Hypertufa Pots Planted For Summer

This hypertufa potted herb garden will be sold this Saturday.

This hypertufa potted herb garden will be sold this Saturday.

Our hypertufa pots have dried, cured, and been planted for summer

The pots are inlaid with bits of glass, and potted with mostly shade loving plants

The pots are inlaid with bits of glass. They are planted with mostly shade loving tender perennials.

The first great effort at pot-making completed, every minute this week is devoted to preparation for an upcoming art festival this weekend.

Caladiums and a cane Begonia, which will have white blooms fill this pot.

Caladiums. Peacock Spikemoss, and a cane Begonia, which will have white blooms,  fill this pot.

Working on it with some very creative and patient friends for the last five months, we are in the final preparations for Saturday.

Although my post will be in the kitchen on Saturday, a friend’s daughter is running our booth for us.

Polkadot plant grows here with Caladiums.

Polkadot plant grows here with Caladiums.

We will offer note cards, miniatures, jewelry, glass sun catchers, gnome gardens, and these interesting hypertufa pots.

It will be bright, colorful, and alive.

Peacock Spikemoss will soon be joined by the Caladiums, which are just emerging from the soil.

Peacock Spikemoss will soon be joined by the Caladiums, which are just emerging from the soil.

A photo made it into our local Virginia Gazette today, we are on the Williamsburg Community calender, and emails are flying around our community.

If you live in the area I hope you will come and join us for the fun.

These pots are planted with mostly shade loving plants.  The Caladiums came so late from the grower, that they are barely showing their colors yet.  They will be fully open by next week, and will grow beautiful all summer.

The Caladiums got a late start this year, and are just beginning to grow.  With the warmth we're now enjoying, they'll come out quickly.

The Caladiums got a late start this year, and are just beginning to grow. With the warmth we’re now enjoying, they’ll come out quickly.

We also have pots with Peacock Spikemoss, an interesting plant which is technically a fern, although it looks more like moss.  Many of the pots also have cane Begonias, from my collection, planted with the Caladiums.

Peppermint spilling over the side, Tricolor sage, Thyme, and Basil fill this pot of culinary herbs.  All of these may be snipped for cooking.

Peppermint spilling over the side, Tricolor sage, Thyme, and Basil fill this pot of culinary herbs. All of these may be snipped for cooking.

My favorite pot is the herb garden, which will thrive in full sun.  Tricolor Sage, Basil, Thyme, and Peppermint will weave themselves into a fragrant and delicious planting for summer.

All but the Basil are perennial, and will grow happily in this pot for years to come if kept watered and trimmed.  I hope this one goes to a good cook’s home… to someone who will enjoy it and use the herbs to created delicious summer meals.

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So all of these pots, and several more which I didn’t photograph, will be offered for sale on Saturday at our art festival.

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If you would like more information on our art festival, please contact me in the comments section and I’ll send you specifics.

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I’m so pleased with how they all turned out. 

A raised bed, bordered with hypertufa pots, is actually “under construction” around a Dogwood tree in our garden.

Once we get past Saturday, there will be time to finish the pots for this garden, bring in the soil, and plant  it.

Photos to follow….

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Hypertufa Pots, Ready For Action

Hypertufa in the Stump Garden

Hyper-What?

Herbs: Scented Geraniums

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This morning Linda Lucas, a Williamsburg Master Gardener, talked to our neighborhood  garden club about herbs.  We all discussed what a terribly rough winter it has been here for herbs.  Rosemary and Lavender plants which have weathered several recent winters died out during this one.  Our Bay trees have taken a hard hit, and many need to be replaced.

I am taking a very slow and patient approach to everything  in the garden this spring.  I still believe we may have at least one more bout of extremely cold weather before warm weather settles in for good.

 

Bronze fennel overwintered in our garden, and has begun good strong growth this spring.  Not only is this a delicious herb, it is a host plant for swallowtail butterflies.

Bronze fennel overwintered in our garden, and has begun good strong growth this spring.   Not only is this a delicious herb, it is a host plant for swallowtail butterflies.

Many of my beds still have a light covering of leaves.  The Ginger Lily stalks still lie where they fell, mulching their tubers.  And, I haven’t cut back a single Rosemary or Lavender this season.

Cutting back herbs is an important part of their care.  Long lived herbs like Lavender live longer, and look better with two or three annual shearings, where at least a third of the plant is removed.

But, I’ve learned the hard way that cutting back too early, before the last freezing weather,  can kill a plant which has survived the winter.

Comfrey has shown itself in these last few warm days.

Comfrey has shown itself in these last few warm days.

And so I’m waiting.  And watching to see  signs of new growth on woody stems, what is poking up out of the ground.

Inspired by the conversations this morning, I headed out to the Homestead Garden Center this afternoon to look over their herbs one more time.  They have had an excellent selection this spring, and I’ve already  bought out their first shipment of a certain cultivar of scented geranium last week.

Lemon balm purchased at Homestead as a birthday gift for a friend.

Cat nip purchased at Homestead Garden Center as a birthday gift for a friend.

With a friend’s birthday later in the week, which I promised to honor with some herb plants, I had some shopping to do!

While many of the warm season annual herbs, like Basil, aren’t widely available yet; hardy herbs, like Parsley, Rosemary, Germander, Savory, and Thyme have shown up at garden centers and big-box stores.

