sugar Moon, Sap Moon, Lenten Moon, Crow Moon or Worm Moon. Call it What You Will… This One is Sure to be Super!

Photo ⓒ Anita from “The Croggery” via  In the Company of Stone: the Art and Work of Dan Snow (click here for a peek at the maple sugaring process in this post by Dan Snow)

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The Sugar Moon cocktail is an original variation of an old, New England classic known as the ‘Maple Leaf’

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

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Moonlight on Maple Buds…

March 18th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Moonlight on Maple Buds

Watching the moon rise through bare tree limbs last night, I couldn’t help but notice changes taking place in the forest all around me. By night, swollen maple buds stand out in soft silhouette against the sky’s moonlit glow. And by day, hillsides filled with reddish twigs color the landscape in a hazy new wash of warm color.

Always a skywatcher, I am particularly keyed in to the “super moon” at perigee this month. March’s full moon is known by various Native American and Old English names, but because I live in Vermont —and March is sugaring season— I prefer to call this the Sap Moon. Also commonly known as the Worm Moon, Crow Moon or Lenten Moon, our near-by celestial neighbor will appear full tomorrow, March 19th at 2:10 pm ET (6:10 pm UTC). Because the moon is at perigee, it will appear 14% larger and 30% brighter than it usually does. The timing of a perigee moon and a full moon is unusual; taking place once every couple of decades. For more information on this amazing lunar event, check out this article on the NASA Science site and this interesting article on Space.com.

Some gardeners pay close attention to the lunar cycles in order to follow moon-favorable planting traditions. Although I find old farm folklore fascinating, I tend to be more interested in my local frost date and soil temperatures when sowing seed and planting out my vegetable starts. See the Farmer’s Almanac (linked here) for a moon favorable seed sowing chart. Enter your zip code to access dates for your specific area. For more detailed information, visit your state’s cooperative extension service (The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a great list of state links here – love that Almanac!)

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

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The Living Garden: Crow Feasting Upon Staghorn Sumac Berries…

March 13th, 2011 § Comments Off on The Living Garden: Crow Feasting Upon Staghorn Sumac Berries… § permalink

Crows feasting upon native staghorn sumac berries (Rhus typhina) in my garden this morning…

This morning while lingering over my breakfast, I heard some loud caw-caw-cawing coming from the edge of the back garden, and then noticed a pair of American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) enjoying an early meal of fruit from staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina). With its velvety branches, brilliant fall color and bright red fruits, North American native Rhus typhina will always be high on my list of favorite four-season shrubs (read my detailed plant-profile post about this under-appreciated plant here). And beyond its value as a large-scale, landscape ornamental, sumac is an important source of food for birds and other wildlife. In late winter and early sping —when natural sources of sustenance are becoming depleted— sumac fruit and seed provides food for many returning and over-wintering birds; including crow, raven, robin, thrush, cardinals, vireos, catbirds, warblers, juncos, grouse and others.

Interested in learning more about how to attract birds to your yard with landscaping? Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great site called All About Birds, with all sorts of great tips and resources. I love their free and easy to use sound-library and identification guides. Living here in the wilds of Vermont (happily without television reception) bird and wildlife watching is one of my main forms of visual entertainment, and I am particularly fond of the dark, beautiful and intelligent crow and raven. Click here to listen to the call sounds of the American Crow and take a tour of the fantastic Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Staghorn sumac fruits (Rhus typhina) persist through winter, offering sustenance to hungry over-wintering and migratory birds.

Read more about Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) here.

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The Sweet Scent of Springtime: Bewitching Hamamelis Vernalis…

March 7th, 2011 § Comments Off on The Sweet Scent of Springtime: Bewitching Hamamelis Vernalis… § permalink

Sweetly Fragrant Hamamelis Vernalis: North American Native Vernal Witch Hazel, Cut from My Garden and Forced Inside

Copper-Orange Tassels of Witch Hazel Glow in the Afternoon Light

March, much like November, is a different month every year in New England. Some seasons, March skies are grey and late winter winds are cold; heavy snow falling long past the vernal equinox. And then there are years when March is soft; weeks of misty skies, melty temperatures and warm sunshine dancing on snow banks as they slowly disappear. This morning, I awoke to yet another ice storm —a quarter inch glaze coating trees and threatening my electrical supply— and a firm reminder that the chilly season of winter yet reigns.

