Welcome August & Long, Languid, Sultry Summer Days …

August 1st, 2011 § 5 comments § permalink

August is a Table Filled with Freshly Cut Lemon Queen Sunflowers

Welcome August … beautiful, voluptuous month of sultry days and starry nights. August is a month of fresh produce and delicious home cooked meals. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, summer squash, beans, garlic and onions: the warm-season crops are at peak flavor and production. Pure Bliss. It’s a time to make time; to kick back in the hammock with a book, to pull out the kayak, and to watch monarch butterflies dance on the wind …

Welcome Golden August. We Dream of Your Languid Beauty All Year …

And Colorful Potatoes Pulled From Rich Earth (click here for potato salad recipe)

August is a Month of Abundance in the Potager: Morning Breakfast Harvest of Fresh Herbs, Greens, Cherry Tomatoes & Early Shiitake (click here for shiitake growing tutorial)

And Fat Tomatoes Warmed by the Sun: Here Drizzled with Nutty Olive Oil and Sprinkled with Zesty Purple & Classic Green Basil

August is Also a Month of Drying: Garlic, Onions, Shallots and Herbs Fill the Sunny Terrace (click here for garlic growing post and click here for information on drying onions, here for freezing herb cubes and here for hang-drying herbs)

And Putting Food By: Sun Dried Tomatoes (click here for sun dried tomato tutorial post)

Drying Herbs in the Kitchen (click here for post)

Gardens Filled with Fresh White Blossoms: Shasta Daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum) on the Potager Path

And Refreshing Lemon Yellows (Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’)

Bold Violets (Liatris ‘Kobold’ with Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’)

And Brilliant Orange: Monarch Butterfly on Asclepias curassavica ‘Silky Deep Red’

It’s a Month of Stormy Drama

Brilliant Sunsets

And a Time for Dreamy, Twilight Reflections

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/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 reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Cool Inspiration for Hot Summer Days: Beautiful Cookbooks & Delicious Dinners from the Garden …

July 28th, 2011 § Comments Off on Cool Inspiration for Hot Summer Days: Beautiful Cookbooks & Delicious Dinners from the Garden … § permalink

Hot day, Cool Dinner: Pasta with Arugula, Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Garlic

Although I don’t consider myself anything more than an average home cook, experimenting in the kitchen certainly is one of my favorite pastimes. And in mid-summer —when my potager is filled with the best produce of the season— it’s a delight to stroll down the garden path and fill a basket with fresh ingredients for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I especially love going out and trying a new dish at a favorite restaurant — and later, trying to replicate it at home. I’m a bit of a culinary voyeur, and I follow many food blogs (see right side bar) and delight in beautiful cookbooks, filled with simple, seasonal recipes.

Sometimes, when I have time for a leisurely lunch at home on my terrace, I will kick off my shoes and spend an hour browsing cookbooks in search of dinnertime inspiration. Currently, the books at the top of my stack include David Tannis’ Heart of the Artichoke  and A Platter of Figs, Rose Elliot’s New Complete Vegetarian, Patricia Wells’ At Home in Provence, Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table and Phaidon’s beautiful Recipes from an Italian Summer. The recipe below –a favorites on hot, humid days– was adapted from one I found in the New York Times; a repost from two years ago. Hard to believe so many summer days have passed since I last shared it here. What are  your favorite recipes from the garden?  Do you have any cookbooks or resources you’d like to share with other readers? I’m always looking for new kitchen inspiration, and eager to put my garden-fresh produce to good use!

Mid Day Inspiration: Browsing Cookbooks Beneath the Shade Trees

Lunchtime Garden Harvest (Matt’s Wild, Sungold and Black Cherry tomatoes from the garden)

Pasta With Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Arugula

(Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman‘s original recipe for The New York Times)

1 pint cherry tomatoes (halved, or if larger, quartered) Matt’s Wild, Sungold, Etc.

1 plump, fresh garlic clove, minced (more to taste)

Salt to taste (try coarse sea salt or fleur de sel)

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 cup arugula leaves, chopped coarsely

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3/4 pound fusille or farfalle pasta

1/4 cup freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese, (more to taste)

Combine the cherry tomatoes, garlic, salt, balsamic vinegar, arugula, basil, and olive oil in a large bowl. Set aside at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings accordingly.

While the mixture rests and flavors blend, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a salt and cook the pasta al dente, (still firm to the bite). Drain the pasta, and toss with the tomatoes. While the pasta is still hot, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and serve.

Serves 4 as a light dinner or first course.

Drying Garlic on the Terrace

Summer Squash and Blossoms in the Potager

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/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 reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Fresh Picked Raspberry-Mint Daiquiris And Hazy Summer Reflections …

July 25th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Fresh-Picked Raspberry-Mint Daiquiri

An Afternoon Swim

Favorite Old Summertime Slides

Truth: I’m suffering from a bit of vacation envy this week. Months have passed since I’ve had a whole day to myself, and to be honest, I really need one. It’s been terribly hot, and I’ve been doing projects back-to-back. I try to “make hay while the sun shines”, as the saying goes, and during the growing season, taking time off work always feels impossible. But summer days pass quickly —at the speed of light, really— and it’s important to savor their sweetness. My nephew will soon be two years old, and I can’t remember the last time my toes touched sand. I miss my friends. I miss my family. It’s time to slow things down a little and plan a mini-vacation: pick some wild berries, kick off shoes, float in the lake and mix a cocktail or two …