In honor of spring, I will write a few posts featuring some of my favorite herbs.

We all grow herbs for a variety of reasons.  Most of us cook with herbs, and some use them for healing.  Many of us enjoy the fragrance living herbs bring to the garden.

This cat mint overwintered out in the garden.  It was one of the earliest perennials to awaken this spring.  With gorgeous blue flowers, this plant will grow to 3' or more if planted in the ground.

This cat mint overwintered out in the garden.   It was one of the earliest perennials to awaken this spring. With gorgeous blue flowers, this plant will grow to 3′ or more if planted in the ground.

Although most herbs need at least six hours of direct sun a day, I’ve found them a valuable part of our Forest Garden.   I don’t just grow herbs I’ll use in cooking. We also grow a variety of other herbs for their beautiful leaves, flowers, and form.

Most herbs aren’t very fussy about soil, don’t require a great deal of fertilizer to grow well, and can withstand some degree of drought and heat.  In fact the so called “Mediterranean herbs” like Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender, Germander, Marjoram, and Savory prefer poor, somewhat dry, alkaline soil.  They thrive in full sun, and too much water will drown their roots.

Perhaps the most pressing reason we have planted more herbs than anything else lately has to do with critter control.  You see, deer not only avoid nibbling on herbs, but the herbs’ strong fragrance often serves as a deterrent to prevent deer from grazing  other plants growing nearby.

Purple culinary sage is one of the easiest herbs to grow.  It will grow to about 18" tall and wide within a season.

Purple culinary sage is one of the easiest herbs to grow. It will grow to about 18″ tall and wide within a season.

The Lavenders and Rosemaries I planted around new roses last summer didn’t keep the deer completely away from them, but I believe it gave some measure of protection to reduce the grazing.

I learned this autumn that scented geraniums do an excellent job of keeping deer from grazing plants they protect, and over the winter I’ve had nearly 100% success with using garlic cloves in pots of flowers to keep deer from nibbling at our Violas.

As the days grow longer and warmer, you are probably browsing the garden center herb displays as avidly as am I.  So I’ll begin this series of posts on herbs with a bit of information about my current favorite, scented geraniums.

This rose scented geranium grows in a pot next to a rose bed.  Planted here with Alyssum, also strongly scented, it will fill the pot within a few weeks.

This rose scented geranium grows in a pot next to a rose bed. Planted here with Alyssum, also strongly scented, it will fill the pot within a few weeks.

Scented Geraniums

Technically known as Pelargonium species, there are over 200 cultivars of scented geraniums.   Although grown primarily for their beautiful and fragrant leaves, most have small, but delicate and lovely flowers.  Fragrances commonly available include Citronella, the most common which has a lemony smell; rose, mint, apple, ginger, nutmeg, cedar, strawberry, coconut, orange and lime.

I tend to grow mostly rose scented geraniums, and there are several different cultivars with different leaves available which smell like roses.

Rose scented geraniums often have variegated leaves.  I particularly like this large cultivar with burgundy markings.

Rose scented geraniums often have variegated leaves.  I particularly like this large cultivar with burgundy markings.

Although you purchase a little 3″ or 4″ pot in early spring, these plants can grow quite large in a single season.  Depending on the cultivar, your plant may be 4” tall and wide by September.  In our Zone 7B, and even in Zone 8, plants left outside over the winter will die back to the ground.  Plants can be overwintered in bright or medium light inside.  I have been delighted to discover those geraniums left out of doors coming back from the roots for the last several springs.

I grow scented geraniums both in pots and in garden beds.  They weave beautifully around other plants, and are especially nice grown around roses.  Work a little compost into the planting hole if planting into the ground.  Use a good quality potting mix if planting in pots.  I top dress the soil with some Osmocote, and then a mulch of gravel whether planting into a pot or into the garden.  I also feed every few weeks with a dilute solution of Neptune’s Harvest.

This summer I plan to plant up some arrangements with scented geraniums, annual zonal geraniums, and ivy geraniums all in the same pot.  This should give a beautiful mix of color, scent, and interesting foliage in a really big, but easy to maintain potted garden.

This geranium has grown large and rangy in the reduced light of our garage over the winter.  I've already taken cuttings from it once, and likely will again.

This geranium has grown large and rangy in the reduced light of our garage over the winter. I’ve already taken cuttings from it once, and likely will again.

Pelargoniums are enormously easy to root.  Cut off the tip of a branch, at a leaf node, and dip it into rooting hormone powder.  Then stick this little cutting into any good, moist potting mix, and wait for new roots to grow.

It isn’t necessary to cover the cutting, apply bottom heat, or do anything fussy and meticulous.  These are hardy plants which want to live.

I haven’t had great success rooting Pelargoniums in water.  The stems often rot before roots grow.  I’ve learned to root them in potting soil, although a mixture rich in sand or vermiculite might work even better.

Rooting cuttings

Rooting cuttings

I love cutting stems of Pelargoniums to use in summer flower arrangements.  They make wonderful filler both because they are beautiful, but they also make the bouquet more fragrant.  When they are in bloom, they are an especially nice addition to an arrangement.

The leaves can be harvested, washed, dried and used in tea and other cooking projects.  Dried leaves can be layered in an air tight container with sugar.  After a few weeks, the sugar is nicely flavored.

Use their flowers to decorate cakes.  Slice the washed leaves into small slivers to add to stir fries, rice, puddings, cakes,  or add to lemonade or cocktails.