Still —in spite of the relentless cold, freezing rain and mountains of snow— I know that spring is slowly coming. And during this time of transition, my anticipation always reaches a fever-pitch. I stalk the woody plants in my garden, watching for hints of color and swollen buds. And this year —with so much snow on the ground— I am especially grateful for the maturing shrubs and trees in my garden, rising above the frozen terrain…

In warmer years, Hamamelis vernalis —vernal witch hazel— blooms in early to mid-March. In colder years, this harbinger of springtime may be delayed past the equinox

Many of my favorite garden plants have two stellar seasons: spring and fall. And among my favorites, the family of Hamamelidaceae (the witch hazels) ranks very high indeed. Hamamelis vernalis —sometimes called Ozark or spring witch hazel— is native to the south-central regions of the United States and hardy in USDA zones 4-8. This is a tough, colonizing shrub; tolerant of poor, scrappy soil and a wide range of moisture levels. Vernal witch hazel is a great native plant for informal hedging, naturalizing along a woodland boundary or even for something as mundane as stabilizing a steep bank. Although her flowers aren’t nearly as large and showy as those of her more flamboyant Asian and hybrid cousins (read my post on Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ here), the perfume of her early, coppery-orange blossoms is so sweet and delightful that their petite size is easy to overlook. She’s also a glorious sight in autumn, when her softly mounded form turns brilliant gold; shimmering against the blue autumn sky.

When warm temperatures arrive early in Vermont, the bloom of vernal witch hazel sometimes coincides with, or even precedes the spring equinox. But winter seems a bit tenacious this year; unwilling to loose her grip on the sleeping green mountains. Feeling a bit weary, I decided to give myself a spring prelude —as I often do— by forcing the branches of a few early blooming favorites. Late last winter, I pruned my Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ rather heavily; bringing a large armful of branches indoors for forcing. The scent was intoxicating. This year I allowed myself but a few wayward twigs from the delicious bodnant viburnum, and instead harvested a mass of Hamamelis vernalis (read more about how to force branches here)…

Freshly harvested branches of Hamamelis vernalis cut for forcing indoors

Once harvested and prepared, I placed the bundle of witch hazel branches in my cool cellar. Slowly, I am bringing branches upstairs to enjoy their honey-sweet fragrance —strong enough to scent an entire room— and delightful, sculptural form. By month’s end, various species of witch hazel will begin unfolding their blossoms outdoors, in my garden. But for now, I can enjoy a bit of spring here inside my home…

Wonderful warm color, festive form and intoxicating fragrance: who could ask for more than a visit from the good witch on a drab-grey day

Forced witch hazel branches fill my bedroom with the delicious honey-scented fragrance of springtime

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

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On Magic Wings: A Visit to the Beautiful Butterfly Conservatory & Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden…

March 4th, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

Postman (Heliconius melpomene) – Native to Central and South America

Spring may be fast approaching, but yesterday’s cold and wintry temperatures left me craving a bit of warmth, moisture and color. I love visiting conservatories at this time of year, and fortunately, I live near several, wonderful gardens-beneath-glass. One of my favorite wintertime ‘vacation’ spots is the nearby Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield, Massachusetts. The 8,000 foot greenhouse contains hundreds of blooming, tropical plants, a koi pond, birds, reptiles and of course, beautiful and exotic butterflies from all over the world.

Gardeners often ask me what they can do to attract beneficial insects —especially butterflies— to their gardens. Providing a constant source of nectar from cluster-blooming flowers —particularly Buddleia (butterfly bush), Asclepias (both native and tropical milkweed and butterfly weed), Verbena bonariensis, Monarda (bee balm), Phlox, Heliotrope, Aster, Scabiosa, Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s Lace), Clethra alnifolia (sweet pepperbush), Viburnum, Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed), Liatris (gayflower) and Sedum (stonecrop)is one of the keys to drawing butterflies into your garden. And although the plants mentioned here are favorites, remember that most flowering plants will attract butterflies. Try to fill your garden with blossoms from spring through fall (when migrating butterflies need to gather strength for their journey south), supplementing flowering perennials and shrubs with free-blooming annuals. And remember, many plants attractive to butterflies are also fantastic sources of food for other pollinators; including bees and hummingbirds. Native plants and grasses supply not only food for local caterpillar and butterfly populations, but also create and provide habitat for butterflies throughout their lifecycle and metamorphosis. Butterflies prefer protected spots —enclosed by nearby fences, shrubs/hedges, trees or other tall plants— where they may light on flowers without being blown away by wind. Creating a still oasis will help you to spot these beautiful creatures on calm-wind days.