Fresh-Picked Raspberries and Mint

Hazy Green Mountains at Sunset

Savoring a Bit of Summer

Never one for frozen-cocktails, I prefer my libations lightly chilled and shaken with hand-cracked ice. The classic daiquiri (made with lime juice, white rum and gomme syrup) wasn’t originally a blender drink; though on a hot day, many prefer to serve it that way. There are so many variations on the basic recipe, but in mid-summer, is there anything tastier than a cocktail made with freshly picked, juicy fruit? The heavenly fragrance of raspberries and mint, the glow of saturated, backlit color; why it’s just summertime in a glass …

Old Fashioned Raspberry-Mint Daiquiri

Ingredients (one cocktail, multiply to suit any number of companions)

1         handful fresh picked raspberries (about 20 juicy, plump berries)

6         fresh picked mint leaves, slightly crushed

1 2/3  oz Puerto Rican White Rum

2/3     oz fresh squeezed lime juice

extra mint and raspberries for garnish and nibbles

hand cracked ice

*dash of gomme or simple syrup (*optional if berries are tart)

Method: 

Place raspberries and mint in a cocktail shaker and lightly mash (*if berries seem tart, add a dash of gomme/simple syrup to sweeten the drink). Add cracked ice to the cup an pour in the rum and lime juice. Let it all sit for a minute, then cover and shake it all up. Set aside. Add a sprig of mint with three raspberries to a double cocktail glass. Strain contents of shaker into the glass, walk out to the deck, kick off your shoes, sit down and sip. Repeat as necessary.

 Cheers! Here’s to Summer!

Red Sky at Night – A Glowing, Raspberry Sunset

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/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 reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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A Warm Welcome to Sultry Summer …

June 21st, 2011 § Comments Off on A Warm Welcome to Sultry Summer … § permalink

A Warm Welcome to Summertime with Pyrotechnic Flower Bouquets

Summer begins today at 1:16 pm EDT, and I’m welcoming her with open arms. After a long, cold winter followed by a wet, drizzly spring, I’m more than ready for hot and hazy, hammock days and sultry summer evenings. There are so many things to love about summer: picnics in the afternoon before a night filled with fireworks, leisurely days spent skimming stones on the river, strawberry shortcake for supper and picking homegrown tomatoes straight off the vine to eat with juice running down your chin, dancing barefoot on the terrace to Cachao with a chilled glass of sangria, and dining al fresco beneath a canopy of stars…

What are some of your favorite summertime pleasures?

Romantic Weekend Picnics
Cool Dips on Hot, Hazy Days
And Strawberry Shortcake for Supper (click here for recipe)
Afternoons Filled with Music and Al Fresco Dining on the Terrace
And Cool Sangria on Sultry Evenings (click here for my not-so secret-anymore recipe)

Here’s To Summer, My Friends … Cheers!
xo Michaela

Words & Photographs ⓒ Michaela Medina – 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 reposted, reproduced or reused in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Gathering Bouquets Between Raindrops & Simple Tips for Fresh Cut Flower Care

June 12th, 2011 § 7 comments § permalink

Peony blossoms are of course my favorite cut flower, and by growing many cultivars, it’s possible to extend the flowering season for a month or more

After two days of steady rain, I slipped outside this morning to wander around the garden between raindrops and gather fallen flowers for fresh bouquets. Poetic as drooping blossoms look when tumbling from perennial borders, I can’t imagine leaving them on the lawn to be devoured by snails. Oh no. In fact, the main reason I grow peonies is for cutting, and I’ve planted many other perennials, annuals, trees and shrubs with fresh flowers for bouquets in mind. False indigo (Baptisia australis), iris, columbine (Aquilegia), fox glove (Digitalis), old-fashioned roses and  poppies (Papavar orientale), are some late spring favorites for the vase. I love all colors, but I am particularly fond of deep violet, blue and cerise colored blossoms. I also cut foliage for flower arrangements, including entire branches from shrubs and trees. Of course fragrance trumps almost all other considerations when it comes to fresh cut flowers, so lilac (Syringa), fragrant abelia (Abelia mosanensis), roses, lily of the valley (Convularia majalis) and of course peonies, will always be planted in excess throughout my garden…

My studio desk with blue, false indigo (Baptisia australis) cut fresh from the garden

Whenever I see tiny bud vases at flea markets, I snap them up. I also use old spice jars, recycled perfume bottles and salvaged medicine bottles for tiny bouquets

Peonies are, of course, kept as close to nose-level as possible. With blossoms as pretty as these, it seems like gilding the lily to add anything extra to the simple blue-green, glass canning jar

Simple Tips for Fresh Cut Flower Care

Cut flowers when it’s cool in the garden. Morning or evening.

Use sharp, clean pruners or shears.

Carry a bucket with you while cutting and place flowers in tepid water.

Cut flowers in bud or just as they are beginning to open.

Cut stems long, but take care to remember the rules of pruning; particularly when cutting roses, lilacs & other shrubs (revisit this basic pruning post).

Strip off lower foliage and side branches as you go (anything below the waterline of the intended vase).

Sear sappy/milky stems with a flame or boiling water (poppies, hollyhocks, etc).

Hammer the bottom and strip bark from woody stems.

Arrange flowers in a clean vase, filled with tepid water.

Add a tiny bit of sugar and a few drops of bleach (hydrogen peroxide based is fine) to the vase when you arrange flowers.

Check and change the water in vases every other day.

