Category Archives: Gardening

Getting Ready for the Garden!

This past weekend when the sun was shining and the temperatures were in the 50s and even 60s, my mind started to think of spring. The hardest part of this time of year is the waiting. I know, that’s common for many people dreaming of bathing suit weather and summer, but for me, I just want spring. I want to be cleaning out the garden, raking out the winter mess and cutting back that late season growth. I want to make the changes I’ve been dreaming about all winter. Really, I just want to play in the dirt! 🙂

As you may remember, we moved into our new house a year ago. This past year, spring, summer, and fall was all about assessment and clean up. Since we only ever saw the house in the winter, it was fun to watch it come to life. I spent many weekends pulling invasive vines, replanting saplings to better areas, trimming trees, chopping wood, and really bringing back the garden that had been neglected for a long time. After a year, it is great to see the yard take shape, and now we’re ready for the next planting, planting.
Planning the Garden

This winter, I’ve been like a kid in a candy store. Every catalog I get my hands on, I devour. Every book I’ve had on gardening, and ones I’ve been able to borrow, I consume. I’ve been doing a ton of research to make sure I’m ready for this spring, and, boy am I ready! I have some gardens laid out, and I can’t wait to get started. So, while I patiently wait for the weather to be ready, I thought I would share some of my posts over the years about late winter/early spring prep work for the garden.

Garden Planning and Catalogs

Ordering Seeds

Garden Clean Up

Think About Starting a Compost Pile

Even if you’re not as excited as I am, hopefully these posts will give you an idea or two. I just hope the warm weather continues so I can get out there, although something tells me someday soon I’ll be outside in my winter coat and gloves, raking out the beds! 🙂 Hurry up spring!

Beautiful Fall Foliage

It’s amazing how quickly fall changes the landscape from beautiful shades of green to an autumn rainbow. The leaves have been changing here, and being in a new house, I’m amazed at all of the fall color we have. Every day seems like a new surprise, so I thought I’d take you on a virtual tour.rhododendrunIt’s hard to believe but some of the rhododendron are reblooming.dogwoodThe dogwood has great color.firewoodReady for some warm fires in the fireplace.tulip treeOur tulip tree is huge!beautiful skyBeautiful sky.pinecones everywherePine cones everywhere.pine treesPine trees showing some golden color.mapleThe maple tree is putting on a show!leavesLots of fallen leaves.flowersSome flowers are still blooming!

I hope you enjoy the fall color. It will be gone before you know it!

Tomatoes and Cucumbers…the Fruits of the Season!

Wow, where has the time gone? I can’t believe it’s already August. And I can’t believe that it’s been so long since I’ve had a blog post. I guess vacations, cleaning up the overgrown yard of the new house, and every day life got in the way. So sorry, I’ll do better, I promise!

The warm weather and humidity continues in this area, Heat waves and thunderstorms have been a regular occurrence, it seems like since June. The only good thing is that the produce has been delicious and abundant. During this time of the summer, tomatoes and cucumbers are especially delicious, and they make the perfect summer salad.

For me, nothing says summer like cucumber and tomato salad. With the addition of some basil and a tangy balsamic vinaigrette, it’s the perfect side for any meal. Not to mention, it’s great to keep the oven and stove off!

To start, use about equal parts cucumbers and tomatoes. I used 2 cucumbers and 3 large, ripe tomatoes (I know there are 4 in the picture, but I only used 3). Core the tomatoes, and slice into chunks. Add to a large bowl. Peel the cucumbers, and slice into rounds. Add to the same bowl. Finally, add fresh basil. Use 10 basil leaves, thinly sliced, and add to the same bowl.tomatoesslicedchoppedcucumberpeeledready for dressingbasilNext, grab a small bowl to make the vinaigrette. Use equal parts Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar. I used about 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Whisk the two to combine. Add about 3 times the amount of olive oil. I used about 3 tablespoons olive oil. Whisk until emulsified. Add salt and pepper. ingredientsmustardbalsamicPour the vinaigrette over the vegetables and stir to combine.