Beyond design and planting, there is another critical thing to consider when gardening with butterflies in mind. Most gardeners reading this blog have adopted organic practices, but it’s important to note that even the use of organic pesticides can be harmful to butterflies and other beneficial insects. Butterflies of course begin their lives in tiny, vulnerable egg-clusters. As their life cycle progresses —and they become voracious caterpillars— many butterflies are inadvertently killed when they consume pesticide-laden foliage on host-plants; including leaves treated with organic substances like insecticidal soap and Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki). Use organic pesticides sparingly —only when absolutely necessary— and in a targeted manner. To avoid unintentionally killing butterfly caterpillars and other beneficial larvae, become familiar with garden insects, and their various stages of development. Learning about butterflies —and watching their metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to mature butterfly— is a great activity to share with children. If you live in New England, I highly recommend a visit to Magic Wings Conservatory & Garden at any time of the year.

Cattleheart (Parides iphidamus) – Native to Central and South America

Glasswing (Greta oto) – Native to Central and South America

Yet-to-be Identified.

Female Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) – Native to Asia (see male below)

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonia) – Native to Central and South America

Rice Paper (Idea leuconoe) – Native to Asia

Male Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) – Native to Asia

Owl Butterfly (Caligo eurilochus) – Native to Central and South America

Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) – Native to Central and South America

All of the butterflies pictured here —from Central/South America and Asia— were taken at Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory. I will be writing more about North American butterflies in spring and summer. My favorite butterflies from my visit to the conservatory were the Glasswing and Blue Morpho, and in my own yard, I am partial to Monarch butterflies. What are your favorites? Do you try to draw butterflies to your garden oasis?

Special Thanks to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield Massachusetts for Information, Resources and a Lovely Afternoon!

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

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

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Come to Me, My Sweet Willow…

February 24th, 2011 § 7 comments § permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First Hints of Spring…

February 21st, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 19th, 2011 § 10 comments § permalink

Arugula in the Hoophouse, January

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

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

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

Raking out hoophouse soil to prepare for late winter crop sowing

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

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

Sowing crops in hoophouse #3: Mid-February

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

Arugula harvested from the hoophouse

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

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

Mountains of shoveling…

Followed by more shoveling…

And bringing in wood…

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

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Article and photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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

February 12th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Mist Rising in the Snow-Covered, Green River Valley

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

White-Coated Conifers Frame the View to the North

The Snowy Still at Woodland’s Edge

A Dusting of Snow Traces the Outline of Every Tiny Branch

Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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The Wonderful Wizard of Winter: Native, Snow-Draped Canadian Hemlock

February 10th, 2011 § Comments Off on The Wonderful Wizard of Winter: Native, Snow-Draped Canadian Hemlock § permalink

Tsuga canadensis – Native Canadian Hemlock

I try very hard not to play favorites with the plants growing in and around my garden. In fact, you may have noticed that I’ll refer to a preferred species as ‘one of my favorites’, as opposed to ‘my favorite’. After all, I truly love each and every one of them, and I wouldn’t want to hurt any of their feelings. Still, there are a few stand-out, four-season beauties that I can not imagine living without. And in the great world of conifers, I must admit that I am quite partial to our native Tsuga canadensis, commonly known as the Canadian or Eastern hemlock. Though graceful and verdant year-round, Canadian hemlock is a true stunner in the winter garden. After a snow storm —when Tsuga canadensis is cloaked in a fresh coat of powder or ice— it’s impossible not to think of the enchanted forests of fairy tales. I absolutely adore this feathery, magical evergreen.

A few years ago —when I was planting an informal hedge of Canadian hemlock at a private residence— one of my garden clients told me that the shape of the hemlock tree reminded her of a wizard’s hat. Well I already liked this woman, but as soon as she said that, I knew I was going to love working with her. For long as I can remember, I’ve always thought of the Canadian hemlock as a Winter Wizard or even a Warlock (a masculine witch). And as a child, I loved playing beneath the tent-like boughs of hemlock stands; draped in heavy, sparkling white robes after a snow storm. Hemlock is a magnificent native tree; one I never grow tired of praising.