A combination I love: Blue Siberian Iris with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ (read more about Physocarpus opulifolius here)

Weigela florida ‘Red Prince’, and the branches of many other flowering shrubs are beautiful in arrangements

Beautiful Baptisia australis looks gorgeous atop a dark dresser or dining table

Weigela florida ‘Red Prince’ produces lovely cerise blossoms on strong branches (read more about this beautiful, tough shrub here)

Words & Photographs ⓒ Michaela Medina – 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 reposted, reproduced or reused in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

Honey Colored Evenings in the Garden And Iced Tea with Lime & Peppermint…

June 5th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

An Evening on the Terrace in Sultry, Honey Colored Mist

Voluptuous French Lilacs Drape to the Ground

Vanilla Sky: Garnet-Hued Japanese Maple Leaves, Luminous at Sunset

June evening. It’s late in the day, and the glow of mist-diffused sunlight –warm and sweet as honey– filters through the perfumed garden. It’s time to relax after a long week of designing, planning, shopping and planting new gardens. French doors swing wide to the sun-soaked terrace, and I kick off my shoes. Strolling past the heady lilac and luminous, garnet-hued maple, I slowly make my way down the potager path. Golden straw warms the soles of my feet as I  fill a basket with fragrant herbs and fresh greens for dinner. Rounding the far corner of the garden, the scent of crushed peppermint fills the air. A tall glass of iced tea springs to mind, and I gather a bunch of aromatic leaves for my pitcher. And suddenly, I realize, it’s beginning to feel a lot like summertime …

Iced Tea with Lime & Peppermint

Ingredients (Serves Two)

1 quart/liter        Boiling Water

1 ounce               Fresh Lime Juice (about one lime)

1 tsp                    Artisan Honey

1 good bunch       Peppermint Leaves (to crush & for garnish)

2 teabags              Black Tea

Directions:

Crush 5-6 sprigs of peppermint at the bottom of a small, heatproof, glass pitcher. How much mint is a matter of personal preference. I think 3 springs per glass (about 15 leaves each) is a good place to start. Add lime juice and muddle. Add two bags of black tea and slowly fill the pitcher with one quart/liter of boiling water. Stir and pour in the honey. Allow the mixture to steep and cool to room temperature (you may also make ahead and refrigerate with a lid). Fill two glasses with ice and pour the tea over the cubes. Garnish with a fresh sprig of mint and serve on a sultry afternoon. It’s almost summertime…

You may also enjoy this recipe for Lemon-Mint Sun Tea, Brewed in the Garden (click here for past post)

Prefer something stronger? You will love this Cuban Mint Julep (aka Mojito) recipe (click here)

Savoring the Pink-Gold Twilight Hours of Late Spring

Plants from top: In pot, Calibracho ‘Callie Orange’. In border: Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’ & Weigela florida ‘Java Red’. Backlit tree: Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’. Above on hillside: Betula papyrifera (paper birch).

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!

Garden Design & Installation: Michaela Medina. For design inquiries, see my professional services page at left.

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Native Beauty of the Forest Understory: Our Graceful, Flowering Dogwood …

May 31st, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) Photograph ⓒ Tim Geiss

In my work as a garden designer, I am constantly singing the praises of native plants to my clients; encouraging them to soften the edges of their landscape by blurring the boundary between the wild and tame. As an unofficial PR agent for our beautiful  native trees and shrubs, I have to say that Cornus florida (our North American native, Flowering Dogwood), is one of the super-stars in my book. All I need do is show photos of this graceful beauty in blossom, and she’s in…

Horizontal Branching Pattern Gives this Native Tree a Graceful Presence in the Forest Understory or Garden Edge. Tim Geiss

Beautifully Formed, Delicate White Bracts. Tim Geiss

Dogwood Tim Geiss

Part of Cornus florida’s timeless appeal can be attributed to her poetic, horizontal branching pattern. When positioned in her preferred location —a semi-shaded spot with evenly moist, woodsy, acidic, well drained soil— Flowering Dogwood’s natural structure and springtime bloom is truly stunning. And in addition to her fine April/May show —which also provides sustenance to pollinators of all kinds— Flowing Dogwood shines again in autumn, when she produces colorful red fruits (attractive to many birds) and scarlet foliage. Once mature, the graceful, tiered branches of Flowering Dogwood catch snow and ice in winter, adding beauty to the barren landscape.

Native to the understory of moist, deciduous, North American forests from southern New England all the way down to Florida, and west to Ontario, Canada and the Texas/Mexico border (USDA zones 4/5-9), Cornus florida is a perfect landscape-sized tree; reaching an average height of 25-35′, with a 20′ spread. This isn’t the right species for hot, dry places in full-sun or windy, barren sites. When positioned in such a location Cornus florida will struggle and suffer; never achieving her full glory. When under stress, Flowering Dogwood is more susceptible to diseases; including borers, cankers, powdery mildew, anthracnose. In more exposed spots —or marginally hardy zones– I prefer to plant C. florida x C. kousa hybrids; including cultivars ‘Constellation’ and ‘Ruth Ellen’.  The more durable —and equally lovely, though non-native— Cornus kousa (Kousa Dogwood is native to Asia and hardy in USDA zones 4b-8) is an excellent choice for four-season landscape interest as well. Our other native, flowering dogwood, Cornus alternifolia, is also quite hardy (USDA zones 3-7), but with a distinctly different look.

Given the proper site —as pictured here at the shady edge of a clearing— Cornus florida is a stunning landscape tree. Photo ⓒ Tim Geiss

Special Thanks to Tim Geiss for All of the Beautiful Cornus Florida Photographs in This Post

Original Zone and Cultural Detail Resource: Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants

Article ⓒ 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!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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A Peek Inside the Misty Moss Walls: Springtime in the Secret Garden …

May 22nd, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

By May, a cool tapestry of springtime color carpets the Secret Garden path…

This week my design studio and office began slowly migrating back down to the Secret Garden Room, where plants and paperwork happily mingle from late spring through early November. Each day on my way to and from appointments, I pass through the walled garden and along the plant-lined, stone path leading to the drive up and down my hillside. It only takes a few minutes here —engulfed by cool air and familiar fragrance— to shake off the cares of the outside world. This Secret Garden is my sanctuary and my muse. Care to step inside for a peek? Come follow me along the path and in through the moss-covered walls…