My favorite way to enjoy this salad is after it’s sat for about 30 minutes, so the juices of the tomato combine with the vinaigrette. One caveat though, be sure to let the salad marinate on the counter. The salad is best at room temperature, and it really is delicious. Fresh, crunchy, and tangy…just perfect!

Enjoy this last month of summer before it’s gone. And stay cool!

Hitting the Garden Hard!

It seems like out of nowhere, summer arrived. It’s hot, humid, and wonderful out. With the warm weather, the garden has been bursting. It’s been a ton of work to clean out the garden, trim back trees, and weed, but it’s been amazing to see so many beautiful flowers and plant come to life. Before the dog days of summer really get here, I thought I’d take you for a little tour of the garden.huge rhododendronThis amazing rhododendron is my favorite plant. There are tons of white blooms bursting all over, and it’s HUGE.

 

white rhododendronDetail of the beautiful white rhododendron.

 

red rhododendronIn addition to the huge white rhododendron, there are several deep red ones. The blooms are a striking color.

 

hostasAlthough it’s a bit hard to tell, this is a pretty steep hill. I was thrilled to see hostas growing along the hill. I’m going to add a few other perennials to the hill, but this is a great start.

 

variegated hostasIn the front yard, there is this variegated hosta, which provides great contrast.

 

fernsThere have been ferns popping up everywhere. These are in a shady area under a pine tree. I may add some ostrich ferns to the mix, just to add some height, and maybe some Japanese painted ferns for some color.

 

azaleaIn the front yard, there are at least 10 azaleas. Some of them haven’t been cared for too well, but they all bloomed this year. This one was one of the show stoppers, even though early in the spring it was being attacked by a woody vine. It’s a beautiful coral color.

 

more azaleasAnother azalea that’s doing well in the front is this lovely lavender one.

 

treesThese are some of the trees providing lots of shade in the front yard. Thankfully it’s a mix of types of trees, including several red maples, adding a mix of color.

 

creeping phloxThis creeping phlox is not doing so well in the shady front yard. Hopefully it will take off when I move it to a sunnier spot.

 

vincaOn the side of the house, there is a spot under the pine trees that’s covered with vinca. It’s hard to see, but there are beautiful purple flowers all over the vines.

I hope you’re enjoying your time in the yard as much as I am. It’s been a lot of work cleaning out a new space, but it’s great to see some payoffs already!

A Whole New Start to the Garden!

How is it possible that it’s been almost a month since my last post? Last year I was on top of everything. I had already done my garden clean up, started seeds indoors, and even honored St. Patrick’s Day by making Irish potatoes. But this year, this year, I’ve done none of them, and I’ve let an entire month slip by. What can I say…I’ve been busy!

At the end of February, we bought a house. It’s in Kennett Square (the mushroom capital of the world by the way), about 25 minutes from our last place, and practically across the street from my work. Pretty nice, I know! But since then, there’s been cleaning, painting, packing, moving, unpacking, oh, and waiting WEEKS to get internet set up. Finally, after all of that time, and after 8 inches of snow the day before we had movers coming, we’ve settled in, and it’s time to return to normal.

With the move, I have an incredibly interesting situation on my hands with the garden. The house was built-in the mid-70s, and has very established trees. In fact, the back yard is incredibly shady. On top of the shade, the property also backs up to the woods and a creek. As a result, I’m thinking I might have to change my vegetable gardening practices, as I’m sure the critters will be an issue. Luckily there’s a large deck for pots.

The property has also been neglected for a number of years, so the trees, bushes, and plants are all completely overgrown. Over the next several months, I’ll be assessing what’s growing, what’s not, what might need to be cleared, and what additions and changes I can make. It will definitely be a different approach to my gardening the last several years, but I’m incredibly excited.Already, I’m starting to see some new growth and movement, and I can’t wait for more.TreesThe backyard is filled with trees. I can’t wait to see what they look like come spring.PachysandraPachysandra is everywhere. This is one of the few sunny spots. It seems prime for some perennials.VinesVines are also everywhere. They’ll have to come out too!RododendronThis amazing rhododendron is growing next to the deck.daffodilsThankfully some daffodils are poking through the ground.Flowering TreesTrees are showing some life!

