A Jolly Good Idea: Living Border

June 14, 2015 garden 055

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After writing about the Bed For Salvias we built earlier this month, I was intrigued by a suggestion Sue and Alex offered in a comment.  They have a fresh take on gardening topics, probably because they live in Australia and have access to a whole different world of resources.

Sue and Alex sent a link describing a novel way to create a living ‘border’ for gardens, and suggested it might help with the erosion problems we have been experiencing on our slope.

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Our new perennial bed this morning, before work on the new border began.

Our new perennial bed this morning, before work on the new border began.

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It took me a little while to comprehend the article they offered from  Gardening Australia .  There’s a wee language barrier, and I was clueless what “Hessian” might be.  A little searching quickly translated the term as ‘burlap,’ which I know quite well!

The concept is elegantly simple:  One lays out a long strip of burlap where a border or barrier is needed.  The size of the finished border is limited only by one’s imagination, materials, and need.  I chose to cut my piece of burlap in half, which resulted in two long strips, each about 2′ wide.

Next, one lays the filling for the roll.  I used my favorite Leaf Grow bagged compost.

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This is a good mix I use for planting shrubs and building planting beds.  One could also use topsoil, potting soil, gravel, or sand depending on one’s purpose.

The burlap is then rolled up around the filling, secured, and rolled into place where needed.

I found the burlap at our JoAnn’s craft and sewing shop.  The burlap was marked down by 30%, and I had a 50% off one item coupon.  The fabric ended up costing a little less than $1.50 per yard, and I used only half the width of each yard.  For this project, then, the fabric cost around $0.75 per yard, and I used 10 yards.

I secured my roll with a combination of jute twine and floral wire, and used about 2 1/2 bags of compost.  Since this is a steep slope, and we have all sorts of animals through our garden, I decided to secure the finished roll in place; which wasn’t suggested in the original article.  We purchased 10″ aluminum roofing nails, driving them into the Earth every few feet around the finished border.

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It took about us about 10 days to gather all of the needed materials, including culinary sage to plant in the border.  They came as a great deal, also.  McDonald Garden Center had all of their herbs marked down last weekend, and a coupon for an additional 20% off of one’s entire purchase.  I suppose it pays to time these projects for late in the spring planting season. 

Our recent heat wave has forced me to procrastinate on this project until today.   It is such a brilliant idea, and our heavy rains lately threaten this new bed.  And of course, those Salvias needed to come out of their tiny pots.

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I used six S. 'Berggarten,' a golden sage, and five S. 'Tri-color' for the border.

I used six S. ‘Berggarten,’ a golden sage, and five S. ‘Tri-color’ for the border.

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We were slated to be a tiny bit cooler this morning, and so I committed to pull this project together…. finally.

My guess on fabric length was spot on.  The burlap, once spread on the ground, went the entire length of the bed with about 18″ left on each end to tuck up the sides.  I began at the shady end laying a line of compost in the center of the fabric.

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The ends are folded up and secured with floral wire, poked “through” the loose weave of the fabric like metal stitches and tied off.

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After laying the compost in the fabric, I lifted the outside edges to settle it all into the center before folding the lower edge up over the compost, and then rolling the top edge down and over it to create a double thickness of fabric on what became the underside of the roll.

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I stopped every 18″-24″ and tied up the roll with a length of jute.

I pre-cut these pieces of twine, and laid them out along the roll before starting the process of filling and tying.

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Once the entire roll was filled and tied off; and the final end folded and wired shut, I rolled the entire piece over so the ties lay against the soil.

Working again from one end to the other, I rolled the border into place and then pushed/pounded a roofing nail into the soil just beyond the border, on the downhill side,  to prevent it from slipping out of place.

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Once the Salvias’ roots penetrate the burlap and work their way into the ground, they will hold the border. The nails will keep everything stable until then.

Planting completes the process.  With the border stabilized, I planted from the two ends in towards the middle with three different varieties of culinary Sage.  Thyme or Germander would also work well in our climate.  I wanted a woody stemmed perennial herb to hold this border for years to come.