Dried leaves make an excellent base for potpourri because the leaves lose very little volume when they dry.  Dried leaves can be stacked between linens or used in bureau drawers to scent cleaned laundry.  The volatile oils are very strong in most varieties.  While they freshen, they offer protection from moths.

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The volatile oils of scented geraniums make them a good insect repellant.  When going out into the garden, pick a leaf or two of citrus scented varieties and rub on your exposed skin as a non -toxic repellant.  Then tuck the crushed leaf into your pocket or hat for even more lasting protection.

Scented geraniums are the first herb I’ve planted this year, after parsley.  I’ve scattered them generously, especially in areas I want to protect from deer.  I’ve taken cuttings from two which overwintered in the garage, and I’ll keep my eye out for new growth coming up from the roots of scented geraniums which remained outside over the winter.

Two citronella scented geraniums planted to offer some protection to this Oakleaf hydrangea, which is just beginning to leaf out for spring.

Two citronella scented geraniums planted to offer some protection to this Oakleaf hydrangea, which is just beginning to leaf out for spring.

We had  long stretches of very cold days and nights, but these are tough plants, and I hope to see them return from the roots, for another year in our forest garden.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Finding Spring

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English primroses

This morning my friend and I went with my partner to the Homestead Garden Center in search of a breath of spring.  After all, we turned our calendars over today to March.  We wanted to celebrate the day, and the new month, with a visit to our friends, the Pattons, who so lovingly and generously encourage our mutual love of all things green and growing.

Homestead Garden Center this morning, before the plants were brought back out of the greenhouse.

Homestead Garden Center this morning, before the plants were brought back out of the greenhouse.

It had just nudged above the freezing mark when we set out this morning, and the sky was low and grey.  Bundled in our gloves and hats, wrapped in our coats, we pulled in mid-morning to a still and silent shop.

Roxy and Dustin left the warmth of the office to greet us.  Only a few brave Violas and some shrubs filled the racks, normally packed tightly with an ever changing array of beautiful plants.

We had come to see the hellebores, and no hellebores were in sight.  It was so cold last night that nearly everything in bloom had been tucked back into the greenhouse before dusk, and so to the greenhouse we were led.

Hellebores

Hellebores

When Dustin opened the door, and led us inside, we found the spring we had come looking for today. 

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Warm and humid, condensation dripping on us from the roof, we smelled the warmth of potting mix and the aroma of all things green and growing.

Violas

Violas

And the color!  The carts were packed with bright blooming things waiting to go back outside once the sun shone and the air warmed.

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We were met with Ranunculus, just opening their first buds in screaming shade of scarlet, gold, and pink.

Ranunculus

Ranunculus

Pots of vivid English primroses, and planters packed with bright Violas waited to be wheeled back outside to greet whatever hardy customers turned up today.

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Row after row of Hyacinths, Muscari, parsley, Verbena, Heuchera, and dozens of other tiny plants waited their turn to grow large enough to leave the greenhouse for the world beyond.

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The sheer joy of it.  Dustin gave us our pick of the everything large enough to leave.

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A rare treat, as the greenhouse is rarely opened to shoppers. 

My friend gathered her Hyacinths for the celebration of Noruz, coming on the 21st; and we both selected parsley and hellebores.  I gathered more Violas.

Flats of parsley ready to pot up for spring sale.

Flats of parsley ready to pot up for spring sale.

We filled the back of our car with flowers and parsley. 

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We are also keen to try the mushroom compost, a new product at Homestead this season.  We’ll dig it in to our pots as we plant our starts, and use it as a topdressing on some of our beds.

The rich, composted manure used to grow mushrooms will  improve water retention in the soil, and will perk everything up for maximum spring growth.  Because some brands of mushroom compost have higher levels of salt than other soil amendments, it isn’t  recommended for starting seeds.  This organic product is wonderful on established plants, however.

The mushroom compost we purchased is the stack on the far right.  The Pattons sell only organic soil amendments, fertilizers, and growing aids.

The mushroom compost we purchased is the stack on the far right. The Pattons sell only organic soil amendments, fertilizers, and growing aids.

After a visit with Roxy in the shop, selecting seeds, looking at new pots, and stocking up on fertilizers; we finished visiting and pulled away.

The sun had broken through the low clouds a time or two while we shopped, and we could feel the morning warming- if only a little bit.  But we had a car load of spring time.  The aromas of the greenhouse still  filled the the air as we drove home.

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Brunnera, “Jack Frost”

With yet another winter storm barreling across the country, poised to hit us tomorrow night, our pots and flats fresh from the greenhouse were carefully tucked into sheltered spots once home.  But we have them.  They are ready to go out into the garden on the next thaw.

We found spring today in the Patton’s greenhouse, and we brought a bit home with us.  Happy March!

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Photos taken at the Ulster American Homestead Garden Center

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Soil with a lot of manure in it produces abundant crops;

water that is too clear has no fish.

Therefore, enlightened people should maintain the capacity to accept impurities

and should not be solitary perfectionists.

Huanchu Daoren

Bio Chemistry

Sept 24 2013 pumpkins 006

Three reminders have come my way today about the power of food to heal or to hurt us.  Receiving the same message three times leads me to reflect, and to share a bit of this powerful information.