To the Right of the Walled Garden, An Old Chair Stands Ready to Support Emerging Rudbeckia Seedlings (other plants here include Muscari, Sedum ‘Angelina’, and Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’, and in back, Abelia mosanensis)

A Crow –from Virginia Wyoming’s Series by the same name– stands sentry, perched atop a wall along the Secret Garden path (click here to read more about the artist and her work)

A favorite old urn sits nestled at the foot of a Moonlight Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’), rising Fairy Candles (Actaea racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’), bright ‘Caramel’ Coral Bells (Heuchera americana ‘Caramel’) and sweet-scented Lily of the Valley (Convularia majalis), in a corner of the garden filled with with bulbs and emerging fiddleheads…

Brushing past the cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum ‘Baily Compact’), along a path filled with woodland phlox, grape hyacinth, stonecrop, ajuga, daphne and emerging rudbeckia seedlings, the glow of new Japanese forest grass and the nodding heads of jonquil within the Secret Garden beckon…

Between Raindrops, Sunlight Illuminates New Leaves and Coral-Colored Branch Tips on the Blue Green Dragon (Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’), Arching Over the Secret Garden Door…

Lady Ferns (Athyrium filix x femina ‘Lady in Red’) and glossy bergenia (Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’) line the damp, mossy threshold into the walled garden…

And the next step reveals the bottlebrush-blossom tips of dwarf witch alder (Fothergilla gardenii) to the right, chartreuse-colored spurge (Euphorbia, various cvs), the unfolding leaves of a yellow tree peony, (Paeonia mouton x lutea ‘High Noon’), ostrich fern (Metteuccia pensylvanica), Narcissus (N. ‘Sterling’) and Japanese forest grass’ green-gold glow…

Hard to See in the Larger Photos are Some of My Tiny Treasures, Like This Muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’ (click to image to enlarge)

Another View of the Center, Secret Garden Wall…

Stepping Inside, A Moment’s Pause to Gaze Upon the Reflecting Bowl Beside the Stone Wall

Deep Inside the Far Corners, Tender Plants Begin to Migrate, Mingling with the Secret Garden’s Full-Time, Outdoor Residents for the Summer Season. Plants from the left: Moonlight Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’), Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia pensylvanica), Hosta ‘Patriot’ and on the chair, a young Streptocarpus hardens off…

Japanese Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Roseum’) Creeps Along the Moss Covered Wall, Moving Slowly but Steadily Toward the Doorway and the Reflecting Bowl; Shimmering Beside the Prized Japanese Wood Poppy (Glaucidium palmatum, featured in last Friday’s post).

Looking back from within the Secret Garden Room, where my summer-season office is already overflowing with design plans and plant lists for landscaping clients…

And tender plants like this asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’) waiting ’til all danger of frost has passed to return to the outside world…

A Special May Pleasure Along the  Secret Garden Path: One of My Favorite Fragrances of Springtime, the Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume’)

Inside the Secret Garden, Peering Out Beyond the Threshold of the Stone Doorway

For a  Summertime Preview of the Secret Garden Click Here to Visit a Post from last Season.

All Stonework in the Secret Garden and throughout Ferncliff is by Vermont artist Dan Snow

Secret Garden Design & Installation: Michaela Medina. For design inquiries, see my professional services page at left.

Article and All 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!

The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation for the editorial mention of any products or services mentioned in this post. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Spring Brunch from the Kitchen Garden: Shirred Eggs with Shiitake & Arugula …

April 30th, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

Shirred Eggs with Homegrown Shiitake Mushrooms & Garden-Fresh Arugula

I’ve always been a breakfast person. French toast, waffles, eggs, potatoes, pancakes; I enjoy them all. Sometimes, in fact, I would like them all at once. Because of my love affair with breakfast foods, I have developed some pretty liberal ideas about when they should be served. Brunch is a great idea of course, but I also happen to think huevos rancheros make a fine dinner. And those restaurants with the round-the-clock breakfast menus? Those are some of my favorite places.

During the growing season, my work day usually starts before sunrise. I love the early hours, but they seem to go by too fast. Often, I’m juggling a couple of different jobs, scrambling to get things done here in the office or out in my garden, and running off to appointments with landscape design clients. I don’t have time to sit down for a leisurely morning meal. So when I have a free weekend or morning off,  I treasure the opportunity to create an old fashioned breakfast or relaxing brunch. And at this time of year, I especially enjoy cooking with fresh, early-spring produce —mushrooms, arugula and fiddleheads— from the garden and surrounding forest.

Shiitake Mushrooms Emerging in the Woodland Garden at Ferncliff

The woodland mushroom garden began as a small experiment here, but has since blossomed into a full-blown production. There are so many mushrooms popping up right now, that it’s probably time to start selling them. Shiitake mushrooms are surprisingly easy to grow, and early-spring or autumn is the best time to begin a mushroom garden of your own. Wonderful when harvested fresh in spring and fall, shiitake can also be air-dried and stored for later use (soaked in water or wine they are easily reconstituted for use in myriad recipes; including soups, sauces, pasta and rice dishes). If you are interested in how shiitake are grown, travel back to last year’s post —by clicking here— for a step-by-step tutorial on the process. Of course, I have plenty of space for full-sized mushroom logs here. But if you enjoy cooking and eating mushrooms, growing them is within the realm of possibility for any gardener; even one with very little, or no outdoor space. Small, pre-inoculated mushroom logs can even be purchased online (in season) from retailers like Gardener’s Supply Company and Terrain. There’s nothing like the taste of fresh mushrooms, and with the cost gourmet food items like shiitake, it’s really worth your while to start growing your own!