I cut an 8″ slit with a pair of scissors in the top of the border,  where each Salvia was to be planted.

First, I reached in and packed the compost more tightly in all directions, but especially side to side, lengthwise.  Then, I added two pots full of compost into the slit (using one of the Salvia’s empty pots) and packed the soil again.

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Removing each Salvia from its nursery pot, I gently broke up the root ball on the very bottom to encourage its roots to grow sideways into the surrounding soil.

I’ve learned (the hard way) that massaging a transplant’s roots may be the most important step in planting success.  The roots must be gently lifted away from the root ball, where they have been encircling the soil inside the pot, to encourage them to grow outwards into the planting hole.

Failure to loosen the roots may leave them growing in circles.

If the transplant’s potting mix isn’t thoroughly moistened, the plant can starve for water even though there is moist soil around the transplant.  This is a further reason why it is wise to allow transplants to soak up sufficient water into their mix before removing them from their nursery pots.

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With the root ball loosened and made a bit shorter and wider, I slipped it through the slit in the fabric and into the opening of the compost.  Then, I had to massage the entire border roll around the transplant to bring the compost snuggly up around the Sage’s roots.

In nearly all cases, I added a little more compost into the opening around the root ball to ‘top things off.’  It is important to plant each plant at the same depth so it is neither deeper nor shallower in its new ‘pot’ than it was in its nursery pot.

I spaced the new plants fairly widely, about 18″-24″ apart, because each plant can grow quite large.  Sage hate to be crowded.  Eventually, I hope they will all knit into one another.

I moved a golden Sage planted about two weeks ago in the new bed over into the border near the center.

I was about two plants short of enough, and will purchase an additional golden Sage and a final tri-color Sage to complete this design.

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This entire process took me a couple of hours, at least in part because it was so terribly hot today.  I was working in full sun, and the heat slowed me down.

My partner (who kept bringing me water) and I are both happy with this new border.  We look forward to seeing how it weathers over the summer and to seeing how the plants fill in.

I can see this as a useful strategy for planting knot gardens, for starting hedges, and even for starting seeds.

With seeds, it would be like taking the principle of  a ‘seed tape’ to a new level.   This works equally well on slopes as it would on level ground.

I especially like this for controlling erosion as water pours down this slope in heavy rain.  I’ve broken the slope with multiple tiers above this level already, each planted with well rooted woody plants.  This terracing has allowed us to use land which otherwise would not be useable, except as open space.

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Cheery red Pentas, growing in another part of our garden, to say "Thank you!" to Sue and Alex.

Cheery red Pentas, growing in another part of our garden, to say “Thank you!” to Sue and Alex.

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So I offer my appreciation to Sue and Alex for linking me up with this idea to improve our new perennial bed, and to solve our erosion problem.

One of the great joys of our blogging community is how we can all reach out to one another with information, collaboration, support, and jolly good ideas!

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Our third mother turtle of the summer, laying her eggs in your garden on Thursday afternoon....

Our third mother turtle of the summer, laying her eggs in our garden on Thursday afternoon….

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

A Perennial Food Forest Garden

Garlic chives

Garlic chives

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Do you grow any food in your garden?

We have had difficulty with growing food crops in this garden.  Between poor soil, shade, and a forest full of hungry critters, many of our efforts have not left us with much to eat.  Even efforts at growing tomatoes and other vegetables in pots on our deck, out of reach of the deer, have not produced the harvest we expected.  This community’s squirrels must be some of the cleverest in the state!  Most of the produce ends up in their little paws days before it is ready for us to harvest.

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June 6, 2013, and the tomato crop is gone.

June 6, 2013, and the tomato crop is gone.  False strawberry plants grow along the border to the left of the photo, untouched.  Tomatoes are perennial crops in warmer climates.

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But I remain interested in finding new and productive ways to grow food in a ‘forest garden.’  In fact, “food forests” are a whole genre of garden in themselves, and there are many dedicated gardeners out there experimenting with various crops and novel strategies for  organizing and camouflaging those crops in order to supplement at least part of their diet from their own land.