First, a friend sent an email warning about the unsanitary conditions of food production in a certain large Asian country.  It was graphic and disgusting.  Since I gave up eating meat in the mid-80’s, and haven’t eaten any fish or other seafood since I was 4; I’m not overly concerned about Tilapia production practices in Asia.  The point is well taken, though, that imported foods may not be as clean or healthy for us as we might assume.  Lately we must assume that a lot of imported food has been exposed to chemicals, radiation, waste, and contaminated water in its production and packaging.  A powerful reason to eat locally, and organically, as much as we are able.

The Nixon family has their newly harvested honey for sale at their farm stand at 3004 Ironbound Road, near the Five Forks Farm Fresh, near Jamestown, Virginia.

The Nixon family had their newly harvested honey for sale at their farm stand this autumn.

Then, I found an email from another friend detailing the powerful healing properties of a number of foods.  Not surprisingly, nearly every food on that list was plant based.  It used to be common to hear older folks encourage us with, “Let your food be your medicine.”  There is tremendous truth that what we eat, or don’t eat, is the most important factor which determines our overall health, and our ability to resist disease.

Plant foods are packed with chemical compounds to keep us healthy.  We make new discoveries every day about the powerful “phytochemicals” found in fruits, vegetables, herbs, seeds, roots, and leaves.  These are harnessed to produce many medicines, like aspirin, which was originally made from the bark of the willow tree.

But good health just doesn’t come from a bottle.  It is something we build or destroy bite by bite, and sip by sip.

I read a book a number of years ago by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, titled, Eat To Live.  Dr. Fuhrman styles himself as a doctor of “last resort.”  Most of his patients have already been told they won’t recover from their condition, and they come to him with heart disease, diabetes, cancers, gout, and other severe diseases in a desperate bid to extend their lives.Eat to Live Cookbook: 200 Delicious Nutrient-Rich Recipes for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, Reversing Disease, and Lifelong Health

Dr. Fuhrman’s patients are desperate enough to “do anything” to extend life, and are therefore willing to take his advice on diet.  He has an enormous success rate with those who follow his guidance.  And, as you might expect, he counsels his patients to give up meat and meat products, along with processed foods.  His book is fascinating because he details exactly how certain foods affect us biochemically.  He helps us to understand what our bodies require for good health, and which foods provide these substances.

Pumpkins, technically fruits, are rich in beta carotene and other important nutrients.  Their seeds are also healthy to eat.  Aloe vera juice heals burns and can be taken internally to heal many conditions.

Pumpkins, technically fruits, are rich in beta carotene and other important nutrients. Their seeds are very healthy to eat. Aloe vera juice heals burns and can be taken internally to heal many conditions.

Now I was raised in the 1960s at the height of the USDA’s outreach to public school students about what to eat for good health.  The old version was concocted primarily to prop up the meat and dairy industries.  My parents were firm believers that meat must be served at every meal, and all children must drink milk through their teen years.  I promise you that made our family meal times far from peaceful, as I disliked both from an early age.

Of course my mother also believed in serving dessert with every meal, even breakfast many days; and so peace was generally restored in some sweet fashion.  My mother is a wonderful cook, an inspired pastry cook especially.  She is known for her delicious meals.  And yes, all of us children were overweight in elementary school.

The accepted wisdom of what is or isn’t good to eat has shifted dramatically over the last 50 years.  We now know more than ever before about maintaining good health, and yet harmful foods are easier and cheaper to get with each passing year.

Diabetes runs through our family, and so I’ve been keen, since my teens, to avoid it.  My first rebellion, in sixth grade, came at the dinner table.  I drastically changed what I would and would not eat, began my own exercise program, and lost more than 50 pounds that school year.   I was proud of that accomplishment, but a neighbor developed anorexia nervosa around that time, and so my parents put an end to my “diet.”

I had to learn that it is more important to eat the “right” foods, than it is to avoid the harmful ones.  Our American diet, so often handed to us in a sack from a fast food window, is based more on what we like to eat than on what maintains our good health.   We are constantly tempted by amazing foods, while also seduced to try the latest diet plan.  Whatever sells, right?

Mushrooms.  These are different from shelf fungus because they are soft, have stems, and release their spores from gills, located under their caps.  These are growing nearby at the base of a Hellebore.

Edible mushrooms provide many health benefits, contain no fat, and are low in calories.  They’ve been used medicinally for many thousands of years.

So I’ve been on a long term quest to learn what to eat for optimum health.  However much I’ve learned from Dr. Fuhrman’s book, and others, I haven’t successfully adopted his diet plan.

Why?  It isn’t easy.  And, I cook for others, so I have to consider others’ tastes and wants along with my own. Our meals are bonding times when families gather together.  Agreement about our food; what, how much, how it is prepared; brings us together, or splits us apart.  Rejecting a dish or a meal is a rejection of the cook.  It is personal.  Deliberately preparing a dish your loved ones won’t or can’t eat carries the same message.  It is hard to change your own diet, to care for your own health, when your friends and family enjoys eating differently.  A different diet sets us apart.  It takes a great deal of self-confidence, and strength of will to maintain.  And often relationships suffer from it.

We Americans use food as recreation and entertainment.  We “treat ourselves” and give in to our cravings for this or that.  We celebrate our holidays with particular menus, regardless of how those foods affect us.  We gather to eat:  pig pickings, covered dish suppers, barbecues, cocktail parties, fish fries, birthday dinners; we are expected to eat and drink the same as everyone else.