After Great Success with the First Dozen Shiitake Logs – The Mushroom Garden Grew Again Last Fall

This Morning’s Crop

Another Favorite, Seasonal Crop: Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads (learn more about fiddleheads, and find a recipe for a fiddlehead omelette, by clicking here)

With a basket full of fresh shiitake and fiddleheads from the forest –and of course baby arugula from the kitchen garden— I had plenty of delicious produce for my late-morning breakfast today. I decided to save the fiddleheads for tomorrow’s omelette, and made shirred eggs with shiitake, arugula, cheddar cheese and cream. Shirred eggs —baked in ramekins or muffin tins— make a delicious meal; perfect for entertaining a crowd at brunch. And with Mother’s Day coming up next weekend, I thought I’d share this recipe and give you a chance to practice before you making it for company (once you taste this delicious combination of flavors, you will definitely want to share). Earthy shiitake have a wonderful, rich flavor that works well with the fresh zing of baby arugula. But if you don’t have access to your own or locally grown shiitake (yet) you can substitute a different mushroom or vegetable of choice . Have access to freshly foraged fiddleheads? Perhaps you’d like to try the Ferncliff Fiddlehead Omelette, which I featured last spring in this post ( click here ).

Shirred Eggs with Shiitake Mushrooms, Arugula, Cheese & Cream

An original recipe from my own kitchen

Ingredients (Makes 12, average muffin-tin sized baked eggs):

12          Fresh, medium-sized, organic eggs

3            Cups baby arugula leaves, freshly washed

3/4        Cup shiitake mushrooms washed & chopped into bite size pieces

3/4        Cup heavy cream (optional)

3/4        Cup cheddar cheese, grated

Softened butter for tins or ramekins

Fresh ground black pepper & salt to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325°  Fahrenheit

Generously butter 12 ramekins or 12 regular size muffin tins. At bottom of each container, add one tablespoon chopped shiitake mushrooms, approximately one tablespoon baby arugula leaves (torn into bits if necessary) and 1/2 tablespoon of cheddar cheese. Pat ingredients to settle them in, and (optional) add one tablespoon of heavy cream. Carefully crack each egg over the top of the other ingredients. Place ramekins or muffin tins into the hot oven.

 

Bake at 325 F for 10 minutes or until the eggs are just starting to set. Remove from oven and sprinkle each egg with 1/2 tablespoon of cheese. Return to the heat for approximately 2 – 3 more minutes or until cheese is melted.

Meanwhile, arrange a nest of arugula greens on each plate.

Remove tins/ramekins from the oven and gently scoop each shirred egg from its container with a rubber spatula or large spoon (it helps to loosen each container around the edge with the tip of a rubber spatula or butter knife).  Settle each egg atop a bed of greens and garnish with a few arugula leaves, freshly ground black pepper & salt to taste. Serve warm.

These shirred eggs are wonderful with a fresh-squeezed minneola mimosa (click here or on the photo below for recipe)

Minneola Mimosa

You may also enjoy the Ferncliff Fiddlehead Omelette (click here or on photo below for the recipe and more about fiddleheads)

Ferncliff Fiddlehead Omelette

***

Article and all 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. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Raindrops & Sunshowers

April 17th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Stepping Out Through the Raindrops…

Early spring is a busy season for gardeners, and it’s easy to get caught up in the many chores at hand. This morning, Mother Nature sent an unexpected gift —a rainbow wrapped up in a sunshower— reminding me to slow down a bit and enjoy the season as it unfolds…

To Find an Early Morning Sunshower Delivered Unexpected Gifts…

Fothergilla gardenii’s Silvery Buds Glowing in Morning Mist…

And the Delightful Contrast of Rippling Water Moving Through the Stark Reflection of Still Barren Trees…

And the Much Anticipated Pleasure of Viburnum Bodantense ‘Dawn’s Intoxicating Fragrance…

Slows Me Down to Enjoy a Moment Between Passing Showers…

To Reflect and Observe Seasonal Changes in the Garden, Forest and Ephemeral Vernal Pools

***

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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Spring Clean-Up Part One: Pruning Damaged Limbs in Tight Spaces Using The Handy, Folding ‘Grecian’ Saw, Plus… A Special Giveaway!

April 9th, 2011 § 15 comments § permalink

A young Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ in my garden. This photo was taken last spring during a passing shower, just as the beautifully vibrant red leaves began to unfold

I love all trees, but I have to admit that in particular, I am a very, very fond of Japanese maples. And in spite of the fact that they can be difficult to grow in cold climates, every year I add a new, hardy specimen to my garden. The first Japanese maple I planted when I bought my land ten years ago was Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’. A lovely tree with dark, oxblood colored leaves and fine structural form, ‘Bloodgood’ is a commonly grown Japanee maple cultivar in the northeast; mainly due to its hardiness. But in spite of this tree’s tolerance for cold, one of the biggest challenges to growing Japanese maples in the northern climates —breakage due to heavy snow and ice accumulation— remains a problem with this and many other ornamental trees with complex branch angles and patterns. Preliminary pruning and training helps to set up a strong framework for ornamental trees —to withstand winter’s weighty precipitation— but some breakage is inevitable during ice storms with heavy accumulation.

Perhaps you’ll recall this image, of the Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ in my garden, taken during the last of many ice storms in late winter of this year. Fortunately, only one branch cracked beneath the weight of the ice, and it was one I’d considered removing late last summer anyway.