Which is what we would like to do, too.  I realized after the first year or so that planting raised beds in the sunny areas of our back garden simply invited more critters to find their way in through our deer fencing.  I won’t even tell you how many tomato plants and cucumber vines simply disappeared in the night.

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Our first raised bed garden in our new garden, mixing herbs, shrubs, and perennials.

Our first raised bed  in our new garden, mixing herbs, shrubs, and perennials.

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Among the things we liked about this property, when we first saw it, were the fruit trees, fig trees, rosemary and tomato plants already here.  The variety of fig selected by the previous owner stays green, even while ripe, fooling the birds and squirrels.  We have had some good fig harvests, although the harvest fluctuates year to year.  This past year we got a few pears.  But the peaches have never made it through the summer to harvest, nor have the hazelnuts.

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June 12 garden at dusk 011

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But I don’t give up easily, and keep searching for new ideas.  Which led me to Martin Crawford’s book, How to Grow Perennial Vegetables:  Low-Maintenance, Low-Impact Vegetable Gardening.9781900322843_p0_v1_s260x420

Now Martin gardens in the UK, in East Devon,  which means some of the crops available to him are harder to come by here in the United States.  And his climate is a bit warmer than ours here in Virginia.  But he also offers very practical suggestions for overwintering many of these crops in cooler climates.

I’ve learned a great deal from this book, and recommend it to anyone interested in ‘forest gardening,’ which is Martin’s own approach.  He focuses in this book on vegetables, and only includes herbs which might be used in quantity in salads.  He also leaves fruit trees, vines and shrubs off of his plant list unless the leaves may be harvested and eaten as a vegetable.

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Milk Vetch is a legume and produces edible seeds. It also adds nitrogen to the soil as it grows.

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And that brings us to the most illuminating thing I’ve learned from this book.  There are many plants we grow for one purpose which may be eaten in another way.  For example, I grow pots of strawberries on our deck, a gift from a friend, and harvest a few handfuls each spring.  Did you know that strawberry leaves may also be eaten?  All of those leaves can be added to salads, stir fried, layered in casseroles, or used to wrap small packages of food before it is cooked.  Who knew?  I’ll include a list of plants whose leaves may be eaten at the bottom of this post.

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Some of those weeds are edible...

Some of those weeds are edible…

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A bonus of many perennial vegetables, and their leaves especially, is the concentrated nutrition and minerals they contain.  Since perennials tend to be very deeply rooted, they have access to deeper layers of soil than many annual crops.  They absorb more nutrients from the soil, storing these nutrients in the roots, tubers, bulbs, and leaves which we can consume.

Perennials also require less effort to grow.  Planted once, enjoyed for years to come.  Many take care of themselves once established, or need a minimum investment of time and labor.  Most need little or no fertilizer and can be grown with organic (chemical free) methods.

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Our figs remain green, even when ripe, fooling the squirrels and birds most of the time.

Our figs remain green, even when ripe, fooling the squirrels and birds most of the time.  Although the fruits are delicious, these leave aren’t edible.

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And perennials are a good investment, anyway.  Once purchased, you have them for many years.  Whether you divide them, save seeds, or take cuttings; your volume of plants will increase each year through annual growth, suckering, and clumping.  Food producing perennials, shrubs and trees are always a good investment for the frugal gardener.

My eyes were opened to the many many plants already growing here successfully which we could eat, if we chose to.  The wild ‘false strawberry,’ Duchesnea indica,  which I yank out of my beds by the bushel each year as a weed, is edible.  Martin suggests eating both the leaves and tiny fruits in salads.  The many new shoots of bamboo encroaching on areas we prefer to keep clear, which we’ve been cutting back each spring, could be harvested and eaten rather than tossed into the ravine.

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Harvest bamboo shoots in spring when they are less than 12" for the most tender vegetable.

Harvest bamboo shoots in spring when they are less than 12″ for the most tender vegetable.