The pliant boughs of Tsuga canadensis are less likely to break when covered in heavy snow and ice

The outer branches of hemlock trees, as well as the tip or leader, are narrow and flexible. The pliant boughs give hemlock the distinctly cascading, somewhat melancholy appearance I find so enchanting. But more importantly, the springy quality of the outer wood gives this native tree an ability to shed snow and ice, avoiding winter breakage –a common problem for other conifers, such as white pine. Hemlock needles are softly rounded; blue-green on the top and silvery on the reverse (the shiny-whitish color is created by tiny openings along the backside of the needles called stomata, which —for lack of a better word— allow the tree to ‘breathe’). When breezes blow through a hemlock’s bows, the pale undersides of its needles are exposed to light; creating a subtle, shimmering effect. Growers have worked with this trees beautiful cascading habit and needle coloration, developing cultivars with mint-tinged branch tips and weeping forms. And because it responds well to pruning, eastern hemlock offers four-season privacy screening when grown as a soft, ever-green hedge in semi-shaded, moist sites. The feathery, deep green needles provide a lovely contrast and sensual backdrop in many of my garden designs.

The Tops of Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) boughs are covered with dark, blue-green needles

On the reverse side, Tsuga canadensis needles have a light, almost silvery-green color. And when wind blows through the branches, lifting and exposing the undersides of needles to flashes of light, the Canadian hemlock takes on a subtle, gorgeous, two-tone appearance.

With a North American range spanning from Nova Scotia southward to the mountains of Alabama and westward to Minnesota (USDA zones 3 – 8/9) Tsuga canadensis is commonly found in moist, shady woodlands; often along forest streams or cool, north-facing ridge lines. Because of their wide-spread but shallow-root tendency, hemlock are vulnerable to drought, but are less likely to be knocked down in high winds. Here at the northeastern crest of my ledgy site, substantial stands of native hemlock provide a safe haven and nesting habitat for local birds as well as food (seeds, twigs, bark and needles) and shelter for various mammals (including squirrels, porcupines and deer). Although hemlock can grow over 100 feet in ideal conditions, they typically reach 40-70 feet within their native range. When grown as a specimen tree in the open —or planted in small groups—hemlock will develop a soft, full, conical shape (yes, shaped quite like a wizard’s hat).

Because hemlock trees produce acidic tannins, they are quite disease and insect-resistant. However, there exists one recent and notable exception: the wooly adelgid (Adelges tsugae). Closely related to common aphids, this invasive insect pest —introduced from Asia— has the potential to wipe out native, eastern hemlock populations (read more about this pest and how infestations are treated at the UMass Extension Service website here). Although I have not seen the wooly adelgid in my immediate area, I am constantly on the lookout for this destructive insect when pruning hemlock hedges for my clients in early spring. Currently, the only effective, organic treatment for wooly adelgid is thorough, repeat applications of horticultural oil. Entomologists continue to search for natural, biological adelgid controls, and I have high hopes for the tree’s survival. I simply can not imagine the northeastern landscape without my beloved Winter Wizards…

This Canadian hemlock trio forms a soft, four-season screen at the northeastern edge of my garden

Here in late November, the Tsuga canadensis trio provides color and textural contrast and backdrop to the red-twig dogwood, birch and ornamental grasses in the foreground of the entry garden

This beautiful, weeping hemlock (Tsuga candensis ‘Pendula’) —pictured here at The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts— is one of the finest examples, and uses of the pendulous form, that I have ever seen. See more photos, and read a bit about The Bridge of Flowers by revisiting this post (click here).

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Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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

January 12th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Sunrise on the Frosty Tufts of Miscanthus sinensis

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

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

Silhouetted Branches of Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ at Sunrise

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

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

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

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

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

In this Moment, Could January be Upstaged by June?