When damage does occur on a Japanese maple, and on many other trees, one of the toughest maintenance tasks is pruning out broken limbs without damaging the bark and healthy wood on the nearby trunk and branches. Making cuts in tight spaces (like the one pictured below) can be difficult unless you have the right tool on hand. Hand-held bypass pruners (like those shown in the last post) are fine for branches and limbs up to 1/2″  in diameter. But when the limb is thicker, it’s best to switch to a pruning saw. When I need to cut a moderately sized limb —several inches thick— particularly  in tight and awkward spaces, I reach for my handy folding saw. Sometimes this pruning tool is referred to as a Grecian or Japanese-blade pruning saw. This type of saw has teeth —arranged in an arc on the inside of a blade— and folds up neatly into a compact size (see photos below). Designed to cut on the pull-stroke, these saws makes quick, clean work of tree limb removal.

This limb is too large to cut with bypass pruners, and the angle is too tight for my bow saw. So, the tool of choice?

The handy folding saw! This type of saw is sometimes called a ‘Grecian’ saw, or a ‘Japanese blade’ pruning saw.

Here’s what it looks like fully extended. When I’m finished using it, I can just close it up an put it in my back pocket (no worries about stabbing myself!)

Sometimes —when a branch is split or badly mangled by a storm, weak or crossing and rubbing a near-by branch—  it’s necessary to completely remove the tree limb. Knowing how to properly make this type of pruning cut is very important to the long term health of trees in your garden. Cut too far from the trunk and you are left with an ugly stub, which invites disease and further breakage. Cut too close to the main trunk, damaging the branch collar, and you risk exposing the entire tree to disease and opportunistic parasites. But, fear not. This cut isn’t difficult to make when you take your time, follow a patient process and use the right tool. To remove the damaged limb on my Japanese maple, first, I made a preliminary cut on the branch, removing the weight and leaving a long stub. Next, I undercut the remaining limb with a short 1/4″ deep cut. This will prevent cracking and tearing of the limb when I make my final cut from the top. Carefully observe where the ridge meets with the main trunk, and look for the wrinkly collar’s edge. Just beyond this spot is where the limb should be cleanly and neatly cut. Find your line and cleanly cut through as shown. Any ragged edges should be cleaned up with a sharp pruning knife. Soon the open area on the Japanese maple trunk will grey up, callus over and blend right in with the rest of the tree. At this time of year in cold climates, a Japanese maple (And other maple trees, and sap running species like birch) will weep when cut. This will not harm the tree. This wounded tree was weeping sap from the jagged break anyway. However, I do try to limit my cuts on trees with actively running sap at this time of year. I only remove what I absolutely need to, in order to prevent disease and speed up the ‘healing’ process.

When removing a long limb, particularly a heavy one, I begin by taking off some of the weight and making room to work with an initial cut farther out on the branch. Reducing the weight also decreases the likelihood of tears in my final cut near the branch collar.

Next, I make an undercut on the branch. This cut will be approximately 1/4 through the branch. This is another insurance cut; preventing a crack in the wood or tear in the bark when I remove the stub branch from the top.

This photo is little bigger, because I want you to really see the wrinkly edge of the branch collar. Do you see the ridge just to the left of the blade, where where the main trunk meets the limb and the wrinkly ‘collar’ just past that? Well, it’s important to get nice and close to that wrinkly collar with a clean, flush cut. But, it’s equally important NOT to saw into the branch collar. The cleaner and straighter the cut, the faster and easier it will be for the cells to quickly cover the open wound and for the callus to protect the tree from insects and disease.

Cut clean and close, this wood will quickly callus over and soon blend in with the surrounding trunk. Sometimes, a limb will break right at that collar margin. If the tree injury is located in this area, carefully cut as straight a line as possible, and clean up any ragged edges of wood with a pruning knife. The more even the wood, the less area will need to be covered by new cells, and the faster the tree will callus.

Felco’s Folding Saw is the right tool for pruning branches and limbs up to 3″ in diameter, particularly in tight places. You can order one from Amazon.com by clicking on the image or text link here. Or….

In honor of this blog’s second anniversary this month, I will be giving away several gifts at random, starting with a pruning saw, like the one pictured above. For your chance to win this handy tool, simply comment on this blog post before 12:00 pm, noon Eastern Time, April 11, 2011. Be sure to leave your email address (will not be visible here, nor will it be shared or sold) so that I can contact you if you win. And, one last thing… Let me know what your favorite thing is about this blog, and what you’d like to see more of this year! I’d love your feedback. Thank you for following The Gardener’s Eden ! xo Michaela

The winner will be chosen at random from comments received prior to noon ET 4/11/2011. One entry per household, per giveaway please. Drawing will take place and winners will be announced here, on Facebook and Twitter, on Tuesday, 4/12/2011. Saw will be shipped to the winning reader at the end of the month. Due to shipping constraints, this giveaway is open to US and Canadian readers of The Gardener’s Eden only. All taxes, tariffs, duties or fees not directly associated with shipping and handling will be the responsibility of the winner.Good luck!

The Winner of the Folding Pruning Saw is: Michelle Kraetschmer! Congratulations, Michelle.

***

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. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Spring Clean-Up, Part One: Pruning Winter-Damaged Branches Continues With a Tutorial on Cutting to Alternate & Opposite Buds…

April 7th, 2011 § Comments Off on Spring Clean-Up, Part One: Pruning Winter-Damaged Branches Continues With a Tutorial on Cutting to Alternate & Opposite Buds… § permalink

Spring Clean Up Begins in My Garden with the Removal of Winter-Damaged Branches and Limbs on Woody Plants

I’ve been tending other people’s gardens for more than a decade, and although I am officially eliminating maintenance from my professional services this year —making more time for design work, teaching and writing— that doesn’t mean I won’t be doing physical work in gardens. Quite the contrary. I love gardening, particularly garden maintenance. The physical part of gardening is exactly what attracted me to horticulture in the first place. Gardening —digging, planting, raking, weeding, pruning, etc— is great fun for me! But as with most things, people tend to enjoy tasks that they are good at doing. So, my new goal is to help other gardeners gain more confidence, and have more fun with maintenance, by sharing some of what I’ve learned in my years of experience as a professional gardener.