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In fact, the perennial vegetables Martin describes are harvested throughout the year.  Some crops are enjoyed in spring, others in late autumn or over winter.  Most can be eaten all summer, and many can be eaten in different ways at different points in the growing season.  For example, many of the Alliums may be eaten throughout the season by cutting back their leaves even though the bulbs aren’t harvested until late autumn.  Some of the Alliums produce bulbils or offsets which may be harvested before the main bulb is ready to dig.  For each plant described, Martin indicates whether you may eat the roots, stems, leaves, shoots, offsets, fruits, seeds, or some combination of these.

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Wood Mallow

Wood Mallow

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I recently read an essay by Euell Gibbons, reprinted in the current issue of Organic Gardening magazine, about gathering a meal of wild foods in Central Park to feed himself and a skeptical journalist interviewing him.  Originally printed in August of 1968, Gibbons “Survival in the Wilds of Central Park” demonstrates how many edible food plants grow wild with little or no effort on our part at all.  It may require some adjustments to our taste and cravings to choose to use them, but they are still available to us if we can only recognize them and understand how to harvest and prepare them.

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Apple mint, with its relatively mild flavor, is one of the herbs listed for use as a leafy vegetable good for salads.

Apple mint, with its relatively mild flavor, is one of the herbs listed for use as a leafy vegetable good for salads.  Viola flowers may also be eaten in salad or used as a garnish.

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Martin Crawford’s book goes into detail about how each part of each plant should be prepared for eating, as well as giving enough cultural information to allow one to grow the plant successfully.  There is even a section on growing a number of aquatic perennial vegetables, including our native arrowheads, water chestnuts, water lotus, and watercress.  Detailed instructions are offered for growing these crops in a child’s wading pool for those not blessed with a pond on their property.

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The tubers of Arrowheads, Sagittaria species, are very nutritious and will grow in a foot of water.

The tubers of Arrowheads, Sagittaria species, are very nutritious and will grow in a foot of water in sun or partial shade.

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And reading this book, now for the second time, has made me far more optimistic and open-minded about our potential for growing food in our forest garden.

I have a far better understanding now, than I did five years ago, of what plants we can grow successfully.  I know what the deer will leave alone and what they will fight their way through or over our fences to eat.  (In fact, a beloved neighbor recently suggested, as a group of us were discussing our gardening, that we should all plant those things which would feed our beautiful deer.  She is a confirmed animal lover, and I understand her concern for the well being of all creatures.  She just didn’t understand that in planting crops for them, they would overgraze and kill the plants very quickly to the great frustration and expense of everyone.)

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Our beech tree produces edible nuts and leaves.

Our beech tree produces edible nuts and leaves.

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Now I know that plants with very fragrant or coarse textured leaves will be left alone by deer.  That means that most herbs will grow here in peace.  It also means we could grow artichoke, cardoon, all Alliums, and hops.  Did you know you can eat the new shoots of hops vines each year?

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Food crops may also be grown in unconventional ways, in polycultures with other plants, so they are effectively hidden.  Mixing the tasty with the pungent is one way.  Growing crops like potatoes, which bear poisonous leaves but tasty tubers is another.

Whether you are gardening in a forest, on an average suburban plot, or even on a balcony or rooftop; you’ll find this book about growing perennial vegetable crops useful and very interesting.  There are many reasons to grow some part of our food; and great value in knowing how to gather and eat “wild foods” when needed even when we normally shop for our groceries.

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Battered and friend Hosta shoots, anyone?

Battered and friend Hosta shoots, anyone?

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I’ve developed a new appreciation for the richness and delicious diversity of our own garden, and generated a good list of plants to add this season.  The Gogi berry shrub, Lycium barbarum, which I’ve considered for the last several years, is now ordered.  And there are several other crops I’ll hope to order over the coming months.  There is a good list of sources at the back of the book, some US suppliers, where I’ll hope to find some of the more interesting “walking” onion varieties.

We will also plant a patch of Jerusalem artichokes this year, which have grown easily in other gardens.  One huge advantage of many of these crops is how well they support bees and other beneficial and beautiful insects.  These are so prolific, once established, that there will be plenty of tubers to dig in autumn even if the tops do get grazed a bit during the season.  They likely won’t though, as their foliage is coarse.