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

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

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

The Stillness of a Frosty Morning and a Perfect Winter Sunrise

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Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Sparkles, Drifts, Patterns & Shadows: The Beauty of a Frosty Winter’s Morn…

December 30th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Frosty Holiday Decorations

Oh, the shimmering, glimmering glamour of a frost-covered garden! After days of howling wind, I awoke to a still hush and brilliant sunrise. I simply had to rush outside to greet the glistening morn. Of course, there was no time to change into snow boots and jacket. Oh no. So I grabbed my camera and ran, bundled up in my fluffy robe and fuzzy slippers, to enjoy the first light of day. If it was cold, I never noticed. Such is the power of beauty. Even in winter, the garden beckons her faithful servant with a seductive call. And even in the quiet season, she never disappoints…

Sparkles, Drifts and Shadows (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’, Juniperus sargentii and Rudbeckia hirta shadows)

The Frost Covered Fire Sculpture Awaits New Year’s Eve Celebrations

Rudbeckia and Solidago Dance in Sparkling Snow

Frost-Coated Furniture on the Stone Terrace

And Color? Oh Yes. The Garden Still Sings in Red, Green and Gold (Cornus alba ‘Siberica’ and Kalmia latifolia)

Golden Miscanthus sinensis Shines Against the Violet-Grey Mountains, Bare Tree Branches and Cerulean Blue Sky

The Delightfully Shiny, Bright-Red Fruit of Viburnum setigerum

Rudbeckia Hirta Seed Heads Soak Up the Sun

Two Paths Diverge – Dramatically

A Wind-Blown Patch of Bare Textured, Lawn

And Piles of Sensual, Sparkling Snow

The Tippy Tops of Hosta Seem to Rise from Winter Slumber to Greet the Shimmering Morn…

Winter Borders Gleam, Greeting the Wandering Gardener

A Beautiful Way to Begin the Day…

With Sparkles and Shadows on Snow Drifts

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

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Love in the Afternoon: Delightfully Decadent, Lemony French Toast…

December 17th, 2010 § 5 comments § permalink

Love in the Afternoon: Delightfully Decadent, Lemony French Toast

Oh yes. I know what you’re thinking. What is she doing, lounging about in the afternoon with a plate of French Toast? Oh the sloth, the sloth! It’s just nothing but wickedness {smirk}. OK. Yes, Santa Baby, I have been a little —how shall we say— self-indulgent recently. But, try to go easy on me. During the short New England growing season —with gardens to plan, plant and tend— there are few leisurely days on my calendar. So I really treasure this quiet time of the year, and I like to treat myself a little.

Mid-Day Snow-Squall

With snow flying, and daytime temperatures struggling to reach the double digits, outside work is off the schedule. These days, I like to wrap myself in fluffy office-attire and slip into cashmere power-slippers before I settle into my couch desk for the day. Oh, I’m still keeping busy -of course. I read and review garden and landscaping books. I write. I research. I draw and sketch out new design ideas. I edit photos. I begin to shift focus to my painting studio. And you know, it’s amazing how much you can get done when you’re comfortable. That said, I find it really hard to stay focused when my stomach starts to grumble. And, it seems this little conversation with my tummy always takes place in the late afternoon. So rather than argue, I give it some love. Which brings us, of course, to the Delightfully Decadent, Lemony French Toast…

Love in the Afternoon: Delightfully Decadent, Lemony French Toast

Love in the Afternoon French Toast

Ingredients (serves two with an appetite, divide or multiply according to desire):

6             Slices of day-old, thick, French bread

3             Extra large eggs

1/2        Cup of cream

1/4        Cup of Vermont maple syrup

1             Teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon (plus extra for sprinkling)

1             Teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1             Teaspoon vanilla

1            Teaspoon freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice

A pinch of  Salt

Fresh zest of one ripe, golden Meyer lemon (Do you grow your own yet? Oh… you really must)

For Pan:

1/2           Stick of sweet butter

For Serving:

Real Vermont Maple Syrup to Taste (warmed)

Confectioners sugar for sprinkling on top

Sweet, Organic Meyer Lemon from VivaTerra’s Lemon Topiary

Directions:

If you’re making breakfast for a group, warm an oven to 250 degrees fahrenheit to hold batches of toast on a platter until you are ready to serve.

When I make French toast I mix the batter in a bowl with a fork and then pour it in a shallow dish (a pie plate or any shallow dish will do the trick). Add each slice of bread to the dish one at a time; dunking each slice in and swishing it around as you go, to absorb the batter. Allow the slices to sit in the dish while you warm a couple of tablespoons of butter in a good sized skillet. When the butter is melted, raise the heat up to medium and add the toast. Use a good sized skillet to hold at least three slices at a time.