Pruning is one of those tasks that tends to intimidate both new and experienced gardeners, and even some seasoned pros. With all of the dos and don’t associated with pruning, it’s easy for me to understand why gardeners avoid this chore. Knowing when and how to prune the trees and shrubs in your garden can be confusing. So, I’m going to start this spring’s tutorial sessions with the absolute basics. In my previous post, I mentioned the importance of using clean, sharp tools when pruning. This point can not be over-stated, so if you haven’t read the first post, stop here and go back to review pruning tools and how to care for them.

For our first lesson, lets start with the most important pruning a gardener can do: cutting to clean up damaged and diseased wood. This type of pruning can and should take place whenever you notice it. However, at this time of year —late winter and early spring— damage tends to be most evident. Removing damaged wood trumps concerns about when a shrub or tree flowers (we will get to the issue of old and new wood, and timing cuts for flowers and fruit a bit later in this series). When cleaning up broken branches, the key is to make your cut with very sharp pruners, just above a healthy strong bud, or set of buds, aiming in the direction that you want to train the new growth. There are two main types of buds on branches: opposite and alternate. Opposite buds are, exactly as the word sounds, opposite from one another on the branch or stem (see photo below). When you need to cut branches with opposite buds, make your cut as close as possible to a healthy set of buds —without bumping or grazing the tender nibs— cleanly cutting straight across the healthy wood. Never leave a long stub, as this wood will die-back; decaying, rotting and inviting disease. If you cut clean and close to a new set of buds, they will quickly develop strong, healthy new shoots in both directions. If you only want growth in an outward-facing direction —to open up a shrub for example— then gently rub off the inward-facing bud with your finger. Here’s how a simple cut is made on opposite-facing buds…

Cutting to a pair of opposite buds on Hydrangea paniculata. The cut is made as close as possible —leading with the sharpest part of your blade closest to the bud— without touching and damaging the buds themselves. I like to use the line on the thick blade (backside of the pruners) as a spacing guide when making this kind of cut.

After the cut, only a small amount of wood remains above the two untouched buds. The two buds will develop into healthy shoots.

Alternate buds look like rungs on a pole ladder. They alternate from side to side, instead of opposite one another (see photo below). If the branch of a shrub or tree with an alternate bud pattern has been damaged, it should be cut back to an outward-facing bud on solid, healthy wood. With alternate buds, it’s also important to make the cut as close to —but not touching— the bud itself. With this type of growth pattern, gently slope the cut away from the bud, so that water will drain away from the developing shoot (aim for a 20-25° angle).

Alternate buds on Buddleja alternifolia argentea (Fountain Butterfly Bush). Unlike B. davidii, which flowers on new wood, B. alternifolia blossoms on old wood. In spring, I remove damaged wood only, carefully cutting to a healthy bud. After flowering, I will prune this shrub for shape (it can be trained to a standard, or allowed to follow its natural ‘fountain’ form).

Position the sharp part of the blade near the bud —but not touching— and make the cut, sloping gently away from the bud. This will help water shed away from the new shoot, preventing rot. Never leave a stub longer than 1/4″, as it will die back, and invite disease. Again, with this type of cut, I use the line on the thick part of the blade as my guide. By holding the pruners with the thin blade nearest the bud, I can watch the distance and avoid cutting too close.

The way this branch is cut will direct growth outward, away from the shrub. The gentle slope —starting just above the top of the bud— allows for water to shed away from the new shoot, preventing rot. Again, never allow a long stub to remain above the bud, but take care not to injure the delicate new growth when you make your cut. With practice, this will become easier.

When I teach pruning, I always encourage gardeners to build confidence by practicing cuts on undesirable scrub, broken branches or discarded limbs on a brush pile. This way, if your cuts are less-than-acceptable, you can keep cutting until you get it right, without worrying about mutilating your precious garden plants! Look for alternate and opposite bud patterns to practice your cutting skills. Once you feel confident in your ability to make steady cuts, begin working on the broken branches of ornamental shrubs in your garden. Roses and hydrangea are frequently damaged and suffer die-back in winter. Learning these basic cuts will help you to maintain attractive and healthy woody plants.

Stay tuned for more pruning tutorials. Next, we will tackle small tree limbs with a Grecian (folding) saw, and learn about the join between tree trunks, branch-collars and tree limbs! And if you happen to be gardening in New England, and would like to attend my April 16th pruning seminar —a free event sponsored by Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont— please visit Walker Farm’s website for details, and reserve your seat now… Space is limited!

***

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. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Getting Down to Earth in the Garden…

April 3rd, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

First Flowers: Glory-of-the-Snow (Chionodoxa luciliae ‘Gigantea’)

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday, my hilltop was nearly invisible; blurred grey and white by snow squalls, sleet and driving rain. But today, all of the new snow has melted, the sun is shining and the sky is clear blue. Ah, New England. As they say: if you don’t like the weather here, wait a minute. Things change quickly at this time of year, and it looks like I may be getting down to earth about gardening soon…

Buds of Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’. Read more about this beautifully fragrant shrub by clicking here.

Meltwater in a Steel Bowl on My Terrace

Crocus tommasinianus against the warm stone wall

I decided to take advantage of the warm temperatures today, and headed out to the potager to sow some more early season crops beneath the protection of the hoop house cold frames. After wading through the melting snow-drifts (still more than two feet high in places), I checked on soil temperatures in the vegetable garden. The IRT plastic-covered earth (infrared transmitting plastic was placed last fall to warm the soil) along my kitchen garden fence is nearly ready to work, so I’ll be sowing snow and snap peas in a few days. Many gardeners rush to plant peas as early-as-possible, but I find that crops planted a bit later catch up and produce just as quickly as those hastened into the earth. The optimal soil temperature for sowing peas is around 50 – 70° F (a soil thermometer is a handy and inexpensive device to keep in your tool bag or tote at the beginning and end of the gardening season).