So much of our eating is for recreation and entertainment.

So much of our eating is for recreation and entertainment.

“There comes a point when we accept responsibility for our own health, and the connection between our health and our diet.”  That was the third message today from a guest on Fareed Zacharia’s GPS show on CNN.  Another medical doctor, he has consulted with the Japanese, and others, on how to combat the affects of radiation poisoning.  I missed much of the interview, but it seems he is another “doctor of last resort” who helps those in dire straights recover through wholesome food.

Which brings us back to gardening, and plant based foods, and my friend’s email about foods which heal.  Many of the healthiest foods are crops we may raise ourselves- even in pots on the patio.  We can grow these foods for ourselves organically and inexpensively.  We know how they have been handled at each step along the way.  An abundant supply of fresh food growing at  home tends to influence our choice of what to cook, and what to eat.

What are these super foods which bring us health?

Dark, leafy greens  Dr. Fuhrman’s diet suggestions build meals around spinach, kale, collards, lettuces, and other fresh, raw vegetables.  He explains how these vegetables pack in proteins and other necessary nutrients with very few calories.  He builds a good case for calorie restriction as the cornerstone of longevity.

There is great truth to the saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."

There is great truth to the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Beans  Many cultures use protein rich beans as their main protein, and the mainstay of most meals.  Beans are versatile enough to use in many different types of dishes and to flavor in many different ways; from beverages through to dessert.  Bean seeds are easy to grow in pots or in the garden.

Fruits   Every sort of fruit is good for us.  Although some pack more sugar than others, all contain antioxidants to protect our health, keep our cells younger, and make us feel more vibrant.  Each sort of fruit has its own particular gifts, including fiber.  They are high in vitamins, many help us maintain a healthy alkalinity, and they are delicious.  Keep in mind that many vegetables, like tomatoes and squash, technically are classed as “fruits.”

Garlic  Garlic offers many benefits, and is one of the healthiest food/medicines out there.  One worth mentioning is its anti-viral properties.  Eating it regularly helps our bodies fight off illnesses to which we’ve been exposed.  There is some evidence that it also has antibiotic properties, and helps protect the heart.  Onions and shallots share many of the same health benefits which garlic offers.

Herbs   Herbs can raise metabolism, protect us from viruses, settle the stomach, improve our memories, along with many other wonderful things as they flavor our foods.  Herbs are very easy to grow, easy to use, and are beautiful in the garden.

Figs

Figs

Other health-giving foods, that we might not be able to grow for ourselves, include coffee, tea, coconut oil, honey, mushrooms, ginger, dark chocolate, red wine, and tumeric.  All have been in the news recently and have been the subject of various studies.

Coffee is said to ward off depression, especially during the winter.  Tea and chocolate are both rich in antioxidants.  Honey is an antibiotic and an antiviral substance.  Whether rubbed on the skin to heal a wound, or drunk in tea to soothe a sore throat, it speeds healing.  Red wine slows aging.

Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and settles the stomach, but also controls the fats which clog our arteries.  It is used in Indonesia to treat blood clots.

Echinacea, or purple coneflower, is a powerful medicine which fights infection.

Echinacea, or purple coneflower, is a powerful medicine which fights infection.

When I taught middle school, I took Echinacea daily, and kept a bottle in my desk drawer.  Children think nothing of sneezing on their homework or quiz paper and then handing it in.  I used Echinacea and Vitamin C to fight off all of the little “bugs” the children brought in with them each day.  You may know Echinacea as Purple Coneflower.  Native Americans have used it for centuries as a medicinal herb.  Purple Coneflower is easy to grow and beautiful in the garden.  It attracts butterflies and gold finches.

Our gardens can be our greatest resource for health and healing.  As we plan our 2014 gardens and place our orders for seeds and plants, let’s keep in mind the wonderful healing properties of the plants we grow.   In some cases we might begin using things already in our gardens, like rose hips and Echinacea roots, which we’ve never used before.  Or, we might try growing something new, like ginger or Goji berries.  I’m planning to give Goji berries a try this year, and hope the squirrels will leave them alone….

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

Pineapple Mint with Lavender

Pineapple Mint with Lavender

Just a “Split Second…”

Is it a peony?  Not in October, and not growing on a delicate vine with heart shaped leaves.  This is a morning glory, believe it or not.  Park Seed introduced this Ipomoea nil “Split Second”, just a few years ago.  I found it while browsing their spring catalog this past winter.  It was an impulse … Continue reading

Where Have the Butterflies Gone?

sept. 25, 2013 lanai 003Where have the butterflies gone?  Just in the last few days I’ve noticed their absence.  On Friday I was watching one bigger than a goldfinch feeding on a Zinnia, and suddenly yesterday, I didn’t see any while working in the garden.

And this morning, I read Kim Smith’s beautiful piece on the declining Monarch population.

July 26 butterfly photos 012Our population of Swallowtails has been strong this season.  We’ve had their constant companionship for months.  We often stop to enjoy them as we’re walking past the windows, arriving home in the car, and working in the garden.  They have been a delight- and now are more than missed.