Add the slices of bread to the skillet and fry each side until golden brown. As the toast is frying, I like to drizzle it with maple syrup and sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on each slice. Be sure not to over-cook French toast. You want the bread moist and luscious on the inside, and golden-brown/lightly crispy on the outside.

Sprinkle each serving with confectioners’ sugar and serve with a pat of fresh butter and warm Vermont maple syrup.

Can you feel the love?

With proper care, Meyer lemon trees make wonderful houseplants. A lemon topiary is a beautiful & unusual holiday gift that keeps on giving. Here’s one good source: Organic Meyer Lemon Topiary from VivaTerra. Trees from this company are sent priority, in pretty clay pots. And if you hop to it, there’s still time to order before Christmas.

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Article and Photos (excepting links from VivaTerra) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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

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Papery, Peeling, Striped & Shaggy: Textural Bark Brings Warmth & Beauty To Stark, Wintery Landscapes…

December 15th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

From peach and cream to reddish brown, the peeling bark of our native, paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is one of my favorite textures in the winter landscape…

Brr… It sure is cold outside. With temperatures hovering around 15 degrees fahrenheit here in Vermont, it takes an awful lot to stop me in my tracks for more than a minute or two. And yet this afternoon, as I walked up the garden path from the driveway, I couldn’t resist lingering outside to enjoy the light and snap a few quick photos to share. Winter is an incredible time for appreciating the subtler forms of botanical beauty -particularly the colors and textures of twigs and bark. Although most of the trees and shrubs in my garden were chosen for the quality of their form, foliage, flowers and berries, bark always plays a part in my plant selection as well.

Living in a remote forest-clearing, I’m lucky to be surrounded by woodlands filled with beautiful, native trees –including one of my favorites, the dramatic, white-barked paper birch (Betula papyrifera). Paper birch trees are gorgeous any time of the year, but in winter, the peachy-cream and cinnamon hues of their peeling bark really stand out against dark hillsides and brown tones in the landscape. The trunks of other native trees, including the common striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) with its snake-like bark, and dramatic shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), also add tremendous beauty to winter’s fine tapestry of hues and textures. Naked though they may be —stripped of their foliage for nearly six months out of the year— the deciduous trees and shrubs of New England remain a constant source of fascination to my eyes.

A dusting of snow enhances the cinnamon-colored bark of this oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) like a sprinkling of sweet sugar

Taking my cue from nature, I’ve added a wide variety of trees and shrubs with peeling, papery, striped and shaggy bark to my garden; adding visual interest throughout the quiet season. In winter, the surfaces of these textural plants enhance the beauty of outdoor spaces —including beds and borders, paths and walkways— as well as the views from the doors and windows of my house. Come December —as snow and ice begin to settle into the nooks an crannies on tree bark, woody stems and twigs— the colors and textures of these plants are intensified; adding to the winter-wonderland surrounding my home.

Now is great time to bundle up and make note of the subtle details in your home landscape. Conifers, as well as the brightly colored twigs and berries of deciduous trees and shrubs add an immense amount of beauty to the winter garden –of course. But also, keep the texture of shrub and tree bark in mind as well. In addition to the specimens pictured here, you may wish to consider Striped Maple cultivars (Acer pensylvanicum cvs.), Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), River birch (Betula nigra), Katsuratree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), Cinnamon Clethra (Clethra acuminata), Dogwood species and cultivars (Cornus), Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), and one of my all-time-favorite trees (and recent garden addition) Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica), among other texturally dramatic choices for the garden.