I’m excited to see what comes up, what doesn’t, and what changes we can make. This year, I’m even more anxious for spring! Of course, tomorrow we’re supposed to be getting more snow, but at least that will give me some time to unpack more boxes! 🙂

Witch-Hazel for Weary Winter Weather!

Right now, the temperature is 11 degree! It’s scheduled to drop to 4 degrees tonight! Yes, 4 degrees! Today we had wind chills of -15 degrees, and we’re expecting another 4 inches of snow tomorrow. Winter just keeps chugging along. As it does, I keep dreaming about the spring, and gardens, and blooms. This is definitely the time to start planning for the spring. It’s also a great time to start ordering seeds and bulbs. But the best way to get into the gardening mood and satisfy that craving is to see beautiful blooms in your garden, coming through the snow. With witch-hazel, that is possible.

I have to admit, until this past summer, I haven’t had much exposure to witch-hazel. Sure, I’ve heard of it, but I was never inspired to plant it until I read David Culp‘s book, The Layered Garden, about extending the season and adding interest all year-long. I was inspired. This summer, when I joined David and others on a nursery tour, I decided I had to have one of these amazing plants.witch-hazelWitch-hazel is a small, deciduous tree, growing to anywhere from 9 feet to 25 feet. It has a beautiful spread, with a lot of interest. The image above is thanks to Indiana Public Media to give you a sense of what the blooms look like. Unfortunately, mine isn’t anywhere near this big yet…yet! As you can see, the best part about this great tree is the bloom. In winter, sometimes as early as January or February, they are covered with these wispy, beautiful blooms in striking colors of yellow, orange, and even red.

As the buds develop, they are just round clusters that seem to grow and grow, not very large, but full of beautiful blooms. Below are some images of the trees at my work. They are farther along than mine at home, and you can see the color starting to shine through.progressingseed podsThis summer, I found a great variety of witch-hazel at RareFind Nursery in New Jersey. The plant I bought back in June has done well this summer and fall, and the blooms are just starting to appear. I can’t wait till it’s covered in amazing bright orange color. Witch HazelThankfully, it did well in the summer!winter witch-hazelAnd it continues to do well. Now just waiting for those blooms to open!close upIf you’re looking to extend your garden season or just an interesting addition, consider witch-hazel. It’s a wonderful accompaniment to the garden, and a very interesting tree to have. It also can help take care of that gardening itch in the dead of winter. Also, with a name like witch-hazel, I’m sure it would help with any potions you’re trying to brew too! 🙂

Indoor Gardening in the Winter Months

BegoniasI’m not sure if everyone is experiencing freezing temperatures, but here in the Philadelphia area, it’s been cold! This week, we’ve had temperatures in the single digits and wind chills in the negative numbers. Thankfully, today it’s a balmy 27 degrees F! 🙂

With the cold temperatures and the post-holiday slump, I can’t help but get excited for spring and playing in the garden. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still holding out for a big snowstorm, which I love, but with the countless plant catalogs filling my mailbox, my mind keeps wandering to the garden. Thankfully, I have some indoor plants to focus on during this time!

Peace Tree FarmYou may remember, this summer, I took a tour of several nurseries. The first one we went to was Peace Tree Farms in Kintnersville, PA. They had an amazing assortment of plants, but the one area that really caught my eye was their variety of begonias. I’ve wanted to start an indoor begonia collection for many years, and just couldn’t ever find the varieties I wanted. Well, on that beautiful day in June, I hit the jackpot. I excitedly purchased 6 varieties to add to my ever-growing houseplant collection!

Since June, I’ve been thrilled to see how the begonias have really established themselves and thrived inside. I have them all sitting on the windowsill of my picture window in my living room. They have continued to grow, ever pushing towards the sun, and have even started to send out delicate flowers. And, since we’re in the midst of winter, with snow on the ground outside, I thought it would be nice to share some recent pictures. It’s not quite a garden walk, but a little detour to remind us that spring is coming! begonia 1I love the color of this one and the big leaves. It certainly catches your eye.begonia 2The variegated purples leaves and long stems make this one a nice addition.begonia 3This one is covered in leaves.blooms 1And there was a little surprise of blooms hidden under the leaves.

begonia 4This one has great color also, with a hint of purple.blooms 2You can’t miss the blooms on this one, shooting out.begonia 5This purple and chartreuse isn’t such a hint. It’s a dramatic look.blooms 3Once again, the blooms are shooting out towards the sun, or at least until I turned the pot.begonia 6The last one, I love the purple edging on this one!