And now this morning, sipping coffee early this morning on the deck, I spy new caterpillars.sept. 25, 2013 lanai 005

What a joy to find them. They are still enjoying the Bronze Fennel I sought so early this spring, hoping for a huge, ferny display all summer.  Well, Andrew Patton ordered it for me when I inquired,  and soon I purchased beautiful healthy plants at Homestead Garden Center.  We planted it in  big pots, alongside Borage, with high hopes.  Somehow, I think that watching generation after generation of these beautiful caterpillars has been even more interesting than a huge Fennel plant might have been; disregarding the fact that they were never able to bloom.

So I’m happy that the Swallowtails found a sanctuary here in our little garden.  We have done our small part here to keep their population healthy and happily growing.

Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea.

Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea.

Sadly, the Monarchs are struggling.  The herbicides used by farmers raising GMO crops destroy the host plants Monarchs require to raise their young.  The Milkweed plants are disappearing from the countryside for many reasons- development, spread of the suburbs, and industrial farming.  Each of us can do our small part to assist the Monarchs, along with countless other small wild things, by providing safe habitat and the host plants they require to live.

The stores are full of brightly packaged chemicals to solve every gardening problem, from weeds to mosquitoes.  As more and more of us see past the promise of a quick fix, and understand the implications of using these dangerous chemicals, perhaps we can turn to other,  safer, ways to manage our land and grow our gardens.  The 1960’s promise of “Better Life Through Chemistry” was a hollow promise.  We have poisoned our water, poisoned our land, and now are poisoning ourselves.September 12 Parkway 032

sept. 25, 2013 lanai 002Please keep in mind that we are all interconnected.  All of us are parts of the web of life, sharing this beautiful home hurtling through space.  And we Homo sapiens sapiens, intended to be the wisest of creatures, are the ones who have killed the oceans, filled the aquifers with fracking fluids, cut the forests which purify our air, and are now in process of even destroying our store of seeds for the foods on which we depend through genetic modification to make them immune to herbicides.  As our farmers spray their fields with glyphosate, killing the host plants needed by birds and butterflies; so it also runs off into creeks and ponds, killing insect larvae, frogs, fish, and turtles.

We can not, by ourselves, change industrial farming practices or stop fracking for natural gas.

We can do our own small bit to keep our own garden as a sanctuary free of herbicides, and pesticides; to provide sources of clean water; and grow a few life-giving plants to sustain the creatures who find shelter with us.  As we do to the least among us…. we do to ourselves.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

For readers in the Williamsburg, Va area, Homestead Garden Center is committed to organic gardening practices.  All plants they raise in their own greenhouses have been raised with lots of TLC and only organic fertilizers.  If you have visited Homestead, then you know that only organic, environmentally safe fertilizers, fungicides, soil amendments, insect controls,  and other gardening aids are available in their shop for sale.  Everyone in the family is knowledgeable and can help guide you to excellent products to enhance your garden.  They have taught me a thing or three along the way, and I appreciate their expertise in organic gardening methods.  For friends not in Virginia, I hope you can find a garden shop with a staff so knowledgeable and caring.

Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower

Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower

Visiting Friends

My closest friends are also gardeners.  Although we have many shared interests, the conversation usually gets back around to how our gardens are doing. We share plants, we share ideas for how to grow things better, we share ideas for how to foil the neighborhood deer and squirrels, and we often share our harvests with … Continue reading

Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpilliars- Revisited

The first chrysalis turned up a few days ago. Perhaps you saw my post on the caterpillars?  So far we found one chrysalis on the bronze fennel the caterpillars were munching, and another on a nearby tomato cage. The others must be close, but I haven’t found them yet.  Originally there were nine caterpillars on … Continue reading

A Very Useful Interactive Tool For Gardeners

It pays to read your email!         

I opened up a message from Garden Harvest Supply Co. with advice on planting a fall vegetable garden, and embedded in their information is this very useful link to an interactive USDA Zone map.

You simply type in your zip code, and the website takes you to a map of your area. It gives you a table of the average high and low temperature for each month of the year in your neighborhood.  As if that weren’t enough, it also gives you the average precipitation for each month in your neighborhood.  Now in a summer like this when you might get your average monthly precipitation in only a day or so, its nice to look back and remember what average looks like.

Another nice feature of this little website is an interactive plant distribution map.  Lets say you’re thinking of planting a particular tree or shrub.  You can find it on the alphabetical list, click on it, and instantly have a  distribution map of where it commonly grows in North America.

Now I’ve spent less than 5 minutes on the PlantMaps site so far, and already know it is absolutely the most useful gardening website I’ve ever found.  Friends in the UK, it covers your back garden as well!  I’m happy to see the Canadian Provinces listed in the index, but haven’t found information for Mexico- yet.

I followed the link to this website to learn the average first frost date for my area in autumn.  I know the last frost date  off of the tip of my tongue- but have never committed to memory which week generally brings the first frost.  It often seems like “endless summer” here right up until Yule.  I often have roses to clip and tuck into evergreen wreathes when I make them in early December.  Knowing your average first frost date allows you to do the gardening math and determine when to plant fall veggies. 

This beautiful website should make it much simpler to make those tough gardening decisions.   Volumes of information are accessible, easy to read, and interactive.  No more squinting at tiny USDA maps in books and magazines!  When you go to the site please make sure you also check out their blog pages.  I found a drought map there, and a wealth of helpful articles.