I keep my early crops organized by planting date and plan –ready to go & close at hand— in wire baskets. Here peas, beets, radishes, carrots and greens are ready to go when the opportunity arises.

Succession Planting Continues in the Hoop Houses (Repeat Sowing of Seed to Continue Harvest of Quick-to-Mature Crops, like arugula, spinach, beets, radishes, lettuce & other roots ‘n greens)

And I’ve pulled out my favorite clean-up tool, an inexpensive and endlessly useful Adjustable Steel Rake, in hopes of beginning a bit of garden clean-up later on this week!

It’s hard to believe how much things can change in only one day. Sure, snow may fly again tomorrow, but it certainly feels like spring is making progress. Today the sun is shining brightly on the first, pastel-colored bulbs and yesterday’s silly snow-woman has completely melted away…

It’s hard to believe that a gardening snow-woman stood here just a day ago!

***

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. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Hello April, Ready for Spring?

April 1st, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

We’re All Ready for Spring, But It Looks Like She’s Not Quite Ready for Us!

Woke up this morning to find an April Fool’s Day trick from Mother Nature. Looks like we’ll be putting away our sun hats and gardening tools for today…

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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Early Spring’s Sweetest Things…

March 30th, 2011 § 8 comments § permalink

The New Sugar Shack at Deer Ridge Farm in Guilford, Vermont

Spring, oh spring, where are you? You certainly are a bit coquettish this year; teasing us with early catkins on willow, then snapping us with a sharp, cold sting. Yes, Spring has been withholding many early-season pleasures here in New England, but she always shows us just a bit of sweetness at this time of year in the form of maple syrup. Cold nights and warm days are part of the swing-season magic responsible for sap production here in the Northeast. And this year —with the chilly weather lingering a bit longer than usual— the maple sugaring season has been starting, stopping and sputtering along. Some days it’s too cold for sluggish sap to run —buckets sit frozen on trees— but on warmer days, the percussive sound of drips echoing along the road makes my morning walk something of a maple dance. And I think it’s always fun to end an early spring walk with a hot stack of fresh blueberry pancakes or lemony French toast, smothered in sweet maple syrup. Yum…

Though less efficient than modern methods of sap collecting, the classic tin sap-buckets are still my aesthetic favorite

The Scenic, Seasonal View Along the Road in My Neighborhood

This sugar maple has three buckets. What’s the largest number you’ve ever seen on a tree?

Though I have participated in the maple syrup-making process many times, I don’t boil sap here at my place in Vermont. However, locally made maple syrup is one of my favorite sweet treats, and since many of my friends and neighbors produce and sell maple products every year, I have access to some of the best syrup in the world. In fact, driving up and down the mucky roads in Vermont and elsewhere in the Northeast this month, it’s impossible to go far without seeing the familiar, early-spring sights of tin buckets hanging from maple trees (Acer saccharum) and steaming sugar shacks. Here are a few photos of the maple-syrup-making process, which I shot at local Deer Ridge Farm over the past couple of weeks (many thanks to Jerry Smith for allowing me in to the sugar shack during this busy season). Learn more about how maple syrup and other products are made from maple tree sap at the official Vemont Maple Syrup website, and for more links and resources on sugaring season in Vermont, be sure to check out this excellent post at the lovely Traveling Near and Far blog.

The heat necessary to boil maple sap down, creating sweet syrup, is usually generated by a wood burning stove or furnace

Jerry Smith of Deer Ridge Farm in Guilford, Vermont is Busy at Work, Boiling Sap He Collected from Local Sugar Maples

Sweet-scented steam fills the air inside the Deer Ridge Farm sugar shack

It takes an average of 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of maple syrup*. Just imagine how much time & work goes into that sweet topping, next time you take a bite of your Sunday pancake, waffle, pop-over, French toast or a sip of your Sugar Moon cocktail!

Maple Syrup is My Favorite Breakfast Topping, and I Particularly Love it on Lemony French Toast (click here for recipe)

My Sugar Moon Cocktail (click here for recipe) is Made with Locally Produced Maple Syrup

Blueberry Breakfast Popover (click here for recipe) is Absolutely Delicious with Fresh Maple Syrup

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Special thanks to Jerry Smith and Deer Ridge Farm. Maple products and other produce from Deer Ridge Farm may be found at the Brattleboro Farmers Market (click here for more information).

*Thank you also to Traveling Near and Far for links, resources and fun facts!

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.

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through the affiliate-links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to The Gardener’s Eden, and will help with site maintenance and web hosting costs. Thank you!

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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

***

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.

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through the affiliate-links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to The Gardener’s Eden, and will help with site maintenance and web hosting costs. Thank you!

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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 Scent of Homemade Bread on a Honey Drizzled Morning…

February 26th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Homemade Whole Wheat Bread and Farm-Style Butter

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

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

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

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

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

Whole Wheat Bread

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

Ingredients: (makes one loaf)

2               Cups all purpose flour

1               Cup all-natural, whole wheat flour

1 1/4        Tsp salt

1/2           Tsp yeast

1 1/2        Cups cool water

Olive oil for coating bowl

Cornmeal for dusting

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

Late February light is different…


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

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

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Come to Me, My Sweet Willow…

February 24th, 2011 § 7 comments § permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through the affiliate-links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to The Gardener’s Eden, and will help with site maintenance and web hosting costs. Thank you!

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First Hints of Spring…

February 21st, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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