How are you getting through the cold winter months? Hopefully you’re finding some inspiration, and spring, somewhere! Stay warm!

A Fall Garden Walk!

Yesterday was pretty much the perfect fall day!  The high was 69 degrees.  The sun was shining.  The skies were blue.  The wind was blowing.  And, because of the cold weather last week and the rain this week, the trees and the ground are covered in amazing shades of brown, gold, and crimson.  As I said, perfect!

After I came home from work, I decided to take a little stroll through the yard and see how things were coming along.  The garden is definitely nearing its end for producing new flowers and leaves, but it still has so much to offer.  I love keeping the dead blooms and shoots in the garden, especially as we near Halloween.  There’s just something perfectly autumnal about it!

So, join me for a little walk around the garden!

purple mumsYou can’t really talk about fall gardens without talking about mums.  Here is a shot of some purple ones that are probably over 25 years old but still doing great!front mumsA front view of the same purple mums.  I love the yellow centers.white mimsA different mum I have in the garden…this one is cream.black eyed susan stemsI love the way the dead stems look in the garden this time of year.  These are black-eyed susans.coneflowerThis coneflower I added this year is doing well and still blooming.asterAsters are perfect for fall color too, and I love the shade of purple for these.roseThis one rose doesn’t want to give up!crabappleThe crab apple looks great this time of year.rose of sharonI’m not sure these Rose of Sharon buds will ever open, but they look great against the backdrop of that tree.red treeA close up of that tree…I love the red leaves it gets in the fall.apple treeI seemed to have caught more sun than apples in the apple tree.pumpkinMy surprise pumpkin plant has a little pumpkin growing.  Not sure how big it will get, but still a nice surprise.  Be careful where you drop those seeds…this year’s trash could be next year’s pumpkins!maple leafAnd certainly the maple tree is getting into the action, putting on quite a show.

I hope the colors are just as inspiring wherever you are.  And I hope you’re enjoying the fall…it’s the best!

A Summer of Nursery Tours

I’ve been very lucky this summer.  I have had the opportunity to tour several nurseries and garden centers, some of which are not always open to the public.  It was so inspiring to see the huge variety of plants that these gardeners are making available to the public, and the cutting-edge techniques some of these nurseries are employing to ensure they are helping, not hurting, the environment.  It was also very exciting to be able to take some of their amazing plants home with me! 🙂

Peace Tree FarmIn June, I attended a nursery tour class through Longwood Gardens.  Our tour guide, and general expert, for the day was David Culp, a knowledgeable gardener and author of The Layered Garden. David planned a tour of several amazing nurseries that day.  The first stop was Peace Tree Farms in Kintnersville, PA, with an impressive greenhouse and state of the art production.  They are certified organic, and they have the most amazing begonias I’ve ever seen.  I’m happy to report that I’m now the proud owner of 6 of their begonias, and they are doing great!

Peace Tree Farm Production

BegoniasWe then went to Paxson Hill Farm in New Hope, PA.  They have a beautiful nursery, filled with amazing plants, but also a garden maze, peacocks, and even turkeys.  I was happy to be able to take home some of their varieties of coneflower and a few other perennials that are doing great in the garden.  Paxson Hill Farm MazePaxson Hill Farm TurkeyPaxwon Hill Farm PeacockOne of the last stops we had that day was at RareFind Nursery in Jackson, NJ.  They had wonderful trees and shrubs, and a great variety.  I’m happy to report that I am now a witch-hazel owner after spending some time at their nursery!Witch HazelNorth Branch Nursery HydrangeasAlso this summer, I was visiting in Ohio and was lucky enough to meet the owners of North Branch Nursery in Pemberville, OH.  North Branch Nursery is a truly impressive operation with over 300 acres and 300 varieties of trees and 300 varieties of shrubs.  They grow over 20,000 perennials each year and have 75,000 plants in container production.  It is an absolutely beautiful property.  The property is huge, and we were happy to take a tour.  You can meander through the fields, seeing all of the trees and shrubs they have growing.  And the greenhouses with perennials is a site with such a great variety!  They grow just about everything!North Branch Nursery RosesNorth Branch Nursery ClematisNorth Branch Nursery TreesWhile we were there, I got a Little Lime hydrangea that I was very excited about.  I haven’t seen these before, but it’s a dwarf variety and has the most amazing lime green blooms.  The plant was beautiful and very hardy.  It is doing great in the yard.  North Branch Nursery Little LimeLittle LimeI was also thrilled to receive their 2014 catalog this week in the mail.  You can really see the breath of offerings they have in the catalog.  I can’t wait to dive in and see what other inspiration I get for next year!North Branch Nursery Catalog