August is the month for cleaning up, adding compost to the veggie beds or pots, and planting fresh vegetables for fall, winter, and early spring harvest.  The air has a lovely fresh edge to it this  morning.  Change is underway out in the garden, and its time to get a fresh start. Time to plan, plant, and  prepare to harvest spinach, kale, Swiss chard, radishes, and other tasty treats in the months ahead.

Garden Harvest Supply Co. is just an excellent source  when you want plants not available at your local garden center.  They carry a huge selection of varieties.  Every order I’ve placed has arrived in premium condition, well packaged, and ready to grow.  They offer very personal and friendly service.  If you don’t have your seed envelopes lined up and ready to go, please take a look at their beautiful pages of vegetables and let yourself be inspired to plant for autumn harvest.

August 1

August first, and the dogwood trees are full of berries, their leaves showing the first hint of autumn color.

August first, and the dogwood trees are full of berries, their leaves showing the first hint of autumn color.

The first day of August is one of the important turning points of the year.  Traditionally known as the day of First Harvest, Lammas, or Lughnasa or Lughnasadh; August 1 is a day for celebrating the first fruits of the harvest

In medieval Europe, peasants were expected to present the first wheat harvest to their lords on this day.  In Ireland, and other Celtic nations, bread was baked from newly harvested wheat and either presented at church; blessed, broken, and placed around the barn to protect the harvest; or carried up a mountain or hill and offered to the traditional gods and goddesses who cared for these lands before the Christians came, then buried in the Earth as a sacrifice.

Squash vine blooming on the first rainy morning of August.

Squash vine blooming on the first rainy morning of August.

Today is a day for celebrating the harvest of summer and preparing for the shorter, cooler days of autumn which are just ahead.  Lammas is the first of the three traditional harvest festivals in traditional Celtic communities.  Autumn Equinox falls near the end of September, and then Samhain on October 31.  Just as Thanksgiving Day celebrates the ending of the harvest in the United States, so Lammas, August 1, celebrates the beginning of the harvest throughout much of the northern Hemisphere.

Leaves are already turning red on this seedling oak tree.

Leaves are already turning red on this seedling oak tree.

 

This is a good time to gather for family reunions, to throw a party for close friends, to bake bread, gather the last of the berries, and observe the turning of the season.  Days are noticeably shorter now.  The dogwood leaves are beginning to show tinges of red here in Williamsburg, Va.  We’ve had our first cool nights in a good long time, and cool damp mornings with a fresh breeze from the northeast for a change.

In August our thoughts turn to preparations for the school year ahead in many families.  It is time to begin gathering school supplies, taking off for those last family excursions, and buying new shoes and school clothes.  Teachers are plotting the year ahead, revising lesson plans, and savoring the last few days of summer break.  College freshmen will leave home in the next few weeks to begin life on their own in their first dorm room.  It is a time of nervousness and excitement as room mates make plans and parents prepare to see their children move on.

Yes, August is for savoring.  As we feel the long hot days slipping away, we appreciate each summer day a little more.  We hang on to the goodness and pleasures of the season.July 31 2013 002

I’ve been watching hummingbirds in the garden the last few days, and the ever increasing crowd of butterflies feasting on everything with flowers.  Their enthusiasm is contagious.  It is no wonder that so many traditional religious faiths imagine “heaven” to be in a garden. 

Berries have formed now on the Bay Myrtle shrubs.  Over the next few weeks they'll turn dusty blue before the song birds devour them.

For those of us who are the gardeners, August is an important month of transition, and there are some key tasks wanting our attention:

My garden has another three to four months of life in it before I will even think of frost.  With such a long growing season, there are definite transitions in what is coming and what is going.

This is a good time to wander around the camera and take photos.  A garden always looks different in photos than it does in person.  The camera brings focus to particular views; it frames and edits what we see. This is a good time to take photos of all parts of the garden- the parts you like, and the parts which need tweaking.  Work with the photos as you make plans for the coming seasons. 

Bulb catalogs are out now, and we have a window for ordering the bulbs we’ll need to plant by mid-November.

This is also the time to make our final purchases for the year of compost, mulch, potting soil, tools, and pots.   Many garden centers and hardware stores in are process of moving out their gardening equipment and bringing in Halloween and Christmas merchandise.  (Yes, it is WAY too early to see Christmas decorations in the stores, but we all know they show up earlier each year.)  Most everything is on clearance prices at the garden centers now. This is a last opportunity to stock up on things we’ll need for the next several months.  Have you ever tried to buy potting soil in February?

Beautyberry shrubs are full of tiny berries.  They will turn bright purple by early September.

Beautyberry shrubs are full of tiny berries. They will turn bright purple by early September.

Lavender and Basil benefit from cutting back now, and will keep producing for the next several weeks.  Keep up with the weeding so plants don't get over gown with grass.

Lavender and Basil benefit from cutting back now, and will keep producing for the next several weeks. Keep up with the weeding so plants don’t get over gown with grass.

Fall is the best time for planting trees and shrubs in my area.  As an added bonus, they are on sale right now.  Planting in early fall gives them a chance to adjust and grow new roots into the surrounding soil before the ground freezes.

A new hydrangea has been growing in a pot on the deck.  New shrubs do best when planted out into the garden in autumn.

A new Hydrangea has been growing in a pot on the deck. New shrubs do best when planted out into the garden in autumn.