Come and take a peek at some of the beautiful colors and textures I enjoyed outside in the garden today; snapping photos until my fingers grew numb…

The peeling, cinnamon colored bark of Hydrangea quercifolia stands out beautifully against a backdrop of Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ and Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’

The reptillian-looking bark of this Mountain Silverbell (Halesia tetraptera) is beautiful year-round, but when the leaves drop, it really stands out against a back-drop of snow…

The textural branches of native ninebark and cultivars (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’) adds color and movement to the winter landscape. Here, a tiny strip of peeling, patterned bark catches the wind on a December day…

Although the trunk of this Stewartia pseudocamilla will develop far more texture and color as it matures, the bark is still beautiful and interesting in youth…

Both the luminous cinnamon-red color —particularly when backlit as here— and curling texture of beautiful paperbark maple (Acer griseum) make it one of my favorite trees…

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Article and Photographs are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. 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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Garden Structure & Seasonal Texture: White Lace and Sparkling Silver Tulle Dance and Flirt in a Prelude to Winter…

December 11th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

The Entry Garden at First Light on December 11th

I often wonder why I bother to mourn the end of autumn when there’s so much magic and beauty to be found in the garden during this quiet time of the year. As we near the winter solstice, I find myself every bit as enchanted by the garden as I am during the spring and summer months. My morning walks are cold —no doubt— and my finger tips burn a bit as I run them over the frosty stone walls. But the rich, visual rewards of those nippy strolls at first light make every shiver worthwhile.

Some gardeners prefer to cut back the perennials in their beds and borders in late autumn and early winter. And there is an argument to made for this approach. Certainly, there are places within the garden where I fuss over tender plants; protecting them from cold with mounds of compost or blankets of evergreen boughs. But by and large, I prefer to leave perennials standing throughout winter; that I might enjoy both the bold and delicate textures and how they sparkle with snow and ice after storms. Vertical lines, relief and pattern, both in the garden’s hardscape as well as in the more ephemeral plantings, are key to creating structure and beauty in a winter garden.

Seed Pods Provide Food for Birds and Beauty for Human Eyes: Rudbeckia hirta and Solidago with Sparkling Frost and Snow

Textural Grass Catches Light, Snow and Ice in the Quiet Season. Switch Grass (Panicum virginicum ‘Heavy Metal’) with A Light Morning Glaze…

Climbing Hydrangea (H. petiolaris) Adds Texture and Color to A Grouping of Boulders, and Provides Nooks and Crannies for a Dusting of Fresh Snow…

I often talk about the “bones” of a garden when I discuss design with my clients. This framework, or skeleton, is what gives the landscape shape throughout the year. Walls, fences and arbors, trellises and obelisks, benches and chairs, sculpture and boulders are all examples of objects that add to a garden’s hardscape and structure. Living plants, particularly dramatically shaped trees and shrubs are also helpful in creating a season-spanning garden design. In terms of defining outdoor space, hedges —both formal and informal— alles, espalier fences, and other features are useful in building permanent trans-seasonal walls.

Sculpture and Lichen-Covered Stone Catch Snow: Here, the Guardian Stands Sentry at the Edge of the Forest

The Rusty Color and Grid-Patterned Seat Make this Bench a Valuable Winter-Garden Object

Perennials May Fade at Autumn’s End, but Dan Snow’s Stone Seat and Evergreen Conifers Remain (Young hemlock: Tsuga canadensis)

Here in New England, field stone has long been a popular material for dividing garden spaces, and it will always be my personal favorite. From retaining walls and steps, to formal and free-form sculpture, I am most fond of this natural and versatile material. Throughout the seasons —but especially during the quiet season of winter— Dan Snow’s stonework is the central architectural feature and design element in my garden. Because Dan’s walls are comprised of subtly colored and textured rock —often softened by blueish lichen and emerald moss— they seem quite alive, even though they are technically inorganic. Whats more, the arrangement of the stonework itself —whether stacked horizontally, vertically, or arranged in dramatic and shifting pattern— adds artistry to the garden’s bare architecture in winter.

Steps and stairs —though they can be constructed from a wide variety of materials— must safely function and enhance a garden throughout the seasons. What we call “hallways” in our homes are the “pathways” in our gardens. These frequently-traveled spaces are as important outdoors as they are inside the house. Stepping stones, pea stones and gravel all add texture to the garden throughout the year. And in winter, walls, pathways, steps and other architectural features become highly exposed design elements. As crazy as I am about plants (and we all know that’s pretty crazy) my primary focus when designing a garden is always on the underlying structure. Build your garden before you decorate it with plants –and build it well, for it will hold, protect and exhibit your botanical treasures as your house contains, shelters and displays all of your worldly possessions! In winter, outdoor rooms are as stark as an empty house. And usually, the more attractive the garden’s architecture, the more beautiful the winter garden…