So often, we get used to convenience, and if you’re looking for plants, that could mean looking no further than your local Home Depot.  But there really is so much out there.  If you haven’t explored some of those hidden nurseries in your area, even if they are a drive away, give them a try.  Catalogs are also a great way to get variety, but there is nothing like wandering through a nursery to get your creative juices pumping!  I know it was a great experience this summer for me, and I plan to keep it up in the future!

Good Use for the Harvest…Roasted Peppers

Red PepperI will admit, I am absolutely terrible when it comes to growing bell peppers.  I’m not sure why.  I know tons of friends who have an abundance of delicious peppers in all colors, shapes, and sizes, but for some reason, every year I’ve tried to grow them, I got maybe one sad little pepper.  That’s it.  So, needless to say, I gave up on growing peppers a long time ago.  But, if you’re not like me, and you have success with peppers, or if you just find a good deal at the grocery store, one of the best ways to use them up is to roast them.  And, bonus, they are delicious and easy!

I learned my roasting technique fromReady for the Oven Lidia Bastianich and her “Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen” cookbook.  She gives two ways to roast peppers.  One, turning them over a gas burner until they’re charred, seems like torture to me.  But the other version, roasting at a high temperature in the oven, is as easy as it gets.

Before I start, I always cover my sheet pan in aluminum foil.  It just makes the clean up that much easier.  Then, as Lidia suggests, I turn the temperature to 475 degree.  Make sure your rack is at the highest spot that you can put it but still get the sheet pan with the Out of the Ovenpeppers on it in the oven.  Then, just spread the peppers out on the pan.  I usually use 4 large red peppers, which makes a nice batch and doesn’t crowd the sheet pan.  I’m not sure why I always use red, but it just seems like you should.  And all you need to do to the peppers is wash and dry them thoroughly…nothing else…and put them in the hot oven.

I check the peppers after about 5-7 minutes.  You want the skin to start to char and blister.  The first side can sometimes take a little while, but keep checking.  Once it’s Covered in Plasticcharred and blistered, turn the peppers a quarter turn.  Keep them in for about another 3-4 minutes until that side chars.  Then, just keep checking and rotating until all sides are charred, and the peppers have softened.  It will only take 15-20 minutes.  And don’t worry if you don’t get every side, as long as they have some color and are softened, they will have that great flavor.  But don’t be afraid of the charred, burnt look.  It really does add a tremendous amount of flavor.

PeelingAs soon as you take the peppers out of the oven, transfer them to a bowl that you can cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Drop them all in and cover.  This will steam the peppers as they cool and make the skins very easy to remove.  Lidia says to leave them for about 40 minutes, but I usually just go and do something else and forget about them for a while.  Once you can handle them, pull out the stem and seeds, and peel the skin away.  It should come off very easily with your hands.  It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it!

Ready to EatOnce I have my peppers roasted and cleaned, I like to slice them into strips and add some flavoring.  I add 3 garlic cloves, crushed, along with about 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and a few tablespoons olive oil.  Give that a stir and let it rest for the flavors to come together.  I usually like to make them the night before I’m serving them, but you don’t need to.  You can store them in the refrigerator.  I like to take them out early before serving so they come to room temperature.

Roasted peppers, some crusty bread, maybe some wine…sounds like a great dinner for a warm late summer night!