August is also the time to cut back.  Many perennials have finished blooming and look ratty at the moment.  Unless you are waiting for seeds to form, daylily stalks need removing; brown leaves of Iris need cutting; verbenas, Echinacea, and some annuals will benefit from a hard cutting back.  Harvest fresh flowers of Zinnia, Echinacea, rose, and many others plants to stimulate more flower production.  Cut off fading flowers promptly, before seed is set, to stimulate more flowers.  This is especially important on flowering shrubs, like Buddleia, which will just shut down if the flowers are left to set seed.

Cut back spent flowers before they can set seed to keep new flowers opening for several more weeks.

Cut back spent flowers before they can set seed to keep new flowers opening for several more weeks.

Harvest herbs regularly.  Oregano, Basil, Marjoram, and mints will keep producing for many weeks to come, if the flowers are cut back regularly.  Harvest generously and the plants will reward you with renewed growth.  Herbs can be dried, infused in oil or vinegar for cooking, made into pesto and frozen, or used fresh for cooking.  Some lavender plants will send up another flush of flower stalks if the spent flowers are removed, and the branches trimmed back slightly.

July 24 2013 garden photos 022Roses give another strong burst of bloom in October in our area, so it is important to keep up with the pruning.  Cut off any spent blossoms by cutting the whole stem back to just above a leaf with five small parts.  Any diseased or brown leaves should be removed and thrown away.  There is time to feed rose bushes once more with Espona Rose Tone and Epson salts to stimulate those autumn blossoms.  If there is evidence of black spot, give another spray with an organic fungicide like neem oil.

Blackberry and raspberry canes which bore fruit this year need cutting back to the ground when the harvest is over.  New canes should be tied into the supports.  New fruiting shrubs should be planted now.July 31 2013 004

Fall vegetables should be planted in August.  It is a good time to start kale, collards, and spinach; carrots, snap beans, onions, radishes, and lettuce from seed.  Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts transplants can be set in place.  Autumn is the time to plant garlic for harvest next summer.  Many of our tomato, cucumber, and squash plants have given up for the year.  We need to clean them away, add some compost to the beds, and plant our fall vegetables. 

If our tomatoes, squash, peppers, and melons are still healthy and producing, we can clean up any damaged leaves and give them a shot of Neptune’s Harvest to keep them going into fall.  I often harvest my last tomatoes around the first of November.  Even though the days are shorter, surviving plants seem to get a fresh start when the temperatures cool down.  Keep producing plants well watered and pick the fruits as soon as they ripen.

Figs are beginning to ripen, and can be harvested over the next several weeks.

Figs are beginning to ripen, and can be harvested over the next several weeks.

Potatoes are ready to dig as soon as the tops yellow and die back.  Sweet potatoes still have another month or so to grow before they are ready.

Strawberry runners can be rooted in pots and then cut away from the mother plant, or can be pinned down to the garden soil and allowed to grow in place.  Runners rooted now should bear next spring.

Figs are beginning to ripen.  Check the trees over day or so for ripe figs.  They will continue to ripen here over a long season into October.

One of the toughest jobs in August, especially when August is hot and bright, is the weeding.  Grass and weeds can overtake a bed so quickly.  It is important to use cool and damp mornings to stay after the weeds so our crops and flowers aren’t crowded out.  If certain grasses and weeds get started, their underground stems and roots will just keep sending up new plants forever.  Weeds allowed to set seed will plague our beds for years to come. 

Black eyed Susans, the first of the autumn flowers, are just beginning to bloom.

Black eyed Susans, the first of the autumn flowers, are just beginning to bloom.

Finally, August is a good time to start new stem cuttings.  When growth gets too rampant on Basil, Coleus, Begonias, Plectranthus, Impatiens, and other leggy plants, we can often root the bits we cut back.  Most will root in a glass of water.  Some wonderful plants, like cane Begonias and purple heart can just be stuck into moist soil, and they will root in place.  Annual plants and tender perennials started in fall from stem cuttings can be overwintered and saved for next season.  This not only saves money, it insures that the variety you like best is available. 

August is a month of transition.  We complete what we began in spring, close out, clean up, and savor the harvest of our efforts, even as we make preparations for the new beginnings autumn brings.  It is a time for family and fellowship, for celebration, and for sowing the seeds of our next harvest.

All photos by Woodland Gnome

Pomegranate ripening

Pomegranate ripening

 A bread recipe to celebrate Lammas

Measure 3c. self-rising flour into a large mixing bowl.

Add 1 tsp. sea salt,  1 TB olive oil, 2 TB honey, and 1 tsp. active dry yeast

Also add some dried onion flakes, snipped herbs,  finely chopped chilies, and  grated sharp cheddar cheese if you want a heartier loaf.  (the extra yeast helps the bread rise if cheese and other heavy ingredients are added)

Stir ingredients lightly with a spatula, and form a well in the center of the mixture.  Pour in a 12oz bottle of a favorite beer.  Mix until the mixture is thick and all ingredients are moistened.  Run a little water into the bottle to rinse and add to the mixture if more liquid is needed.

Turn out this wet dough into a prepared bread pan.  Pat the top of the loaf with a little additional flour, cover with waxed paper, and let rise in a warm spot for an hour.

When the bread has risen to fill the pan, preheat the oven to 400 F.  Brush or spray some water onto the loaf, and sprinkle with sea salt and sesame seeds.

Bake about a half hour until the loaf is fragrant and browned.

Allow finished loaf to cool on a rack until it an be handled, and enjoy with friends and loved one.

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