Stone Wall and Juniper Line the Winter Garden Walkway. Dan Snow Added both Candle Niches and Seats within the Wall, Creating Opportunities for Rest and Display Throughout the Seasons…

Stone Steps by Dan Snow Look Beautiful with a Dusting of Snow, and the Varied Height of the Sloped Setting Makes a Lovely Display for Frost-Proof Pots and Evergreen Plants…

Winter is a Fine Time to Enjoy Works of Art —Both Large and Small— in the Garden. Dan Snow’s Fire Sculpture Looks Particularly Beautiful in the Snow…

Structural elements and textural interest provide nature with a three-dimensional canvas for wintery works of art. And although it’s possible to spend a fortune on architectural details and plants, keep in mind that even the humblest cast-aways —flea market benches, unwanted boulders, simple fences and wire cables, twig teepees and homemade works of art— are just as effective when it comes to creating spaces and adding tactile elements in the garden. The rusty surfaces and cracked edges of second hand and found objects often enhance a snowy landscape. Set things out in the garden and move them around until you find a spot that feels right. Begin by using what you have on hand and playfully experiment with the beauty of the winter garden…

The honey-colored remnants of Golden Hops Vine (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’) add beautiful texture to a simple cable rail along a deck in winter. Be on the look-out for perennials and vines with persistent papery, dried flowers and seed heads -these textural elements are key to winter garden detail…

A Mass Planting of  Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’ ) Forms a Season-Spanning ‘Screen’; Adding Texture and Color to the Garden Throughout the Seasons, in Addition to Providing Enclosure and  Natural Transition to the Meadow and Mountain Tops Beyond

Old wire chairs, even if they are no longer functional, provide endless interest in the garden throughout the seasons. In winter, this ivy-patterend chair casts a gorgeous shadow in the snow…

At the Garden Entryway, the Texture of Juniperus horizontalis and the Natural Stone Ledge Both Stand Out with a Dusting of Snow and Create a Backdrop for Other Plantings Throughout the Seasons…

Boulders —Remnants from Site Excavation— Make a Pretty Vine-Covered Grouping at Garden’s Edge (Hydrangea petiolaris)

Dan Snow’s Stone Steps Dusted in Snow

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All Stonework Featured Here is by Vermont Artist Dan Snow

Article and Photographs are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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A Morning of Sunlit Snow Flurries & Quiet Moments of Wintry Beauty…

December 8th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Golden, Sunrise Snow Shower

Sunlit snow flurries, stark, white tree trunks and icy sparkle at the tips of my toes; it seems that every morning I awake to find yet another golden dawn, illuminating a crystal-and-snow-coated wonderland. And now, as late autumn gently fades —heralding the arrival of early winter— I am dazzled-as-always by the beauty of the changing seasons. The remarkable quality of light, the clear, crisp air, and the sharp lines of the early December garden make this month as beautiful and varied as any other…

Violet pastilles or Labrador violets (Viola labradorica)? Sugar-coated delight, either way.

Black Raspberry Sherbet or Frosted Coral Bells (Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’)?

If this oakleaf hydrangea ( H. quercifolia) had a flavor, I think it would taste something like frosted rum-raisin ice cream. This year, the pretty specimen by my front door is really holding onto her regal-colored cloak…

Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) sparkles like frosted fruit leather in the morning light

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) and Juniper (J. x pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’) in a sparkling, golden snow squall

Frosty Flame Grass (Miscanthus purpurascens) at Forest-Edge

Crystal-Coated Coral Bell Color (Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’)

Chilly Little Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina)

Snow-Dusted Secret Garden Steps

Delicate Snow, Like Fine White Powder, Coats Lacy, Evergreen Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and Ledge

Rodgersia aesculifolia with a fresh white-wash

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For more winter-garden inspiration, check out my post today for Garden Variety  (click here).

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Article and Photographs are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. 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 will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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The Magical Moment of First Snow…

November 27th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

The Magical Moment of First Snow

It seems that suddenly the world is all a’swirl with a dizzying array of frozen, white flakes. Just now running out the door with a million things to do, but I simply had to share the magical moment of First Snow…

Cornus alba ‘Siberica’ – First Snow

Cotoneaster and Juniperus horizontalis – First Snow

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Stone Wall with Candle-Niche Detail by Vermont Artist, Dan Snow

Article and Photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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