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Garlic chives with Muscadine grape leaves and thyme.

Garlic chives with Muscadine grape leaves and thyme.

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I’ve made a good list of perennial food crops we already have growing, along with that list of plants we would still like to acquire.  Have you ever considered harvesting the leaves of the lovely flowering Columbine, Aquilegia, for a salad?  Well, neither had I….

Here is a short list of plants recommended by Martin Crawford for their delicious leaves or leafy shoots.  Some might surprise you, as they surprised me.  But if you’re a bit adventurous, you might want to try a few of them over the season ahead.  Just make sure to check out his book, or another trusted resource,  for complete instructions on how to best harvest and prepare them.

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Columbine in a friend's garden.  Grown for its flowers, both flowers and leaves can be eaten.

Columbine in a friend’s garden. Grown for its flowers, both flowers and leaves can be eaten.

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Perennials with edible leaves:

Alliums, Basswood tree, Beech tree, Cardoon, Chard, Chives, Columbine,  Dandelion, Daylily, Elephant Garlic, False Strawberry, Gogi Berry, Grape, Fennel, Hollyhock (Mallow), Hops,  Horseradish, Hosta shoots, Lemon Balm, Linden tree, Mints, Mulberry tree, Ostrich Fern (shoots only) Plantain, Pokeweed, Rosemary, Sage, Strawberry, Sweet Potato, Solomon’s Seal (shoots),  Thyme, Violets

Woodland Gnome 2015

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August 15, 2014 014

 

 

Still in the Garden

 

Beautiful tomatoes were grown in a friend's garden last. summer

Beautiful tomatoes were grown in a friend’s garden last. summer

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Hugh Roberts, who challenged us all to show what sits atop our Christmas tree, has chosen the Alzheimer’s Research UK research charity to receive his very generous  gift of L250 sterling.  Hugh pledged to give a pound to charity for each entry his challenge received from participants around the world.

I learned of Hugh’s challenge early on in December through fellow blogger Sue Vincent and chose to participate.   Hugh published his round up post earlier this week, with links to all participants, and the story behind his tree-top angel, Angela.

Hugh chose to support the Alzheimer’s Research charity because that is the disease which took both his grandmother and his mother from him. It runs in his family; as degenerative brain disease runs in many of ours.

We have our own legacy of Parkinson’s disease and stroke casting a shadow in our own family. It is absolutely heartbreaking to witness the elders of our family, who we love, and respect, wrestle with these devastating changes to their lives.

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Flowers, vegetables and herbs grow together in my friends' deck garden.

Flowers, vegetables and herbs grow together in my friends’ deck garden.

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Which is why I stumbled across the wonderful book, 100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Memory Loss, by Jean Carper, earlier this summer. Although the suggestions in this book are wide ranging, and include physical exercise, community involvement, sports and games; the suggestions always return to nutrition.jean-carper-book-large  By the way, gardening is also a wonderful way to keep one’s brain healthy and active !

Food is a very personal subject for us all. Food is comfort. Food is tradition. Food connects us to our family’s roots. Food is recreation and food is survival.

It is often only when facing a serious health challenge, whether diabetes, blood pressure, or cancer that we come around to realizing that food is also our best medicine.

Remember that the first humans were given a garden to meet all of their needs. Indigenous people the world over, who are generally very healthy and long-lived, still understand how to “live off of the land.”

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My friend fashioned this lovely dragon fly ornament for her garden.  Creating works of art also protects and strengthens our brains.

My friend fashioned this lovely dragon fly ornament for her garden. Creating works of art also protects and strengthens our brains.

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Physicians and medical researchers establish a clear link between what we eat and how long we live. Our quality of life is a direct result of our nutrition. And I learned this summer, from Jean Carper’s wonderful book, that eating the right foods also protects our brain from Alzheimer’s, dementia and other degenerative brain diseases.

Researchers and practicing physicians have proven over and again that plant based foods are the ones which heal us. Animal based foods feed the diseases which kill us and destroy our brains.

This is jarring for most Americans and Europeans, who eat meat, eggs, fish and dairy multiple times every day. Our traditional meals and favorite foods are all centered on animal products.

And yet, learning to eat and enjoy plant based meals is always the prescription for good health. We must eat from “the garden.”   We not only need to eat plant based foods, but also choose those which don’t come laden with the agricultural chemicals which will poison us.  Locally grown food, grown organically, nourishes us and heals us.

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My friend coaxes fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs from her steep slope.

My friend coaxes fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs from her steeply sloping garden.

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After reading Jean’s book this summer, I compiled a simple half sheet list of “Foods Which Protect Our Brains” for my parents, and shared it with my siblings. There is abundant research to back up the healing powers of each food on the list

Since then, another close family member began treatment for a very aggressive cancer. One of her survival strategies has been to follow a vegan, and mostly raw, diet. And it is helping her to remain active and energized as she continues with the other treatments her doctors prescribe.

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Herbs hold the power to heal us.  Our own garden in July-

Herbs hold the power to heal us. Our own garden in July-

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Dr. Joel Fuhrman, whose book, Eat To Live, I read several years ago, realizes that he is a “doctor of last resort.” Most of his patients would never consider following his diet advice unless it was their last hope of survival.Eat to Live

What is that radical advice? To under-consume calories. He recommends a mostly raw diet of only selected vegetables, little or no oil or butter, whole grains, and no sugar. A typical meal includes a huge bowl of salad chopped vegetables dressed with a home-made fat free dressing.

Dr. Fuhrman has since generated cookbooks and a number of additional titles including: The End of Diabetes, Super Immunity, Disease Proof Your Child, and The End of Dieting. His advice is based in his own practice with terminally ill patients,  as well as up to date research in disease prevention.  Dr Fuhrman’s first book, Eat To Live, clearly describes how animal foods create and feed those diseases which destroy our bodies and brains.

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Dill in our garden last July

Dill in our garden last July

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I “returned to the garden” in 1986, giving up all flesh foods, for a variety of reasons. I won’t bore you with those reasons, but they were far ranging. And I’ve never once been tempted to add meat back into my diet. I haven’t been as successful with eliminating dairy, although I continue to reduce the amounts we consume. 2015 may be the year for that final shift, however.

I prefer to focus on learning new ways to prepare delicious meals rich in colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, and herbs.

Our creators (Elohim, from the Hebrew) gave us every single thing we need for healthy living, and we honor them, and ourselves, by living vibrant, healthy lives.

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Fig tree in our garden, August 2014

Fig tree in our garden, August 2014

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Please allow me to share the list of brain healthy foods I compiled for my parents this past summer, based on reading Jean Carper’s book, 100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Memory Loss.

Adding these simple and delicious foods to our diets in greater quantity may protect our brains, and our lives, for many more years to come.

Foods to Eat Frequently

To Heal and Protect Our Brains:

Coffee, Tea, Cocoa (Caffeine)

  Fresh Vegetables (5+ daily)

Spinach, Chard, Kale, Tomato

Nuts:  Almonds, Hazelnuts, Pecans, Walnuts, Cashews

Fresh Fruit (5+daily)

2 Apples each day (or apple juice)

Berries: Blueberries, Blackberries   Strawberries, Cranberries 

Cherries

Juice: Pomegranate, Apple

Cranberry, Purple Grape

Olives, Olive Oil 

Whole grains

Cinnamon

    Eggs, Fish, Fish oils

Dark Chocolate

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Our pear crop, August 2014

Our pear crop, August 2014

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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

April 7 2014 006

 

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.

April 7 2014 010

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

April 7 2014 004

 

 

 

 

Finding Spring

March 1 garden center 016

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. 

March 1 garden center 008

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.

March 1 garden center 006

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.

March 1 garden center 014

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.

March 1 garden center 007

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

March 1 garden center 010

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. 

March 1 garden center 012

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.

March 1 garden center 003

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!

March 1 garden center 013

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Photos taken at the Ulster American Homestead Garden Center

March 1 garden center 002

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

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